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Myers v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 23, 2018

KEVIN A. MYERS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff, Kevin A. Myers, Jr. (“Myers”), currently incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, has filed a complaint pro se under section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code. See Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). Myers sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis. See Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 2). On May 18, 2018, the court granted Myers' Motion. See Order Granting Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 8).

         The Complaint names eight defendants: Commissioner Scott Semple, Warden William Mulligan, District 1 Administrator Angel Quiros, Administrative Remedies Coordinator Jessica A. Bennett, Lieutenant Lizon, Lieutenant Richardson, Officer S. Ocasio and Warden Maldonado. Myers contends that the defendants violated his rights in connection with his Security Risk Group (“SRG”) hearing.

         Under section 1915A of title 28 of the United States Code, the court must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of a 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 (2016). Although detailed allegations are not required, a complaint must include sufficient facts to afford a defendant fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. See Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. See 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). However, notwithstanding this liberal interpretation, a pro se complaint will not survive dismissal unless the factual allegations meet the plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).

         II. FACTS

         On May 12, 2016, Myers and his cellmate were escorted to the medical waiting area at Osborn Correctional Institution while their cell was searched. See Compl. at ¶ 8. After nearly three hours, his cellmate was permitted to return to the cell while Myers was escorted to the Restrictive Housing Unit. He was placed on Administrative Detention Status pending investigation on a charge of SRG affiliation. Id. at ¶ 9. Myers was notified of the charge later that day. Id. at ¶ 10. On May 13, 2016, Myers received a disciplinary report. Id. at ¶ 11. Officer Ocasio issued the disciplinary report, and Lieutenant Lizon approved issuance of the report. Id. at ¶ 25. Myers declined to plead guilty and requested a hearing. Id. at ¶ 12.

         On May 17, 2016, Myers appeared at a disciplinary hearing. Lieutenant Richardson was the hearing officer. Id. at ¶ 13. After Myers gave his statement, he was returned to his cell. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. Officer Grimaldi told Myers that Lieutenant Richardson needed more evidence before making a decision. Id. at ¶ 16 (quoting Officer Grimaldi as saying, “He needs more. Usually if more evidence doesn't show up, you're good. But he would like more/to have more.”). On May 25, 2016, Myers went to a second hearing. He affirmed the statement he gave at the original hearing. Lieutenant Richardson then told Myers that he was being found guilty of SRG affiliation based on information from a credible and reliable source. Id. at ¶ 17. Myers was told that he could appeal the decision to District Administrator Quiros. Id. at ¶ 18.

         Myers filed an appeal on May 26, 2016. Id. at ¶ 18. On June 8, 2016, Myers was notified that the appeal was rejected because it was filed incorrectly. The notice indicated that Myers could refile the appeal. Id. at ¶ 20. The following day, Myers refiled the appeal. Id. at ¶ 21. The refiled appeal was rejected as untimely submitted. Id. at ¶ 23 & Ex. I. Myers alleges that defendant Bennett failed to retrieve the refiled appeal from the Administrative Remedies box in a timely manner. Id. at ¶ 25.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In his Complaint, Myers alleges that defendants Lizon and Ocasio issued the disciplinary report without sufficient evidentiary support, defendants Richardson and Quiros denied him due process in connection with the disciplinary finding, and defendant Bennett was negligent in retrieving his disciplinary appeal. See Compl. at ¶ 25. He also alleges that defendants Maldonado, Mulligan and Semple are liable under “municipality” for the actions of their subordinates. See id. In the section of the Complaint entitled “Legal Claims, ” Myers contends that defendants Ocasio, Lizon, Richardson and Maldonado violated his right to due process for his guilty finding and placement in the SRG Program, see id. at ¶¶ 25, 28; that the conditions in the SRG Program violate the Eighth Amendment, see id. at ¶ 28; that defendant Quiros violated his right to due process and his First Amendment right to freedom of speech by failing to address and correct the disciplinary finding on appeal, see id. at ¶ 29; and that defendant Bennett was negligent in failing to timely retrieve the appeal, also violating his rights to due process and freedom of speech, see id. at ¶ 30. The court considers below whether the Complaint states cognizable claims for denial of due process, unconstitutional conditions of confinement, violation of freedom of speech, negligence, municipal liability, and supervisory liability.

         A. Eleventh Amendment

         Myers seeks a declaration that the defendants violated his rights and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from any retaliatory acts in the future. See id. at ¶¶ 32-33. Myers also seeks compensatory and punitive damages. See id. at ¶¶ 34-35. It is not clear from the Complaint whether Myers asserts these claims against the defendants in their official or individual capacities.

         To the extent that Myers seeks relief against the defendants in their official capacities, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits suit against a state as a defendant in federal court, absent consent of the state or abrogration by Congress. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). This immunity extends not only to states themselves, but also to state agencies or state officers in their official capacity. See id. Neither exception to the Eleventh Amendment is applicable here, as there is no indication that the state has consented to the suit or that Congress has abrogated the Eleventh Amendment.[1] Ex parte Young provides that a third exception to the Eleventh Amendment exists when a party sues a state official to enjoin an unconstitutional action. See Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 102. The Ex parte Young exception, however, does not apply to actions for monetary damages against state officials in their official capacities. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 677 (1974). Therefore, to the extent that Myers seeks monetary relief from the defendants in their official capacities, such claims are dismissed.

         Additionally, the Ex parte Young exception does not apply to declaratory relief against state officials in their official capacities when the relief relates only to past conduct and there is no ongoing violation of federal law. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 74 (1985) (holding that Eleventh Amendment bars retrospective declaratory relief against state officials); New York State Corr. Officers & Police Benev. Ass'n, Inc. v. New York, 911 F.Supp.2d 111, 129 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (“[D]eclaratory relief is not permitted under Ex parte Young when it would serve to declare only past actions in violation of federal law: retroactive declaratory relief cannot be properly characterized as prospective.”). As the request for declaratory relief here relates only to past actions, any request for declaratory relief against the defendants in their official capacities is dismissed.

         Accordingly, the court considers Myers' claims for damages and for declaratory relief to be asserted against the defendants in their individual capacities only.

         B. Injunctive Relief

         Injunctive relief in cases filed by prisoners regarding prison conditions must be narrowly tailored. “The court shall not approve any prospective relief unless the court finds that such relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.” 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1). In this case, Myers identifies one instance where he contends that his constitutional rights violated. Nonetheless, the requested injunctive relief would prohibit any defendant from “any and all retaliatory actions” against Myers until he is released from incarceration. See Compl. at ¶ 33.

         This request for injunctive relief is overbroad and does not satisfy the requirements of section 3626(a). First, this case does not include any claims for retaliation, and the injunction is not necessary to correct the one instance of alleged constitutional violations that is the subject of this case. Second, the Department of Correction website shows that Myers is serving a sentence of 14 years and 6 months, with a maximum release date of October 2025.[2] Thus, 7 years still remain to be served on his sentence. Furthermore, the alleged constitutional violations occurred while Myers was housed at Osborn Correctional Institution. See Compl. at ¶ 8. Myers is now housed at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution. At least four of the defendants- Lizon, Richardson, Ocasio, and Maldonado-are employed at Osborn, not at MacDougall-Walker. See id. at 1. Even if the relief were related to the constitutional violation at issue in this case, restricting the actions of the defendants, some of whom are not at the same correctional facility as Myers, for seven years is not the least intrusive means to correct the violation. The request for injunctive relief is dismissed.

         C. Due Process Claim

         Myers alleges that he was denied due process at the disciplinary hearing that resulted in his placement in the SRG Program. See Compl. at ΒΆ 25. Myers names defendants Richardson, Quiros, ...


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