United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.
se Plaintiff Edison Vidro ("Plaintiff" or
"Vidro"), a convicted prisoner currently
incarcerated at the Osborn Correctional Institution in
Somers, Connecticut, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action
seeking damages from two Connecticut Department of Correction
("DOC") officials: Warden Scott Erfe and Deputy
Warden Amonda Hannah ("the Defendants"). Doc. 1
("Compl."). Vidro alleges that the Defendants
violated his federal constitutional and statutory rights by
denying him adequate winter clothing during his outdoor
smudging rituals for the winter seasons of 2016 to 2017 and
2017 to 2018. Id. at ¶¶ 9-14. On July 5,
2018, this Court issued its Initial Review Order permitting
Vidro's First Amendment free exercise of religion claim
to proceed against the Defendants in their individual
capacities for damages. Doc. 11 ("IRO") at 10. The
Defendants answered the complaint on January 18, 2019. Doc.
21 ("Answer"). Among the affirmative defenses
asserted, the Defendants claimed that Vidro failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies before commencing this action,
pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act
("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Id.
filed a motion for summary judgment on April 2, 2019.
See Doc. 23 at 1 ("Pl.'s Mot. Summ.
J."); Doc. 23 at 3-5 ("Pl.'s Supp.
Decl."); Doc. 23 at 8-13 ("Pl.'s Mem.").
Vidro contends that the evidence establishes the
Defendants' liability for placing a substantial burden on
his ability to practice his Native American religion by
denying him adequate winter clothing for outdoor smudging.
Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 1, 9-13. The Defendants filed
their opposition to the motion on April 16, 2019, contending
that Vidro's motion "merely restate[s] the
conclusory allegations in his Complaint and has not presented
sufficient evidence to support his allegations." Doc. 24
("Defs.' Opp'n"). The Defendants also claim
that they are entitled to summary judgment because Vidro
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to
commencing suit. Id. Vidro countered with a reply,
asserting that the Defendants merely denied his allegations
without presenting any evidence to support their opposition,
and that the evidence shows that he exhausted his
administrative remedies. Doc. 26 ("Pl.'s
30, 2019, the Defendants filed their own motion for summary
judgment on the ground that Vidro failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies under the PLRA. Doc. 28
("Defs.' Mot. Summ. J."); Doc. 28-1
("Defs.' Mem."). Specifically, the Defendants
contend that Vidro did not administratively challenge the
denial of winter clothing for smudging until January 27,
2018, after which DOC officials agreed to provide such
clothing for smudging in the Admitting and Processing
("A&P") area at the Cheshire Correctional
Institution, where Vidro was confined at the time. Defs.'
Mem. at 7-8. Thus, the Defendants argue that they did not
have notice of Vidro's alleged constitutional deprivation
until approximately two months prior to the commencement of
this action. See Id . Vidro countered in his written
opposition that the January 27, 2018 grievance satisfied the
exhaustion requirement, and any failure on his part to grieve
the matter was the result of his lack of knowledge of the
DOC's Administrative Remedy procedure. Doc. 29
("Pl.'s Opp'n"); Doc. 29-1 ("Pl.'s
Opp'n Decl."); Doc. 29-3 ("Pl.'s Mem. in
reasons set forth below, because Vidro has failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies as required by the PLRA,
Vidro's motion for summary judgment is DENIED and the
Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Redd v. New York Div. of
Parole, 678 F.3d 166, 173-74 (2d Cir. 2012). A
"genuine issue" exists "if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is
"material" if it "might affect the outcome of
the suit under governing law." Id.
moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the
absence of a disputed issue of material fact. Celotex v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the initial burden
is satisfied, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party
to present "specific evidence demonstrating the
existence of a genuine dispute of material fact."
Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., 781 F.3d 42, 34
(2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). While the Court must view the record in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, and resolve all
ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of
the party against whom summary judgment is sought,
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, the non-moving party
nevertheless "must do more than simply show that there
is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, "
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the non-movant
must support any assertion disputing the veracity of a fact
or existence of an alleged dispute with specific citation to
the record materials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must read his
submissions "liberally" and interpret them "to
raise the strongest arguments" that they suggest.
Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir.
2010). Nonetheless, "[p]roceeding pro se does not
otherwise relieve a litigant of the usual requirements of
summary judgment, and a pro se party's bald assertions
unsupported by evidence, are insufficient to overcome a
motion for summary judgment." Rodriguez v.
Hahn, 209 F.Supp.2d 344, 348 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
is a devout Native American, who at all times relevant to
this matter was incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional
Institution ("Cheshire") in Cheshire, Connecticut
while the Defendants were employed there as correctional
officials. Doc. 28-4 ("Defs.' 56(a)(1) Stmt.")
¶¶ 1-2; Doc. 29-6 ("Pl.'s 56(a)(2)
Stmt.") ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiff participated in all
Native American services at Cheshire, including smudging
outdoors every day, as permitted by the DOC's
"Native American Smudge Policy." Compl.
¶¶ 6-7; Doc. 1 at 8 ("Pl.'s Ex. A").
Smudging consists of burning sacred herbs and waving smoke
over one's body as a cleansing technique. Compl. ¶
7. The DOC's policy permits inmates to smudge once per
day outdoors for up to twenty minutes depending on
circumstances as determined by the Unit Manager or another
appropriate supervisor. Pl.'s Ex. A.
alleges that, during the winter of 2016-2017, he smudged
outdoors daily without winter attire such as jackets and hats
because officials at Cheshire did not provide such attire for
smudging purposes. Compl. ¶¶ 9-11. He also alleges
that he requested a jacket and hat on several occasions
during the winter of 2016-2017, but his requests were denied.
Id. at ¶¶ 12-14. Vidro claims that this
situation forced him to choose between practicing an
important religious ritual or remaining indoors during the
cold winder months. Id. at ¶ 11.
contends that he was never provided any verbal or written
instructions regarding the grievance procedure, and only
became aware of the grievance process when another inmate
informed him of it in spring 2017. Pl.'s 56(a)(2) Stmt.
¶ 3. Consequently, during his confinement at Cheshire,
Vidro did not file any administrative grievances until April
24, 2017. Id.; Doc. 28-3 ("Aff. of Monica
Boyd-Carter") ¶ 5. On that date, Vidro filed a
grievance regarding the whereabouts of a personal possession.
Aff. of Monica Boyd-Carter ¶ 5; Doc. 28-3 at 5-6 (Inmate
Administrative Grievance dated April 24, 2017).
filed a second grievance while at Cheshire on January 27,
2018, which was received by DOC officials on January 29,
2018. Aff. of Monica Boyd-Carter ¶ 7; Doc. 28-3 at 11-14
(Inmate Administrative Grievance dated January 27, 2018);
Doc. 1 at 10 ("Pl.'s Ex. B"). In that written
grievance, Vidro stated the following:
It is winter and extremely cold outdoors at smudge call,
which I attend everyday. The thin tans and thermal [are] not
warm enough to protect me from the brutal cold.I need a coat
and a hat. I've already become sick once and wish not to
become sick again. Enfield closed. [T]here must be hundreds
of jackets there that could easily be brought here and
wouldn't cost anything.
Doc. 28-3 at 11. Vidro requested that Cheshire officials
issue him a coat and hat or make them available in the
A&P room for smudging. Id. He attached to his
grievance a letter he had sent to Deputy Warden Hannah on
January 14, 2018, requesting that jackets be placed in the
A&P room for daily smudging. Id. at 13. The
letter includes a response at the bottom stating that
Cheshire officials do not provide coats and hats for
smudging. Id. The January 27, 2018
grievance constituted the only grievance Vidro filed
regarding his ability to practice smudging at Cheshire.
Pl.'s 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 4.
March 14, 2018, an official at Cheshire responded to
Vidro's January 27, 2018 grievance, stating the
following: "A review of your level one grievance was
conducted and has been compromised. Coats and hats will be
provided for Native American smudging in the A[&]P
area." Doc. 28-3 at 11. The official checked off a box
at the bottom of the document indicating that Vidro had
"exhausted DOC's Administrative Remedies."
Id. Afterward, several jackets and hats were placed
in the A&P room at Cheshire for use during smudging. Doc.
29-4 ("Decl. of Marco A. Michalski") ¶ 3.
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Because "[t]here is no question that exhaustion is
mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot
be brought in court[, ]" Jones v. Bock, 549
U.S. 199, 211 (2007), the Court addresses Defendants'
motion for summary judgment before turning to Vidro's