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Webb v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 1, 2019

ZION WEBB, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, ROLLIN COOK, CARLETON GILES, RICHARD SPARACO & YADIRO OTERO, Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR., SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Zion Webb, a convicted prisoner currently incarcerated at the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, has filed a civil rights complaint pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five Connecticut Department of Correction ("DOC") officials in their official and individual capacities: former Commissioner Scott Semple, Commissioner Rollin Cook, Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairman Carleton Giles, Warden Yadira Otero, and Director of Parole and Community Services Division Richard Sparaco. Doc. 1 ("Compl.") at 2-3. Webb claims that the Defendants acted under color of state law to violate his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws by treating him differently than other similarly situated inmates with respect to applying earned credits to advance his parole eligibility date. Id. at 8-9. For the following reasons, his Complaint is dismissed in full.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint and dismiss any portion that "(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." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2) (2012). Although highly detailed allegations are not required, the complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim 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)).[1] "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint must provide "more than the unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         "[W]hether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will [ultimately] . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64. When "well-pleaded factual allegations" are present, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679. Factual disputes do not factor into a plausibility analysis under Iqbal and its progeny.

         "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 Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). See also Amaker v. New York State Dept. of Corr. Servs., 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         With respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established that "[p]ro se submissions are reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)). See also Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (same); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants); Boykin v. KeyCorp., 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) ("A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.") (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (declaring that where the plaintiff proceeds pro se, a court is "obliged to construe his pleadings liberally") (quoting McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004)); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) ("In reviewing a pro se complaint, the court must assume the truth of the allegations, and interpret them liberally to "raise the strongest arguments [they] suggest[].").

         Despite being subject to liberal interpretation, a pro se plaintiff's complaint still must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Therefore, even in a pro se case, "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Nor may the Court "invent factual allegations" that the plaintiff has not pleaded. Id.

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         In March 2011, Webb was charged with robbery in the first degree with a firearm in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-134(a)(4). Compl. ¶ 1.[2] He was convicted of the offense in February 2012 after pleading guilty and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Id. At the time of his conviction, he was required to serve at least eighty-five percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole under Connecticut General Statutes § 54-125a. Id. ¶ 2.

         On July 1, 2011, the state legislature had amended Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-125a by Public Act 11-51, § 25 to allow inmates incarcerated after October 1, 1990, who had served not less than fifty percent of their definite or aggregate sentences, less any risk reduction earned credit ("RREC") under Section 22 of the Act, to become eligible for parole. Id. ¶ 3. Section 22 of the Act, codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 18-98e, provided that the eligibility of inmates to earn RREC was at the discretion of the Commissioner. Id. at 4. While Conn. Gen. Stat. § 18-98e identified certain crimes as exceptions to RREC eligibility, Webb was not convicted of any of these crimes. As such, Webb and other inmates convicted of robbery in the first degree were eligible to earn RREC upon satisfaction of certain conditions, including adherence to their inmate offender accountability plan, good conduct, obedience to prison regulations, and participation in programs and activities. Id. ¶ 5.

         On April 25, 2012, then-Commissioner Semple expanded the list of crimes ineligible for RREC to include felony murder, arson murder, and aggravated sexual assault. Id. ¶ 6. Webb's crime, robbery in the first degree, was not a violent offense precluded from RREC. Id. Thus, Webb was permitted to continue earning RREC and accelerate his parole eligibility date. Id. On July 1, 2013, however, Webb received a memorandum signed by Chairman Giles stating that his RREC would no longer be applied to advance his parole eligibility date. Id. ¶ 7.

         On December 4, 2018, Webb discovered that another inmate who had also been convicted of robbery in the first degree was still permitted to advance his parole eligibility date through RREC. Id. ¶ 8. Webb has a Level 2 security classification, does not have any documented assaults on DOC staff or gang affiliation, and has maintained employment for the past three years as a certified nursing assistant. Id. ¶ 9. Nevertheless, other similarly situated inmates convicted of the same offense were permitted to have their RREC applied to accelerate their parole eligibility date. Id.

         Webb contends that Defendant Sparaco, Director of Parole and Community Services, has instituted a policy that allows only certain violent offenders and violent offenders who committed their crimes between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2013, to have their RREC applied to accelerate their parole eligibility dates. Id. ΒΆ 10. Under this policy, Webb's parole ...


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