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Thurston v. Pallito

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 11, 2015



CHRISTINA REISS, Chief District Judge.

This matter came before the court for a review of the Magistrate Judge's January 13, 2015 Report and Recommendation ("R & R"), in which he recommended that the court grant the Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Andrew Pallito, Scott Morley, Bob Arkley, Carl Davis, Brian Reed, and Chris Mandigo (Doc. 30). In their motion, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff Christopher Thurston's claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Vermont Department of Corrections ("DOC") staff wrongfully confiscated Plaintiffs journal as contraband and used it to discipline him for the thoughts and beliefs contained therein. Defendants contend Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff opposes dismissal.

Plaintiff filed a timely objection to the R & R (Doc. 39) to which Defendants have filed a response (Doc. 40). Plaintiffs objection reiterates and supplements the factual and legal basis of his claims, alleges that his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination was violated when his journal was confiscated and used against him, clarifies the sources of his physical injury and mental anguish, argues that DOC failed to follow its own protocols and procedures, and states the basis on which he claims Defendant Pallito was personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations.

A district judge must make a de novo determination of those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which an objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Cullen v. United States, 194 F.3d 401, 405 (2d Cir. 1999). The district judge may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l); accord Cullen, 194 F.3d at 405. A district judge, however, is not required to review the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of a report and recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

I. The Complaint and the Amended Complaint.

In his thirty-eight pageR & R, the Magistrate Judge carefully reviewed the factual allegations and legal claims in both the Complaint and Amended Complaint. At this juncture, a brief summary of the relevant allegations is sufficient.

Plaintiff alleges that during his incarceration in a Vermont state correctional facility, DOC's mental health services provided Plaintiff with a composition book in which to record his thoughts. On January 18, 2013, during a search of Plaintiffs cell, Defendant Arkley allegedly confiscated Plaintiffs journal and thereafter Defendant Arkley and Defendant Morley questioned Plaintiff about it. When Plaintiff allegedly failed to provide satisfactory answers, he was placed in a segregation unit. Either as part of the journal or as a separate document, Plaintiff further alleges that DOC confiscated the addresses of several of Plaintiffs friends, thereby depriving him of contact with them.

As for the contents of his journal, Plaintiff alleges that the journal explores the challenges of incarceration, events and circumstances in Plaintiffs personal life and his reactions to them, Plaintiffs thoughts about introducing contraband into the facility to make money to pay for a lawyer, and a jail break story in the first person which is based in the St. Johnsbury correctional facility where Plaintiff was housed that Plaintiff hoped to develop into a longer work of fiction.

Plaintiff alleges that, in addition to the allegedly wrongful confiscation of his journal, in a hearing that followed thereafter, Defendant Arkley fabricated evidence in his report and Defendant Mandigo failed to act as an impartial hearing officer and failed to consider the contents of Plaintiffs journal to "corroborate" Defendant Arkley's report. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Davis mishandled his appeal by failing to note that it had been filed. Plaintiff alleges that he was then transferred to a new correctional facility which caused him to miss medical appointments and experience pain from a tom rotator cuff and bicep tendon and that at the new facility he was in even more intensive segregation and was not permitted to self-inject his required insulin. When Plaintiff refused to allow a "stranger" to provide his insulin, he allegedly suffered adverse health consequences which required hospitalization.

As a result of the confiscated journal, Plaintiff alleges that he was placed in segregation on three separate occasions resulting in 268 days of segregation as of May 13, 2014. Plaintiff requests the court to order the return of his journal and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis.

When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, a court assumes "all well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegations in the complaint to be true[, ]" Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111, 124 (2d Cir. 2010), and determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The court also draws "all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor." Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). The court will not credit "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. As a result, "[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

The court is required to "liberally construe" Plaintiffs Complaint and Amended Complaint and interpret these pleadings "to raise the strongest arguments they suggest." Bertin v. United States, 478 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "Nonetheless, a prose complaint must state a plausible claim of relief." Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013).

The R & R correctly concludes that to the extent the Complaint and Amended Complaint may be construed to assert damages claims against Defendants in their official capacities, Plaintiffs claims must be dismissed because such claims are not against a "person" as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his objection, Plaintiff clarifies that he is making official capacity claims for monetary damages. See Doc. 39 at 3 ("The Plaintiff asserts his numerous rights, in which the Defendants violated, both under the color of law and outside the scope of their authority, as officials and individually, and hence the claim for monetary damages.") He does not, however, object to the R & R's conclusion that those claims are not available against Defendants in their official capacities under § 1983. See Spencer v. Doe, E139 F.3d 107, 111 (2d Cir. 1998) ...

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