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Johnson v. King

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 12, 2019

KING, et al., Defendants.



         David Johnson (“Johnson”), commenced this civil rights action challenging his designation as a Security Risk Group (“SRG”) member in February 2017, and his return to the SRG Program upon re-admission to the custody of the Department of Correction in December 2017. The defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that Johnson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, the defendants did not deny Johnson due process, the defendants are protected by qualified immunity, and Johnson has not established the personal involvement of several defendants. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         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. Regarding 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.

         Although the court is required to read a self-represented “party's papers liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest, ” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015), “unsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact” and do not overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).

         II. Facts[1]

         In January 2017, correctional staff found hand-drawn gang symbols in Johnson's cell and intercepted two letters sent by Johnson that contained gang-identifying information. Doc. No. 36-18. ¶ 1. Department of Correction Administrative Directive 6.14(7)(A) prohibits possession of gang-identifying material. Id. ¶ 2. That material is defined in the Code of Penal Discipline as “any materials, symbols, colors or pictures of any identified security risk group, or behaviors uniquely or clearly associated with a security risk group.” Id. ¶ 3.

         Johnson was previously identified as an SRG Crips member and completed the SRG Program in August 2015. Id. ¶ 4. An SRG is defined in Administrative Directive 6.14(3)(H) as a “group of inmates, designated by the Commissioner, possessing common characteristics, which serve to distinguish them from other inmates or groups of inmates and which as a discrete entity, jeopardizes the safety of the public, staff, or other inmate(s) and/or the security and order of the facility.” Id. ¶ 5. SRG members are inmates affiliated with an SRG. Id. ¶ 6.

         When an inmate is found to be an SRG member following a hearing, he is placed in the five-phase SRG Program. As inmates pass through the phases, they can withdraw from gang life and be re-integrated into the general prison population. Id. ¶ 7. The Administrative Segregation Program is intended to segregate an inmate from general population, usually because the inmate has committed a violent offense. Id. ¶ 8. Although both programs confine inmates in restrictive housing, the SRG inmates pose a greater danger to the overall safety of the facility and the community because gang activities are interconnected and perpetual. Id. ¶ 9.

         On January 25, 2017, Johnson received a disciplinary report. Id. ¶ 10. The incident report underlying the disciplinary charge described the gang-related items found in Johnson's possession. Id. ¶ 11. The two letters included Crips-identifying language, including the use of “wats” for “what's” to show that Johnson had an affinity for the Grape Street Crips, located in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, and the elimination of the letters “ck” from words because the letters represent “Crip Killer” to any Crips member. Id. ¶ 12. A drawing of a cluster of grapes with “Dr. Watt” written underneath, further showing affinity for the Grape Street Crips was found in Johnson's cell. Id. ¶ 13.

         When Johnson was shown the drawing, he said the grapes were intended to be drops of blood. Staff, however, found a second drawing of a bunch of grapes with the word “grape” written underneath. Id. ¶ 14. Johnson told officers that the items belonged to him and that his nickname was “Dr. Watt.” Id. ¶ 15. Johnson was placed on Administrative Detention pending an investigation into his involvement or association with the SRG Crips. Id. ¶ 16.

         On January 30, 2017, Johnson was issued an SRG Hearing Notification, which formally notified him that two letters containing Crips identifiers were intercepted from him and that other Crips identifiers had been found in his cell. Id. ¶ 17. The Hearing Notification informed Johnson that, if he was designated an SRG member, he would be subject to the sanctions and conditions of confinement listed in Administrative Directive 6.14 and would be ineligible to earn Risk Reduction Earned Credit. Id. ¶ 18. The Hearing Notification also listed factors particular to Johnson that would be considered at the hearing, including “information from telephone and/or mail monitoring, ” “security risk group picture, ” and “possession of security group material.” Id. ¶ 19. Johnson signed the Hearing Notification acknowledging receipt of the document. Id.

         The same day, Disciplinary Investigator defendant Harris met with Johnson to review the disciplinary investigation report. Id. ¶ 20. Johnson declined an advocate and witnesses and said that he would make a statement at the hearing. Id. ¶ 21. Johnson checked the boxes and signed the form showing his decision to decline both assistance of an advocate and the opportunity to call witnesses. Id. ¶ 22. The hearing afforded Johnson an opportunity to refute the evidence of SRG involvement. Id. ¶ 25. At the February 15, 2017 hearing, Johnson was found guilty on the charge of possessing gang-related materials. Id. ¶ 26.

         On the same day as the hearing, Johnson was informed that he had been designated an SRG Crips member and was placed in the SRG Program. Id. ¶ 27. On March 5, 2017, Johnson was transferred from Bridgeport Correctional Center to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution to begin the SRG Program. Id. ¶ 28. Defendant Maldonado denied Johnson's appeal of his SRG designation. Id. ΒΆ 29. Twelve days later, Johnson was released from custody. ...

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