Sosa v Lantz
ORDER: Defendant's Motion 64 for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. The Clerk is directed to close this case. Signed by Judge Janet Bond Arterton on 08/14/2013. (Bonneau, J)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
ANDRES R. SOSA,
THERESA C. LANTZ,
Civil No. 3:09cv869 (JBA)
August 14, 2013
RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff Andres Sosa, proceeding pro se,1 brought this action against Defendant
Theresa C. Lantz, the former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of
Correction, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging multiple violations of his constitutional
rights arising from the conditions of his confinement at the MacDougall-Walker
Correctional Institution. (See Compl. [Doc. # 1].) After the Court’s ruling on his motion
to dismiss, Plaintiff’s only surviving claim is an Eighth Amendment claim of
unconstitutional conditions of confinement resulting from alleged prison overcrowding.2
(See Rul. on Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss [Doc. # 30] at 12.) Defendant now moves [Doc. # 64]
for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s remaining claim, arguing that it fails for lack of
personal involvement by Commissioner Lantz, that it is barred by the statute of
limitations and failure to exhaust, and that there are no outstanding questions of material
fact that would justify permitting this case to proceed to trial. For the following reasons,
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted.
After Defendant filed the pending motion for summary judgment, the Court
appointed pro bono counsel to represent Plaintiff in this matter. (See Order Appointing
Pro Bono Counsel [Doc. # 70].)
At oral argument, Plaintiff’s counsel clarified that Plaintiff was no longer
pursuing his retaliatory transfer or equal protection claims.
Since 1997, Plaintiff has been incarcerated in multiple Connecticut state prisons.
(See Tabs A & B to Deveau Aff., Ex. A to Def.’s Loc. R. 56(a)1 Stmt. [Doc. # 64-13]; Sosa
Dep. Tr., Ex. F to Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. at 7.) Plaintiff was imprisoned at the MacDougallWalker Correctional Institution from May 31, 2001 to December 17, 2002, and from
April 22, 2004 to January 21, 2009. (See Tab B to Deveau Aff.). During his time at
MacDougall-Walker, Plaintiff was housed in a small cell3 that he shared with another
inmate. (See Compl. at 8; Sosa Dep. Tr. at 10.) While at MacDougall-Walker, Plaintiff
worked as a tierman, a shower cleaner, a painter, an industry assistant, a commissary
assistant, a laundry assistant, and a third-shift concourse assistant. (See Cronin Aff., Ex.
K to Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 4.)
Single Cell Status
In 2002 and 2007, Plaintiff applied for single-cell status, claiming that he suffered
from psychological disorders and threatening to kill his cellmate if his request was not
granted. (See Coleman Aff., Ex. C to Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 5.) In connection with his 2007
request, Plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Joseph Coleman, who determined that although
Plaintiff “has mental health needs, he did not met the criteria for single cell status set
forth in the CMHC Policy and Procedures No. G 4.06.” (Id.) The Single Cell Status
Policy provides that
single cell status may be recommended for CFOC mental health
classification Level 4 or 5 inmates . . . . CMHC mental health staff shall
present a referral . . . for an inmate’s single cell status based on one or
more of the following, documented criteria: The inmate suffers from a
Plaintiff claims that his cell was 57 square feet based on his measurement with a
ruler (see Compl. at 8; Sosa Dep. Tr. at 10), but Defendant contends that there are no cells
in MacDougall-Walker that are smaller than 85.82 square feet (see Murphy Aff., Ex. G to
Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 5 & Diagram at Tab A).
major psychiatric disorder, has a documented history of violence, and is
currently a violence risk.
(Single Cell Status Policy, Tab A to Coleman Aff. at 151.)
Plaintiff has previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder,
generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder,
attachment disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. (See Dec. 6, 2007 Grievance,
Attachment to Second Boland Aff., Ex. I to Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. at 160). Plaintiff takes
Paxil and Depakote for these conditions. (See Sosa Dep. Tr. at 6.) Plaintiff also has a
record of violent behavior while incarcerated, including citations for fighting and making
threats. (See Disciplinary History, Attachment to Second Boland Aff. at 164, 178–82.)
During his incarceration, Plaintiff has consistently been classified as a mental health level
2 or 3, with the exception of several isolated periods during which he was classified as a
mental health level 5. (See Guiher Aff., Ex. D to Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 4–5; Medical
History, Tab A to Guiher Aff.)
Defendant claims that some inmates at MacDougall-Walker are given single cells
or are housed in larger cells than he was assigned to, because they had killed people in jail,
or based on mental health and security issues. (See Sosa Dep. Tr. at 22–24.)4 There are
only two inmates at MacDougall-Walker with single cell status, and both of those cases
were initiated by custody. (See Coleman Aff. ¶ 7.) There have been no mental health
Plaintiff claims based on his personal knowledge that inmates are paired together
in cells without regard to psychological problems, the crimes they committed, or gang
affiliations. (See Sosa Dep. Tr. at 11–13.) However, Defendant claims that inmates are
housed based on classification procedures based on security risk, gang affiliation, and
mental health needs, and that MacDougall-Walker follows these classification procedures.
(See Murphy Aff. ¶ 8.)
referrals for single cell status, but between six and eight inmates have initiated requests
for single cells. (See id.)
On December 6, 2007, Plaintiff filed an administrative grievance claiming that he
had been wrongfully denied single cell status.
(See Dec. 6, 2007 Grievance.)
December 21, 2007, Warden Peter Murphy denied the grievance, finding that Dr.
Coleman had correctly determined that Plaintiff was ineligible for single cell status. (See
id. at 157.) Plaintiff appealed Warden Murphy’s decision, and his appeal was denied on
January 4, 2008. (See id. at 167.) The denial of Plaintiff’s appeal indicated that he had
exhausted his administrative remedies and could make no further appeal. (See id.)
Overcrowding at MacDougall-Walker
In 2003, MacDougall-Walker underwent a 600-bed expansion by adding a new
wing to the MacDougall Building. (See Murphy Aff. ¶ 4.) Both before and after the
expansion, MacDougall-Walker was audited by the American Correctional Association
Commission on Accreditation for Corrections. (See id. ¶¶ 6–7.) The audit assessed the
conditions of the facility, including food services, medical care, and offender work
programs and educational services. (See id. ¶ 6.) MacDougall-Walker received high
scores in these categories in each of the audits. (See id. ¶¶ 6–7.)
Plaintiff claims that the expansion of the MacDougall-Walker facility resulted in
overcrowding of the prison. (See Compl. at 15–19.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the
feeding facilities were overtaxed such that inmates receive less than the required daily
caloric allotment, basic medical services are unavailable, job and education opportunities
have diminished, and that there is an increased culture of lawlessness due to the lack of a
commensurate increase in staffing levels to service the larger inmate population. (See id.;
Sosa Dep. Tr. at 14–18.)
On October 13, 2008, Plaintiff sent a letter to Commissioner Lantz complaining of
prison overcrowding and the lack of rehabilitation programs and job opportunities at
MacDougall-Walker. (See Oct. 13, 2008 Letter, Tab F to Lantz. Aff., Ex. G to Def.’s 56(a)1
Stmt. at 121–22.) This letter was forwarded to Deputy Commissioner Brian Murphy,
who responded to Plaintiff on October 16, 2008, acknowledging receipt of the letter. (See
Oct. 16, 2008 Letter, Tab F. to Lantz Aff. at 120; Lantz Aff. ¶ 6.) On November 15, 2008,
Plaintiff filed an administrative grievance regarding the lack of rehabilitation programs
and prison job opportunities. (See Nov. 15, 2008 Grievance, Attachment to Sec. Boland
Aff. at 171.) In the grievance, Plaintiff complained that the inmates with lower security
classifications were occupying all of the high-paying jobs. (Id.) Plaintiff also stated that
the facility did not offer enough rehabilitation programs, and complained specifically that
MacDougall-Walker did not offer the “Voices” or “Thinking for Change” programs. (Id.)
On December 15, 2008, this grievance was denied. (See id. at 172.) Defendant appealed
the denial on December 17, 2008, and his appeal was denied as moot on February 6, 2009
based on his transfer out of the MacDougall-Walker facility. (See Compl. at 37; see also
Dec. 17, 2008 Inmate Grievance Appeal Form, Attachment to Compl.) The denial of
Plaintiff’s appeal indicated that he had exhausted his administrative remedies and could
make no further appeal. (See Dec. 17, 2008 Inmate Grievance Appeal Form.)
On January 8, 2009, Plaintiff requested a transfer out of MacDougall-Walker,
stating “I want you to get me out of this facility [because] there is always some B.S. going
on plus you’re disrespectful toward me.” (January 8, 2009 Inmate Request Form, Ex. B to
Def.’s 56(a)1 Stmt. at 206; see also Sosa Dep. Tr. at 25.) On January 9, 2009, Warden
Murphy sent the transfer request to Deputy Warden Boyle. (See id.) On January 21,
2009, Plaintiff was transferred to Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown,
Connecticut. (See Tab A to Deveau Aff.)
Defendant argues that she is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s Eighth
Amendment claim because (1) she had no personal involvement in creating any of the
conditions of which Plaintiff complains; (2) the majority of Plaintiff’s allegations are
barred by the statute of limitations for § 1983 actions; (3) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies with respect to the conditions of which he complains; and (4)
there is no outstanding question of material fact that would foreclose the granting of
Defendant argues that she is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has
not offered sufficient evidence to show that she was personally involved in the alleged
violations of Plaintiff’s rights.
“[I]t is well settled in this Circuit that personal
involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an
“Summary judgment is appropriate where, “resolv[ing] all ambiguities and
draw[ing] all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary
judgment is sought,” Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir. 2008), “the movant
shows 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). “A dispute regarding a material fact
is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Williams v. Utica Coll. of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d 112, 116 (2d Cir.
2006) (quotation marks omitted). “The substantive law governing the case will identify
those facts that are material, and ‘[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome
of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment.’” Bouboulis v. Transp. Workers Union of Am., 442 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir. 2006)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). When considering a
motion for summary judgment, the Court may consider depositions, documents,
affidavits, interrogatory answers, and other exhibits in the record. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
award of damages under § 1983.” Provost v. City of Newburgh, 262 F.3d 146, 154 (2d Cir.
2001) (quoting Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994)). The Second Circuit has
personal involvement may be shown in one or more of the following ways:
(1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged 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 the
plaintiff by failing to act on information indicating the unconstitutional
acts were occurring.
Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995).6
Plaintiff appears to argue that Commissioner Lantz exhibited deliberate
indifference or gross negligence in ignoring the violation of Plaintiff’s rights when she
was put on constructive notice of the alleged violations. See Meriwether v. Coughlin, 879
F.2d 1037, 1048 (2d Cir. 1989) (“[S]upervisory liability may be imposed when an official
has actual or constructive notice of unconstitutional practices and demonstrates gross
negligence or deliberate indifference by failing to act.”) As evidence of Commissioner
Lantz’s constructive notice of his complaints, Plaintiff points to his October 13, 2008
letter to Commissioner Lantz, in which he complained about overcrowding at
(See Oct. 13, 2008 Letter at 121–22.)
There is disagreement in this Circuit as to whether methods two, four, and five
remain viable. However, the Second Circuit has yet to decide the issue. See Grenier v.
City of West Haven, No. 3:11cv808 (JBA), 2012 WL 4092587, at *5 (D. Conn. Sept. 17,
2012) (collecting cases and discussing split of authority).
claimed in his deposition that Commissioner Lantz had a policy of reviewing one inmate
grievance or grievance appeal from each inmate each year. (See Sosa Dep. Tr. at 20.)
Commissioner Lantz flatly denies that she ever had such a policy or that she ever followed
such a practice, and claims to have no personal recollection of any issues involving
Plaintiff. (See Lantz. Aff. ¶ 3, 5.) Furthermore, the directive Plaintiff cited as the basis for
his knowledge of this policy makes absolutely no mention of such a policy. (See Exs. 1 &
2 to Def.’s Reply [Doc. # 84].)
As this Court recognized in ruling on Defendant’s motion to dismiss, “a
supervisory official’s referral of a prisoner’s letter of protest to other officials for response
does not establish that supervisory official’s requisite personal involvement.” (See Rul. on
Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 8 (quoting Brooks v. Chappius, 450 F. Supp. 2d 220, 226
(W.D.N.Y. 2006)).) Thus, evidence that Plaintiff sent a letter to Commissioner Lantz
complaining about the conditions of his incarceration, which she then forwarded to the
Deputy Commissioner for response is insufficient by itself to establish her personal
involvement in the alleged violations.
Plaintiff’s only other evidence of Defendant’s personal involvement—.i.e., that she
had a policy of reviewing one grievance from each inmate every year—is directly
contradicted by Directive 9.6 and Commissioner Lantz’s affidavit, and is unsupported by
any evidence in the record except for Plaintiff’s bald assertions. Thus, Defendant argues,
the Court need not credit this evidence. See Distiso v. Cook, 691 F.3d 226, 230 (2d Cir.
2011) (“A court cannot credit a plaintiff’s merely speculative or conclusory assertions.
Further, where a party relies on . . . deposition testimony to establish facts, the statements
must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence,
and show that the . . . declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted)).
Plaintiff cites no basis for his personal
knowledge of the Commissioner’s policy, other than Directive 9.6, which in fact makes no
mention of such a policy. Even in light of Plaintiff’s statement in his deposition, this
conclusory claim, lacking any basis in personal knowledge, is not sufficient to establish a
question of material fact as to Defendant’s personal involvement in the alleged violations.
However, Plaintiff need not show Defendant’s personal involvement in order to
seek prospective injunctive relief in this suit. See Malik v. Tanner, 697 F. Supp. 1294, 1304
(S.D.N.Y. 1988) (“A claim for injunctive relief, as opposed to monetary relief, may be
made on a theory of respondeat superior in a § 1983 action.” (citing Ganguly v. New York
State Dep’t of Mental Hygiene, 511 F. Supp. 420, 424 (S.D.N.Y. 1981))); but see McCray v.
Coughlin, No. 84 Civ. 2747 (RWS), 1984 WL 842, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 7, 1984)
(“Equitable relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 can only be granted against supervisory officials
who have been personally involved in the acts complained of.”). Thus, Defendant’s
motion for summary judgment is granted with respect to Plaintiff’s claim for monetary
damages, and the Court will evaluate the merits of his claim for injunctive relief.
Statute of Limitations
“In Connecticut, a plaintiff must bring his § 1983 claim within three years of the
date his claim accrues.” Barile v. City of Hartford, 264 F. App’x 91, 91 (2d Cir. 2008)
(citing Lounsbury v. Jeffries, 25 F.3d 131, 134 (2d Cir. 1994)). Defendant argues that
Plaintiff is therefore barred from bringing any claims that accrued prior to June 2, 2006,7
and that because he lived in only MacDougall-Walker and Garner between June 2, 2006
and June 2, 2009, his claims relating to any other Department of Correction facility in
which he was housed are time-barred. However, as was confirmed at oral argument,
Plaintiff does not raise claims regarding any facility other than MacDougall-Walker, and
Plaintiff’s claims relating to the conditions at MacDougall-Walker between June 2, 2006
and June 2, 2009 are not time-barred. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on this
ground is therefore denied.
Prison Litigation Reform Act
Defendant argues that the majority of Plaintiff’s allegations relating to his Eighth
Amendment claim are barred under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) for
failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The PLRA requires that “no action shall be
brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title . . . by a prisoner
confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative
remedies as are available are exhausted.” As the basis for his Eighth Amendment claim,
Plaintiff complains of overcrowding at MacDougall-Walker, citing the following
conditions: (1) the denial of single cell status; (2) the small size of his cell; (3) the lack of
sufficient staff to address the increased size of the prison population, which results in
increased violence; (4) the reduced quality of food service, such that prisoners receive less
than the required daily caloric intake; (5) the lack of access to basic medical services, such
as over-the-counter medications; and (6) insufficient rehabilitation programs and job
This action was filed on June 2, 2009. (See Compl.)
Defendant does not appear to dispute that Plaintiff filed grievances regarding the
denial of single cell status and insufficient rehabilitation and employment opportunities,
and that he appealed those grievances such that he exhausted his administrative remedies
on those claims. However, Defendant argues that because Plaintiff failed to grieve any of
the other conditions of which he now complains, the Court is barred from considering
those conditions when evaluating his Eighth Amendment claim. As a preliminary matter,
in his grievance regarding the denial of single cell status, Plaintiff stated that “I feel I need
more space[;] the cell is to[o] small for two.” (See Dec. 12, 2007 Grievance at 160.) Thus,
based on this grievance, Plaintiff has also exhausted his administrative remedies
regarding the size of his cell.
As the Second Circuit has explained:
The PLRA’s exhaustion requirement is designed to afford corrections
officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before
allowing the initiation of a federal case. As such, it is not dissimilar to the
rules of notice pleading, which prescribe that a complaint must contain
allegations sufficient to alert the defendants to the nature of the claim and
to allow them to defend against it. Thus . . . if prison regulations do not
prescribe any particular content for inmate grievances, a grievance suffices
if it alerts the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought.
As in a notice pleading system, the grievant need not lay out the facts,
articulate legal theories, or demand particular relief. All the grievance need
do is object intelligibly to some asserted shortcoming.
We believe that this formulation is a sound one. Uncounselled
inmates navigating prison administrative procedures without assistance
cannot be expected to satisfy a standard more stringent than that of notice
pleading. Still, the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement does require that
prison officials be afforded time and opportunity to address complaints
internally. In order to exhaust, therefore, inmates must provide enough
information about the conduct of which they complain to allow prison
officials to take appropriate responsive measures.
Johnson v. Testman, 380 F.3d 691, 697 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted), distinguished on other grounds by Macias v. Zenk, 495 F.3d 37, 41 (2d
Plaintiff does not dispute that he did not file grievances specifically addressing the
lack of adequate nutritional and medical services and the potential for increased violence
due to insufficient staffing at the facility.8 Rather, Plaintiff argues that his two properly
exhausted grievances, combined with his October 13, 2008 letter to Commissioner Lantz
were sufficient to put Defendant on substantive notice of his complaints. Other courts in
this Circuit have recognized that an informal complaint lodged via letter to a prison
official is not sufficient by itself to satisfy the procedural requirements of exhaustion. See
Connor v. Hurley, No. 00 Civ. 8354 (LTS) (AJP), 2004 WL 885828, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr.
26, 2004) (“Furthermore, Connor’s letters to Superintendent Artuz and to Commissioner
Goord may not be deemed substitutes for strict compliance with the requirements of the
[prison grievance procedure].”) However, even if the Court were to consider Plaintiff’s
letter as a substantive supplement to his prior grievances, the content of the October 13,
2008 letter makes no mention of inadequate staffing levels resulting in violence, or of
insufficient nutrition or medical services due to overcrowding. (See Oct. 13, 2008 Letter
Plaintiff’s letter to Commissioner Lantz, while mentioning the word
overcrowding, focuses exclusively of the effect of overcrowding on inmate access to jobs
and rehabilitation programs. (See id.) Thus, even when the letter is considered, there is
nothing that would have put Defendant on notice of the conditions of which Plaintiff
now complains such that she could have taken appropriate action to remedy the situation.
Plaintiff also does not argue that there are special circumstances in this case
under which the exhaustion requirement should not apply.
Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s complaints regarding insufficient staff, food,
and medicine have not been exhausted, and will not consider those allegations when
reviewing Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim.
Defendant also argues that because she was not named or implicated in Plaintiff’s
grievances these claims have not been administratively exhausted with respect to her.
(See Def.’s Reply [Doc. # 84] at 9.) In Collins v. Goord, 438 F. Supp. 2d 399 (S.D.N.Y.
2006), for example, the district court reasoned that “the mere fact that [the] plaintiff filed
some grievance, and fully appealed all the decisions on that grievance, does not
automatically mean that he can now sue anyone who was in any way connected with the
events giving rise to that grievance.” Id. at 412–13 (emphasis in original) (quoting Turner
v. Goord, 376 F. Supp. 2d 321, 325 (W.D.N.Y. 2005)). In Collins, the plaintiff had filed a
grievance claiming that the law library staff at the facility where he was incarcerated failed
to provide him copies of legal documents. The district court reasoned that because the
grievance did not “name or even allude generally” to several defendants, including the
commissioner of the department of corrections, and only suggested a discrete dispute
between the inmate and the law library staff, the plaintiff had failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies with respect to those defendants not named in the grievance. Id.
Here, Plaintiff filed two grievances, one regarding the denial of single cell status,
and one regarding the lack of adequate employment opportunities and rehabilitation
programs at MacDougall-Walker.
Defendant does not name Commissioner Lantz in
either grievance. While Plaintiff’s grievance regarding the denial of single cell status does
mention Dr. Coleman and several correctional officers, it focuses mainly on what Plaintiff
perceives as Dr. Coleman’s failure to properly assess his mental health needs, and the
custody department’s failure to assess his qualifications for single cell status. (See Dec. 6,
Nothing in these allegations implicates Commissioner Lantz’s
involvement in the incident. Rather, similar to Collins, the grievance suggests a discrete
dispute between Plaintiff and several members of the prison staff. However, Plaintiff’s
grievance regarding the lack of adequate employment and rehabilitation opportunities at
MacDougall-Walker involves the conditions of a correctional facility and the
implementation of the Department of Correction’s programs at that facility. Such a
complaint goes beyond a discrete dispute between an inmate and prison officials, and
implicates the direction of the Department of Correction under Commissioner Lantz.
Therefore, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on this ground is denied, with the
caveat that the Court may not consider Plaintiff’s claims of insufficient staff, lack of
medical services, and improper nutrition due to overcrowding.
Eighth Amendment Claim
Defendant argues that she is entitled to summary judgment on Defendant’s
remaining Eighth Amendment claims because Plaintiff has failed to establish the
existence of a question of material fact as to the unconstitutionality of the conditions
under which he was confined.
“To state an Eighth Amendment claim based on conditions of confinement, an
inmate must allege that:
(1) objectively, the deprivation the inmate suffered was
sufficiently serious that he was denied the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,
and (2) subjectively, the defendant official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind,
such as deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.” Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119,
125 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Defendant argues
that Plaintiff has not put forth sufficient evidence such that a reasonable jury could
conclude that either prong of this test has been met.
As the Second Circuit has explained:
To meet the objective element, the inmate must show that the conditions,
either alone or in combination, pose an unreasonable risk of serious
damage to his health. Thus, prison officials violate the Constitution when
they deprive an inmate of his basic human need such as food, clothing,
medical care, and safe and sanitary living conditions. There is no static
test to determine whether a deprivation is sufficiently serious; the
conditions themselves must be evaluated in light of contemporary
standards of decency. Moreover, conditions of confinement may be
aggregated to rise to the level of a constitutional violation, but only when
they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a
single, identifiable human need such as food, warmth, or exercise.
Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). “To meet the subjective element,
the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with more than mere negligence.” Id.
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). “To constitute deliberate indifference,
the prison official must know of, and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety. Evidence that a risk was obvious or otherwise might have been known to a
defendant may be sufficient for a fact finder to conclude that the defendant was actually
aware of the risk.” Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
The gravamen of Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim is that his placement in a
small cell with another inmate, in combination with his lack of access to desirable
education, rehabilitation, and employment programs has caused a deterioration in his
already fragile mental health. The Court recognizes that there is case law suggesting that
an inmate has no constitutional right to a particular vocational or rehabilitation program.
See Doe v. Goord, No. 04 Civ. 570 (GBD)(AJP), 2005 WL 3116413, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Nov.
22, 2005) (“We are unaware of any authority for the proposition that a prison inmate has
a federal constitutional right to rehabilitation. Indeed all indications appear to be to the
contrary . . . ”); Giano v. Cuomo, No. 94-CV-809, 1998 WL 760262, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Oct.
28, 1998) (“The lack of specialized educational and rehabilitative programs particularized
to plaintiff’s needs do not give rise to a deprivation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
First, Plaintiff has no protected property interest in these programs. Second, denial of
such programs falls far short of the egregious type of conduct needed to establish an
Eighth Amendment claim.” (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)).
Santiago v. Comm’r of Correction, 39 Conn. App. 674, 680 (1995) (“A prisoner has no
property or liberty interest in prison employment, increased recreation or education
However, the Court is also aware that even the United States Government has
now called into question the policy of warehousing vast swaths of the population in
prisons over the long course of ever-increasing sentences. See, e.g., Eric Holder, Attorney
General, Address to the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association’s House of
Delegates (Aug. 12, 2013), http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2013/ag-speech130812.html (“And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to
ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter, and rehabilitate—not merely to
warehouse and forget”); Letter from Jonathan J. Wroblewski, Director of the Office of
Policy and Legislation for the Dep’t of Justice to the Hon. Patti B. Saris, Chair of the U.S.
/docs/2013annual-letter-final-071113.pdf (advocating reforms to federal sentencing in
light of the documented impact on individuals and communities of mass incarceration
rates and the “explosion in the number of people returning to the community each year
from stints in prison”). Thus, the Court recognizes the possibility that, anticipating
evolving contemporary standards of decency, an extended term of confinement in a
cramped and crowded cell without any opportunity whatsoever for an inmate to advance
himself through education, vocational, or rehabilitative programs might come to be
viewed as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
Nonetheless, the record before the Court here does not arise to the level of the
hypothetical case outlined above. Plaintiff does not allege that he has been denied all
employment opportunities and the record reflects that he has actually had a variety of
jobs during his incarceration. (See Cronin Aff. ¶ 4.) Furthermore, Plaintiff only alleges
that certain specific programs were not offered at MacDougall-Walker, not that he was
denied all opportunities for personal advancement. Even if the Court accepted all of the
allegations in Plaintiff’s deposition as true—i.e., that overcrowding at MacDougallWalker led to Plaintiff’s occupying a double cell of 57 square feet, and to his reduced
access to rehabilitation programs and job opportunities—they would be insufficient as a
matter of law to satisfy the objective element of his Eighth Amendment claim.
In Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981), the Supreme Court considered
similar claims by an inmate and concluded that such conditions did not amount to a
constitutional violation. In Rhodes, the district court had found that overcrowding
caused by double celling in 63 square foot cells and a subsequent failure to increase staff
at a prison facility had led to a reduction in employment opportunities and isolated
incidents of failure to provide medical and dental care, but had not led to increased
violence, unsanitary conditions in cells, or lack of adequate nutrition. Id. at 342–43.
Based on these findings of fact, the Supreme Court reasoned that the
conclusion that double celling . . . constitutes cruel and unusual
punishment is insupportable. . . . The double celling . . . did not lead to
deprivations of essential food, medical care, or sanitation. Nor did it
increase violence among inmates or create other conditions intolerable for
Although job and educational opportunities
diminished marginally as a result of double celling, limited work hours
and delay before receiving education do not inflict pain, much less
unnecessary and wanton pain; deprivations of this kind simply are not
Id. at 347–48. Here, based on Plaintiff’s exhausted allegations,9 Plaintiff has shown only
that he was in a cell of a similar size to the plaintiff in Rhodes, and that similar to the
plaintiff in Rhodes, he had decreased access to his preferred employment and
rehabilitation opportunities. As the Supreme Court reasoned in Rhodes, such deprivation
does not inflict “unnecessary and wanton pain” such that it violates the Eighth
Amendment. See also Jones v. Goord, 435 F. Supp. 2d 221 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (finding that
double celling in 55-square foot cells did not violate the Eighth Amendment).
Furthermore, even if the Court were to consider Plaintiff’s unexhausted claims
and find that there was sufficient evidence to establish a question of material fact as to the
objective element of his Eighth Amendment claim, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has
not offered any evidence based on which a jury could find that Defendant was
deliberately indifferent to the unconstitutional conditions at MacDougall-Walker. As
discussed above, Plaintiff has not put forth any evidence to show that Commissioner
Lantz was aware of his grievances regarding the conditions at MacDougall-Walker, and
she has in fact specifically denied knowledge of any of his complaints. (See Lantz Aff.
¶¶ 3, 5.) Nor has Plaintiff offered any evidence that Defendant was otherwise made aware
The reasoning in Rhodes implies that if Plaintiff had exhausted claims regarding
insufficient nutrition, lack of access to medical care, and increased violence such that the
Court could consider them, documentation or evidence supporting Plaintiff’s description
of the conditions at MacDougall-Walker could arise to an Eighth Amendment violation,
creating questions of material fact as to the veracity of his description and precluding
summary judgment on this issue.
of the conditions of which he complained. Thus, Plaintiff has not put forth sufficient
evidence to establish the second element of his Eighth Amendment claim, and therefore
the Court grants Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion [Doc. # 64] for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED. The clerk is directed to close this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 14th day of August, 2013.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?