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Anderson v. Matias

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 16, 2019

LIEUTENANT MATIAS, et al., Defendants.



         On February 27, 2019, the plaintiff, Victor Anderson, a pro se inmate currently confined at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Lieutenant Matias and five other unidentified Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials in their individual capacities for damages and declaratory relief. Compl. (ECF No. 1). He claims that the defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Id. at 2. He is also raising state law claims of assault, battery, and spoliation of evidence against the defendants. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26. On March 6, 2019, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel granted the plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See Order No. 6. For the following reasons, the complaint is dismissed in part.

         I. 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. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 556). 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).

         II. Factual Allegations

         On November 19, 2016, at approximately 6:14 a.m., the plaintiff became involved in an altercation with another inmate at the Hartford Correctional Center, which prompted staff to call a “Code Blue.” Compl. ¶ 8. The defendants responded to the area but paused at the door to the plaintiff's wing, which was closed. Id. at ¶¶ 9-11. At that moment, the plaintiff pushed the other inmate away in an attempt to end the altercation. Id. at ¶ 10. When the door to the wing opened, Lieutenant Matias entered the unit and deployed chemical agent to the left side of the plaintiff's face. Id. at ¶ 11. The plaintiff then turned to his right and sat down “in a viable position” with his legs extended and crossed and his hands behind his back, facing away from Matias. Id. Matias continued to deploy chemical agent on the back of the plaintiff's head for approximately fifteen seconds. Id. at ¶ 12. At no time did any of the defendants order the plaintiff to stop fighting or assume a particular position. Id.

         After Matias finished deploying chemical agent, one of the defendants ordered the plaintiff to roll over onto his stomach with his hands behind his back. Compl. ¶ 13. The plaintiff complied with the order, and one of the defendants handcuffed him. Id. The defendants first removed the other inmate from the area and then ordered the plaintiff to stand and walk to the medical unit. Id. at ¶ 14.

         When he arrived at the medical unit, medical staff removed the chemical agent from his face, thereby relieving the burning pain in his eyes and his shortness of breath. Compl. ¶ 15. The plaintiff was then brought to another room and held under a stream of water. Id. at ¶ 16. The water “reactivated” the chemical agent causing the plaintiff to again experience difficulty breathing. Id. The plaintiff tried to pull his face away from the stream to catch his breath, but the official who was holding his head would not let him move. Id. at ¶ 17. The plaintiff was kept under running water for approximately fifteen seconds, which was long enough to “reactivate” the chemical agent but not long enough for adequate decontamination. Id. He was then brought to a restrictive housing unit (“RHU”) for a strip search. Id. at ¶ 18.

         After completing the strip search, officers placed the plaintiff in a cell without permitting him to shower to fully decontaminate. Compl. ¶ 19. The plaintiff was not permitted to shower until two days later.[1] Id.

         The plaintiff spent seven days in the RHU without shoes or a change of clothes. Compl. ¶ 20. He was not allowed to change his bed linens and, thus, was forced to sleep in the same linens while still covered in the chemical agent that Matias had deployed on him. Id. The plaintiff was released from the RHU on November 26, 2016, but he did not receive his property or an opportunity to shower until December 3, 2016. Id. at ¶ 21. While in the RHU, he continued to experience difficulty breathing. Id.

         III. Analysis

         The plaintiff claims that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting him to excessive force and/or failing to report staff misconduct during the altercation. See Compl. ¶ 23. However, upon further review, the Court concludes that the Eighth Amendment does not apply in this case because the plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of the incident, not a prisoner.[2] See Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d 17, 29 (2d Cir. 2017) (pretrial detainee's claims challenging conditions of confinement governed by Due Process Clause of Fourteenth Amendment, not Eighth Amendment). Thus, the Court will analyze his excessive force claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Brown v. Harrington, No. 3:18-CV-2029 (KAD), 2019 WL 135654, at *2 (D. Conn. Jan. 8, 2019) (analyzing pretrial detainee's excessive force claim under Fourteenth Amendment). The plaintiff is also raising state law claims of assault, battery, and spoliation of evidence. The Court will permit his Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim for damages to proceed against all defendants and his assault and battery claims to proceed against defendant Matias for damages.

         A. Fourteenth Amendment

         In order to state an excessive force claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, the plaintiff “‘must show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable.'” Fletcher v. City of New London, No. 3:16-CV-241 (MPS), 2018 WL 4604306, at *10 (D. Conn. Sept. 25, 2018) (quoting Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015)). “‘[O]bjective reasonableness turns on the facts and circumstances of each particular case.'” Id. (quoting Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473). In Ki ...

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