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Mendez v. Lis

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 16, 2019

GILBERTO MENDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER LIS, ET AL., Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER

          MICHAEL P. SHEA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Gilberto Mendez, is currently living in New Britain, Connecticut. He initiated this action by filing a complaint naming Correctional Officers Lis and Garibaldi, Captains C. Scarmozzino and Costanzo, Captain King, and Security Risk Group Coordinator John Aldi as defendants. See Compl., ECF No. 1. At the time the plaintiff filed the complaint, he was confined at Northern Correctional Institution. See Id. at 2.

         The plaintiff alleged that on August 21, 2015, at Manson Youth Institution, Officer Lis issued him a disciplinary report for security risk group affiliation and that Captain King, who presided over the disciplinary hearing held on August 31, 2015, found him guilty of the disciplinary charge. See Id. at 4-5. The plaintiff claimed that there was insufficient evidence to support the guilty finding. See Id. at 5.

         On November 9, 2018, the court dismissed the Eighth and the Fourteenth Amendment conditions of confinement and due process claims without prejudice See Initial Review Order (“IRO”), ECF No. 10. The court informed the plaintiff that he could move to reopen the case and file an amended complaint if he was able to allege facts describing how one or more of the defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process in connection with the disciplinary hearing held on August 31, 2015, and/or could allege facts indicating that a defendant was involved in or aware of a condition or conditions of confinement that deprived him of a serious human need. See IRO at 10. On November 15, 2018, the Clerk entered judgment in favor of the defendants. See ECF No. 11.

         In response to the dismissal of the complaint, the plaintiff has filed an amended complaint naming Lieutenant King, Director of Security Christine Whidden, Warden Erfe, and Counselor Supervisor John Aldi as defendants. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 12. The plaintiff did not, however, file a motion to reopen the judgment entered on November 15, 2018. Despite the fact that the plaintiff has not filed a motion to reopen, the court will liberally construe the amended complaint as including such a motion and will grant it. For the reasons set forth below, the case is reopened and the amended complaint will be dismissed in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the court must review prisoner civil complaints against governmental actors and “dismiss ... any portion of [a] complaint [that] is frivolous, malicious, or 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.” Id. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Although detailed allegations are not required, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A complaint that includes only “‘labels and conclusions,' ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' or ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement, '” does not meet the facial plausibility standard. Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007)). Although courts have an obligation to liberally interpret a complaint filed by a pro se litigant, the complaint still must include sufficient factual allegations to meet the standard of facial plausibility. See Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015) (“Because Fowlkes appeared pro se before the District Court, he is entitled to special solicitude, and we will read his pleadings to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. . . . At the same time, a pro se complaint must allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”) (internal quotation mark and citations omitted).

         II. Facts

         The plaintiff alleges that he was a convicted prisoner as of August 21, 2015. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 12, at 4 ¶ 2. As indicated by the court in its ruling addressed to the complaint, however, State of Connecticut Judicial Branch records reflect that a judge did not sentence the plaintiff until October 28, 2015.[1] See IRO at 4 n.1. Thus, the court considers the plaintiff to have been a pretrial detainee as of August 21, 2015.

         On that date at the Manson Youth Institution, Officer Lis conducted a search of the plaintiff's cell and discovered a photograph depicting the plaintiff. See Am. Compl. at 4 ¶ 2; Ex. 1, ECF No. 12-1, at 1. The plaintiff alleges that the photograph depicts him displaying a “4-20 [hand] sign to represent the day the picture was taken, and the hand sign represent[s] the National Weed Smokers day of 4-20.” See Id. at 5 ¶¶ 9-10. Officer Lis issued the plaintiff a disciplinary report for security risk group affiliation because he identified the plaintiff's hand sign in the photograph as a sign used by the Latin Kings gang. See Id. ¶¶ 6-8, Ex. 1 at 1. Later that day, Captain Scarmozzino and Officer Lis removed the plaintiff from general population and placed him in segregation pending the outcome of the disciplinary report. See Id. at 4 ¶ 4.

         On August 24, 2015, the plaintiff met with Disciplinary Investigator Garibaldi about the disciplinary report. See Id. at 6 ¶ 11. The plaintiff denied being a member of the Latin Kings and stated that the hand sign that he displayed in the photograph was not a hand sign of the Latin Kings, but was a hand sign representing “4-20 the day the photo was taken and the National Weed Smokers Day.” See Id. at 6 ¶ 12. At this meeting, the plaintiff made the decision not to utilize advocate services or present any witnesses at the upcoming hearing. See Id. ¶ 13.

         On August 31, 2015, the plaintiff attended a disciplinary hearing presided over by Lieutenant King. See Id. ¶¶ 14-15. During the hearing, Investigator Garibaldi read his report into the record. See Id. ¶ 16. The plaintiff attempted to explain that the hand sign that he displayed in the photograph was not a hand sign of the Latin Kings gang, but Lieutenant King informed the plaintiff that she “did not want to hear any of that garbage.” See Id. at 7 ¶ 18. At one point, Lieutenant King asked the plaintiff to describe his race/nationality. See Id. ¶ 19. The plaintiff stated that he was Puerto Rican and resided in Hartford, Connecticut. See Id. ¶ 20. Lieutenant King commented that the plaintiff must be a member of the Latin Kings because he was a Puerto Rican from Hartford. See Id. Based on her review of the evidence, including the incident report, the photograph, and other documentation, Lieutenant King concluded that the plaintiff was guilty of the charge of security risk group affiliation. See Id. ¶ 21. When the plaintiff asked to see the other documentation that supported Lieutenant King's finding, she indicated that she was not required to make that evidence available to him. See Id. at 8 ¶¶ 22-23.

         After the hearing, the plaintiff received a notice explaining that, as a result of the August 31, 2015 disciplinary hearing, he was found to be a verified member of the Latin Kings and would be placed in the Security Risk Group Administrative Segregation Program (“SRG Program”). Id. at 8-9 ¶ 26. The plaintiff did not receive a separate classification hearing to determine whether his security risk group affiliation warranted placement in the SRG Program. Id. at ¶ 28. And at no time before or during the hearing did Lieutenant King inform the plaintiff that the hearing would determine his placement in the SRG Program in addition to adjudicating the disciplinary issue. See Id. at 8-9 ¶¶ 25, 27. The plaintiff therefore did not receive advance notice that the August 31, 2015 hearing would serve as both a disciplinary hearing and a classification hearing.

         On September 21, 2015, Warden Erfe, Director Whidden, and Counselor Supervisor Aldi transferred the plaintiff from Manson Youth Institution to Corrigan Correctional Institution for placement in the SRG Program. See Id. at 9 ¶¶ 29-31. The plaintiff claims that during his placement in the SRG Program at Corrigan, he was confined in his cell for twenty-three hours a day, he was deprived of all out-of-cell recreation time, he could not participate in educational, vocational or job training programs or mental health or counseling sessions, and he was not eligible for a parole hearing or to earn Risk Reduction Earned Credits. See Id. at 10 ¶¶ 33-34. He states that he remained designated as a security risk group member until May 31, 2016. Seeid. ΒΆ 35. During his confinement in the SRG Program, ...


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