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Pena v. Cook

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 12, 2019

JAMES L. PENA, Plaintiff,
COOK, et al., Defendants.


          Kari A. Dooley United States District Judge

         Preliminary Statement

         Plaintiff, James L. Pena (“Pena”), currently confined at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Connecticut, filed this action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On June 24, 2019, the Court filed an Initial Review Order dismissing: all claims against defendant Nemeth; the Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claims which were not based on a failure to protect; the First Amendment retaliation claims against defendants Santiago and Maiga; the Fourth Amendment strip search claims; all claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986; and state law claims for negligence and false imprisonment. The Court allowed the case to proceed on Pena's Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect and/or deliberate indifference to safety against defendants Cook, Cocerrella, Cotta, Michaud, and Papoosha. Doc. No. 10 at 15-16. The Court also afforded Pena an opportunity to amend his complaint to re-assert the conditions of confinement, retaliation and strip search claims which were initially dismissed. Id. at 16.

         On July 8, 2019, Pena filed an Amended Complaint adding two defendants, Mental Health Worker J. Brennan and Dr. Gagne. He asserts five claims: (1) all defendants subjected him to an environment that placed him in harm and caused him to experience physical and mental hardship; (2) defendants Santiago, Maiga, and Brennan retaliated against him; (3) defendants Cook, Cocerrella, Cotta, Maiga, Santiago, Michaud, and Papoosha failed to protect him or were deliberately indifferent to his safety; (4) defendants Gagne and Brennan were deliberately indifferent to his mental health needs; and (5) all defendants subjected him to false imprisonment by confining him in a restrictive housing unit.

         Standard of Review

         Under section 1915A of title 28 of the United States Code, the Court 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. Id. 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[].” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants). 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 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.

         Allegations [1]

         On November 26, 2018, Pena was sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment on charges of sexual assault in the second degree, violation of probation, possession of a firearm, and assault on a public safety officer. Doc. No. 13, ¶ 21. Two days later, he was transferred to a much more restrictive housing unit at Walker Correctional Institution (“Walker”). Id., ¶ 22. Pena requested placement in protective custody (“PC”) because he feared for his safety. Id., ¶ 23.

         On January 6, 2019, Pena was placed on “rec alone status.” Pena considers this status similar to PC within the Security Risk Group (“SRG”) block at Walker. Pena alleges that he had been labeled a “plate” because his conviction was for a sexual offense and he was not an active gang member. Id.

         On February 4, 2019, Pena was transferred to Massachusetts on pending drug charges. He was housed in general population there for about three weeks. Id., ¶ 24. Pena returned to Connecticut on February 25, 2019 and was placed in a Restrictive Housing Unit (“RHU”) at Walker. The placement was because Pena “never completed the Program on my prior sentence.” In RHU, Pena was required to undergo a strip search whenever he left his cell, eat in his cell, and recreate outside in harsh weather. He also was permitted only three phone calls per week. Pena was required to endure these conditions even though he had no disciplinary charges and no hearing. Id., ¶ 25.

         Pena told the unit manager at Walker about threats and extortion attempts and requested PC placement. Pena was placed on rec alone status for his safety. Id., ¶ 26. On February 25, 2019, a mental health provider diagnosed Pena with a mental health issue and prescribed medication. Id., ¶ 27. Also in February 2019, Pena had a “slight disputation” with defendants Maiga and Santiago while they were touring his housing unit. During the conversation Pena stated, “that's why I'm suing your a**.” Id., ¶ 28.

         On March 28, 2019, Pena was removed from rec alone status and transferred to Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center (“Corrigan”). This was the facility where, on November 14, 2018, Pena was assaulted by a member of the SRG Bloods. Id., ¶ 29. Pena believes that defendants Maiga and Santaigo removed him from rec alone status and transferred him to Corrigan because they became aware, during the “disputation” that Pena had filed a lawsuit against them. Id., ¶ 31.

         On March 29, 2019, Pena submitted Inmate Requests to defendants Cook, Papoosha, Michaud, Cocerrella, and Cotta stating that his life was in danger because he was still labelled a “plate.” He had received multiple threats at Corrigan. Pena asked to be returned to Walker, placed on rec alone status, or placed in PC. Id., ¶ 31 (the second paragraph numbered 31). Only defendant Michaud responded to the request. On April 2, 2019, defendant Michaud stated, that he had reviewed surveillance footage and it appeared that Pena was “socializing fine.” He advised Pena to tell him if things changed. Id.

         On April 12, 2019, Pena submitted a second request to defendants Cocerrella, Cotta, Michaud, and Cook stating that his life was being threatened and he was being extorted. He reported that gang members knew that he was a “plate, ” was previously on rec alone status, and had a sex charge. Correctional officers were verbally insulting and threatening him. Pena said that it was only a matter of time before he was assaulted again. He was afraid for his life and requested PC placement or rec alone status to ...

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