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Vaughan v. Aldi

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 29, 2019

JOHN ALDI et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Tyler Vaughan is a pretrial detainee in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) and confined at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Connecticut.[1] He has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the DOC and the Security Risk Group Director John Aldi. Doc. #1 at 1, 7. Vaughan claims that defendants violated his constitutional rights by placing him in restrictive confinement without notice or a hearing. Id. at 5-6, 9-10. He seeks damages and an injunction. Id. at 10. On April 25, 2019, Vaughan filed a motion to amend his complaint that attached a short statement of additional allegations that overlap some of those alleged in his original complaint. See Doc. #9; Doc. #9-1. Because the proper procedure is for a party seeking to amend a complaint to file a single, consolidated complaint including all relevant factual allegations and naming all defendants, I will deny his motion to add piecemeal additions to his complaint without prejudice. Because the factual allegations in the amended complaint overlap those stated in the original complaint, I will review Vaughan's original complaint at this time. For the reasons stated below, I will allow his complaint to proceed for injunctive relief against Aldi but dismiss his claims for money damages without prejudice.


         The following facts are alleged in the complaint and are accepted as true only for purposes of this ruling.

         On December 11, 2017, Vaughan was at New Haven Correctional Center (NHCC). Doc. #1 at 5-6 (¶¶ 3-4). Vaughan signed a property paper stating that he had multicolored religious beaded necklaces and some other items. Id. at 5 (¶ 1). Vaughan's mother came to retrieve his property, but correctional officers would not give the property to his mother. Ibid. Later that day, Vaughan was placed in the restrictive housing unit. Ibid. (¶ 2). Vaughan was called down to the lieutenant's office, where he spoke with Lieutenant Mendillo and Intelligence Officer Payne. Ibid. (¶¶ 2-3). They asked Vaughan about his beads. Ibid. (¶ 2). He stated that they were religious. Ibid. Mendillo and Payne told Vaughan that he was going to segregation because of his beaded necklace, and Vaughan was then placed in the Foxtrot restrictive housing unit at NHCC. Id. at 5-6 (¶¶ 3-4). Vaughan was then sent to Phase Two of the Security Risk Group (SRG) program at Walker Correctional Institution. Id. at 6 (¶¶ 5-6). Vaughan had already completed the SRG program, id. at 6, 9 (¶ 5), and he had renounced his affiliation in the “Bloods” gang, id. at 9. Vaughan claims not to have received notice, a disciplinary report, or a hearing before his placement in restrictive housing or the SRG program. Id. at 6 (¶¶ 4-5). He remains in the SRG program to this day. Ibid. (¶ 7).

         On May 6, 2018, Vaughan stopped Officer Briatico at his cell and asked him about a disciplinary report Briatico had issued him regarding a book that was found in his cell. Id. at 8. Briatico stated that it was “just a bunch of Blood shit.” Ibid. Vaughan said that he knew nothing about the book and that it had belonged to his cellmate. Ibid. Briatico replied that he did not know much about the book and was instructed to issue the disciplinary report. Ibid. As of November 30, 2018, Vaughan had been kept in segregation for 33 days pending an investigation into the disciplinary report. Ibid.


         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 complaint, 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 pro se 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).

         Claim against the Department of Correction

         Vaughan lists the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) as a defendant to this action. I will dismiss Vaughan's claim against the DOC because it is a state agency, and therefore is not a person subject to suit under § 1983. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         Claim against Aldi

         The only remaining defendant in this case is John Aldi who is identified in the complaint as a “Counselor Supervisor / Security Risk Group Director” of the Department of Correction. Doc. #1 at 3. Insofar as Vaughan seeks money damages against Aldi, I will dismiss his claim because Vaughan has not alleged any facts suggesting Aldi's personal involvement in violating his constitutional rights. Damages liability under § 1983 requires the personal involvement of each individual held liable. See Raspardo v. Carlone, 770 F.3d 97, 116 (2d Cir. 2014). Vaughan alleges that Lieutenant Mendillo and Officer Payne were involved in placing him in restrictive housing and the SRG program, that Officer Briatico wrote him a ticket for the book in his cell, and that unnamed officers at NHCC confiscated his beaded necklace. But the complaint does not name Mendillo, Payne, or Briatico as defendants, and it does not allege any facts implicating Aldi in any of those actions. Accordingly, for lack of any facts detailing Aldi's involvement, I will not allow Vaughan's claim for damages against Aldi in his individual capacity to proceed at this time.

         On other other hand, a prisoner may sue a state official in his official capacity only for injunctive relief, see Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n.10, and it is plausible to conclude that Aldi in his official capacity as director of the Security Risk Group (SRG) may have authority to grant Vaughan injunctive relief from the restrictions to which he is now subject as a result of his apparent SRG designation. See, e.g., Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 315 (7th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (notwithstanding prison warden's lack of personal involvement in alleged constitutional violation, prison warden remained proper defendant for official-capacity claim seeking injunctive relief that he had authority to carry out). Moreover, to the extent that Vaughan alleges that other state actors have violated his due process rights by placing him in segregation without any hearing and on the basis of a mistaken conclusion about his gang affiliation, I conclude that Vaughan may have alleged enough facts for now to suggest a violation of the Due Process Clause and for which an appropriate supervisory DOC official who has authority to grant injunctive relief may be called to answer in his official capacity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (describing how official-capacity lawsuits are “only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer in an agent” and that “[a]s long ...

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