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Seiler v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 5, 2018

SCOTT SEMPLE, et al. Defendants.


          Alvin W. Thompson, United States District Judge.

         On June 19, 2017, the plaintiff, Jonathan S. Seiler, a former inmate of the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”), filed a complaint pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking damages and injunctive relief against eight DOC officials. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants violated his First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution by denying him access to certain periodicals and magazines while he was confined at Cheshire Correctional Institution (“Cheshire”).

         On July 3, 2017, the court issued an Initial Review Order permitting the plaintiff's First Amendment claim to proceed against two defendants: Warden Scott Erfe and DOC Commissioner Scott Semple. See Initial Review Order [Doc.#7]. The court limited the action to the plaintiff's claim regarding the rejection of the magazine “Easyrider, ” which he had requested while he was confined at Cheshire. See Id. at 4. The court dismissed the claims against all other defendants. Defendants Erfe and Semple answered the complaint on July 25, 2018.

         On October 23, 2018, the two remaining defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's sole remaining claim regarding the denial of the “Easyrider” magazine. They contend that summary judgment is warranted because the plaintiff has failed (1) to establish the defendants' personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation, and (2) to exhaust his administrative remedies before commencing suit. See Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (“Defs.' Mem.”) [Doc.#41-1] at 1. In the alternative, the defendants argue that they are shielded from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity. The plaintiff has not responded to the defendants' motion. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion is being granted.

         I. Legal Standard

         In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law” and is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” based on it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Dister v. Continental Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988) (mere existence of alleged factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment motion). The moving party may satisfy this burden “by showing - that is pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curium) (internal quotations omitted; citations omitted).

         When a motion for summary judgment is supported by documentary evidence and sworn affidavits and “demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” the nonmoving party must do more than vaguely assert the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.; see also First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968) (nonmoving party must submit sufficient evidence supporting factual dispute that will require factfinder to resolve differing versions of truth at trial).

         In reviewing the record, the court must “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Gary Friedrich Enters., L.L.C. v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302, 312 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). If there is any evidence from which a reasonable factual inference could be drawn in favor of the non-moving party for the issue on which summary judgment is sought, then summary judgment is improper. See Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

         Where one party is proceeding pro se, the court must read his papers liberally and interpret them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Despite this liberal interpretation, however, “[u]nsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact” and cannot overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment. See Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 811 (2003).

         II. Facts

         The court draws the following facts from the defendants' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement (“Defs.' Stmt.”) [Doc.#41-3], which the plaintiff has not contested, [1] and the supporting exhibits.

         The plaintiff was confined at Cheshire from October 21, 2016 until June 1, 2017. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 1; Aff. of Boyd-Carter (“Boyd-Carter Aff.”), Defs.' Ex. C [Doc.#41-6] ¶ 7. He was released from DOC custody on September 29, 2017. See Notice of Change of Address [Doc.#28].

         Defendant Erfe was the warden at Cheshire during the time the plaintiff was confined there. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 2; Aff. of Scott Erfe (“Erfe Aff.”), Defs.' Ex. A [Doc.#41-4] ¶ 3. Neither Erfe nor Commissioner Semple review mail or periodicals received by inmates at Cheshire. Defs.' Stmt. ¶¶ 3, 12; Erfe Aff. ¶ 6. Pursuant to DOC Administrative Directive (“Admin. Dir.”) 10.7, “the Unit Administrator or designee shall review the individual publication prior to the rejection of that publication.” Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 5; Erfe Aff. ¶ 5; DOC Admin. Dir. 10.7, Defs.' Ex. C, p.2. Cheshire has mail officers who review incoming periodicals. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 6; Erfe Aff. ¶ 5.

         DOC policy provides that no incoming periodical can be rejected without individual review. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 16; Erfe Aff. ¶ 14; DOC Admin. Dir. 10.7, Defs.' Ex. C, p.32. “The Unit Administrator or designee may not establish an excluded list of publications.” DOC Admin. Dir. 10.7(4)(N)(2), Defs.' Ex. C, p.32. Thus, there is no list of periodicals to be rejected without review at Cheshire, Defs.' Stmt. ¶¶ 13-14, ...

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