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Scozzari v. Santiago

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 9, 2019

BRANDON SCOZZARI, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTONIO SANTIAGO et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Brandon Scozzari filed this lawsuit pro se and in forma pauperis against several Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials, claiming that they violated his constitutional rights while he was confined as a pretrial detainee. Scozzari principally alleges that he was subjected to administrative segregation and placed in the DOC's Security Risk Group (“SRG”) program-a program that allows for detainees who are suspected of certain gang affiliations to be placed in more restrictive conditions of confinement-in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] He now seeks preliminary injunctive relief in connection with his claims, seeking an order removing him from the SRG program and restoring him to general population. Doc. #20 at 1. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny Scozzari's motion for preliminary injunctive relief.

         Background

         The following facts are derived from Scozzari's allegations in his complaint, as well as the parties' new submissions related to the instant motion. Docs. #1, #39 (Declaration of Scozzari), #28-1 (Affidavit of SRG Coordinator Captain Papoosha).[2] I further incorporate all facts relevant to this motion from my initial review order. Doc. #7.

         In October of 2018, while Scozzari was confined as a pretrial detainee in the New Haven Correctional Center (“NHCC”), he was questioned by Lieutenants Paine and Russell about posts on his Facebook page indicating that he was a member of the “Piru Blood” gang. Docs. #1 at 5-6 (¶¶ 1-10); #39 at 1 (¶ 3). Scozzari denied any affiliation. Doc. #1 at 6 (¶ 6). Shortly thereafter, Paine came and took Scozzari to the restrictive housing unit. Id. at 9 (¶¶ 21-22). When Scozzari arrived at the restrictive housing unit at NHCC, he did not receive notice of the charges against him from Paine or from Investigator Acevedo, and he also was deprived of an opportunity to present his views “orally or in writing.” Id. at 10 (¶¶ 24-25). Scozzari emphasizes that this segregation was not the result of committing any infractions or for disciplinary issues. Doc. #39 at 2 (¶ 4).

         On October 31, 2018, while still at NHCC, Scozzari received an SRG member hearing notification, which informed him that he would have a hearing due to his possible affiliation with the Bloods, pointing to Scozzari's Facebook page, id. at 2 (¶ 5), and advised him that he was afforded an opportunity to have an advocate and witnesses at his hearing, an opportunity he declined, Doc. #28-1 at 3-4 (¶¶ 14-15).[3]

         At the SRG hearing, Scozzari acknowledged that the Facebook page was his. Doc. #39 at 2 (¶ 7); see also Doc. #28-1 at 4 (¶ 15). He said that he posted “what are lyrics to a song in memory of a friend who passed away.” Doc. #39 at 2 (¶ 7). Scozzari denied posting a picture containing known gang hand symbols. Ibid. But defendants submit that the Facebook page stated, “1700 block 1700 shots IMG MOB PIRU, ” and it contained a photograph of Scozzari displaying a well-known Blood hand sign. Doc. #28-1 at 3 (¶ 14).[4] Scozzari again stresses that the SRG hearing was not the result of disciplinary reports. Doc. #39 at 2 (¶¶ 5-6).

         After the SRG hearing, Scozzari received a Notification of Decision that he was designated as an SRG member Phase 3. Docs. #39 at 3 (¶ 10); #28-1 at 4 (¶ 16). Scozzari was then transferred to the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center (“Corrigan”), where he entered into the SRG program in Phase 3. Docs. #39 at 3-4 (¶ 12); #28-1 at 4 (¶ 16).

         Scozzari commenced this lawsuit in February 2019, claiming, inter alia, he was unconstitutionally placed in administrative segregation at NHCC and the SRG program at Corrigan. Doc. #1. Scozzari further claims he was kept under unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Corrigan. He seeks damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. Id. at 27 (¶¶ 114-22).

         In April 2019, Scozzari was sentenced. See State v. Scozzari, No. N07M-CR18-0297876-S (Conn. Super. Ct. April 3, 2019). Later that month, I permitted, inter alia, Scozzari's claims for injunctive relief under the Fourteenth Amendment against Aldi, Santiago, Faucher, and Kelly in their official capacities to proceed. Doc. #7 at 12.[5]

         After my initial review order was issued, Scozzari received two Class A discipline reports that were “un-related to anything Security Risk Groups.” Doc. #39 at 4 (¶ 15). Due to these infractions, Scozzari was regressed first to the beginning of SRG Phase 3 in April, then to Phase 2 in May. Doc. #28-1 at 4 (¶ 17). Scozzari was also transferred to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”). Doc. #9 (Notice of Change of Address).

         In June 2019, Scozzari received two more disciplinary reports, one of which was unrelated to the SRG program. Docs. #39 at 4-5 (¶ 16); #28-1 at 4 (¶ 18). The other infraction was SRG-related, based on the discovery that Scozzari sent a letter discussing Blood hierarchy and instructing that it be forwarded to a known Blood member. Doc. #28-1 at 4 (¶ 18). Scozzari also placed a phone call to this known Blood member and discussed the hierarchy of the Blood sect and associated information. Ibid. After both of these infractions, Scozzari's SRG status was reviewed, and he was further regressed to Phase 1. Ibid. (¶ 19). In July 2019, Scozzari was transferred to Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”), where he is currently housed. Doc. #39 at 4-5 (¶16); see also Doc. #17 (Notice of Change of Address).[6]

         In August 2019, Scozzari filed this motion for a preliminary injunction. Doc. #20. He seeks preliminary injunctive relief in connection with his Fourteenth Amendment claims, asking for a court order removing him from the SRG program and reinstating him in general population. Ibid.[7]

         Discussion

         A district court has wide discretion in determining whether to grant preliminary injunctive relief. See Moore v. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc., 409 F.3d 506, 511 (2d Cir. 2005) (Sotomayor, J.).[8] The requirements for the issuance of a preliminary injunction are well established. To obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must establish “(a) irreparable harm and (b) either (1) likelihood of success on the merits or (2) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly toward the party requesting ...


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