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Mendez v. Mulligan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 15, 2019

WILLIAM MULLIGAN, et al. Defendants.



         On November 28, 2018, the plaintiff, Kezlyn Mendez, an inmate currently confined at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”) in Suffield, Connecticut, filed a complaint pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against twelve Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials in their individual and official capacities. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). The twelve defendants are Warden William Mulligan, Captain Craig Paton, Captain Rivera, Lieutenant Legassey, Lieutenant Harris, Supervisor Oliver, Supervisor Ralph Rossi, Supervisor Osle, Supervisor Johnson, Supervisor Rodriguez, Supervisor Williams, and Counselor Bennett. Id. at 2-3. The plaintiff claims that the defendants violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 9-10. He seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Id. at 10-11. On December 6, 2018, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel granted the plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma paupers. See Order No. 6. For the following reasons, the complaint is dismissed in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this 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 Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)).

         II. Factual Allegations

         The plaintiff is a practicing Muslim. Compl. ¶ 9. He works in the kitchen at MWCI. One day in May of 2017, Ralph Rossi, the kitchen supervisor brought in his own pork and cooked it in the facility ovens, the same ovens where prisoner meals are prepared. Id. at ¶ 10. Muslim meals are also prepared in those same ovens, and Rossi cooked his pork during Ramadan.[1] Id. at ¶ 11. Rossi did not clean the ovens after using them to cook his pork. Id. at ¶ 12. The plaintiff immediately sent a request to Warden Mulligan complaining about Rossi's violation of institutional policies. Id. at ¶ 13.

         On June 3, 2017, Rossi gathered all of the kitchen workers in the dining area and said, “I'm going to find the rat in my kitchen and kill it. [P]eople need to stop minding my business and mind their own. Whoever you are you need to try again. I have too much power . . . I'm batting a thousand.” Compl. ¶ 14. Rossi stood next to the plaintiff as he gave his last comments. Id.

         On June 8, the plaintiff was not called to work his 5:00 a.m. shift in the kitchen. Compl. ¶ 15. He was removed from the work list without a clear reason or sufficient notice. Id. He asked a correction officer to call the kitchen and inquire as to why he had been removed from the work list. Id. at ¶ 16. After contacting the kitchen staff, the officer informed the plaintiff that he was not fired; “he just wasn't wanted in the kitchen anymore because he was a snitch who didn't know how to mind his business.” Id. at ¶ 17. The officer suggested that the plaintiff find another work assignment. Id.

         The plaintiff went to Captain Paton, his unit manager, and told him about the circumstances surrounding his removal from the kitchen. Compl. ¶ 18. Paton assured the plaintiff that he would look into the matter. Id. The plaintiff also spoke with the other kitchen supervisors, Oliver, Rodriguez, Williams, and Johnson, asking them why he had been removed. Id. at ¶ 19. The four supervisors told him, “Rossi makes the list, and you crossed him. [Y]ou put your nose in the wrong person['s] business so we're not getting involved.” Id. at ¶ 20.

         On June 22, the plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the situation with Rossi, explaining that Rossi had retaliated against him for reporting that he had cooked personal pork products in the facility ovens. Compl. ¶ 21; Pl.'s Ex. A (Dkt. No. 1 at 12-13). He also requested that the other supervisors move him to the second kitchen shift in order to avoid any future problems with Rossi. Compl. ¶ 22. In response to the grievance, Paton suggested that the plaintiff write an apology letter to Rossi “for not minding his business.” Id. at ¶¶ 23-24. The plaintiff, who just wanted his job back, agreed and wrote the apology letter to Rossi. Id. at ¶ 25.

         When the apology letter was delivered to Rossi on July 15, it became a significant topic of discussion amongst the kitchen staff at MWCI. Compl. ¶¶ 25-26. The letter was posted on the kitchen supervisors' office window with the word “snitch” written on the bottom in bold letters. Id. at ¶ 27. The plaintiff asked several staff members about the posting, but none of them gave him any information, and many of them joked about the posting. Id.

         The plaintiff addressed the posting with Paton, explaining that his plan for writing an apology letter had backfired. Compl. ¶ 29. Paton told the plaintiff not to worry and that he would see about getting him his job back. Id. at ¶ 30.

         After nothing was done to address the problem, the plaintiff went back to the other kitchen supervisors, Oliver, Johnson, Osle, Rodriguez, and Williams, and asked them why he had not been permitted to return to work in the kitchen. Compl. ¶ 31. The five supervisors said that the reason was “because [he] [had] sent that request to [Mulligan's] office about Rossi.” Id.

         On July 31, Rossi entered the plaintiff's housing unit during chow time. Compl. ¶ 32. The plaintiff approached him and asked why he had not been permitted to return to work. Id. Rossi said, “You'll never work in my kitchen again. I don't care who says otherwise or has something to say about it. [M]y kitchen, my rules, my workers.” Id. at ¶ 33. Rossi then turned to another prisoner in the area and said, “If this snitch [(referring to the plaintiff)] comes back to my kitchen, he'll be my bitch.” Id.

         After Rossi left the area, the plaintiff went to a correction counselor, explained what had just occurred, and asked her to file a PREA[2] complaint against Rossi. Compl. ¶ 34. The plaintiff was permitted to call the PREA hotline. Id. Afterward, the counselor said that she would draft an incident report based on what the plaintiff had told her and that the plaintiff needed to report all interactions with Rossi. Id. at ¶ 35. The plaintiff then wrote two requests to Commissioner Semple and Warden Mulligan, explaining the incident that occurred on July 31, particularly the comments made by Rossi. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37; Pl.'s Exs. D, E (Dkt. No. 1 at 16-19).

         On August 4, the plaintiff was walking back to his unit when he was approached by Supervisor Oliver. Compl. ¶ 38. Oliver informed the plaintiff that he had been moved to the second shift in the kitchen, which starts at 1:00 p.m. Id. at ¶ 39. He asked the plaintiff if he felt safe working on the weekend with Rossi. Id. at ¶ 40. The plaintiff assured Oliver that he was okay with working on the weekend. Id.

         The plaintiff returned to work at 1:00 p.m. without incident, but he was not permitted to work on the weekend because Rossi had refused to call him to work. Compl. ¶ 41. He documented the missed work days and sent a request to Mulligan, Paton, Oliver, and Counselor Bennett. Id. at ¶ 42. None of the addressees responded to the request. Id. From then on until October 14, 2017, the plaintiff was not permitted to work while Rossi was the supervisor on duty. Id. at ¶ 44.

         On October 13, after attending Muslim services, the plaintiff returned to the kitchen intending on working, but Rossi once again would not permit him to work. Compl. ¶ 45. Lieutenant Harris had been in the area at the time, and the plaintiff tried to explain to her what was going on. Id. at ¶ 46. However, Harris rejected the plaintiff's complaint and told him, “I already know what happened, Mendez. [Y]ou snitched on Rossi, so I'm not going to tell him to open the door. [S]o go back to your unit now.” Id. The plaintiff returned to his unit where he informed ...

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