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Webb v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 25, 2018

DANIEL J.A. WEBB, Plaintiff,
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.


          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Daniel J.A. Webb (“Webb”), currently confined at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, filed this complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging his placement in solitary confinement and the conditions there. He names seventeen defendants: Scott Semple, James Dzurenda, Leo Arnone, Brian K. Murphy, Theresa Lantz, John Armstrong, Larry Myers, Angel Quiros, Eduardo Maldonado, Anne Cournoyer, William Mulligan, Jason Cahill, Wayne Choinski, Jeffrey McGill, Kevin Brace, Mark Frayne, and Gerald Gagne. Defendants Dzurenda, Arnone, Murphy, Lantz, Armstrong, Myers, Cahill, Brace, Choinski and McGill are named in their individual capacity only. The remaining defendants are named in both their individual and official capacities. Webb's complaint was received on September 27, 2017, and his motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on October 11, 2017.

         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

         Webb makes the following allegations in his complaint. On September 12, 1991, Webb was sentenced to death and remanded to the custody of the Department of Correction. He was confined in the F-block segregation unit at Somers State Prison. On March 17, 1995, then Commissioner John Armstrong ordered Webb transferred to solitary confinement at newly completed Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”), the most secure facility in Connecticut designed for inmates who could not control their behavior in general population. Webb has remained in solitary confinement at Northern for 22 years, without any meaningful review to justify the continued confinement.

         Solely because he was sentenced to death, Webb has been confined in a small concrete cell with a narrow slit window, 36” x 4”, for 24 hours per day. He is denied contact visits, educational and vocational opportunities, and group recreation. The lack of human contact has led to psychological deterioration.

         Before being transferred to Northern, Webb was permitted three social contact visits per week with family and friends and one visit every other weekend, group recreation with other death row inmates, the opportunity to work daily, participation in the family picture program, participation in the holiday package program, vocational training and group religious prayer services. Those privileges were denied at Northern without any warning or process.

         Most inmates at Northern are permitted to advance through a phase program and return to general population at another correctional facility. Webb was not permitted to do so. Rather he has been confined for 22 years in extreme isolation, with sensory deprivation and restricted movement. He has limited access to his personal property, limited recreational and cultural opportunities and near total lack of contact with family and friends.

         Webb's cell is 12 feet by 7 feet. In addition to the narrow window, there is a slit window in the cell door of approximately the same size. The cell contains a metal bunk, a desk with a fixed stool that does not accommodate Webb's size, and a toilet/sink combination near the door. Webb is 6'3” tall and grossly overweight. He attributes his obesity to the lack of meaningful exercise opportunities. The mattress is very thin and contributes to Webb's chronic lower back pain. Webb must bend down to place his hands behind his back through the food trap in order to be restrained for movement outside his cell. The food trap is 29.5 inches from the floor, causing Webb pain in his knees when bending down to put his hands through the trap.

         The cell temperature is often too cold in summer and too hot in winter. There is much noise from the ventilation system and other inmates. The ventilation ducts have not been cleaned in 22 years. Webb claims that his eyesight has worsened as a result of constant exposure to harsh fluorescent lighting. Recreation is conducted outdoors, alone, in a concrete “dog kennel.” Inmates must share a coat and are not permitted hats. Unlike Administrative Segregation inmates, Webb is not provided soap, shampoo, deodorant, socks or underwear. Webb experiences some of the documented effects of solitary confinement. He also has severe concentration and memory problems. Webb has been discriminated against regarding job opportunities because of his race. Webb describes various incidents as psychological torture, including interference with mail, denial of medical treatment for toenail fungus and denial of an Islamic diet and congregate services.

         Defendants Frayne and Gagne did not perform proper psychiatric and behavioral evaluations on Webb at any time during his 22 years at Northern. They have downgraded Webb's mental health disorders to ensure his continued confinement at Northern.

         In April 2012, the State of Connecticut abolished the death penalty prospectively. In August 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court made the abolishment applicable to all inmates currently on death row. In response to the abolishment of the death penalty, the Connecticut legislature enacted Conn. Gen. Stat. § 18-10b, which provides, inter alia, that inmates whose death sentences have been reduced by the court to life imprisonment without the possibility of release will be placed on special circumstances high security status until the inmate is reclassified.

         On September 9, 2016, Webb was resentenced to life without the possibility of release. Defendants Semple, Cournoyer, Quiros and Mulligan changed Webb's classification in accordance with the statute. Although two other former death row inmates who were reclassified under the statute are now permitted to use the gym twice per week, defendant Mulligan denied Webb the same privilege.

         II. Analysis

         Webb includes five claims: (1) a challenge to his confinement at Northern for the last 22 years as an ex post facto violation; (2) a challenge to the conditions at Northern as violating the Eighth Amendment; (3) a claim for denial of due process relating to his continued solitary confinement; (4) a claim for deliberate indifference to serious mental health needs against defendants Frayne and Gagne; and (5) a challenge to the murder with ...

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