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Casey v. Pallito

United States District Court, Second Circuit

December 18, 2013



CHRISTINA REISS, Chief District Judge.

This matter came before the court on the objection of Plaintiff Shane Edward Casey (Doc. 63) to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("R & R") filed on July 25, 2013. (Doc. 58.) In this action, Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleges that Defendants Andrew Pallito, Greg Hale, Dan Davies, and Kory Stone violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"). Plaintiff also requests appointment of counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1). In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommends granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion to dismiss under Fed, R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and also recommends denying Plaintiffs motion for appointment of counsel.

Plaintiff is self-represented. Defendants, all of whom are current Vermont Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees, are represented by Vermont Assistant Attorney General David R. McLean.

I. Factual Background.

Except where noted, the parties do not dispute the Magistrate Judge's recitation of the operative facts, which are summarized herein. Accordingly, the court relies upon the underlying facts as set forth in the R & R with the exceptions indicated. For purposes of the motion to dismiss, all facts alleged in the Amended Complaint are "accepted] as true." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

Plaintiff is a Vermont inmate in DOC's custody and is currently serving two concurrent sentences of twenty years to life on two counts of aggravated sexual assault. On June 15, 2011, while incarcerated at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility ("CRCF"), Plaintiff met inmate Martin Morales, whom had been designated "severely functionally impaired"[1] by DOC staff. Plaintiff was employed at the CRCF law library and gym, and he became acquainted with Mr. Morales through their interactions at the law library. Over time, the two men grew closer and spent time together, discussing religion and therapy. Plaintiff clarifies in his Objection that the hours spent in CRCF's law library were "in open space on camera." (Doc. 63 at 1.)

Upon Plaintiff's invitation, Mr. Morales began attending non-denominational Christian church services on Sundays with Plaintiff. When CRCF became a women's only prison, all male prisoners in the facility, including Mr. Morales and Plaintiff, were transferred to Northwest State Correctional Facility ("NWSCF"). The two men were cellmates for approximately two weeks after their transfer to NWSCF, at which point Plaintiff was moved into a single-person cell. At NWSCF, Plaintiff began working as the assistant to both the recreation coordinator and the law librarian. Plaintiff and Mr. Morales continued to attend church services together. Plaintiff's Objection indicates that all of the services were "monitored by cameras and prison ministry volunteers." Id. at 5.

Around May 31, 2012, NWSCF staff began investigating the possibility that Plaintiff had been sexually abusing Mr. Morales. In his Objection and in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff points out that this investigation extended to other alleged perpetrators as well. (Doc. 57 at 7.) Thereafter, Defendant Stone observed Mr. Morales sweeping Plaintiffs cell. Plaintiff's Objection notes that in his Amended Complaint he alleges that his cell door was "open all the way, " (Doc. 63 at 1), "so staff could monitor activity." (Doc. 57 at 6.) Following this incident, Defendant Stone and other prison officials met with Mr. Morales and allegedly asked whether Plaintiff had sexually abused him. Mr. Morales allegedly denied that any abuse had occurred. According to Plaintiff, prison officials did not believe Mr. Morales, moved him to a new unit, and placed Plaintiff in administrative segregation. Authorities allegedly met with Mr. Morales a second time, and he continued to deny the allegations of abuse. During this meeting, prison officials allegedly subjected Mr. Morales to "[a] long line of questioning" concerning "statements that were allegedly given by other prisoners against [Plaintiff]." Id. at 8. "Nearly all of the statements" included accusations that Plaintiff was sexually abusing Mr. Morales. Id. Following the meeting, Mr. Morales remained in his new unit, and Plaintiff was released from segregation.

During the months that followed, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants retaliated against him in a number of ways, including removing him from his recreation and law library jobs, placing him on fifteen-minute observation checks, moving him to a different living unit, advising him not to contact Mr. Morales to provide legal assistance or religious advice, and ultimately transferring him to a new facility. Plaintiff, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, states that Defendant Hale, who was allegedly aware of Plaintiffs health condition, authorized his transfer in order to interfere with Plaintiffs treatment. This included the alleged failure to ship Plaintiffs medication during his transfer to the new facility.

In the midst of these disciplinary measures, Defendants Hale and Davies, along with other prison officials, conducted a meeting with Plaintiff. During the meeting, Defendant Hale allegedly stated that he terminated Plaintiffs employment with the recreation department "to limit [his] contact with [Mr.] Morales." Id. at 23. Likewise, Defendant Hale allegedly terminated Plaintiff's position with the law library to prevent him from having "access to predatorize [Mr.] Morales." Id. Defendant Hale allegedly accused Plaintiff of being a "predator, " and called him "a convicted sex-offender, a monster, a child-molester, [and] a pedophile." Id.

Plaintiff denies that he posed any threat to Mr. Morales and contends that Defendants' accusations of sexual abuse were a ruse and were unsubstantiated. He alleges that Defendants' actions were motivated by a desire to retaliate against Plaintiff for exercising his religious beliefs and for filing grievances against Defendants. Plaintiff notes that ministering and advising Mr. Morales concerning Christianity is a core tenant of his faith.

II. Procedural Background.

On January 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that a number of prison officials violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as RLUIPA. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief and compensatory damages against Defendants in their official and individual capacities.[2]

On April 17, 2013, Defendants filed their motion to dismiss, arguing Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On May 9, 2013, ...

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