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Reinoso-Delacruz v. Ruggerio

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 9, 2019

RUGGERIO, et al., Defendants.



         On February 1, 2019, Luiny Reinoso-Delacruz, an inmate currently confined at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, brought a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983against five Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials: Correction Officer Ruggerio, Correction Officer Grabowski, Unit Manager Salvatore, Warden Kenneth Butricks, [1] and Deputy Warden John/Jane Doe.[2] Compl., Doc. No. 1. On April 18, 2019, Reinoso-Delacruz filed an amended complaint alleging additional facts against the defendants. Am. Compl., Doc. No. 9. For the following reasons, the amended complaint is dismissed in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 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 plausible 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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. 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 Am., 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

         Reinoso-Delacruz alleges the following facts. On January 8, 2018, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Reinoso-Delacruz was assaulted in his cell at the Manson Youth Institution (“MYI”) by another inmate named Boyd. Am. Compl., Doc. No. 9 at ¶ 1. Boyd entered Reinoso-Delacruz's cell and hit him with a sock full of batteries wrapped around his hand. Id. at ¶ 4. The assault caused Reinoso-Delacruz to suffer a broken jaw for which he continues to receive physical therapy. Id. at ¶ 5. Prior to the assault, Reinoso-Delacruz had informed Correction Officers Grabowski and Ruggerio that Boyd had threatened him, but the officers dismissed his complaint, and Grabowski told him to “stop being a bitch.” Id. at ¶ 2. Reinoso-Delacruz also had informed Unit Manager Salvatore about the threats, but Salvatore just said “okay” and walked away from Reinoso-Delacruz's cell. Id. at ¶ 3.

         On January 10, Reinoso-Delacruz was taken to the UConn Health Center where he underwent a surgical procedure. Am. Compl., Doc. No. 9 at ¶ 6. A metal plate was screwed into his face to hold his jawbone in place. Id. When he returned to MYI, he was placed in the medical housing unit which is similar to a restrictive housing unit. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 10. There, he filed a grievance against MYI officials for failing to protect him from Boyd, but he never received a response from any of the officials. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Several days later, Reinoso-Delacruz filed a request to be placed in protective custody, but he never received a response from MYI officials. Am. Compl., Doc. No. 9 at ¶ 8. The next day, he wrote to Warden Butricks and the Deputy Warden about the incident. Id. at ¶ 9. Neither official responded. Id. Days later, Reinoso-Delacruz was released back into general population at MYI. See Id. at ¶ 10. While in general population, Unit Manager Salvatore “forced” him to sign a waiver stating that he cannot sue DOC officials if something happened to him during his “release back to the compound.” Id. Salvatore told him that, if he did not sign the waiver, he would be confined in the medical housing unit. Id. Analysis

         Reinoso-Delacruz claims that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment by failing to protect him from the assault by Boyd. Am. Compl., Doc. No. 9 at 4. He seeks damages against the defendants in their individual and official capacities. Id. at 2, 4. However, the Eleventh Amendment bars claims for damages against state officials in their official capacities. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985). Therefore, all claims against the defendants in their official capacities are dismissed. Reinoso-Delacruz may only obtain damages against the defendants in their individual capacities.

         It is not clear from the complaint whether Reinoso-Delacruz was a prisoner or a pretrial detainee at the time of the alleged violation. State judicial records show that he was sentenced in state court on December 9, 2016 to eighteen months of imprisonment, followed by three years of probation. State v. Reinoso-Delacruz, No. D03D-CR15-0151915-S (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 9, 2016). He was then arrested on new charges in 2017, which served as the basis for a violation of probation charge. Id.; State v. Reinoso-Delacruz, No. D03D-CR18-0156998-S (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 28, 2018); State v. Reinoso-Delacruz, No. DBD-CR17-0155838-S (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 28, 2018). He received a sentence of thirty months' imprisonment on February 28, 2018, shortly after he was assaulted by Boyd, for the probation violation and the new charges. State v. Reinoso-Delacruz, No. D03D-CR15-0151915-S; State v. Reinoso-Delacruz, No. DBD-CR17-0155838-S. Thus, at the time of the alleged assault, Reinoso-Delacruz was awaiting disposition of his probation violation case and the charges from 2017.

         This Circuit has not fully addressed whether a probationer awaiting disposition of his revocation proceeding is considered a prisoner or a pretrial detainee for purposes of the Eighth Amendment. See Hill v. County of Montgomery, 2018 WL 2417839, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. May 29, 2018) (“Whether to classify an individual detained for a suspected probation violation as a pretrial detainee or a convicted prisoner is an ‘unresolved and difficult question.'”) (quoting Harry v. Suarez, 2012 WL 2053533, at *2 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. June 4, 2012)). The Prison Litigation Reform Act defines “prisoner” as “any person incarcerated or detained in any facility who is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h). If Reinoso-Delacruz was, indeed, a “prisoner” at the time of the alleged assault, then his claim would appropriately be analyzed under the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. See Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d 17, 29 (2d Cir. 2017) (rights of sentenced prisoners considered under Eighth Amendment). Conversely, if he was a pretrial detainee at the time of the alleged events, then his claim must be analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. See Id. (rights of pretrial detainees are considered under the Fourteenth Amendment).

         In Hill, the district court ruled that the plaintiff's conditions of confinement claims were governed by the Fourteenth Amendment based on his assertions that (1) he was released from the detention facility prior to his probation revocation proceeding and (2) there was a clerical error regarding the expiration of his probation term. 2018 WL 2417839, at *2. Because the plaintiff had not yet been given a hearing on his violation of probation charge, the district court ruled that his status was more akin to that of a pretrial detainee, rather than a prisoner. Id. Although Reinoso-Delacruz was confined at MYI at all times during which the events giving rise to his complaint occurred, he was not found guilty of violating his probation until after the assault by Boyd. Therefore, for purposes of this ruling, I conclude that Reinoso-Delacruz was a pretrial detainee at the time of the alleged constitutional violation and analyze his claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.

         To prevail on a claim that correction officials failed to protect him from harm or acted with deliberate

indifference to his safety, a detainee must prove that the defendant-official acted intentionally to impose the alleged condition, or recklessly failed to act with reasonable care to mitigate the risk that the condition posed to the . . . detainee even though the defendant-official knew, or should ...

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