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EL-Massri v. New Haven Correctional Center

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 5, 2019



          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge


         Pro se plaintiff, Andrew El-Massri, an inmate currently incarcerated at the Garner Correctional Institution (“Garner”) in Newtown, Connecticut, has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the New Haven Correctional Center (“NHCC”), where he was previously confined, and seven of the facility's employees in their individual and official capacities: Deputy Warden Marmora, Lieutenant Cacioli, Lieutenant Lewis, Lieutenant Williams, Officer Hebert, Officer McGivney, and Nurse Goode (herein collectively “Defendants”).

         In brief, El-Massri's claims stem from Defendants' alleged use of physical force and Oleoresin Capsaicin (“OC”) spray upon him following an altercation he had with another inmate on November 26, 2015, at NHCC, where he was then confined as a pretrial detainee. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants wrongfully refused to allow him to shower for three days thereafter, thereby preventing him from decontaminating himself from the OC spray. He claims that this failure to allow him to shower constituted an unconstitutional condition of confinement and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

         Following review of his claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and the Court's Ruling on Plaintiff's motion to amend his Complaint, the following claims have been allowed to proceed in this action:

(a) Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim against Williams, Cacioli, Lewis, and Hebert (along with failure to intervene to prevent such force against Goode and McGivney);[1]
(b) Connecticut common law civil assault claim against Williams, Cacioli, Lewis, and Hebert;
(c) Fourteenth Amendment conditions of confinement claim against all individual defendants (Williams, Cacioli, Lewis, Hebert, Goode, McGivney, and Marmora) regarding failure to permit El-Massri to shower for three days;
(d) Fourteenth Amendment deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against all individual defendants (Williams, Cacioli, Lewis, Hebert, Goode, McGivney, and Marmora) for failure to permit El-Massri to shower for three days; and (e) failure to supervise or train against Marmora.

See El-Massri v. New Haven Corr. Ctr., No. 3:18-CV-1249 (CSH), 2019 WL 3491639, at *14 (D. Conn. July 31, 2019).[2] All claims regarding an alleged violation of DOC Administrative Directives were dismissed. “It is well-established that a claim that a state official failed to comply with his own agency's directives, policies, or procedures does not demonstrate the deprivation of a constitutionally or federally protected right.” Id. at *10 (citations omitted).[3]

         The Court also dismissed all claims against defendant NHCC because “[a] correctional institution is not a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” El-Massri v. New Haven Corr. Ctr., No. 3:18-CV-1249 (CSH), 2018 WL 4604308, at *11 (D. Conn. Sept. 25, 2018). Accordingly, there was “no arguable legal basis for proceeding with a § 1983 claim against NHCC.” Id. Subsequently, the remaining Defendants filed their answer to the amended complaint. See Doc. 78.

         Pending before the Court at this time are Plaintiff's motions seeking (1) a preliminary injunction [Doc. 53], requesting medical treatment for an ongoing skin disorder, and (2) sanctions for alleged spoliation of video evidence by Defendants [Doc. 61].


         A. Motion for Preliminary Injunction

         1. Standard for Preliminary Injunction

         “In this Circuit, ” the Court of Appeals has “repeatedly said that district courts may grant a preliminary injunction where a plaintiff demonstrates irreparable harm and meets either of two standards: ‘(a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant's favor.'” DONALD J. TRUMP v. DEUTSCHE BANK AG, No. 19-1540-CV, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 6482561, at *4 (2d Cir. Dec. 3, 2019) (quoting Kelly v. Honeywell Int'l Inc., 933 F.3d 173, 134 (2d Cir. 2019)). Moreover, the Second Circuit has emphasized that “irreparable harm” is “a factor required under either standard, ” 2019 WL 6482561, at *5.[4] See also Safran Elecs. & Def. SAS v. iXblue SAS, No. 19-0567, 2019 WL 5250790, at *1 (2d Cir. Oct. 17, 2019) (“To obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) ‘either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the plaintiff's favor'; (2) ‘that he is likely to suffer irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction'; (3) that the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant ‘tips in the plaintiff's favor'; and (4) that the ‘public interest would not be disserved by the issuance of a preliminary injunction.'”) (quoting Salinger v. Colting, 607 F.3d 68, 79-80 (2d Cir. 2010)).

         A preliminary injunction “is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.'” Moore v. Consol. Edison Co. of New York, 409 F.3d 506, 510 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997) (emphasis and citation omitted)). “Irreparable harm is ‘the single most important prerequisite for the issuance of a preliminary injunction.'” Demirayak v. City of New York, 746 Fed.Appx. 49, 51 (2d Cir. 2018) (quoting Bell & Howell: Mamiya Co. v. Masel Supply Co. Corp., 719 F.2d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 1983)).[5]

         Although it is not typical “to dispose of motions for preliminary injunctions without an evidentiary hearing, ” such a hearing is “not required in all cases .” Sugarhill Records Ltd. v. Motown Record Corp., 570 F.Supp. 1217, 1222 (S.D.N.Y. 1983) (citations omitted). The Second Circuit has “explained that ‘there is no hard and fast rule in this circuit that oral testimony must be taken on a motion for a preliminary injunction or that the court can in no circumstances dispose of the motion on the papers before it.'” Safran Elecs. & Def. SAS, 2019 WL 5250790, at *2 (quoting Md. Cas. Co. v. Realty Advisory Bd. on Labor Relations, 107 F.3d 979, 984 (2d Cir. 1997)). Where, for example, the briefs provide “an adequate basis for the District Court's decision, ” the Second Circuit has held that “no hearing was necessary.” Id. See also SCM Corp. v. Xerox Corp., 507 F.2d 358, 361 (2d Cir. 1974) (holding district judge did not abuse discretion in finding plaintiff failed to make a sufficient showing of irreparable damage to justify an evidentiary hearing on its motion for preliminary injunction). Also, where issues of fact “are not relevant to the determination of the [preliminary injunction] motion, ” resolution “without an evidentiary hearing is appropriate.” Sugarhill Records Ltd., 570 F.Supp. at 1221-22 (citing, inter alia, Herbert Rosenthal Jewelry Corp. v. Grossbardt, 428 F.2d 551, 554-55 (2d Cir. 1970)). “In deciding a motion for preliminary injunction, a court may consider the entire record including affidavits and other hearsay evidence.” Johnson v. Newport Lorillard, No. 01 CIV. 9587 (SAS), 2003 WL 169797, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2003).

         When the moving party seeks mandatory relief - a remedy that “alters the status quo by commanding some positive act” - he or she must meet a higher standard. Cacchillo v. Insmed, Inc., 638 F.3d 401, 406 (2d Cir. 2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). See also Demirayak, 746 Fed.Appx. at 51 (“A heightened standard applies when a movant seeks a preliminary injunction that either alters the status quo or would provide the ultimate relief sought in the underlying action.”) (citation omitted). A mandatory preliminary injunction “should issue only upon a clear showing that the moving party is entitled to the relief requested, or where extreme or very serious damage will result from the denial of preliminary relief.” Cacchillo, 638 F.3d at 406 (citing Citigroup Glob. Mkts., Inc. v. VCG Special Opportunities Master Fund Ltd., 598 F.3d 30, 35 n.4 (2d Cir. 2010)). See also Demirayak, 746 Fed.Appx. at 51 (same). “The ‘clear' or ‘substantial' showing requirement . . . alters the traditional formula by requiring that the movant demonstrate a greater likelihood of success.” Tom Doherty Assocs., Inc. v. Saban Entm't, Inc., 60 F.3d 27, 34 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

         Furthermore, the requested injunctive relief must relate to the claims set forth in the complaint. See De Beers Consol. Mines Ltd. v. United States, 325 U.S. 212, 220 (1945) (“A preliminary injunction is always appropriate to grant intermediate relief of the same character as that which may be granted finally”; but an injunction is not appropriate if it “deals with a matter lying wholly outside the issues in the suit . . . .”). See also Milner v. Black, No. 3:16-CV-1621 (SRU), 2017 WL 2661626, at *1 (D. Conn. June 20, 2017) (“[T]he request for injunctive relief must relate to the claims in the complaint.”); Oliphant v. Quiros, No. 3:09-CV-1771(VLB), 2010 WL 2180780, at *1 (D. Conn. May 19, 2010) (“[T]he petitioner must establish a relationship between the injury claimed in the motion seeking injunctive relief and the conduct giving rise to the action.”) (citing Omega World Travel, Inc. v. Trans World Airlines, 111 F.3d 14, 16 (4th Cir. 1997)).

         The Second Circuit “review[s] denial of a preliminary injunction for abuse of discretion.” DONALD J. TRUMP, 2019 WL 6482561, at *3 (citing Ragbir v. Homan, 923 F.3d 53, 62 (2d Cir. 2019)). “A district court abuses its discretion when it rests its decision on a clearly erroneous finding of fact or makes an error of law.” Almontaser v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 519 F.3d 505, 508 (2d Cir. 2008). The district court thus has broad discretion in determining whether to grant or deny preliminary injunctive relief. Moore v. Consol. Edison Co. of New York, 409 F.3d 506, 511 (2d Cir. 2005). Additionally, “[i]n the prison context, a request for injunctive relief must always be viewed with great caution so as not to immerse the federal judiciary in the management of state prisons.” Fisher v. Goord, 981 F.Supp. 140, 167 (W.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing, inter alia, Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 846-47 (1994)).

         2. Substance of Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction

         At the outset, the Court notes that it did not hold an evidentiary hearing because the briefs, affidavits, and exhibits submitted by the parties were sufficient for the Court to resolve this motion. Moreover, any unresolved factual issues were not relevant to the Court's decision on the motion. Accordingly, for purposes of disposing of the motion, the Court relies on the papers filed by the parties.

         Turning to the substance of the preliminary injunction motion, Plaintiff requests “proper treatment and care” by a medical specialist for his “extremely painful skin disorder that is the proximate [result] of [the] [D]efendants' actions” in this case. Doc. 53, at 1. He claims that he suffers from severe itching, redness, and burning on “80% of his body” as a result of the Defendants' use of OC spray on him on November 26, 2015, and their refusal to permit him “proper decontamination.” Doc. 53-1, at 1. He seeks “an immediate order for [the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”)] to send him to a specialist to treat this recurring skin disorder.” Id. at 2.

         The Defendants filed an objection to El-Massri's motion, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to establish that a preliminary injunction should issue. Doc. 77, at 3-7. First, Defendants assert that the injunctive relief Plaintiff seeks is not related to the underlying claims contained in this action because any alleged failure to treat his skin condition after Plaintiff's specified three-day period in November 2015 is not pled in the Amended Complaint. Id. at 3. Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that “irreparable harm” will result if no injunction issues. Id. at 5-6. Lastly, Defendants maintain that Plaintiff has failed to meet the standard to obtain a preliminary injunction by failing to demonstrate the likelihood of success on the merits or sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping in his favor. Id. at 6-7.

         The Court examines Plaintiff's motion and Defendants' objections below and resolves the motion.

         3. Analysis

         a. Injunction Requested Fails to Relate to Claims at Issue

         In requesting medical treatment, as an inmate, for a skin condition based on an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, Plaintiff has requested relief which falls outside of his pending claims. He argues that DOC “prison officials” at Hartford Correctional Center (“HCC”) and Garner have “left [him] in pain for years” by failing to provide “proper medical attention” for his painful skin disorder. Doc. 53-1, at 1. The injunction he seeks is thus unrelated to the Fourteenth Amendment claims he has made, as a detainee, against the NHCC prison officials in his Amended Complaint. The unconstitutional confinement and deliberate indifference claims in the operative complaint relate to actions by the named Defendant prison officials at NHCC while Plaintiff was a prison detainee. Specifically, those claims allege that on November 26, 2015, while Plaintiff was detained at NHCC, Defendants employed excessive force, used OC spray, and failed to allow him to decontaminate by showering for three days following the incident. Such claims do not include allegations regarding subsequent years of failure by DOC prison officials at HCC and/or Garner to treat an alleged long-term skin condition he has suffered as an inmate.

         It is clear that Plaintiff believes that his alleged skin condition originally arose from the November 2015 incident; and in that regard, he will be left to his proof as to the cause of this affliction. However, the injunction he now seeks is unrelated to the allegations set forth in his Amended Complaint. In sum, the claims in Plaintiff's operative complaint relate to the Defendants' actions which he alleges initially caused his skin affliction in November 2015, whereas the requested injunction relates to unnamed DOC officials' long-term treatment of that condition during four years that followed the November 2015 incident. Plaintiff cannot insert new claims into his Complaint with a motion for preliminary injunction.

         As set forth in the Court's prior ruling granting Plaintiff leave, in part, to amend his Complaint, “to the extent that Plaintiff may seek to add a variety of ‘deliberate indifference' claims against various defendants by alleging a series of later incidents that may have exacerbated his skin condition after the three-day period in November 2015, those allegations are beyond the scope of the claims he has pled in this action and thus disallowed.” Doc. 58 (Ruling entered 7/31/19), at 20-21 (emphasis added). There are thus no pending claims regarding deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs arising from actions or events that occurred after November 2015. Doc. 77, at 3-4. As Defendants explain, “At first glance, the relief the Plaintiff request[s] [in his preliminary injunction motion] may appear to be related to the claims before the court[;] [h]owever, a review of the Defendants in this case and the subject matter implicated clearly demonstrate[s] that the issue before the court stems from the use of a chemical agent and the ...

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