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Reynolds v. Arnone

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 27, 2019

LEO ARNONE, et al., Defendants.



         Richard Reynolds has spent the past twenty-three years in solitary confinement. Reynolds' conditions of confinement are the most restrictive available in the Connecticut prison system. As the result of state legislation directed against him, Reynolds has no genuine opportunity to have his conditions relaxed for the remainder of his life sentence. Reynolds has moved for summary judgment on his claim that the punishment meted out by the State of Connecticut violates the Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. For the reasons that follow, Reynolds' motion is granted.

         I. Introduction

         Reynolds committed a heinous crime - he murdered a law enforcement officer. Reynolds was sentenced to death and awaited execution for twenty-one years. When the death penalty was abolished retroactively in Connecticut, Reynolds was resentenced to life without the possibility of release.

         The fact that people commit inhumane crimes does not give the state the right to treat them inhumanely. Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment with a long history in American penal systems. Since its origins at Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1800s, the anguish of those held in complete isolation has been well-documented.

[V]ery few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers . . . . I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body . . . because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear.

         C. Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation 123-24 (Paris, Baudry's European Library, 1842).

         Today, an estimated 61, 000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in American prisons.[1] See Reforming Restrictive Housing: The 2018 ASCA-Liman Nationwide Survey of Time-in-Cell, Yale Law School 2018 (hereinafter “ASCA-Liman Report”) at 10.[2] Those inmates are separated from the general population and are held in their cells for twenty-two hours or more per day. See id. at 4. An abundance of clinical literature regarding the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement supports a near-universal conclusion: “The restriction of environmental stimulation and social isolation associated with confinement in solitary are strikingly toxic to mental functioning.” Stuart Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, 22 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 325, 354 (2006). As the mental effects of solitary confinement garner national attention, calls to abolish or reform its use are increasing nationwide. See, e.g., Editorial Board, Solitary confinement is torture. Will the Bureau of Prisons finally stop using it?, Wash. Post, July 15, 2017; Joe Hernandez, New Jersey considers restricting the use of solitary confinement, The Phila. Tribune, June 7, 2019. “As of the spring of 2018, legislation to eliminate or to limit restrictive housing for subpopulations had been enacted in California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and Tennessee, and proposed in several other jurisdictions, including Connecticut, Hawaii, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.” ASCA-Liman Report at 88.

         Despite the growing consensus among the scientific community that solitary confinement inflicts severe harm on prisoners, a select group of “special circumstances high security” inmates in Connecticut are all-but-certain to be housed in prolonged isolation for the rest of their lives. Other than two daily hours of recreation and two 15-minute breaks to eat lunch and dinner, each such inmate is effectively condemned to spend the rest of his life in a cell roughly the size of a parking space.

         II. Background

         Reynolds was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.[3] In 2017, he was re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release, following the judicial abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut in 2015. See Mem in Supp. Defs' Mot. for Summary Judgment (“Defs' Mot.”) (Doc. No. 117-26) at 1. Reynolds has been confined at Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”), a level 5 maximum security prison, for the past twenty-three years. Mem. in Supp. Pl's Mot. for Summary Judgment (“Pl's Mot.”) (Doc. No. 122) at 1. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 18-10b (“Section 18-10b”), [4] Reynolds is classified as a “special circumstances high security” inmate. See id. at 4. As an inmate on special circumstances status, he lives alone in a 12 foot by 7 foot cell. See Joint Smt. of Undisputed Facts (“JSUF”) (Doc. No. 120) ¶¶ 33-34. His cell is enclosed by concrete walls, a metal door, and a three-inch wide window. Id. ¶¶ 34, 37-38.

         Reynolds is allowed out of his cell for two fifteen-minute periods to eat lunch and dinner. He is allowed to take one fifteen-minute shower each day. See Defs' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt., (Doc. No. 117-27) ¶¶ 142, 294. He is allotted two hours of recreation each day for six days a week and two hours of weekly indoor gym recreation. See Robles Decl. (Doc. No. 117-6) ¶¶ 61- 67. Reynolds may, upon request, receive visits from clergy, attorneys, or prison medical staff. Defs' Mot. at 57. Other than those periods, Reynolds remains isolated with no contact with anyone but the six other inmates on special circumstances status. See PL's Mot. at 4; JSUF ¶ 28. Although he is allowed social visits with family members, no physical contact is permitted during those visits, which occur through Plexiglass. Pl's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. (Doc. No. 121) ¶ 84. Reynolds' conditions of confinement are more restrictive than any other form of incarceration available within the State of Connecticut prison system.

         On or about October 4, 2013, Reynolds filed his original pro se complaint challenging his conditions of confinement. Doc. No. 1. On June 29, 2015, I granted Reynolds' request for appointment of counsel. Doc. No. 52. About a month later, on August 25, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the prospective repeal of the death penalty enacted by the Connecticut State Legislature in 2012 violated the state Constitution and ordered that individuals on death row be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of release. See State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1 (2015). Accordingly, Reynolds was resentenced on April 21, 2017. On June 29, 2017, Reynolds filed his second amended complaint, which now serves as the operative complaint. Doc. No. 71-1.

         Reynolds has sued former Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”) Commissioner Leo Arnone and various prisoner officials at Northern Correctional Institution (“Defendants”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief; as well as damages.

         The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on November 9, 2018. In his motion, Reynolds contends that his conditions offend multiple constitutional protections as well as basic principles of human decency. Pl's Mot. at 2-3. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. Id. at 58. Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity because there “is no clearly established law either in the U.S. Supreme Court or the Second Circuit regarding the management of inmates on death row/special circumstances.” Defs' Mot. at 1. In addition, Defendants state that Reynolds' claims are unripe because he failed to exhaust his state habeas court remedies regarding Section 18-10b. Id. at 2. I held oral argument on April 18, 2019, at which time I took the motions under advisement. See Doc. No. 151. For the following reasons, I grant Reynolds' motion and deny the Defendants' motion.

         III. Standard of Review

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record demonstrates that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986) (plaintiff must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment).

         When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must construe the facts of record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970); see also Aldrich v. Randolph Cent. Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir. 1992) (court is required to “resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party”). In the context of cross-motions for summary judgment, the same standard is applied. See Scholastic, Inc. v. Harris, 259 F.3d 73, 81 (2d Cir. 2001). However, in deciding each motion, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         “Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper.” Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991); see also Suburban Propane v. Proctor Gas, Inc., 953 F.2d 780, 788 (2d Cir. 1992). If the nonmoving party submits evidence that is “merely colorable, ” or is not “significantly probative, ” summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.

Id. at 247-48. To present a “genuine” issue of material fact, there must be contradictory evidence “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Id. at 248.

         If the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof at trial, then summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In such a situation, “there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 322-23; accord Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995) (movant's burden satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of nonmoving party's claim). In short, if there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment may enter. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         B. Injunctive Relief

         The party requesting permanent injunctive relief must demonstrate (1) that he will be irreparably harmed in the absence of an injunction and (2) actual success on the merits. Ognibene v. Parkes, 671 F.3d 174, 182 (2d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). To demonstrate irreparable harm, a plaintiff must show an “injury that is neither remote nor speculative, but actual and imminent and that cannot be remedied by an award of monetary damages.” Forest City Daly Housing, Inc. v. Town of North Hempstead, 175 F.3d 144, 153 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Rodriguez v. DeBuono, 162 F.3d 56, 61 (2d Cir. 1998)). The standard for a permanent injunction is essentially the same as for a preliminary injunction with the exception that a plaintiff must show actual success on the merits for permanent injunctive relief rather than a likelihood of success on the merits for preliminary injunctive relief. See Amoco Prod. Co. v. Vill. Of Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 546 n.12 (1987).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Reynolds' Conditions of Confinement Violate the Eighth Amendment

         Reynolds claims his conditions of confinement violate of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments” on those convicted of crimes. U.S. Const. amend. VIII. To prevail on his Eighth Amendment claim, Reynolds must prove “both an objective element-that the prison officials' transgression was ‘sufficiently serious'-and a subjective element-that the official acted, or omitted to act, with a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind,' i.e., with ‘deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.'” Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). A condition is objectively serious if it deprives Reynolds of “basic human needs-e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety.” Id. (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Ultimately, to establish the objective element of an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must prove that the conditions of his confinement violate contemporary standards of decency.” Id.

         To meet the subjective component, Reynolds must show that prison officials knew “of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety, ” that is, that they were “aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exist[ed], and . . . dr[e]w the inference.” Id. at 185-86 (internal citation omitted). The requisite knowledge of risk may be inferred “from the fact that the risk of harm is obvious.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 738 (2002) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 825); see also Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 125 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Brook v. Wright, 315 F.3d 158, 164 (2d Cir. 2003) (“Evidence that a risk was ‘obvious or otherwise must have been known to a defendant' may be sufficient for a fact finder to conclude that the defendant was actually aware of the risk.”). The Supreme Court has also stated that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits punishments which, although not physically barbarous, involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, or are grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Among unnecessary and wanton inflictions of pain are those that are totally without penological justification.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         1. Objective Element

         Reynolds argues that his “inhumane” conditions of confinement establish the objective element of an Eighth Amendment claim, noting that his “extreme social isolation offends contemporary standards of decency.” Pl's Mot. at 9. First, he states that “[a]n overwhelming body of scientific research confirms that prolonged, extreme social isolation is inconsistent with ‘evolving standards of decency.'” Id. at 13; see also Stuart Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, 22 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 325, 327 (2006) (The confinement of a “prisoner alone in a cell for all, or nearly all, of the day with minimal environmental stimulation and minimal opportunity for social interaction - can cause severe psychiatric harm.”).

         Reynolds notes that many states are severely limiting the use of solitary confinement. See Id. at 10. For example, Idaho's short-term restrictive housing is capped at fifteen days. See ASCA-Liman Report at 69-71. Colorado also limits the use of restrictive housing to fifteen days. Id. at 67-68. In North Dakota, an inmate's average stay in solitary confinement is between thirty and sixty days. Id. at 72. In 2014, the Nebraska legislature adopted a law that limits the use of solitary confinement. See JoAnne Young, New Rules on Solitary Confinement in Nebraska Prisons to Take Effect Friday, Lincoln Journal Star (June 26, 2016). The Wisconsin state legislature also approved reforms for the use of solitary confinement, including alternative punishment for behavior in general population and DOC review after 120 days in the restrictive housing unit. See Dee J. Hall, State Changing Solitary Confinement Policy, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (Aug. 23, 2015).

         Reynolds argues that his ongoing confinement in near-total isolation poses a serious risk of future harm to his mental health. See Pl's Mot. at 14. “Defendants severely limit the amount of meaningful social interaction [Reynolds] has with other inmates . . . . Although Defendants now allow congregate meals during lunch and dinner, the 15-20 minutes allotted for meals barely allow for some very modicum of social interaction [over] eating and talking.” Id. at 15 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Reynolds is only allowed to interact with other special circumstances inmates. Id. He is unable to interact with staff in any meaningful way and he is not allowed to have physical contract with his guests during social visits. See Pl's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 84.

         Reynolds relies on the expert testimony of Dr. Stuart Grassian, who described special circumstances inmates' confinement as “psychologically toxic, cruel, ineffective and counterproductive.” Grassian Expert Report (Doc. No. 100-1) at 11.[5] Dr. Grassian noted that an inmate like Reynolds who does not have a pre-existing mental illness, is placed at great risk of psychiatric decompensation in solitary confinement, leading to self-harm and suicidal tendencies.

Although it has become widely accepted that mentally ill individuals are at severe risk of psychiatric decompensation in solitary, such decompensation is not limited to those with pre-existent mental illness. After controlling for the presence of mental illness, there remains overwhelming evidence that solitary confinement causes many inmates to become suicidal and self-destructive, on average demonstrating that such acts are about seven times as prevalent among those housed in solitary as they are among those housed in general population.

Id. at 14-15.

         Furthermore, Reynolds contends that the Defendants continue to deny his basic need for adequate shelter. See Pl's Mot. at 17. “Plumbing problems are endemic at Northern; wastewater and fecal matter regularly back up into adjacent cells, causing the entire unit to smell strongly of feces.” Id. at 18. “On multiple occasions, [Reynolds'] genitals were submerged in his neighbor's wastewater and fecal matter because another inmate had flushed the adjacent cell's toilet while [Reynolds] was using the toilet in his cell.” Id.; Pl's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 58. In addition, Reynolds notes that the temperatures and noise levels inside Northern can vary, causing him to experience “extreme” temperatures and “chaotic, noisy conditions, which further deprive [him] of adequate shelter.” Pl's Mot. at 19-20.

         In response, Defendants argue that Reynolds' complaints about his conditions of confinement do not amount to a constitutional violation. “[Reynolds] fails to allege a sufficiently serious deprivation; he does not lack, shelter, medical care or reasonable safety. Instead, [Reynolds] has a modern well-furnished cell with TV, radio, video games, heating, cooling, lighting, hot and cold water, and is relatively comfortable in his single-cell.” Id. at 29. In addition, Defendants avow that “many allegations [] are either wholly untrue, inaccurately exaggerated or misrepresentative of the true facts of this case . . . . Many more of [Reynolds'] allegations were completely and wholly raised for the first time in his affidavit, and Rule 56(a)(1) statement.” Defs' Opp. (Doc. No. 129-21) at 1.

         Moreover, Defendants note that Reynolds and other special circumstances inmates can engage in “unlimited social correspondence” with family and friends. Defs' Mot. at 81. Inmates can talk to one another “through the vents and crevices in the walls” and during their outdoor recreation period. Id. They have opportunities to visit with family and friends and can make multiple phone calls daily. Id. A special circumstances inmate may request to have a professional visit with a clergyperson from the community, if that clergyperson is the same religion as the inmate. Id. at 71.

         Defendants rely on the expert report of Dr. Gregory Saathoff, who opined that based upon his own experience and a visit with officials at Northern, the conditions of confinement for special circumstances inmates do not constitute “solitary confinement conditions.” Saathoff Decl. (Doc. No. 117-10) ¶ 11. Although Dr. Saathoff agrees with Dr. Grassian regarding the detrimental effects than can be caused by solitary confinement, he states that Reynolds does not exhibit the serious symptoms described by Dr. Grassian.

Because the serious symptoms described by Dr. Grassian that are a consequence of long term solitary confinement are not evident in Mr. Reynolds, it supports a determination that the special circumstances unit as it is designed and implemented does not constitute solitary confinement.

Id. ¶16.

         Defendants also argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity[6] because their behavior was objectively reasonable considering the lack of any clearly established law or evidence that Reynolds suffered either a physical or emotional injury.

The defendants have acted reasonably and professionally and did not take any action with any knowledge of any [of Reynolds'] clearly established rights being violated. [Defendants] acted in an objectively lawful manner and without knowledge of any injury to [Reynolds], whether physical, emotion or legal. In fact, [Reynolds] suffered no injury whatsoever . . . . [Reynolds] can point to no clearly established legal rights of which the defendants should have been aware with regard to the management of death row.

Defs' Mot. at 16.

         Other courts have held similar conditions inconsistent with contemporary standards of human decency. Recently, the Fourth Circuit affirmed an Eastern District of Virginia ruling that the conditions of confinement for Virginia's death row inmates violated the Eighth Amendment. See Porter v. Clarke, 923 F.3d 348, 353 (4th Cir. 2019), as amended (May 6, 2019).

The challenged conditions of confinement on Virginia's death row-under which Plaintiffs spent, for years, between 23 and 24 hours a day alone, in a small . . . cell with no access to congregate religious, educational, or social programming-pose a substantial risk of serious psychological and emotional harm.

Id. at 357 (internal quotations marks omitted). The Porter Court's ruling was based on “[n]umerous studies [that] reveal that prolonged detention of inmates in conditions akin to those Plaintiffs faced on Virginia's death row also leads to psychological deterioration, including declines in mental functioning . . . difficulties in thinking, concentration and memory problems, and problems with impulse control.” Id. at 356 (internal quotations marks omitted).

         The plaintiffs in Porter were inmates on Virginia's death row who were housed in conditions analogous to Reynolds'. Like special circumstances inmates, Virginia death row inmates “could keep a television and compact disc player in their cell and borrow approved publications and library materials.” Id. at 354. Two inmates, “were allowed out of their cells to perform institutional jobs, ” like special circumstances inmates in Connecticut.[7] Id.; Mulligan Decl. (Doc. No. 117-1) ¶ 84. Despite the Porter defendants' argument that the plaintiffs were not held in “solitary” confinement because they were not “subject to prolonged isolation of lack of stimulation, ”[8] the Fourth Circuit noted that “[d]efendants do not dispute-nor could they- that the challenged procedures and regulations restricted death row inmates to their cells for between 23 and 24 hours a day.” Id. at 359.

         The Third Circuit, in Williams v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corr., reached a similar conclusion. 848 F.3d 549 (3d Cir. 2017), cert. denied sub nom. Walker v. Farnan, 138 S.Ct. 357 (2017), and cert. denied sub nom. Williams v. Wetzel, 138 S.Ct. 357 (2017). In Williams, Pennsylvania death row inmates who were granted resentencing hearings challenged their placement in solitary confinement without meaningful review. Id. at 552. They argued that their indefinite detention in socially isolating conditions violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.[9] Id. at 553. After reviewing the “robust body of scientific research on the effects of solitary confinement” the Third Circuit held that “the deprivations of protracted solitary confinement so exceed the typical deprivations of imprisonment as to be the kind of atypical, significant deprivation . . . . which [can] create a liberty interest.” Id. at 566. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In this case, Reynolds has spent nearly half his life alone in a concrete cell. When considering the average male life expectancy, he still has 34.3 years remaining in those conditions. See Pl's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 113. Each passing year, he faces the risk of deteriorating psychological health. Defendants concede that, under current policy, as a former death row inmate Reynolds has no genuine opportunity to enter the general inmate population. See, e.g., Defs' Mot. at 78 (“Death row inmates are a special class of prisoners . . . . They have nothing to lose in committing assaults or attempting to escape. It is eminently rational to conclude that death row inmates constitute the biggest escape risk should they be housed in general population.”). Under the Defendants' current policies, Reynolds will never interact with inmates who were not previously on death row, never touch a friend or loved one, and never have another opportunity for meaningful social interaction for the rest of his life.

         Although Reynolds may recreate with other special circumstances inmates, the Defendants cannot dispute that Reynolds is detained in his 12 foot by 7-foot cell for nearly twenty-two hours a day. Nor have the Defendants' experts challenged the scholarly studies regarding the risks of developing disturbing mental health conditions in prolonged isolation. The fact that Reynolds may not currently exhibit any devastating effects of his confinement does not defeat the claim that the Defendants' behavior was “sufficiently serious” to meet the objective prong of an Eighth Amendment claim. See Phelps, 308 F.3d at 185. There is every indication that Reynolds' conditions of confinement would “pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health.” McKinney, 509 U.S. at 35.

         To the extent that the Defendants argue that Reynolds' conditions of confinement do not constitute “solitary confinement, ”[10] that notion is contrary to both the vast array of literature discussing the harmful effects of prolonged periods of isolation and the undisputed facts of this case. Reynolds is confined to his cell an average of 21 to 22 hours a day. See Defs' Mot. at 84. He is unable to interact with other inmates in general population. See id. at 78. He is unable to physically embrace his visitors. See Defs' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 111. Other than his limited recreation time, professional or medical visits, and short fifteen-minute increments to eat and shower, Reynolds will spend the remainder of his life alone in a small cell.

         Those types of conditions give rise to the harmful effects described by the growing body of research on social isolation and mental health. See, e.g., Craig Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, 49 Crime & Delinquency 124, 132 (2003) (emphasis added) (“[T]here is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which nonvoluntary confinement lasted for longer than 10 days, where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, that failed to result in negative psychological effects.”); McClary v. Kelly, 4 F.Supp.2d 195, 208 (W.D.N.Y. 1998) (“[a] conclusion . . . that prolonged isolation from social and environmental stimulation increases the risk of developing mental illness does not strike this Court as rocket science.”).

         Based on the evidence in the record, I conclude that Reynolds has established the objective element of his Eighth Amendment claim. An overwhelming body of scientific research supports the conclusion that prolonged isolation presents dangerous risks to an inmate's physical and mental health.

         2. Subjective Element

         Reynolds also contends that the Defendants' deliberate indifference to his conditions of confinement satisfies the subjective element of his Eighth Amendment claim. “The risks of harm from the conditions of [Reynolds'] confinement are obvious; Northern's own policies and the Defendants' own testimony reflect an understanding of the mental health risks of prolonged social isolation. The undisputed facts show not only that Defendants knew the risks posed by the conditions of [Reynolds'] confinement but that they failed to respond to those risks.” Pl's Mot. at 21-22.

         Reynolds asserts that the risks inherent in subjecting a person to over twenty-three years of social isolation are so “obvious” that no reasonable person could claim to be unaware of them. Id. at 22. Specifically, he argues that the Defendants' awareness of those risks is evident in Northern's own internal policies and directives. DOC's Restrictive Housing Unit Matrix requires special circumstances inmates to be reviewed “[b]y a mental health professional after 30 days of initial placement” and then reviewed again “every 90 days thereafter.” Doc. No. 121-23 at 1. In addition, Reynolds argues that DOC officials knew about the mental health consequences of social isolation. Defendant Mark Frayne, a former psychologist at Northern, stated that the scientific literature regarding the effects of solitary confinement reflects, “[t]hat there is a propensity for solitary confinement to adversely affect [a person's] mental health.” Frayne Dep. (Doc. No. 121-8) at 8. Despite the Defendants' knowledge of those risks, Reynolds notes that DOC officials continue to house him in social isolation for an indefinite period. “There is no evidence that [Defendants] have taken any action to order an evaluation or otherwise inquire into the effects of this isolation on [Reynolds'] mental health.” Pl's Mot. at 23.

         Reynolds also cites the Defendants' own testimony to show that his conditions of confinement lack a penological justification. “Defendants themselves acknowledge that there is no security justification for the extreme conditions of [Reynolds'] confinement. Defendants Frayne and Semple, and Dr. Saathoff, all testified that [Reynolds] can be managed safely in general population.” Id. at 24.

         In response Defendants argue that “any and all claims regarding alleged deleterious effects on [Reynolds'] mental health must be dismissed because [Reynolds] has no such deleterious mental health effects.” Defs' Mot. at 2. “[Reynolds] [has] never asked for mental health assistance and has been determined to have no mental health issues. He certainly never exhausted his mental health claims, and thus, this court is without any power to review them.” Id. at 16. Reynolds never reported to a DOC official that he was suffering from any mental instability deterioration.

[Reynolds] never wrote or spoke to me concerning his mental health nor was I ever advised by any other staff member that he was in any way suffering from mental instability or deterioration of any kind . . . . If anything, he seemed to be relatively satisfied with having a single cell, with all of his property and being able to remain on single-cell status, which death row allowed him to do.

Maldonado Decl. (Doc. No. 117-3) ¶ 18.

         Here, Reynolds has demonstrated that the Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm by continuing to house him in social isolation. There is no dispute that prison officials at Northern were aware of the mental health risks associated with prolonged isolation. Indeed, Defendant Frayne, the former managing mental health provider at Northern, testified that he was familiar with the detrimental effects of solitary confinement. The Defendants' knowledge of the health risks of solitary confinement is apparent through DOC's own policies, which mandate that special circumstances inmates be assessed by a mental health professional one month after their initial placement and every three months thereafter. Additionally, a psychiatrist remained on-call during second and third shifts at Northern to assist special circumstances inmates. See Defs' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 410. Medical staff and social workers toured the death row housing unit multiple times a day. Id. ¶¶ 427, 435. The Defendants implemented those policies because they were aware of the disturbing mental health consequences of solitary confinement. It is immaterial to the Eighth Amendment analysis that Reynolds has yet to display symptoms of a mental disease.[11]

         Furthermore, the Defendants' description of Reynolds' stable behavior supports a finding that there is no penological purpose for his severe conditions. Indeed, Defendant Maldonado, the District Administrator for DOC, characterized Reynolds as “respectful and professional.” Maldonado Decl. ¶ 17. Based on his observations, Reynolds appeared to be “relatively well-adjusted” to prison life. Id. Hipolito Rodriguez, former Warden of Northern, found that Reynolds “is articulate and able to communicate well.” Rodriguez Decl. (Doc. No. 117-5) ¶ 20. Defendant Frayne stated that Reynolds “continues a very favorable adjustment considering his correctional title.” Frayne Decl. (Doc. No. 117-9) ¶ 72. Even the Defendants' own expert, Dr. Saathoff, opined that Reynolds is “a thoughtful, articulate and disciplined individual.” Saathoff Decl. ¶ 12.

[Reynolds] continues to serve as the barber for the special circumstances population . . . . Because a prison barber is in a unique position to harm others when they are at their most vulnerable, it is incumbent upon the institution to allow only someone who has the requisite and appropriate interpersonal, cognitive and emotional stability to accomplish this important role - the most intimate job that any prisoner can be assigned. That [Reynolds] performs this job with exceptional skill in the dayroom according to correctional staff and is fully accepted in this role by other inmates as well as security and administrative staff and leadership is a testament to his mental and emotional stability.

Id. ¶ 17. The individual that Dr. Saathoff describes is a far cry from the impulsive death row inmate who has “nothing to lose in committing assaults or attempting to escape.” See Defs' Mot. at 78.

         The Defendants' attempt to justify Reynolds' current conditions based on his underlying state murder conviction[12] (which occurred in 1992) is without merit. See Defs' Opp. at 3-6. Despite the Defendants' objection to Reynolds' characterization as a “model inmate, ” Reynolds' most recent disciplinary citation occurred in 2013. See Id. at 4 n. 3. As noted above, the Defendants' sworn testimony indicates that Reynolds does not exhibit “paranoid rage” nor “compulsive behaviors” and has adjusted “relatively well” to prison life. Saathoff Decl. ¶ 16; Maldonado Decl. ¶ 17. There is no evidence in the record that there is any penological justification for Reynolds' current conditions of confinement.

         Based on the evidence in the record, I conclude that Reynolds has established the subjective element of his Eighth Amendment claim. The Defendants knew or reasonably should have known of the serious risks of harm to Reynolds from his conditions of confinement; their failure to ameliorate those conditions reflects deliberate indifference.

         Thus, Reynolds has shown that his conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

         3. Daubert Analysis

         Defendants move to preclude the opinions of Dr. Stuart Grassian, [13] arguing that his report fails the admissibly test for expert opinions set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 590 (1993).

         Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence addresses testimony to be provided by experts. The Rule provides:

If the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, [a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if] (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. Rule 702 “establishes a standard of evidentiary reliability, ” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590, and “requires a valid . . . connection to the pertinent inquiry as a precondition to admissibility.” Id. at 592; see also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999).

         In determining the admissibility of expert testimony, whether based on “scientific, ” “technical, ” or “other specialized knowledge, ” the Supreme Court has adopted a two-step inquiry under which trial judges must determine “whether the reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93; see also Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 141. Specifically, the Federal Rules of Evidence “assign to the trial judge the task of ensuring that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597; see also Wills v. Amerada Hess Corp., 379 F.3d 32, 48 (2d Cir. 2004) (instructing that “the district court must consider both the reliability and relevance of the proffered testimony”).

         In assessing the reliability of a proffered expert's testimony, a district court's inquiry under Daubert must focus, not on the substance of the expert's conclusions, but on whether those conclusions were generated by a reliable methodology. See Id. at 590; see also Amorgianos v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 137 F.Supp.2d 147, 162 (E.D.N.Y. 2001). In Daubert, the Supreme Court set out a list of non-exclusive factors the trial court may consider in determining whether an expert's reasoning or methodology is reliable: (1) whether the theory or technique on which the expert relies has been tested - that is, whether the expert's theory can be challenged in an objective sense, or whether it is instead simply a subjective, conclusory approach that cannot reasonably be assessed for reliability; (2) whether the theory or technique has been subject to peer review and publication; (3) the known or potential rate of error of the technique when applied; (4) the existence of standards controlling the technique's operation; and (5) whether the method has been generally accepted by the scientific community. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593- 94.

         Those factors are not a definitive checklist, however. See Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 150. A court applying the Daubert factors must look at “the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise, and the subject of his testimony, ” and “consider the specific factors identified in Daubert where they are reasonable measures of the reliability of expert testimony.” Id. at 150- 52. In short, “the trial judge must have considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable.” Id. at 152.

         The Defendants focus their objection on the reliability of Dr. Grassian's methods. See Defs' Opp. at 17-21. They contend that Dr. Grassian's conclusions regarding Reynolds' conditions at Northern are inadmissible because he did not visit Northern and did not interview Reynolds prior to producing his expert report.[14] “Dr. Grassian's opinions had been pre-judged and pre-determined before he ever became involved in this case, and not only did he simply copy and paste from other reports, ...

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