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Holness v. Gagne

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 24, 2019

GERARD GAGNE et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Junior Jump Holness is in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC). He has filed this complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge his treatment by prison officials. After an initial review, the Court concludes that Holness's claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical need should proceed against four of the defendants.


         Holness's filing, while labeled a single complaint, actually contains four sections, with exhibits mixed in throughout. Unlike most complaints, which begin at paragraph one and continue sequentially, each section of Holness's complaint begins again at paragraph one. The first section covers incidents that allegedly occurred in September and October of 2018. Doc. #1 at 1-24. The second and third sections span November 2017 through April 2018, id. at 31-35 & 36-42, and the fourth and final section pertains to June of 2018, id. at 43-68. Given the timeline and the unusual formatting of Holness's filing, with four sections numbered separately and broken up by exhibits, Holness has essentially filed four separate complaints.

         The first section of the complaint alleges the following facts: Holness was transferred to Corrigan Correctional Center on September 11, 2018, where mental health officials placed him in restrictive housing on behavior observation status. Doc. # 1 at 5. The following day, defendants Dr. Gagne and Nurse Brennan met with him and indicated that he would be removed from behavior observation status. Approximately two days later, Holness learned that Gagne had discontinued the psychiatric medications that had been prescribed to treat his mental health conditions, including emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. Id. at 6. When Holness confronted Gagne and Brennan about this, Gagne said Holness wouldn't get his medications due to something he had allegedly said to Gagne while confined at a different facility. Gagne said, “[r]emember you called me a homo at Northern [Correctional Institution], that's exactly why I took you off so you can assault staff[] so I can send you back to N.C. I.” Brennan then stated, “you gets nothing.” Id.

         Nursing Supervisor Phillips told Holness that she “was gonna make [his] time here at Corrigan hard” because he had filed a complaint against two members of her staff, defendants Melissa Brown and Sarah Trickett, for maliciously denying him medical treatment. Id.

         On September 16, 2018, Holness sent an inmate request form to defendant Dr. Burns, the director of psychiatric services for the D.O.C., stating that he had been taken off his medications and asking Burns to “address this immediately.” Id. at 12.

         In addition to his mental health problems, Holness also suffers from breathing issues, for which the doctor had ordered the use of a breath pump every four-to-six hours as needed. Id. at 7. Holness alleges that he was supposed to be transported to Court by D.O.C. staff rather than Court Marshals, because he needs access to his pump but is not permitted to have it on his person. On September 20, 2018, he was transported to Connecticut Superior Court. He says that he needed his pump; it is not clear whether or not he got it. Holness also alleges that he was sent to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”) on court hold even though he “was not suppose[d] to be there due to a staff conflict profile that was clearly established [in] the system.” Id. at 7.

         When Holness returned from court, he noticed that some of his property was damaged or missing. He complained to defendant Warden Faucher about the property and staff hold issues. He also brought up the inhaler issue, and Faucher told him that “we have full knowledge and that [he] would be sent [to MWCI] for Court and if [he] need[s] the pump they would bring it to [him], ” even though he “is suppose[d] to be special transport to Court wherein [he] can bring [his] pump.” Id.

         On September 26, 2018, Holness was again sent to MWCI in advance of his court appearance. Id. at 8. He was in court later that morning when he started having breathing problems. The Judge told the Marshals to contact the facility or call an ambulance. The Marshal called the facility and “even told the facility that you guys know he has serious medical conditions and should be facility transport to Court.” Ibid. The facility said they would send someone with the pump but never did. Holness was sent to MWCI to wait for transport back to Corrigan. While at MWCI, he passed out due to low oxygen level and high blood pressure, which he believes “was due to lack of [his] inhaler pump.” Id. Holness was given medication to manage these symptoms, and Nurse Debbie, who is not a defendant, called the on-call doctor to ask if Holness needed to be brought to a hospital, as his records indicated that he was at risk of stroke. It is not clear from the complaint whether he was sent to the hospital. Id. at 10.

         After Holness returned to Corrigan, Faucher “made it very clear” to him that he would not receive DOC transport to court because of budget cuts, despite his known medical conditions. Id. at 9. As of the time he filed the complaint, Holness was still not receiving his psychiatric medications. Id. at 10. On December 6, 2018, Holness informed the Court that he had been transferred to Hartford Correctional Institution. Doc. #8.

         As noted above, the complaint contains three more sections. But I will not review the facts of these three sections at the present time because, as discussed below, it appears that these sections of the complaint may not proceed until such time as Holness pays a filing fee.


          Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint against a governmental entity or governmental actors and “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the compliant, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If the prisoner is proceeding pro se, the allegations of the complaint must be read liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010).

         In recent years, the Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of allegations in federal court complaints. A complaint must allege enough facts-as distinct from legal conclusions-that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Notwithstanding the rule of liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, a complaint may not survive dismissal if its factual allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).

         In forma pauperis status

         The Court granted Holness's motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) on November 15, 2018. Now, however, further review shows that the complaint is really four complaints, and that all but the first complaint-within-the-complaint are subject to dismissal absent payment of the filing fee. As amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the statute that governs applications to proceed in forma pauperis provides that no prisoner shall “bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section [allowing prisoner to proceed in forma pauperis] if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Second Circuit has held that the “unmistakable purpose [of the statutory exception] is to permit an indigent three-strikes prisoner to proceed IFP in order to obtain a judicial remedy for an imminent danger.” Pettus v. Morgenthau, 554 F.3d 293, 297 (2d Cir. 2009). In keeping with that purpose, “the complaint of a three-strikes litigant must reveal a nexus between the imminent danger it alleges and the claims it asserts” in order to qualify for the imminent danger exception. Id. at 298 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In deciding whether such a nexus exists, courts consider causation and redressability: “(1) whether the imminent danger of serious physical injury that a three-strikes litigant alleges is fairly traceable to unlawful conduct asserted in the complaint and (2) whether a favorable judicial outcome would redress that injury.” Id. at 299. The exception only applies where the danger is imminent at the time the complaint is filed. Id. at 296 (finding that a “three-strikes litigant is not excepted from the filing fee if he alleges a danger that has dissipated by the time a complaint is filed”).

         The second and third complaints are identical to complaints that Holness filed in a separate lawsuit and that were dismissed by Judge Shea under the three strikes rule. See Jump v. Rivera et al., 18cv162(MPS) (D. Conn. 2018). Judge Shea denied Holness's motion to proceed in forma pauperis and-after Holness failed to pay the filing fee-dismissed both his original complaint (replicated as the second complaint-within-a-complaint now before me) and his amended complaint (replicated as the third compliant-within-a-complaint now before me). Id. ...

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