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Martin v. Correction Officer A.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 29, 2019

DOUGLAS GEORGE MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTION OFFICER A., et al. Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          Kari A. Dooley United States District Judge

         On January 18, 2019, the Plaintiff, Douglas George Martin, an inmate currently confined at Osborn Correctional Institution[1] in Somers, Connecticut, brought a civil action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two unidentified Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials for damages: Correction Officer A. and Lieutenant/Captain John Doe. Compl. (DE#1). It appears from his factual allegations that the Plaintiff is suing the Defendants for subjecting him to inhumane conditions of confinement, in violation his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and for violating his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The Plaintiff has also filed a motion for appointment of counsel (DE#2). On January 28, 2019, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel granted the Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See Order No. 7. For the following reasons, the motion for appointment of counsel is DENIED. The complaint is dismissed without prejudice in order to permit the Plaintiff to properly identify the named defendants.

         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).

         Allegations

         On November 6, 2018, at approximately 5:00 a.m., Officer A. shined his flashlight into the Plaintiff's cell and placed it on a roll of paper towels. Compl. at 5. When the Plaintiff exited his cell for breakfast hours later, Officer A. said, “I hope the light didn't bother you.” Id. at 8.

         The next day, at 1:00 a.m., Officer A. again left his flashlight on a roll of paper towels shining into the Plaintiff's cell. Compl. at 5, 8. At around 4:30 a.m., Lieutenant/Captain John Doe noticed the flashlight shining into the Plaintiff's cell and spoke with Officer A. Id. at 8. Doe laughed at what he had seen and permitted A. to leave the light shining into the cell. Id. at 6, 8.

         When the Plaintiff exited his cell for breakfast that morning, Officer A. told other inmates in the area that the Plaintiff was in prison for sodomizing children, which was false. Compl. at 5, 8. The Plaintiff is in prison for violating his probation and believes that A.'s statement placed him in physical danger. Id. at 5. He wrote complaints to the warden and other high-ranking officials, but no remedial action was taken. Id. at 8; Administrative Remedy (DE#1 at 10).

         The incidents with Officer A. have caused the Plaintiff emotional and physical distress. Compl. at 8. The Plaintiff has been evaluated by a psychiatrist for PTSD, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Id. at 8-9.

         Discussion

         Based on the facts alleged, it appears that the Plaintiff is suing the Defendants for subjecting him to inhumane conditions of confinement, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, by shining a flashlight into his cell on two occasions for several hours at a time. He also alleges that Officer A. violated his constitutional rights by falsely accusing him of sexually assaulting children in front of other inmates. The Plaintiff cannot recover damages from the Defendants in their official capacities. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985). Thus, the Court will determine whether the Plaintiff has stated a plausible Eighth Amendment and/or Fourteenth Amendment claim against the Defendants in their individual capacities.

         The Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment includes a prohibition on inhumane conditions of confinement. Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994)). To establish an Eighth Amendment violation based upon inhumane conditions, the Plaintiff must demonstrate, that "the prison officials' transgression" was "'sufficiently serious.'"' Id. This is an objective inquiry. Id. Subjectively, the Plaintiff must also demonstrate that "the officials acted, or omitted to act, with a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind,' i.e. with 'deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.'" Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). "Under the objective element, while the Constitution 'does not mandate comfortable prisons,' inmates may not be denied 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" Alster v. Goord, 745 F.Supp.2d 317, 335 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). Thus, prison officials cannot "deprive inmates of their 'basic human needs-e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety.'" Id. (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993)). Prison officials cannot expose prisoners to conditions that may pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to the prisoners' future health. Id. (citing Phelps, 308 F.3d at 185).

         Construed liberally, the Plaintiff has stated a plausible Eighth Amendment claim against the Defendants. He alleges that Officer A., on two occasions, shined his flashlight into his cell for several hours during the early morning and that Lieutenant/Captain Doe permitted A. to engage in such behavior. Courts in this Circuit have reached different conclusions on whether this type of action could amount to an Eighth Amendment deprivation. See Cano v. City of New York, 44 F.Supp.3d 324, 333 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (deprivation of sleep one example of sufficiently serious deprivation under Eighth Amendment); Quick v. Graham, No. 9:12-CV-1717 (DNH/ATB), 2014 WL 4627108, at *8 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 2014) (issue of material fact remained whether continuous bright lights in confinement unit deprived prisoner of sleep and violated Eighth Amendment); but see Hernandez v. Sposato, No. 12-CV-2530 (SJF) (WDW), 2014 WL 3489818, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. July 9, 2014) (prisoner's complaint of excessive lighting in facility from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. caused him injuries to his eyes does not constitute sufficiently serious deprivation under Eighth Amendment). In this case, the allegations include that the Defendants' actions were vindictive, and thus, the Court will allow the Eighth Amendment claim to proceed at this time.

         The Plaintiff has also stated a plausible Fourteenth Amendment due process claim based on Officer A.'s false verbal accusation, made in the presence of other inmates, that the Plaintiff had sodomized children. The Plaintiff ...


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