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Vidro v. Erfe

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 5, 2018

EDISON VIDRO, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT ERFE, AMONDA HANNAH, Defendants both sued in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Edison Vidro, an inmate currently incarcerated at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, has brought this civil rights action pro se against various prison officials of Cheshire Correctional Institution, the prison where he was previously housed, in Cheshire, Connecticut. Vidro is suing Defendants Scott Erfe and Amonda Hannah in their individual capacities for monetary damages.

         Magistrate Judge Garfinkel granted Vidro's motion to proceed in forma pauperis on March 7, 2018. See Doc. 9. The Court now reviews Vidro's Complaint to determine whether his claims are "frivolous" or may proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the following reasons, the Court dismisses his Complaint in part.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint and dismiss any portion that "(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). Although highly detailed allegations are not required, the complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).[1] "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint must provide "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         "[W]hether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will [ultimately] . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 663-64. When "well-pleaded factual allegations" are present, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679. Factual disputes do not factor into a plausibility analysis under Iqbal and its progeny.

         "Although all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be true, this tenet is 'inapplicable to legal conclusions.'" LaMagna v. Brown, 474 Fed.Appx. 788, 789 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). See also Amaker v. New York State Dept. of Corr. Servs., 435 Fed.Appx. 52, 54 (2d Cir. 2011) (same). Accordingly, the Court is not "bound to accept conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Rolon v. Henneman, 517 F.3d 140, 149 (2d Cir. 2008)) (quotation marks omitted). Consequently, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         With respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established that "[p]ro se submissions are reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)). See also Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (same); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants); Boykin v. KeyCorp., 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) ("A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007))); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (where the plaintiff proceeds pro se, a court is "obliged to construe his pleadings liberally" (quoting McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004))); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (in reviewing a pro se complaint, the court "must liberally construe [the] pleadings, and must interpret [the] complaint to raise the strongest arguments it suggests").

         However, despite being subject to liberal interpretation, a pro se plaintiff's complaint still must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The allegations in this Part are derived from the Complaint.

         Vidro is a devout Native American, who at all times relevant to this matter was incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional Institution ("Cheshire") in Cheshire, Connecticut. Complaint, Doc. 1, ¶ 6. Plaintiff participated in all Native American services at Cheshire, including smudging outdoors every day for up to twenty minutes, as permitted by the Department of Correction's ("DOC") "Native American Smudge Policy." Id. Vidro claims that the act of smudging is one of the most important aspects of the Native American religion. Id., ¶ 7. It consists of burning sacred herbs, and waving the smoke over one's body as a cleansing technique and to carry the prayers "to the realm of the Creator." Id.

         The DOC permits inmates to smudge if they purchase smudge supplies from the commissary. Id., ¶ 8. At Cheshire, smudging is permitted outdoors only, at specified times: 4:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays, and at 5:45 a.m. on weekdays. This is so regardless of the temperature outside, or the weather. Id. Although inmates who work in various outdoor buildings are issued jackets and hats for their walks from building to building, Cheshire does not issue jackets or hats to those who wish to participate in smudging. Id., ¶¶ 9-10. This is true despite the fact that smudgers remain outdoors each day in the winter for up to twenty minutes in the cold and dark. Id., ¶ 10.

         During the winter of 2016, Vidro smudged every day, in the extreme cold, without adequate outdoor clothing to protect him from the elements. Id., ¶ 11. Vidro was only able to participate in the smudging rituals by going outdoors; if he were to remain indoors, he would not be able to practice his religion. Id., ¶ 11. Vidro requested a jacket and hat upon several occasions that winter, but his requests were denied. Id., ΒΆ 12. As a result, he became ill several times over the course of the winter. ...


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