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Knight v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 26, 2018

SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.


          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge

         Garland Knight (“Knight”), currently confined at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, filed this complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Double Jeopardy Clause. Before the court could complete the initial review of the Complaint, Knight filed an Amended Complaint. The named defendants in the Amended Complaint are the Municipality of the Department of Correction (“DOC”), Commissioner Scott Semple (“Semple”), Director of Offender Classification and Population Management David Maiga (“Maiga”), Warden Faucher (“Faucher”), Counselor Supervisor D. Doran (“Doran”), Counselor Supervisor Iooizia (“Iooizia”), Hearing Officer Forest (“Forest”), Correctional Counselor D. Crane (“Crane”), and Second Staff Witness on the C11 Form Jane or John Doe (“Doe”). Classification Committee Member Dumas was named in the Complaint but not the Amended Complaint. Thus, the court considers any claims against Dumas to have been withdrawn.

         Under section 1915A of Title 28 of the United States Code, 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).

         I. Allegations

         On January 16, 2018, Knight was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seven years, execution suspended after two years, to be followed by three years of probation. He was admitted to the Connecticut Department of Correction at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution. ECF No. 11 at 8, ¶ 1. On January 18, 2018, Knight received his Offender Accountability Plan instructing him to obtain a job and referring him to addiction services. He also received a Classification Review Sheet showing his overall level was 2. Id., ¶ 2.

         On January 25, 2018, Doran told Knight that a hearing had been scheduled on January 29, 2018, to determine whether Knight should have a sexual treatment needs score based on non-conviction information. Id., ¶ 3. At the hearing before the Classification Committee, Knight was asked to comment on a 17-year-old police report. Knight denied the allegations in the report. Id., ¶ 4. On January 31, 2018, the Classification Committee assigned Knight a sexual treatment needs score of 3. His Offender Accountability Plan was revised and Knight was transferred to Brooklyn Correctional Institution, a facility specializing in sex offender treatment. Id. at 8-9, ¶ 5.

         On February 3, 2018, Knight appealed the classification decision. Id. at 9, ¶ 6. On February 5, 2018, he attended orientation at Brooklyn Correctional Institution. Id., ¶ 7. Knight's appeal was denied on March 2, 2018. Id., ¶ 9 & ECF No. 1-1 at 11.

         II. Analysis

         In the Complaint, Knight argued that the use of a police report that did not result in a conviction for sexual offenses to raise his sexual treatment needs score violated his constitutional rights. He alleged that the defendants denied him due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and were deliberately indifferent to his liberty interest under the Eighth Amendment. He also contended that use of the police report has subjected him to double jeopardy by punishing him for a charge that was nolled in state court. Knight stated that he has named Commissioner Semple as a defendant because he is the “overseer of the Department of Correction.” ECF No. 1 at 6. All other individuals have initiated, implemented or upheld the practice of using non-conviction police reports to determine sexual treatment needs scores.

         In the Amended Complaint, Knight states that, in addition to the claims in the Complaint, he intends to challenge the classification manual policy as violating his rights under the Eighth Amendment and Double Jeopardy Clause and as violating of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

         A. Due Process

         Knight's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims in the Complaint actually are one claim, that the change in classification violated his right to due process of the law. To assert a due process challenge to a classification decision, Knight must show that he had a protected liberty interest in remaining free from the classification and, if he has such an interest, that the defendants deprived him of the interest without affording him due process of law. See Walker v. Fischer, 523 Fed.Appx. 43, 44 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing Giano v. Selsky, 238 F.3d 223, 225 (2d Cir. 2001)).

         The Second Circuit has held that, if improper classification has a stigmatizing effect, it can implicate a constitutional liberty interest. See Vega v. Lantz, 596, F.3d 77, 81-82 (2d Cir. 2010). Vega was challenging his assignment of a sex treatment needs score of “3, ” id. at 80, the same score assigned to Knight. Vega argued that his classification violated his right to due process because he was classified as a sex offender even though he had not been convicted of a sexual offense. He argued that the misclassification “deprived him of a federal constitutional liberty interest in not being falsely stigmatized and a state-created liberty interest in not being labeled as a sex offender absent a criminal conviction.” Id.

         The Second Circuit considered Vega's claim as a constitutional defamation claim. The court noted that, although defamation usually is considered a state-law claim, defamation by government officials may, under certain circumstances, rise to constitutional dimension. Id. at 81 (citing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701-10 (1976)). To state a constitutional claim, the plaintiff must “demonstrate ‘a stigmatizing statement plus a ...

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