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Galarza v. Erfe

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 7, 2019

LUIS GALARZA, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT ERFE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Luis Galarza is a sentenced prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed this complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge his treatment by prison officials in connection with a security investigation that disclosed Galarza's use of an iPhone in prison. For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that Galarza has not alleged facts that give rise to plausible grounds for relief as any of his constitutional claims. Therefore, I will dismiss the complaint without prejudice.

         Background

         The facts here involve Galarza's detention in 2018 at Cheshire Correctional Institution (Cheshire) and MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (MacDougall). Galarza names seventeen defendants, all of whom are officials of the Connecticut Department of Correction: Wardens Scott Erfe, William Mulligan, and Hannal; Commissioner Scott S. Semple; Deputy Commissioner Monica Rinaldi; RHU Administrators James Watson and D. Synott; Lieutenants Boyd and Schneider; Correctional Officers Peracchio, Wright, “Laone/John Smith, ” Vergas, and Verdura; Administrative Remedies Coordinator Boyd-Carter; Health Services Staff “Cruz/Jane Smith”; and Investigator CC Green. All dates referenced in the complaint took place in 2018.

         On January 26, 2018, Lieutenant Boyd and Officers Wright, Vergas, Verdura, and Peracchio entered Galarza's cell while he was sleeping. Wright and Peracchio jumped on him, put him in handcuffs, and escorted him to the restrictive housing unit (“RHU”). Peracchio twisted Galarza's hands into such an awkward position during the escort that Galarza asked him to stop using so much force. Upon reaching the dayroom, the officers asked Galarza if he had any problems with their strip search policy. He said he did not, though he did not know what the policy was. When they asked Galarza to spread his buttocks with his hands, he felt that his rights were being violated. He said nothing, however, because Boyd was holding a can of mace, and Galarza feared that he would use the chemical agent. After the search, Galarza was given a red jumpsuit and placed in RHU cell 22. Doc. #1 at 9.

         On January 29, the same officers questioned Galarza about an iPhone found in inmate Angel Lorenzo's cell. Galarza said he had not used the phone and asked whether anyone had found a phone in his possession or in his cell. Boyd said no, but Verdura said that he knew that Galarza had used the phone. The officers asked Galarza if he knew which correctional officer had brought the phone into the facility. He responded that no phone had been found in his possession and that he did not know who had brought it in. Id. at 9-10.

         Two days later, the officers questioned Galarza a second time, this time with additional information from a confidential informant. They showed Galarza copies of phone records but did not permit him to read them. Vergas told Galarza that the list contained numbers he had called, and the officers charged him with possession of contraband even though inmate Lorenzo had confessed to exclusive possession of the phone. The officers threatened Galarza with criminal charges, and Verdura threatened his family. Boyd threatened to place him on high security status. Vergas and Verdura began talking about his confidential legal matters and reading his legal documents. Vergas and Verdura told him that everything could “disappear” if he told them who brought the iPhone into the facility. Boyd gave him 24 hours to think about helping the officers. Id. at 10-11.

         On February 22, Galarza received two disciplinary reports. Id. at 13, 43-44 (copies of the disciplinary reports). The reports charged Galarza with use of a contraband iPhone, stating that “the Cheshire CI Intelligence Unit was able to verify inmate Galarza knowingly possessed, used and orchestrated the conveyance of the contraband I-Phone into the facility.” Id. at 44.

         On March 1, Galarza received a restrictive housing unit status order stating that he would remain in RHU until he got transferred to another facility. Id. at 15. A disciplinary hearing regarding the alleged cell phone possession took place on March 14. Galarza waived his right to appear at the disciplinary hearing. Although he pleaded not guilty, the hearing officer found him guilty on both charges. Id. at 16, 75-77 (disciplinary process summary reports). The disciplinary report findings detailed how the internal investigation had linked Galarza to data on the recovered iPhone. Ibid. On March 18, Galarza appealed both disciplinary findings. Id. at 17.

         In the meantime, on or about March 15, Galarza was transferred from Cheshire to MacDougall. See Id. at 79, 83, 87. On April 9, he was placed on High Security Status at MacDougall. Galarza alleges that the form he received about this classification was missing a date, the name of the staff member who made the high security decision, or a date for a hearing, in violation of his due process rights. Id. at 17, Doc. #13 at 4.

         Galarza submitted at least fifteen grievances and inmate request forms between January 26, 2018, the date of the initial incident, and August 7, 2018, when he drafted his amended complaint. On February 5, he sent an inmate request form to Captain Watson complaining about the strip search procedure, and another complaining that Watson made his own policy and did not follow department directives. Doc. #1 at 11. On February 8, Galarza submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request seeking copies of the phone records for the iPhone. The request was denied because the investigation was ongoing. Ibid. On February 12, Galarza spoke to the investigator, Officer Wright, and asked why he had been in the RHU for 17 days without receiving a disciplinary ticket and despite department policy permitting only 14 days for investigation. Wright responded that he had the authority to request an additional 14 days for the investigation. Galarza never received notification of any extension. Id. at 11-12. Galarza then submitted a grievance form about his RHU stay, which was returned for failure to attach documentation of an attempt at informal resolution. Id. at 12, 30-32.

         On February 20, Galarza wrote to Watson stating that his privacy was not respected while speaking to his attorney. Id. at 13. He also complained to the prison warden that he had been in RHU for 26 days without disciplinary charges or notification of an extension of time to investigate. Galarza threatened civil action if he was not released from RHU. On February 22, Galarza submitted another FOIA request for phone records and physical evidence, which was again denied on the grounds that the investigation was still ongoing, though Galarza alleges that it was complete. Ibid. He submitted another inmate request form to Captain Watson about being placed in a “nasty, dirty, rusty cell, ” and he wrote to Health Services staff complaining that he had been in RHU for 31 days without being seen by mental health staff. Departmental directives require that any inmate on restrictive status for more than 30 days be interviewed by a psychiatrist or psychologist. Id. at 14; Conn. Department of Correction, Administrative Directive 9.4, Restrictive Status, §17(D) (2010).

         On February 27, Galarza submitted another grievance form, which Coordinator Boyd-Carter returned for failure to attach an inmate request form. Id. at 14-15. Galarza then submitted another inmate request because no disciplinary hearing had been conducted after he received the disciplinary reports. Captain Watson told Galarza to address this concern to the disciplinary investigator. On March 6, Galarza wrote an inmate request to Warden Erfe complaining that in the restrictive housing unit there was “rust all over the walls, mold on the air-van, dirty walls, no table to write, ” and “I'm getting charge for postage, ” and “can't use a pen on Tuesday or Thursday.” Id. at 15-16, 68.

         After his transfer to MacDougall on or around March 15, Galarza submitted a lost property investigation form and a grievance against Watson for his time in RHU at Cheshire. Id. at 17, 83. He also appealed his placement on high security and asked to be removed from this status. Doc. #13 at 4-5. His appeal was forwarded to Deputy Commissioner Rinaldi, but Captain Synott was the one to respond to it, explaining that the appeal was denied because it was determined, after a review of the circumstances, that Galarza met the criteria for high ...


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