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Petitpas v. Martin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 15, 2018

CHAD PETITPAS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MARTIN, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

          Plaintiff Chad Petitpas is a prisoner of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed this lawsuit alleging that DOC officials have violated his constitutional rights by subjecting him to a higher risk classification on the grounds of his conviction for a sex offense. In accordance with my duty to conduct an initial screening review of Petitpas's claims, I will dismiss his Due Process and First Amendment claims but allow his Equal Protection claim to proceed. This ruling is without prejudice to defendants' filing of a motion to dismiss that articulates a rational basis for any unequal treatment of Petitpas.

         Background

          Petitpas is serving a state prison sentence following his conviction on multiple counts of first-degree sexual assault and related charges. He was convicted on the basis of evidence showing that, when he was 28 years old in October 2006, he forced a 15-year-old girl to engage with him in oral and vaginal intercourse. See State v. Petitpas, 183 Conn.App. 442, 444 (2018); see also State v. Petitpas, 299 Conn. 99, 105 (2010) (describing trial evidence). He has filed this action against five officials of the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) in their official capacity: Robert Martin (warden of the Brooklyn Correctional Institution where Petitpas is confined), Scott Semple (DOC's commissioner), David Maiga (DOC's director of classification), Thomas Hunt (director of DOC's Community Release Unit), and Elizabeth Tugie (a classification counselor supervisor).

         Petitpas alleges that he is “a model inmate navigating the policies and unjust standards set forth by the Department of Correction for Sexual Offenders.” Doc. #10 at 2. He claims that “[t]he current policies and standards for all Sexual Offenders significantly and blatantly infring[e] on my ability to earn the shortest sentence possible like every other class of offender has the opportunity to do.” Ibid.

         The complaint describes at some length how the DOC classifies inmates in terms of their “treatment needs” and “risk level, ” which in turn affects an inmate's ability to qualify for early release. See also Anthony A. v. Comm'r, 326 Conn. 668, 671-72 & n.3 (2017) (describing DOC's classification criteria); Doc. #1 at 17-21 (excerpts of DOC's inmate classification manual submitted as attachment to complaint). Inmates are entitled to regular reviews of their treatment needs and risk level scores, and if an inmate follows the terms of his Offender Accountability Plan (OAP), the inmate's overall score may be lowered so that he or she can qualify for community release. Doc. #10 at 3 (¶¶ 6-9); see also Doc. #1 at 17-21 (describing reclassification review process).

         According to Petitpas, he and other sex offenders are classified as a “treatment needs” score of Level 3, and this means that his “risk level” score is also set at Level 3. Doc #10 at 4-5 (¶¶ 10-11). Petitpas claims that the only way that his overall score may be reduced below Level 3 is if he obtains a “favorable recommendation” from the prison warden and if this recommendation in turn is subject to further departmental review. Id. at 5-6 (¶ 16). Petitpas alleges that Warden Martin has never issued a favorable recommendation for a sex offender and “openly admits” that he would never write one. Ibid. Petitpas further alleges that, even if he were to receive a favorable recommendation, the Community Release Unit which would receive the recommendation “literally does not have the authority to give an approval, ” because further approval must be sought “from both Population Management & Classification as well as the Commissioner of Corrections Scott Semple.” Id. at 6 (¶ 16).

         Petitpas attached to his initial complaint an excerpt of the DOC's classification manual. Doc. #1 at 17-21. The manual states in relevant part that “[a]ny inmate serving a sentence for a sex related offense . . . shall only be approved by the Commissioner or designee prior to being classified below Overall Risk Level 3. Only favorable recommendations by the Unit Administrator will be forwarded to the Director of Classification and Population Management.” Id. at 21.

         Petitpas alleges that in February 2016 he sent a letter to defendant Tugie regarding his upcoming classification review. Doc #10 at 2 (¶ 1). His letter asked that his overall risk level be reduced to a Level 2 so that he could take part in transitional programming and earn additional Risk Reduction Earned Credit (“RREC”). Ibid. Tugie assured Petitpas that “on February 15, 2017 he would be eligible for consideration of an Overall Risk Level reduction and that [he] would be given the same due consideration as all other offenders.” Id. at 2 (¶ 2).

         Pursuant to the DOC's classification manual, an inmate is notified if a level reduction is approved, and is “seen” if a review for an overall level reduction is denied. Doc. #1 at 17. On February 27, 2017, Petitpas was denied a risk level reduction, but he was not seen by corrections staff following the denial and did not become aware of the denial in time to appeal it. Id. at 2 (¶ 4) and 9 (¶ 31). According to Petitpas, he was “denied an overall level reduction without the required review and or any other process due.” Id. at 2 (¶ 4).

         Petitpas has filed on the docket an inmate request form that he sent to Warden Martin on November 8, 2017, requesting a “favorable recommendation” so that he might have his overall risk level reduced from Level 3 to Level 2. Doc. #9 at 2. Martin responded on November 14, 2017, that “your request has been denied due to the nature of your instant offense.” Ibid. On December 18, 2017, Petitpas renewed his request, citing his favorable scores on college final exams and stating that “I pose no significant security or behavioral concerns in any of the seven cat[e]gories used to determine an inmate[']s Overall Risk Level.” Id. at 4. Warden Martin responded that he had already answered Petitpas's request for a favorable recommendation. Ibid.

         On December 20, 2017, prison officials again reviewed Petitpas for an overall risk level reduction but he was denied again. Doc 10. at 9 (¶ 32); see also Doc. #9 at 6 (classification review sheet dated December 27, 2017). Petitpas filed an internal appeal of the decision on January 3, 2018. Doc. #9 at 7-10.

         Petitpas now alleges that “[t]he DOC and all named defendants have impl[e]mented policies, regulations and a process that significantly infringes on the plaintiff's ability to earn the shortest sentence possible which violates his Constitutional Rights to Due Process, Equal Protection, a State Created Liberty Interest and in violation of his First Amendment right which would prohibit unfair treatment and access to the court with a Class action.” Doc. #10 at 11. He sues each of the defendants in their official capacities only, seeking injunctive relief “to demand whatever the DOC does to repair and balance the current Classification Manual or puts in place for the plaintiff and all similarly situated S.O's [sexual offenders] be obtainable within reason.” Ibid. “Again, a ‘favorable recommendation' has never bee[n] issued and no S.O. has ever been reduced in ...


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