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Tuttle v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 31, 2018

DAVID TUTTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff David Tuttle has filed a pro se complaint against state prison officials alleging that they deprived him of due process in connection with a disciplinary hearing concluding that plaintiff threatened another prison inmate. Based on the allegations of the complaint and its many documentary attachments, I conclude that plaintiff has not alleged plausible grounds for relief under the Due Process Clause, much less grounds that would plausibly suffice to overcome qualified immunity. Accordingly, I will dismiss this action.

         Background

         Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Correction's Commissioner Scott Semple, Director of Security Christine Whidden, District Admnistrators Peter Murphy and Edward Maldonado, Disciplinary Hearing Officer Eberle, Captain Dougherty, and Investigating Officer Dousis.[1]

         The following facts are assumed to be true solely for purposes of my initial evaluation of the adequacy of the second amended complaint. In December of 2016, plaintiff was confined in the restrictive housing unit (RHU) at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center. In anticipation of his release from RHU, plaintiff advised Investigating Officer Dousis and Deputy Warden Jeffrey Zegarzewski that he should not be placed in any of the general population units at Corrigan because of a prior incident he had with correctional officers. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff was removed from the RHU and placed in the C-Pod housing unit. Doc. #36 at 9-10 (¶¶ 16-17).

         While in the C-Pod unit, plaintiff was having “problems” with inmate Michael Roca-Rivera, who was housed in a nearby cell. On January 13, 2017, plaintiff wrote a letter to Warden Santiago, requesting that he be sent to another correctional facility or moved to another housing unit because he had a history of problems with Roca-Rivera. After failing to receive a response to the letter, plaintiff sent a second letter on January 19, 2017. Id. at 11-12 (¶¶ 18-20), 29-33 (January 13 letter), 34-35 (January 19 letter).

         On January 21, 2017, Roca-Rivera provided block officers with a two-page letter that he said was given to him by plaintiff. A disciplinary report was issued that same day which charged plaintiff with issuing “threats” against inmate Roca-Rivera. As a result, plaintiff was returned to the RHU. Id. at 12 (¶ 21); 36 (January 21 disciplinary report).

         On January 23, 2017, Officer Dousis informed plaintiff that the disciplinary report for threats would be dismissed, but that Captain Dougherty would issue another disciplinary report for security risk group affiliation (“SRG”) for plaintiff's affiliation with the Latin Kings. This disciplinary report was based on the same letter that served as the basis for the original disciplinary report. The new disciplinary report was issued on January 23, and plaintiff was provided a copy of the report that same day. Id. at 12 (¶ 22); 37 (January 23 disciplinary report with details concerning specific written threat and Latin Kings connection).

         Dousis further informed plaintiff that his disciplinary hearing was scheduled for January 25, 2017. Plaintiff told Dousis that he wanted an advocate to represent him at the hearing (which he received), requested certain witnesses who were housed in the C-Pod unit, and requested a continuance so that he could do research and prepare his defense. Plaintiff alleges that Douisis ignored his request for a continuance and that the request “was never marked down.” Dousis further stated that she had spoken with the witnesses in the C-Pod unit and that they had told her that they did not know anything and did not want to be involved in the hearing. Id. at 13 (¶¶ 23- 25), 38 (disciplinary report relating statements of prospective witnesses).

         Later that day, plaintiff was taken to the RHU manager's office where he met with Dousis and Dougherty. There, Dougherty showed plaintiff the two-page letter he had allegedly sent to Roca-Rivera. Upon review, plaintiff immediately noticed that the letter was not written in his handwriting and that the letter did not mention the words “Latin Kings” or other security risk group affiliations. Plaintiff told Dougherty and Dousis that he wanted the letter to be examined by a handwriting expert. Id. at 13-14 (¶¶ 26-27).

         On January 25, 2017, plaintiff was brought to his disciplinary hearing, in which Lieutenant Eberle served as the disciplinary hearing officer. While explaining the allegations behind the disciplinary report, Eberle mentioned the existence of camera footage from the facility's surveillance system showing plaintiff passing something with his right hand under Roca-Rivera's cell door on January 21, 2017. Plaintiff explained that he merely bent down to pick up a pencil that Roca-Rivera had passed him and that the disciplinary report he received regarding the gang affiliation made no mention of the video surveillance footage. Plaintiff objected to the introduction of the video footage and requested a continuance to review it. Plaintiff also states that he “became very upset” at the hearing. Immediately thereafter, officers removed him from the hearing and placed him back in his cell. Id. at 14-15 (¶¶ 28-31).

         Plaintiff was ultimately found guilty by the hearing officer “based on the inmate witness statements, DR History, facility video, evidence provided and staff documentation.” Id. at 38 (further describing evidence relied on by hearing officer). As a result, plaintiff was advised in writing that he was officially classified as an SRG member. Id. at 41. Plaintiff asked Dousis why he was never granted a continuance to prepare his defense, and Dousis allegedly stated that he had never asked for one. Id. at 16-17 (¶¶ 32-34), 39-41.

         On February 7, 2017, plaintiff wrote a letter and sent it to Commissioner Semple and others complaining about the hearing.[2] On February 23, Christine Whidden wrote a letter in response confirming the result of the hearing. Id. at 17 (¶¶ 35), 41.

         Attempts by plaintiff to obtain a copy of the handwritten note were unsuccessful. He was informed by Eberle, Dougherty, and Dousis that he would have to submit a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request. Plaintiff submitted two FOIA requests for a copy of the handwritten note in February of 2017; ...


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