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Gulley v. Mulligan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 9, 2019

CHAZ O. GULLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN MULLIGAN, et al., Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          STEFAN R. UNDERHILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On May 22, 2018, Chaz O. Gulley, a prisoner confined at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, brought a civil rights complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against six Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials for violating his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Compl., Doc. No. 1. After initial review, I permitted Gulley's Eighth Amendment excessive force claim and state law claims for assault and battery to proceed against three of the defendants: Correction Officers Cashman, Rodriguez, and Gonzalez. Initial Review Order, Doc. No. 10 at 8.

         On December 13, 2018, those defendants moved to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Mot. to Dism., Doc. No. 14. The defendants argue that Gulley's claims are barred by a previous settlement agreement between Gulley and the State of Connecticut. Id.; Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dism. (“Defs.' Mem.”), Doc. No. 14-1; Settlement Agreement, Defs.' Attach. B, Doc. No. 14-3. Gulley filed an opposition to the defendants' motion on December 24, 2018, arguing that the settlement agreement is unrelated to, and therefore does not bar, the instant case. Pl's Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dism. (“Gulley Opp'n”), Doc. No. 18. For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 14) is denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The plausibility standard is not a probability requirement; the complaint must show, not merely allege, that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See id.

         “Although all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be true, this tenet is ‘inapplicable to legal conclusions.'” LaMagna v. Brown, 474 Fed.Appx. 788, 789 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678); see also Amaker v. New York State Dept. of Corr. Services 435 Fed.Appx. 52, 54 (2d Cir. 2011) (same). Accordingly, the court is not “bound to accept conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions.” Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Rolon v. Henneman, 517 F.3d 140, 149 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). This is true whether the plaintiff has counsel or appears pro se. Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010). However, “[w]here . . . the complaint was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally with ‘special solicitude' and interpreted to raise the strongest claims that it suggests.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011)).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss, I may consider “statements or documents incorporated into the complaint by reference . . . and documents possessed by or known to the plaintiff and upon which [he] relied in bringing the suit.” ATSI Communications, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). I may also “take judicial notice of public records such as pleadings, orders, judgments, and other documents from prior litigation, including state court cases.” Lynn v. McCormick, 2017 WL 6507112, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2017) (citing Lou v. Trutex, Inc., 872 F.Supp.2d 344, 349 n.6 (S.D.N.Y. 2012)); see also Samuels v. Air Transport Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir. 1993). Such records may include settlement agreements in prior cases. See Moore v. City of New York, 2017 WL 35450, at *23 n.13 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 3, 2017) (district courts not constrained from considering settlement agreements at motion to dismiss stage).

         II. Factual Allegations

         As stated in my Initial Review Order, Gulley alleged the following facts against the defendants:

On October 20, 2017, approximately one week before the start of Gulley's civil trial in the United States District Court at Hartford, Connecticut, District Judge Michael P. Shea sent a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum to Warden Mulligan at [the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”)] to bring Gulley to the district court in Hartford on October 25, 2017 and November 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17, 2017.[[1]] [Compl. ¶ 6]. Judge Shea also sent a notice to DOC officials stating that inmates were expected to appear on time for their scheduled court proceedings and that the officials needed to take steps to ensure that the inmates appeared on time. See Id. at ¶¶ 10, 17.
On the morning of November 8, 2017, Gulley asked multiple correction officers at MWCI why they were not preparing him for his scheduled transport to court. Compl. ¶ 7. The officers repeatedly told him that they “had nothing to do with” his situation and that it was Officer Cashman's fault because he oversees court transports for MWCI inmates. Id. at ¶ 8. At 8:20 a.m., twenty-five minutes before his scheduled time to appear in court, Officers Rodriguez and Gonzalez removed Gulley from his cell and brought him to the Admitting and Processing (“A&P”) area for transport. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. Gulley was frustrated because, by the time he arrived at the courthouse, he would not have time to speak with his attorneys before his court proceedings began. Id. at ¶ 10. When he arrived at the A&P area, Gulley asked Cashman why DOC officials were deliberately making him late for his court appearances, and the two began arguing about the situation. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. During the argument, Cashman grabbed Gulley's arm and Gulley pulled his arm out of Cashman's grasp. Id. at ¶ 12. At that moment, Cashman, Rodriguez, and Gonzalez starting pushing, pulling, punching and choking Gulley. Id. at ¶ 13. Other correction officers responded and ultimately restrained Gulley in handcuffs and shackles. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. Gulley was then transported to the district court in Hartford. Id. at ¶ 16. Gulley suffered facial bruising, constant pain, fear, anxiety, and emotional distress from the incident. Id. at ¶ 21. He was not issued a disciplinary report for the incident. Id. at ¶ 17.
At some point, Warden Mulligan and Deputy Warden Guadarrama became aware of the incident. See Compl. ¶ 17. They told Gulley that “they messed up” and that “it won't happen again.” Id. at ¶ 18. Gulley believes that they made these statements because they received the notice from Judge Shea about the failure of DOC officials to ensure that inmates appear on time for scheduled court proceedings. Id. at ¶ 19.
Gulley filed a grievance regarding the incident with Cashman, Rodriguez, and Gonzalez. Compl. p. 7. When the grievance was denied, he appealed to District Administrator Quiros, but Quiros denied his appeal. Id. at pp. 5, 8. Gulley also wrote a separate letter to Quiros regarding the incident, and ...

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