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Richardson v. State, Vermont Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Vermont

November 4, 2016

Devin Richardson, Plaintiff,
State of Vermont, Vermont Department of Corrections, Andrew Pallito, Greg Hale, and Matthew Brouillette, Defendants.


          John M. Conroy, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Devin Richardson, proceeding pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his procedural and substantive due process rights were violated during prison disciplinary proceedings and a prolonged disciplinary segregation while he was a federal pretrial detainee in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). (See Doc. 11.) Plaintiff seeks $250, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages, an award of “court cost[s] and disbursements” (id. at 6), and “[a]ny further relief the court may deem just and appropriate” (id. at 6-7) against Defendants State of Vermont, the DOC, former DOC Commissioner Andrew Pallito, Superintendent Greg Hale, and hearing officer Matthew Brouillette.

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on June 10, 2015. (Doc. 4.) On June 29, after being granted leave to amend, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 11.) On September 3, 2015, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 21.) Defendants argued that Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against the state and individual defendants in their official capacities were barred by sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment; that Plaintiff had failed to establish the personal involvement of Defendants Pallito and Hale in their individual capacities in any allegedly unlawful action; that Plaintiff failed to allege a deprivation of his due process rights; and that Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. (Id.)

         The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motion. (Doc. 28; see also Doc. 30 (adopting Report and Recommendation).) The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the State of Vermont and Defendants Pallito, Hale, and Brouillette in their official capacities on the basis of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. (Doc. 28 at 6-9.) The Court also dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Pallito and Hale in their individual capacities. (Id. at 10-14.) Additionally, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's municipal liability claims. (Id. at 20-22.)

         The Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with regard to Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claims, explaining that Defendants had utilized an incorrect standard in analyzing these claims and had not addressed the due process claims in their entirety. (Id. at 14-18.) The Court also denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. (Id. at 18-20.) As a result, the claims remaining in this matter are: (1) Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Brouillette in his personal capacity; and (2) Plaintiff's claim that all Defendants have deprived him of his substantive and procedural due process rights.[1] (See generally Doc. 28; see also Doc. 11 at 6; Doc. 42 at 2-3.)

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Doc. 42.) Defendants argue as follows: (1) three of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Brouillette in his individual capacity fail to assert sufficient facts showing his personal involvement in any allegedly unlawful action; (2) Plaintiff's claims against all Defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed as moot; (3) Plaintiff fails to establish a deprivation of his due process rights, and in any event, he received adequate process prior to his disciplinary segregation; (4) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; and (5) Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to satisfy the elements of a punitive damages claim under § 1983. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion (Doc. 43), and Defendants filed a Reply in response thereto (Doc. 44). For the reasons stated below, I recommend that Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 42) be GRANTED.


         For the purpose of deciding Defendants' Motion, the Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, as summarized below. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Alcantara v. Bakery & Confectionary Union & Indus. Int'l Pension Fund Pension Plan, 751 F.3d 71, 75 (2d Cir. 2014) (“In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, we apply the same standard as that applicable to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), accepting the allegations contained in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” (quoting Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 163 (2d Cir. 2004))).

         During the relevant period, Plaintiff was a federal pretrial detainee incarcerated with the Vermont DOC at Northwest State Correctional Facility (NWSCF) in Swanton, Vermont. (Doc. 11 at 1.) On April 14, 2015, Plaintiff was summoned to a disciplinary hearing for his alleged refusal to submit to a urine analysis on April 8. (Id. at 1-2.) Defendant Brouillette presided over the hearing. (Id. at 2.) After Plaintiff's request for a continuance was denied, he pled guilty to the charge of “refusing to submit to a urine analysis.” (Id. at 1-2.) Brouillette “sent[e]nced [P]laintiff to serve four . . . days in the disciplinary segregation unit.” (Id. at 2.) At the end of the hearing, Plaintiff was not given “any written statement [of] the evidence relied upon or the reason for the action taken.” (Id.)

         Following the hearing, Plaintiff was placed in the disciplinary segregation unit at NWSCF. (Id.) On April 19, realizing that it was his fifth day of segregation, Plaintiff asked an officer when he would be released. (Id.) Plaintiff was told that his release date had been on April 18, but because inmates are not released from segregation on weekends, he had been placed on “Bedspace status” until Monday, April 20, when he would be released. (Id.) Plaintiff was not provided with any written notice informing him of this two-day extension of his segregation. (Id.)

         On the morning of April 20, Plaintiff was released from the disciplinary segregation unit and returned to general population at NWSCF. (Id.) At around 3:00 that afternoon, he received “a copy of the written statement of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the action taken in establishing [his] guilt at the [April 14] disciplinary hearing.” (Id. at 3.) According to the hearing officer's determination, Plaintiff's segregation should have ended on April 17, not April 18. (Id.) Thus, Plaintiff was held in the disciplinary segregation unit “for three . . . days beyond the sanction imposed by the hearing officer.” (Id.)

         In December 2015, Plaintiff was subsequently transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, where he is currently incarcerated. (See Doc. 27.)


         I. Procedural Requirements of Rule 12(c)

         Defendants have filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 42.) Rule 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “On a 12(c) motion, the court considers ‘the complaint, the answer, any written documents attached to them, and any matter of which the court can take judicial notice for the factual background of the case.'” L-7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 422 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Roberts v. Babkiewicz, 582 F.3d 418, 419 (2d Cir. 2009)). The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Bank of N.Y. v. First Millennium, Inc., 607 F.3d 905, 922 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994)). Accordingly, to survive a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

         Two principles guide a plausibility determination: first, though a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this requirement “is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.; see also Turkmen v. Hasty, 789 F.3d 218, 233 (2d Cir. 2015). “Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         When parties seek dismissal of pro se complaints under Rule 12(b)(6), “courts ‘apply[] a more flexible standard to evaluate their sufficiency than we would when reviewing a complaint submitted by counsel.'” Thompson v. Pallito, 949 F.Supp.2d 558, 571 (D. Vt. 2013) (alteration in original) (quoting Lerman v. Bd. of Elections in City of N.Y., 232 F.3d 135, 140 (2d Cir. 2000)). The basis for this liberal construction is “the understanding that ‘[i]mplicit in the right of self-representation is an obligation on the part of the court to make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants from inadvertent forfeiture of important rights because of their lack of legal training.'” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (alteration in original) (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)). The same policy applies to dismissals sought under Rule 12(c), as the standard for granting these motions is identical. See First Millennium, 607 F.3d at 922. Nevertheless, a complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff “must state a plausible claim for relief.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013); see also Thompson, 949 F.Supp.2d at 571.

         II. Section 1983

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a claimant may bring suit “against ‘[e]very person who, under color of any statute . . . of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .'” Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) (alterations in original) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). “The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails.” Id. (citing Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 254-57 (1978)). A plaintiff bringing a § 1983 claim must establish that: “(1) the defendant acted under color of state law; and (2) as a result of the defendant's actions, the plaintiff suffered a denial of her federal statutory rights, or her constitutional rights or privileges.” Annis v. County of Westchester, 136 F.3d 239, 245 (2d Cir. 1998). Section 1983 does not by itself create any substantive rights, but rather it establishes a procedure for plaintiffs to seek damages or injunctive relief for deprivation of their statutory or constitutional rights. Thompson, 949 F.Supp.2d at 569.

         III. Personal Involvement

         Defendant Brouillette argues that three of Plaintiff's claims against him in his individual capacity should be dismissed because “Plaintiff does not allege that [he] was personally involved in any of these scenarios.” (Doc. 42 at 4-5.) Specifically, Brouillette asserts that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege his personal involvement in the following claims: (1) Plaintiff's procedural due process claim regarding the extension of his disciplinary segregation beyond the sanction imposed; (2) Plaintiff's procedural due process claim regarding Defendants' failure to inform Plaintiff of his bedspace designation; and (3) Plaintiff's substantive due process claim regarding Plaintiff's subjection to bedspace status. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff did not respond to these arguments. (See Doc. 43.)

         “It is well settled in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.” Spavone v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. Servs., 719 F.3d 127, 135 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995)). The Second Circuit has held:

The personal involvement of a supervisory defendant may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.

Colon, 58 F.3d at 873.[2] Additionally, personal involvement “requires a showing of more than the linkage in the prison chain of command; the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply.” Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir. 1985) (per curiam) ...

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