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Solman v. Corl

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 23, 2018

VANCE SOLMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
EDWARD CORL et al., Defendants.

          RULING RE: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 82)

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Vance Solman (“Solman”) brings this action against Tom Morassini and Captain Edward Corl (collectively, “defendants”) alleging retaliation against him for conduct protected by the First Amendment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Solman failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and on the merits. For the reasons that follow, defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted. (Doc. No. 82).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Solman's Termination from his Job

         On February 14, 2013, Solman began work as a probationary inmate worker in the MacDougall-Walker upholstery shop, which is managed by Peter Casey (“Casey”) and supervised by Cettina Spaar (“Spaar”) and Tom Morassini (“Morassini”). Defs.' Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1”) (Doc. No. 82-25) at 2 ¶¶ 8, 11-12; Pl.'s Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2”) (Doc. No. 84) at 2-3 ¶¶ 8, 11-12. Solman's probationary period was set to last from February 14, 2013 until May 15, 2013. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 2 ¶ 12; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 3 ¶ 12. During the time Solman worked at the upholstery shop, Spaar and Morassini were both responsible for evaluating inmate performance. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 3 ¶ 12. Spaar began working at the upholstery shop in February 2013, and received on-the-job training from Morassini on how to be a shop supervisor until Morassini retired in August 2013. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2, Statement of Additional Facts (“Additional Facts”) at 28 ¶ 87.

         At the time of his probationary period, Solman was pursuing a civil action in federal court, Solman v. Manzi et al., No. 10-cv-729 (SRU), in which he claimed that five correction officers had violated his civil rights at Cheshire Correctional Institution. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 3 ¶ 18; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 5 ¶ 18. Solman initially informed Morassini of the Manzi litigation and the possibility he would have to miss work on February 14, 2013. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 5 ¶ 20. He also discussed his case with Spaar on an unspecified date. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 5 ¶ 21.

         Solman settled his lawsuit on April 5, 2013. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 3 ¶ 22; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 5 ¶ 22. However, at some point that same day, Captain Claudio, Solman's unit manager, had emailed Casey asking whether he had an issue with Solman not attending work from April 8, 2013 to April 11, 2013, because Solman planned to be on trial. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 3 ¶ 20; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 5 ¶ 20. Around this time, Solman had also notified Morassini that he might be missing from work from April 8 to April 11 because he had a tentative trial date. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 3 ¶ 19; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 5 ¶ 19.

         On April 9, 2013, Casey emailed Captain Claudio stating that he had to send Solman back to his unit to settle unresolved issues and that his “excessive movement in and out of Industries is too disruptive and a security issue” and recommended Solman's reclassification out of industries work. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 3-4 ¶¶ 23, 25; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 6-7 ¶¶ 23, 25. Captain Claudio responded the same day that Solman had reported that his case was over and that he could go back to work without interruptions. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 4 ¶ 26; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 7 ¶ 26.

         On May 20, 2013, Spaar signed an Offender Work Performance & Program/Removal Refusal Form (“Performance Evaluation”) that rated Solman's productivity as poor and his overall performance as fair. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 4 ¶ 27; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2, Ex. 10. Solman testified that Morassini prepared the contents of the Performance Evaluation. Defs.' Ex. B, at 15. Spaar and Morassini then extended Solman's probation for an additional 60 days. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 8 ¶ 28.

         Solman challenges the basis for the negative Performance Evaluation. He provides an email sent on April 9, 2013, in which Casey wrote that Solman “appears to be a good worker, and has given staff and management no reason to deny him reclassification back into Industries once he has resolved his matters.” Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2, Ex. 6. Solman also puts forward multiple positive performance evaluations for his previous work in prison positions, Ex. 22 ¶¶ 4-5, Tab B. Finally, he points to the depositions of Casey and Maureen Berube-Allen, a corrections officer in Industries at MacDougall-Walker, who both testified that it was not standard practice for supervisors to require all inmates to check in their tools when one inmate left the shop during working hours. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 6 ¶ 24, Ex. 19, at 53-56; Ex. 20, at 28-30.

         On June 18, 2013, after approximately 28 days of Solman's extended probation, Spaar, with input from Morassini, submitted a Performance Evaluation to Casey recommending Solman's termination. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 4 ¶¶ 30-31; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 8-9 ¶¶ 30-31. Morassini told Solman that he was being fired. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 8 ¶ 30. That day, Casey approved the recommendation and sent an email to Captain Claudio requesting Solman's reclassification out of industries without prejudice. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 5 ¶ 33; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 9 ¶ 33.

         On June 20, 2013, Solman submitted an Inmate Request to Casey in which he requested that he be restored to his job at the upholstery shop. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2, Additional Facts ¶ 29 ¶ 95; Pl.'s Ex. 13, at 58-60. Solman attached his negative Performance Evaluations and wrote that he was never told how much work he was expected to complete and that he felt he did as much work as anyone else in the shop. Pl.'s Ex. 13, at 58-60. Casey never replied to Solman's Inmate Request. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2, Additional Facts ¶ 29 ¶ 95. On July 17, 2013, Solman filed an inmate grievance requesting to be reinstated to his job and explaining that he had not been allowed to complete his extended probationary period. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 5 ¶ 36; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 10-11 ¶¶ 36-37. He noted that Spaar had complemented his work performance several days before he was terminated. Pl.'s Ex. 13, at 57.

         B. Solman's Guilty Plea and Loss of Visitation Rights

         On December 23, 2013, Captain Edward Corl (“Captain Corl”), the Facility Investigator at MacDougall-Walker, ordered a shakedown of Solman's cell, where officers found a Nintendo game console and cartridge, a wedding band with small stones, Armani Exchange eyeglasses frames, and scented oils, which they believed were contraband. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 5-6 ¶¶ 38, 40-41; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 11-12 ¶¶ 38, 40-41. Captain Corl and another officer escorted Solman to the Restrictive Housing Unit (“RHU”) pending investigation for the alleged contraband items.[1] Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 6 ¶ 42; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 12-13 ¶ 42. The escort was not recorded on video. Id. In a sworn statement, Solman provided that, in 18 years, he had never witnessed anyone being taken to segregation without a video recording, causing him to fear for his safety and believe that Captain Corl had placed him into segregation for an improper purpose. Compl. at ¶¶ 42-43; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 12-13 ¶ 42.

         During an interview with Captain Corl the day he was transferred to RHU, Solman acknowledged that the seized items were his, but denied that he received them during family visits. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 7 ¶ 44; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 14 ¶ 44. On December 26, 2013, Captain Corl interviewed Solman again, this time with Lieutenant Paine. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 7 ¶ 45; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 14 ¶ 45. Solman repeated that the items were not contraband. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 7 ¶ 46; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 14 ¶ 46. He stated that he had bought the game cartridge from another inmate and did not know that the cartridge was contraband or that it had WiFi capabilities. Id. Solman also denied that his Nintendo DS Lite was able to connect to a wireless network. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 14-15 ¶ 47.

         Captain Corl told Solman that he would be issued a Class A Disciplinary Report due to the cartridge being a component of a wireless communication device. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 7 ¶ 48; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 15 ¶ 48. Captain Corl informed Solman that, as a result of the Disciplinary Report, he would lose his family visiting privileges but, if he provided information about misconduct by correction officers, the warden would consider allowing Solman's wife to stay on noncontact visiting status. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 at 8 ¶ 52; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at 16 ...


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