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Brown v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 10, 2018

CHRISTOPHER BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, ET AL., Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER: MOTION TO DISMISS AND SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT

          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Christopher Brown, currently confined at Cheshire Correctional Institution, initiated this action pro se by filing a civil rights complaint against the State of Connecticut Department of Correction and fourteen of its employees. The plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint to add five new employees of the Department of Correction as defendants. See First Am. Compl., ECF No. 7.

         On December 19, 2016, the court dismissed the Fifth Amendment and Americans with Disabilities Act claims as well as all other claims against defendants Department of Correction, Warden Maldonado, Captains Johnson, Tuttle, Robles and Marinelli and CCT Counselor Morrison pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), and all claims for monetary damages against the remaining defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2). See IRO, ECF No. 10 at 9. The court concluded that the Eighth Amendment claims for deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's mental health needs and safety and unconstitutional conditions of confinement, the Fourteenth Amendment claim for discrimination in violation of the plaintiff's right to equal protection of the laws, and the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claims related to the plaintiff's initial placement in administrative segregation, his continued confinement in administrative segregation, his transfer to different phases of administrative segregation at different facilities, and his regression back to earlier phases of administrative segregation would proceed against defendants Commissioner Semple, District Administrator Quiros, Wardens Erfe and Cournoyer, Deputy Wardens William Mulligan and Lafar, Directors of Offender Classification and Population Management Lewis and Maiga, Counselors Bachon, O'Neill and Griggs and Drs. Frayne and Gagne in their individual capacities and official capacities. See id.

         The plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the dismissal of the claims against defendants Warden Maldonado, Captain Johnson, and Captain Robles. On May 23, 2017, the court granted the motion for reconsideration to the extent that it sought to reinstate the Fourteenth Amendment claim against Warden Maldonado, Captains Johnson, and Robles for denial of procedural due process in connection with the plaintiff's continued confinement in administrative segregation without periodic reviews, the Fourteenth Amendment claim against Captain Johnson for denial of procedural due process in connection with the plaintiff's regression back to earlier phases of administrative segregation, and the Eighth Amendment claim against Warden Maldonado for deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's mental health needs and denied the motion to the extent that it sought to reinstate the discrimination claim against Warden Maldonado. See Order, ECF No. 33.

         On November 13, 2017, the defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint. In response, on December 1, 2017, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint naming Commissioner Semple, District Administrators Quiros and Maldonado, Wardens Erfe, Cournoyer, and Mulligan, Directors Lewis and Maiga, Counselor Supervisor Bachon, Hearing Officer Griggs, Captains Johnson and Robles, Drs. Frayne and Gagne, and Mental Health Social Worker William Longo as defendants. See Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 53, at 1. On July 3, 2018, the court denied the motion to dismiss as moot in light of the filing of a second amended complaint. See Order, ECF No. 69.

         The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the claims asserted in the second amended complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court “accepts as true all of the factual allegations set out in [the] complaint, draw[s] inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and construes the complaint liberally.” Roth v. Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 510 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In addition to the facts set forth in the complaint, the court may consider documents either attached to the complaint or incorporated into it by reference, “and matters subject to judicial notice.” New York Pet Welfare Ass'n, Inc. v. City of New York, 850 F.3d 79, 86.

         To withstand a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief 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)). “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.” Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Legal conclusions and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Id.

         “Where ... the complaint was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally with ‘special solicitude' and interpreted to raise the strongest claims that it suggests.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011)). Nevertheless, a pro se plaintiff's complaint must state a plausible claim for relief. Id. (citation omitted).

         II. Facts

         On November 3, 2013, at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution (“Corrigan”), plaintiff fought with another inmate, Edward Bermudez, and received a disciplinary report for fighting and a disciplinary report for assault. (Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 53, ¶¶ 43, 46, 65-66; Exs., ECF No. 53-1 at 1-3.) Later that day or the following day, the plaintiff met with a disciplinary investigator and decided to plead guilty to the charge of fighting. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 66.) The investigator indicated that in exchange for the guilty plea, the plaintiff would be sanctioned as follows: seven days of punitive segregation, thirty days of commissary and sixty days loss of telephone privileges. (Id.) The investigator did not mention possible placement in the Administrative Segregation Program as part of the sanctions. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         A lieutenant copied the front of the disciplinary report including the assault charge. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 67-69.) An investigator copied the back of the disciplinary report charging the plaintiff with fighting that included the plaintiff's signature and guilty plea. (Id.) The lieutenant then put the copy of the front of the report charging the plaintiff with assault together with the copy of the back of the disciplinary report charging the plaintiff with fighting that also included the plaintiff's signature and guilty plea and placed both copies in the plaintiff's master file. (Id.) These two copies made it appear as if the plaintiff had been charged with and had pleaded guilty to assault and formed the basis of the plaintiffs arrest for assault and placement in administrative segregation for four years. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 69, 71.) The process summary report for the disciplinary charge of assault indicated that the plaintiff had pleaded guilty to the charge of Assault/A and had been sanctioned to seven days of punitive segregation, thirty days of commissary and sixty days loss of telephone privileges and the forfeiture of ten days of Risk Reduction Earned Credits. (Exs., ECF No. 53-1, at 24.)

         On November 4, 2013, Scott Erfe, who was the warden at Corrigan, sent a memorandum to District Administrator Quiros and Director of Offender Classification and Population Management Lewis recommending the plaintiffs placement in the Administrative Segregation Program at Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”) because of his involvement in the assault on another inmate that led to that inmate's transfer to an outside hospital for treatment of a serious head injury. (Id. ¶ 75; Exs., ECF No. 53-1, at 43.) Later that day, Director Lewis, District Administrator Quiros, and Warden Erfe transferred the plaintiff from Corrigan to Northern and he was immediately placed in the Administrative Segregation unit. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 23.) The plaintiff did not receive notice of or participate in a hearing prior to his transfer to Northern. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         On November 21, 2013, Counselor Bachon delivered to the plaintiff a notice indicating that, due to his assault on another inmate, a hearing would be held to determine whether he should be placed in the Administrative Segregation Program. (Id. ¶ 24; Exs., ECF No. 53-1, at 45.) On November 25, 2013, the plaintiff participated in the hearing and introduced his written statement documenting what had occurred during the altercation with Inmate Bermudez. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 77; Exs., ECF No. 53-1, at 46-48.) Counselor Supervisor Bachon and Correctional Treatment Officer Mortimer acted as the plaintiff's advocates in connection with the hearing. (Id. Exs., ECF No. 53-1, at 45-46.)

         During the hearing, Officer Griggs and Counselor Supervisor Bachon considered information relevant to the decision of whether to place the plaintiff on administrative segregation, but did not interview witnesses. (Id. ¶ 33; 78.) At the conclusion of the hearing, Hearing Officer Griggs and Counselor Supervisor Bachon recommended that the plaintiff's placement in the Administrative Segregation Program be suspended for 120 days and that the plaintiff be placed in general population during the 120-day period. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 78.) On December 3, 2013, Director Lewis issued a decision overriding the recommendation of Hearing Officer Griggs and Counselor Supervisor Bachon and approved the plaintiff's placement in the Administrative Segregation Program. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40, 81.) The plaintiff appealed his placement in administrative segregation to then Deputy Commissioner Scott Semple who, on January 17, 2014, denied the appeal and approved the plaintiff's placement. (Id. ¶ 83; Exs., ECF No. 53-2, at 5.)

         The plaintiff has been diagnosed with several mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and anti-social personality disorder and also suffers from suicidal thoughts. (¶¶ 14-15). The Department of Correction has classified the plaintiff as a seriously mentally ill inmate. (Id. ¶ 13.) During the plaintiff's confinement in the Administrative Segregation Program, Commissioner Semple, District Administrators Quiros and Maldonado, Wardens Erfe, Cournoyer, and Mulligan, Captains Robles and Johnson, Drs. Frayne and Gagne, and Social Worker Longo were aware of the plaintiff's mental health conditions and needs as documented in his mental health records. (Id. ¶¶ 60-62.) The plaintiff also verbally informed these defendants about his mental health disorders and need for treatment. (Id. ¶ 62.) There are no mental health units at Northern or Cheshire. (Id. ¶ 21.) During a 792-day period, during which he was confined at Northern and Cheshire, the plaintiff submitted at least eighteen requests for mental health evaluations and treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 91, 94.) Drs. Gagne and Frayne and Social Worker Longo failed to periodically review or assess the plaintiff's mental health conditions every thirty days and did not develop an adequate mental health plan for the plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 54, 56, 96, 101-02.)

         On February 7, 2016, the plaintiff sent a request to speak with a mental health professional. (Id. ¶ 91.) On February 10, 2016, Social Worker Longo indicated that he had spoken to the plaintiff about his concerns in a private setting on February 9, 2016, he had only received one other request for mental health treatment from plaintiff dated February 5, 2016, and he would inform the psychiatrist that the plaintiff wanted to speak to him. (Id. ¶ 92; Exs., ECF No. 53-2, at 8.) The plaintiff submitted a grievance to the mental health department at Northern on February 16, 2016. (Id. ¶ 93; Exs., ECF No. 53-2, at 9.) In that grievance, the plaintiff claimed that since his arrival at Northern on September 1, 2015, he had spoken to Dr. Frayne twice and Social Worker Longo once and that he had submitted nine to eleven requests regarding major mental health concerns. (Id.) The plaintiff requested that someone from the mental health department respond to his serious mental health needs. (Id.) Dr. Frayne responded to the grievance indicating that he had repeatedly asked the plaintiff to meet privately with him to discuss his concerns, Social Worker Longo had met with the plaintiff on one occasion, Dr. Gagne had evaluated the plaintiff on February 23, 2016, and mental health professionals had offered the plaintiff the “Start Now” program. (Id.)

         During his placement in administrative segregation, the plaintiff was confined to a small cell for twenty-three hours a day, was permitted to shower only three times a week, was required to wear full restraints whenever he left his cell, was not permitted to have any contact visits, was required to eat his meals in his cell, was limited to one telephone call a week, was not permitted to participate in congregate programming or religious services, and could not be considered for a work assignment. (Id. ¶ 26.) These conditions of confinement caused the plaintiff to hear voices and experience delusions, hallucinations, paranoid, suicidal, and racing thoughts, bewilderment, and loss of sleep and memory. (Id. ¶ 58.) Commissioner Semple, District Administrators Quiros and Maldonado, Wardens Erfe, Cournoyer, and Mulligan, Captains Robles and Johnson, Drs. Frayne and Gagne, and Social Worker Longo were aware of the plaintiff's mental health needs and the effects of the conditions of confinement in administrative segregation on his mental health. (Id. ¶¶ 59-63.)

         Commissioner Semple, Wardens Erfe, Cournoyer, and Mulligan, Directors Lewis and Maiga, Counselor Supervisor Bachon, District Administrators Maldonado and Quiros, and Captains Robles and Johnson confined the plaintiff in administrative segregation at Northern and Cheshire for years and did not perform regular, periodic reviews to determine the need for his continued confinement in administrative segregation after his initial placement in November 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 28, 95-98, 109-112, 114.) The conditions of confinement at Northern have exacerbated the plaintiff's mental illness and caused him to suffer injuries to his knees and back. (Id. ¶¶ 57, 91, 113.)

         Wardens Erfe, Cournoyer, and Mulligan, Captain Robles, Counselor Supervisor Bachon, Directors Lewis and Maiga, and District Administrators Quiros and Maldonado subjected the plaintiff to multiple phase regressions during his confinement within the Administrative Segregation Program at Cheshire and Northern. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 115-125.) These defendants failed to provide him with a hearing before each phase regression. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 115.) The plaintiff remained in administrative segregation for approximately four years. (Id. ¶ 71.)

         David Maiga took over as the Director of Offender Classification and Population Management from Karl Lewis. (Id. ¶ 85.) In late October and early November 2015, the plaintiff wrote to Director Maiga regarding his placement in the Administrative Segregation Program based on his alleged assault of Inmate Bermudez during a fight on November 3, 2013. In a letter from the Office of Offender Classification and Population Management dated November 2, 2015, a counselor supervisor indicated that the Department of Correction had found the plaintiff guilty of an assault in connection with the November 3, 2013 physical assault of Inmate Bermudez and that the serious nature of the injuries caused to Inmate Bermudez constituted circumstances that met the rationale for the plaintiff's placement in the Administrative Segregation Program. (Id. ¶¶ 86, 89; Exs., ECF No. 53-2, at 7.)

         The plaintiff sues the defendants in their individual capacities. (Id. ¶ 1.) He seeks nominal, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief. (Id. ¶ 126.)

         III. Discussion

         The defendants assert nine arguments in support of their motion to dismiss. They argue that the allegations in the second amended complaint fail to state a claim of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, fail to state a claim of cruel and unusual punishment, fail to state a violation of the plaintiff's right to equal protection of the laws, fail to state a claim of a violation of the plaintiff's right to procedural due process, and fail to demonstrate supervisory liability on the part of defendants Semple, Erfe, Cournoyer, Maldonado, Quiros and Mulligan. In addition, the defendants contend that the requests for injunctive and declaratory relief are barred by Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, the requests for compensatory and punitive damages are barred by 42 U.S.C. § 1977e(e), and they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         A. Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference Claims

         The court construes the second amended complaint as asserting two types of Eighth Amendment claims, a deliberate indifference to mental health needs claim and an unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim.

         1. Deliberate Indifference - Mental Health Needs

         The defendants argue that the plaintiff has not alleged facts or provided evidence to prove that he suffered from a serious medical need. In connection with this argument, defendants Semple, Erfe, Cournoyer, Maldonado, Quiros and Mulligan contend that the plaintiff has failed to allege their personal involvement in the failure to provide him with mental health care at Northern and Cheshire. The defendants argue that the plaintiff has failed to meet either prong of the Eighth Amendment standard applicable to a claim of deliberate indifference to health Deliberate indifference by prison officials to a prisoner's serious medical or mental health needs constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (deliberate indifference by prison officials to a prisoner's serious medical need constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment); Atkins v. County of Orange, 372 F.Supp.2d 377, 408 (S.D.N.Y.2005) (“In the Second Circuit, it is equally clear that psychiatric or mental health care ‘is an integral part of medical care' and falls under the rule laid out in Estelle which requires that such care be provided to prisoners.”) To state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical or mental health need, a plaintiff must meet a two-pronged test. Under the first prong, a plaintiff must demonstrate that his or her medical or mental health need was “sufficiently serious.” Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 279 (2d Cir. 2006). Factors relevant to the seriousness of a medical condition include whether “a reasonable doctor or patient would find [it] important and worthy of comment, ” whether the condition “significantly affects an individual's daily activities, ” and whether it causes “chronic and substantial pain.” Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998) (quotation marks omitted).

         Subjectively, the defendant must have been actually aware of a substantial risk that the inmate would suffer serious harm as a result of his or her actions or inactions. See Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 279-80. Mere negligent conduct does constitute deliberate indifference. See Id. at 280 (“[R]ecklessness entails more than mere negligence; the risk of harm must be substantial and the official's actions more than merely negligent.”); Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2003) (medical malpractice alone does not amount to deliberate indifference).

         Absent allegations demonstrating the personal involvement of a defendant in a constitutional violation, a plaintiff is not entitled to an award of damages. See Farrell v. Burke, 449 F.3d 470, 484 (2d Cir. 2006) (“It is well settled in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.”) (quoting Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994)). Thus, supervisory officials cannot be held liable under section 1983 solely for the acts of their subordinates. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at ...


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