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Riddick v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 7, 2018

JEROME RIDDICK, also known as JA-QURE AL-BUKHARI, Plaintiff,
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.



         On March 7, 2018, Jerome Riddick, an inmate currently confined at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, brought a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five employees of the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”): Commissioner Scott Semple (“Semple”), District Administrator Angel Quiros (“Quiros”), Disciplinary Hearing Officer Nicole Prior (“Prior”), Captain Gregorio Robles (“Robles”), and Counselor Supervisor Canon (“Canon”).[1] He is suing all defendants in their individual and official capacities and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. Riddick has also filed two motions for preliminary injunctive relief. Doc. Nos. 7, 11. In addition, he has filed a motion for an extension of time to file a response to the defendants' opposition to his motions for preliminary injunctions. Doc. No. 13. The defendants, however, have not yet filed an opposition. Riddick has also filed a motion for the appointment of counsel. Doc. No. 8. On March 14, 2018, Magistrate Judge Garfinkel granted Riddick's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See Doc. No. 6. For the following reasons, I will dismiss Riddick's complaint without prejudice and deny his motions without prejudice to refiling in the future.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         II. Factual Allegations

         Riddick asserts the following factual allegations. On March 30, 2017, Canon was reviewing a Level-2 grievance appeal submitted by Riddick. Compl. ¶ 10. Within that appeal, Riddick wrote that “LT Congelos should be restrained from harassing me the way he is, either you do it or I will.” Id. at ¶ 11. In responding to the appeal, Canon wrote that Riddick's statement was “perceived to be a threat against Lieutenant Congelos who is currently assigned to Northern C.I.” Id. at ¶ 12. Thereafter, Canon filed a disciplinary report against Riddick for threatening Congelos. Id. On May 3, 2017, Prior found Riddick guilty of the charge and imposed a sanction of fifteen days' punitive segregation. Id. at ¶ 13. Quiros later upheld Canon's and Prior's decisions. Id. at ¶ 15.

         Riddick protested the guilty finding and the manner in which the disciplinary report was issued and decided. See Compl. ¶¶ 14-15. He contended that he was punished solely based on the content of his speech, which was “too vague and ambiguous to constitute a true threat.” Id. at ¶ 22. Riddick argued that, prior to finding him guilty of the charge and imposing punishment, Quiros, Prior, and Canon never presented any evidence showing that the statement in his grievance appeal was a true threat. Id. at ¶¶ 17, 23. He also challenges as unconstitutionally vague and overbroad the DOC's definition of threats as “verbal or written statements or . . . physical conduct which causes or is intended to cause fear in any person.” DOC Administrative Directive 9.5, § 12EE. He argues that, unlike Connecticut's criminal statute for threatening in the second degree, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-62, Administrative Directive 9.5, § 12EE does not have a standard for proving an inmate's guilt. See Compl. ¶ 24.

         On April 26, 2017 and May 15, 2017, Robles issued two more disciplinary reports against Riddick for making threats against Semple in letters he wrote to him. Compl. ¶ 25. In one of those letters to Semple, Riddick wrote that he would “make an example and kill” any cellmate with whom he was paired if not a family member. See Pl.'s Ex. 3, Doc. No. 1 at 38. In another letter, Riddick wrote that he was going to assault correctional staff, that, when he leaves the prison, he “would like to kill [him] a C/O to get [his] point across, ” and “that [he] will come back one day or night and sniper rifle ya'll off one by one, or with a submachine gun and slaughter the ones I can.” Id., Doc. No. 1 at 40, 45.

         Robles claimed in his disciplinary reports that the letters to Semple were “Inmate Requests, ” but Riddick argued that they were privileged communications to Semple and, therefore, “constitutionally protected conduct.” Compl. ¶¶ 26-29. Riddick contends that, pursuant to the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies § 18-81-28(e)(5), “any written correspondence addressed to . . . [t]he Commissioner of Correction” constitutes a privileged communication and DOC's Administrative Directives “do[] not authorize [prison officials] to write tickets or [disciplinary reports] in connection [with an inmate's] outgoing privileged[d] correspondence.” See Compl. ¶¶ 28, 30; Pl.'s Ex. 1, Doc. No. 1 at 12.

         Riddick alleges that the defendants continue to punish him for making threats under their unconstitutionally vague and overbroad definition of “threats” without any evidence that Riddick's statements are indeed “true threats” in the legal sense. See Compl. ¶¶ 33-36. He claims that the defendants are, therefore, punishing him for engaging in “constitutionally protected conduct.” See Id. at ¶ 35.

         III. Analysis

         Riddick claims that the disciplinary reports issued, processed, and/or affirmed by the defendants constituted an act of retaliation, in violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances. He also claims that the punishment he received violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process because the defendants did not present sufficient evidence that his written statements were in fact true threats. For the following reasons, both claims are dismissed.

         A. First Amendment Retaliation

         “Prison officials may not retaliate against inmates for exercising their constitutional rights.” Riddick v. Arnone, 2012 WL 2716355, at *6 (D. Conn. Jul. 9, 2012). “To prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim, [a prisoner] must establish (1) that the speech or conduct at issue was protected, (2) that the [official] took adverse action against the [prisoner], and (3) that there was a causal connection between the protected [conduct] and the adverse action.” Holland v. Goord, 758 F.3d 215, 225 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); Espinal v. Goord, 558 F.3d 119, 128 (2d Cir. 2009). “In the prison context, ‘adverse action' is objectively defined as conduct ‘that would deter a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness from exercising . . . constitutional rights.'” O'Diah v. Cully, 2013 WL 1914434, at *9 (N.D.N.Y. May 8, 2013) (quoting Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 353 (2d Cir. 2003)); see also Ramsey v. Goord, 661 F.Supp.2d 370, 399 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) (prisoners may be required to tolerate more than average citizens before alleged retaliatory action against them is considered adverse). In order to allege causation, the prisoner must state facts “suggesting that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the prison official's decision to take action against [him].” Moore v. Peters, 92 F.Supp.3d 109, 121 (W.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting Burton v. Lynch, 664 F.Supp.2d 349, ...

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