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Lopez v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 4, 2019

SCOTT SEMPLE, et al. Defendants.


          Kari A. Dooley United States District Judge.

         On November 23, 2018, the Plaintiff, Treizy Treizon Lopez, an inmate currently confined at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, brought a civil action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against ten Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials in their individual and official capacities: Commissioner Scott Semple, District Administrator Edward Maldonado, Warden Kenneth Butricks, Captain Salvatore, Correction Officer Lis, Correction Officer Garibaldi, Correction Officer White, Counselor Mala, Counselor Fortin, and Lieutenant Eberle. Compl. (DE#1). The Plaintiff is suing the Defendants for violating his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights while he was confined at the Manson Youth Institution (“MYI”) in Cheshire, Connecticut and the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”) in Suffield, Connecticut. He seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. On December 5, 2018, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel granted the Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See Order No. 8.

         Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court 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. 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 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.” Bell Atlantic, 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 America, 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).


         In April of 2018, while being transferred from MYI to the Bridgeport Correctional Center (“BCC”), the Plaintiff was found to be in possession of compact discs (“CDs”), which are considered contraband. Compl. ¶ 88. A correction officer at BCC gave the Plaintiff an ultimatum of either revealing the identity of the person who gave him the CDs or receiving a Class A disciplinary report (“DR”) for possession of contraband. Id. Because the Plaintiff was unwilling to cooperate with the staff, he was placed in segregation immediately upon his arrival at BCC. Id. The following day, the Plaintiff was released from segregation, and his Class A DR was reduced to a Class B DR. Id. at ¶ 89.

         On June 20, 2018, the Plaintiff was transferred from BCC back to MYI without notice that most of his personal property would be left behind at BCC. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15. He asked Correction Officer White why he had not been provided with all of his property. Id. at ¶ 17. White told the Plaintiff that, when the rest of his property arrives from BCC, it would have to be inspected by Correction Officer Lis because the Plaintiff was previously found to be in possession of contraband. Id. The Plaintiff signed for the property that had arrived and proceeded to his housing unit. Id.

         The next day, the remaining property arrived at MYI. Compl. ¶ 18. Although it had already been inspected at BCC and cleared of any contraband, Correction Officer White conducted another search and found a one-dollar bill, another contraband item. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. The bill was discovered in a manila envelope that belonged to the Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 21. After White's search, the Plaintiff's property was stored in the MYI storage room. Id. at ¶ 19.

         On June 26, Officer Lis conducted another “targeted search” of the Plaintiff's property, even though it had been stored in the storage room and was only accessible to MYI staff. Compl. ¶¶ 23-24. As a result of the search, the Plaintiff was brought to segregation and placed on administrative detention pending a security risk group (“SRG”) affiliation. Id. at ¶ 26. He received a DR for the SRG affiliation, and Officer White issued him a DR for possession of contraband for the one-dollar bill that was discovered in his personal items. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27. The Plaintiff was placed in segregation, but he never received copies of the DRs or any other written notice of the allegations. Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.

         While housed in segregation at MYI, the Plaintiff asked Correction Officer Garibaldi for copies of the DRs for his review. Compl. ¶ 31. He also requested that White and Lis be interviewed as witnesses for his disciplinary hearing. Id. Garibaldi denied both requests but told the Plaintiff that he would dismiss the DRs if the Plaintiff gave him information on how CDs were being smuggled into MYI. Id. The Plaintiff refused to provide any information to Garibaldi and told him that he needed Lis's and White's testimony and copies of the DRs for his defense. Id. at ¶¶ 31-32. Garibaldi replied, “[Correction Officers] cannot be witnesses and there's no need for you to see any evidence because no matter what we're going to make sure the [disciplinary hearing officer] smokes you since you wanna make [our] job harder.” Id. at ¶ 32. Garibaldi also told the Plaintiff that a DR for SRG affiliation could not be challenged unless it is the inmate's first offense and that, if he does not plead guilty to that DR, he would receive another DR for disobeying a direct order. Id. at ¶ 33.

         Because of what Garibaldi told him, the Plaintiff pleaded guilty to the SRG DR out of fear of receiving another DR for disobeying a direct order. Compl. ¶ 34. He pleaded not guilty to the contraband DR issued by White. Id. at ¶ 35.

         Garibaldi assigned Counselor Mala to be the Plaintiff's advisor for the contraband DR hearing instead of allowing the Plaintiff to choose from a list of advocates per DOC policy. Compl. ¶ 36. Mala interviewed the Plaintiff shortly before his hearing. Id. at ¶ 37. During the interview, the Plaintiff asked Mala to seek information from Lis and White, but Mala told him that correction officers were “not allowed to be . . . witnesses [for inmates] and [that] there's no need for an investigation because we all know you'r[e] guilty.” Id. at ¶ 38. Mala was later relieved of his duty as the Plaintiff's advisor and replaced with Counselor Grey just minutes for the disciplinary hearing on July 10, 2018. Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.

         On the day of the hearing, the Plaintiff met briefly with Counselor Grey, who also told him that correction officers could not serve as witnesses for inmates and refused to do any investigation because the hearing was only minutes away. Compl. ¶ 41. The Plaintiff was then “rushed into” Captain Salvatore's office for the hearing and appeared before Salvatore and Lieutenant Eberle, the disciplinary hearing officer. Id. at ¶ 42. During the hearing, he asked Salvatore and Eberle why he had not been shown any of the evidence against him or why Lis and White had not been interviewed per his request. Id. at ¶ 43. Eberle responded that correction officers were not permitted to be witnesses, that it was the Plaintiff's word against that of staff members, and that he was “going to have to take staff's word and find [the Plaintiff] guilty due to the fact that [he] was [previously] caught with CDs.” Id. Salvatore agreed with Eberle's decision. Id. Thus, the Plaintiff was found guilty of the contraband DR. Id.

         Before leaving Salvatore's office and returning to the segregation unit, the Plaintiff asked Salvatore and Eberle whether the guilty finding would have any effect on his SRG program placement. Compl. ¶ 46. Eberle told him that his SRG placement would be determined by a separate classification hearing. Id. However, the Plaintiff was never given a separate classification hearing for his SRG placement. Id. at ¶ 47.

         As a result of both guilty findings, the Plaintiff received as sanctions twenty-eight days of punitive segregation and 115 days loss of phone and commissary privileges. Compl. ¶¶ 49-50. The Plaintiff spent twenty-two of those days on administrative detention and the remaining six days on transfer detention, awaiting his transfer to the SRG program. Id. at ¶ 51.

         During his time in segregation at MYI, the Plaintiff lost several privileges, including legal calls, mail, visitations, exercise, fruit, dessert, dinner snack juice, writing utensils, inmate request forms, and laundry services. Compl. ¶¶ 54, 56-58, 65-66, 79-80. He was provided with only one set of clean clothing per week and forced to shower in unsanitary conditions and with cold water. Id. at ¶ 59, 69. The cells in the segregation unit were unclean, smelled of urine and feces, and contained several insects. Id. at ¶¶ 60, 63. The Plaintiff was told by correction officers that, if he killed any of the insects, he would be issued another DR. Id. at ¶ 63. The bed in the Plaintiff's cell was rusted and contained dirty sheets and blankets. Id. at ¶ 61. The segregation unit was also freezing, and when the Plaintiff complained about the temperature to Salvatore and Counselor Fortin, the Defendants told him to “stop bitching” and to “grow some balls. You're in jail. You're not supposed to like it.” Id. at ¶ 71.

         While in segregation, the Plaintiff “was denied any means to practice his religion [and] deprived [of] any form of religious services . . . .” Compl. ¶ 85. Any religious material that he requested during his time in segregation was denied by correctional staff. Id. The Plaintiff was also denied medical treatment for his dry skin and rashes and his inhaler, which caused him to endure difficulty breathing. Id. at ¶¶ 81, 112-13. As a result of these deprivations, the Plaintiff suffered from emotional distress, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, insect bites, extreme headaches, itchy dry skin and rashes, and loss of weight. Id. at ¶¶ 114-31.

         During a routine tour of the segregation unit, the Plaintiff asked Warden Butricks and Salvatore why he and other inmates in segregation had to deal with so many deprivations. Compl. ¶ 74. Butricks stated that MYI is run differently than the adult prisons and that he “see[s] no problem with the way that Joanne[2] punishes the youth who break . . . rules and policies.” Id.

         On July 18, 2018, the Plaintiff was released from the administrative detention portion of his segregation placement and placed on transfer detention status. Compl. ¶ 75. While on transfer detention status in the segregation unit, he was subjected to the same deprivations. Id.

         On July 24, 2018, the Plaintiff was transferred from the segregation unit at MYI to the SRG housing unit at MWCI. Compl. ¶ 92. Prior to leaving MYI, the Plaintiff requested to review his property matrix and verify the contents of all of his personal property, but MYI staff refused to grant his request. Id. at ¶¶ 92-93. When he arrived at MWCI, he noticed that his television and A/C adapter were not listed on his property matrix. Id. at ¶ 94. MWCI staff was unable to determine the status of his missing property and told the Plaintiff to file a lost property claim. Id. at ¶ 95. Afterward, the Plaintiff was escorted to the SRG housing unit at MWCI. Id. at ¶ 96. When on route to the SRG unit, the escorting officer told the Plaintiff that there were no inmate request forms, lost property claim forms, or administrative remedy forms in the unit and that the Plaintiff would have to wait until the following day to submit a form. Id. at ¶ 97.

         The Plaintiff was not provided with an administrative remedy form until August 2, 2018, which he used to appeal Eberle's disciplinary finding. Compl. ¶¶ 99-100. On October 2, District Administrator Maldonado denied the Plaintiff's appeal because it was filed more than fifteen days after the disciplinary hearing on July 10, 2018. Id. at ¶ 102. The Plaintiff was unable to appeal Eberle's decision while in segregation at MYI because he had not been provided with writing utensils or proper remedy forms. Id. at ¶ 104.

         Between September 26 and October 18, while at MWCI, the Plaintiff filed over seven grievances regarding his concerns, which resulted in his placement on grievance restriction. Compl. ¶ 142. He also sent a letter to Commissioner Semple ...

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