Hill v. Chapdelaine et al
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER. See attached memorandum. Discovery is due by 7/5/2017 and Dispositive Motions are due by 8/3/2017. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 1/5/2017. (Hoffman, S)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
WARDEN CHAPDELAINE, ET AL.,
Case No. 3:16cv1656(VLB)
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
The plaintiff, David Hill, is currently confined at Cheshire Correctional
Institution. He has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 naming Warden
Chapdelaine and Correctional Officers Yekel, John Doe #1, and John Doe #2 as
defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the complaint is dismissed in part.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must review prisoner civil
complaints against governmental actors and “dismiss . . . any portion of [a]
complaint [that] is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted,” or that “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief.” Id. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a
complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader
is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
Although detailed allegations are not required, “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). A complaint that includes only “‘labels and
conclusions,’ ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action’ or ‘naked
assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement,’” does not meet the facial
plausibility standard. Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557
(2007)). Although courts still have an obligation to interpret “a pro se complaint
liberally,” the complaint must include sufficient factual allegations to meet the
standard of facial plausibility. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009)
The plaintiff asserts that on January 23, 2014, at MacDougall Correctional
Institution (“MacDougall”), he was a food worker in N-pod unit. Correctional Officers
Yekel, John Doe #1, and John Doe #2 were assigned to work in N-pod unit that day.
At approximately 10:40 a.m., Officers Yekel, John Doe #1, and John Doe #2 left N-pod
unit. At approximately 10:50 a.m., two unidentified inmates attacked the plaintiff from
behind as he stood at the top of the staircase in N-pod unit. The two inmates kicked,
punched and stomped on the plaintiff and then threw him down the stairway.
A correctional employee called a code and other officers arrived at the scene.
Officers escorted the plaintiff to a triage area to be evaluated. After examining the
plaintiff, medical staff recommended that the plaintiff be transported to the University
of Connecticut Health Center (“UCONN”) due to the nature of his injuries.
Medical staff at UCONN treated the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff
subsequently spent five days in the infirmary at MacDougall. On January 31, 2014,
the plaintiff returned to N-pod unit.
The plaintiff learned from other inmates that Correctional Officer Yekel had
called him a snitch and that is the reason two inmates assaulted him. The plaintiff
claims that on many occasions prior to the assault, he had heard Officer Yekel refer
to other inmate as snitches.
The plaintiff filed multiple requests and grievances regarding the incident. He
claims that he did not receive responses to any of his requests or grievances.
The plaintiff filed a health service request on July 12, 2014. MacDougall
medical staff resolved the issues with regard to treatment for the plaintiff’s injuries.
The plaintiff claims to have suffered permanent injuries to his neck, lower back, left
ear and left eye. The plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and monetary damages.
Official Capacity Claims – Money Damages
To the extent that the plaintiff seeks monetary damages from the defendants in
their official capacities, those claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See
Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985) (Eleventh Amendment, which protects the
state from suits for monetary relief, also protects state officials sued for damages in
their official capacity); Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 342 (1979) (Section 1983 does
not override a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity). All claims for monetary
damages against the defendants in their official capacities are dismissed pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2).
Official Capacity Claims – Declaratory Relief
The plaintiff seeks declaratory relief from the defendants in their official
capacities. He asks the court to declare that the conduct of the defendants violated
his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
The purpose of the Declaratory Judgment Act is to allow parties to resolve
claims before either side suffers great harm. See In re Combustion Equip. Assoc.,
838 F.2d 35, 37 (2d Cir. 1988). In Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), the Supreme
Court held that an exception to the Eleventh Amendment’s grant of sovereign
immunity from suit existed to permit a plaintiff to sue a state official acting in his or
her official capacity for prospective injunctive relief for continuing violations of
federal law. Id. at 155-56. The exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity, however,
does not apply to claims against state officials seeking declaratory or injunctive relief
for prior violations of federal law. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority v.
Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993) (the Eleventh Amendment “does not
permit judgments against state officers declaring that they violated federal law in the
past”); Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985) (“We have refused to extend the
reasoning of Young . . . to claims for retrospective relief”) (citations omitted); Ward v.
Thomas, 207 F.3d 114, 119-20 (2d Cir. 2000) (Eleventh Amendment bars retrospective
relief in form of declaration that State of Connecticut violated federal law in the past).
The plaintiff’s request for a declaration that the defendants violated his federal
constitutional rights in 2014 cannot be properly characterized as “prospective”
because the plaintiff does not allege how such relief would remedy a future
constitutional violation by the defendants. Thus, the plaintiff’s request for
declaratory relief does not meet the exception to the Eleventh Amendment immunity
set forth in Ex Parte Young.
Absent any request for prospective relief to remedy ongoing violations of
federal law, a declaration that the defendants violated the plaintiff’s constitutional
rights in the past is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Green, 474 U.S. at 71-73
(if there is no allegation of an ongoing violation of federal law, the Eleventh
Amendment prevents federal courts from providing notice relief or a declaratory
judgment that state officials violated federal law in the past); Nicholson v.
Lenczewski, 356 F. Supp. 2d 157, 162 (D. Conn. 2005) (dismissing claim for
retrospective declaratory relief in the form of a statement that the conduct of certain
defendants violated his rights because it was barred by the Eleventh Amendment).
The request for declaratory relief is dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
Fourteenth Amendment Claim
The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment
due process rights when they failed to protect him from assault by other inmates on
January 23, 2014. Substantive due process protections are “limited to governmental
action that is arbitrary . . . conscience-shocking . . . or oppressive in a constitutional
sense . . . but not against government action that is incorrect or ill-advised.”
Lowrance v. Achtyl, 20 F.3d 529, 537 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted). The plaintiff has not alleged facts to suggest that the conduct of the
defendants in subjecting him to conditions that resulted in an assault by other
inmates was so outrageous, arbitrary or conscience-shocking as to constitute a
violation of his fundamental rights. See Emmerling v. Town of Richmond, 434 F.
App’x 10, 12 (2d Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal of a substantive due process claim
when plaintiff “failed to allege any behavior . . . that could be reasonably considered
egregious, outrageous or conscience-shocking.”); Dellutri v. Village of Elmsford, 895
F. Supp. 2d 555, 574 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (dismissing without prejudice a claim where
“[t]he conduct alleged by Plaintiff simply does not rise to the level of being so
outrageous as to violate Plaintiff’s substantive due process right.”).
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has held that “the protections of the Due
Process Clause, whether procedural or substantive, are just not triggered by lack of
due care by prison officials.” Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 348 (1986) (citing
Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986)). Thus, the plaintiff’s claim that the
defendants negligently or carelessly failed to protect him from harm does not rise to
the level of a constitutional violation. See id. at 347-48 (prison officials’ “lack of due
care in this case led to serious injury, but that lack of care simply does not approach
the sort of abusive government conduct that the Due Process Clause was designed
to prevent . . . . The guarantee of due process has never been understood to mean
that the State must guarantee due care on the part of its officials”). Accordingly, the
Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claims are dismissed. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
Eighth Amendment Claims
The plaintiff contends that Officers Yekel and Does #1 and #2 were deliberately
indifferent to his safety and failed to protect him from harm in violation of his Eighth
Amendment rights. He claims that Warden Chapdelaine failed to train or supervise
the other defendants.
Warden Carol Chapdelaine
The plaintiff claims that Warden Chapdelaine violated his federal constitutional
rights by failing to properly train her staff regarding proper procedures, conduct, and
policies in connection with the assault that occurred on January 23, 2014. To recover
money damages under section 1983, plaintiff must show that the Warden was
personally involved in the constitutional violations. See Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d
865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995). Supervisory officials cannot be held liable under section 1983
solely for the acts of their subordinates. See Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d
The plaintiff may show personal involvement through evidence of one or more
of the following: (1) that the defendant actually and directly participated in the alleged
unconstitutional acts; (2) that the defendant failed to remedy a wrong after being
informed of the wrong through a report or appeal; (3) that the defendant created or
approved a policy or custom that sanctioned objectionable conduct which rose to the
level of a constitutional violation or allowed such a policy or custom to continue; (4)
that the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising the correctional officers who
committed the constitutional violation; or (5) that the defendant failed to take action
in response to information regarding the occurrence of unconstitutional conduct.
See Colon, 58 F.3d at 873. In addition, the plaintiff must demonstrate an affirmative
causal link between the inaction of the supervisory official and his injury. See Poe v.
Leonard, 282 F.3d 123, 140 (2d Cir. 2002).
In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of supervisory
liability and concluded that a supervisor can be held liable only “through the official’s
own individual actions.” 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Although this decision arguably
casts doubt on the continued viability of some of the categories for supervisory
liability set forth in Colon, the Second Circuit has not revisited the criteria for
supervisory liability following Iqbal. See Raspardo v. Carlone, 770 F.3d 97, 117 (2d
Cir. 2014) (“We have not yet determined the contours of the supervisory liability test .
. . after Iqbal.”); Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 2013) (noting
that decision in Iqbal “may have heightened the requirements for showing a
supervisor’s personal involvement with respect to certain constitutional violations,”
but finding it unnecessary to reach the impact of Iqbal on the personal involvement
requirements set forth in Colon). Because it is unclear as to whether Iqbal overrules
or limits Colon, the Court will continue to apply the categories for supervisory liability
set forth by the Second Circuit.
The plaintiff does not mention Warden Chapdelaine in the body of the
complaint. He does not allege that the Warden was present during or otherwise
involved in the assault or the failure to protect him from harm. Nor does he allege
that he made the Warden aware of the incident after it occurred. Furthermore, there
are no facts to suggest that the Warden was grossly negligent in supervising the
officers involved in the failure to protect the plaintiff from harm. The plaintiff’s
conclusory allegation that Warden Chapdelaine failed to properly train correctional
staff at Macougall does not state a plausible claim for supervisory liability. See
Styles v. Goord, 431 F. App’x 31, 33 (2d Cir. 2011) (“The mere fact that a defendant
possesses supervisory authority is insufficient to demonstrate liability for failure to
supervise under 1983.”); Landron v. City of New York, No. 14 CIV. 1046(NRB), 2014
WL 6433313, at *4-5 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2014) (unsupported allegation that “Warden
grossly failed to train and properly supervise his corrections officers” did not
demonstrate warden’s involvement in decision to confine plaintiff in the punitive
segregation unit for eighteen additional days and was “inadequate to [state] a claim
for supervisory liability under Section 1983”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Thus, the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim of
supervisory liability on the part of the Warden based on the misconduct of the other
officers who were involved in the incident in which he was assaulted and over whom
she might have authority. Because the plaintiff has failed to assert facts to show or
infer the personal involvement of Warden Chapdelaine in the alleged deliberate
indifference to his safety or health, the Eighth Amendment claims against her are
dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
Officers Yekel, Doe #1, and Doe #2
The plaintiff alleges that defendants Yekel, Doe #1 and Doe #2 created a
situation in which he might be and was assaulted by another inmate. The Eighth
Amendment imposes a duty on prison officials “to take reasonable measures to
guarantee the safety of inmates in their custody.” Hayes v. New York City Dep’t of
Corrections, 84 F.3d 614, 620 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825,
832-33 (1994)). Thus, “[a] prison official’s deliberate indifference to a substantial risk
of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment” and will give rise to a
failure to protect claim. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828 (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). To state a claim of failure to protect, the plaintiff must show that
the defendant prison officials possessed culpable intent, that is, the officials knew
that the inmate faced a substantial risk to his health or safety and disregarded that
risk by failing take corrective action. Id. at 834. Mere negligence does not constitute
conduct that meets the element of subjective intent. Evidence that a risk was
“obvious or otherwise must have been known to a defendant” may be sufficient for a
fact finder to conclude that the defendant was actually aware of the risk. Brock v.
Wright, 315 F.3d 158, 164 (2d Cir. 2003).
The plaintiff alleges that the Doe Officers should not have left the housing unit
where he was working because no other officers were on duty in the unit at the time.
He claims that by doing so, the Doe Officers violated several sections of a
Department of Correction Directive addressing employee conduct. Violations of state
law, however, do not state a claim under section 1983. Furthermore, there are no
facts to suggest that the Doe Officers left the unit knowing the plaintiff might be
assaulted or with the intent that he be assaulted. Nor are there any facts indicating
that the Doe Officers were aware of any threats against the plaintiff or that the
plaintiff had made them aware that his safety might be at risk. Thus, the allegations
against the Doe Officers constitute negligence, at most. Such claims are not
cognizable in a section 1983 action. See Hayes, 84 F.3d at 620 (“To state a
cognizable section 1983 claim, the prisoner must allege actions or omissions
sufficient to demonstrate deliberate indifference; mere negligence will not suffice.”).
The claims that John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 neglected their duties by leaving the
housing unit just before the plaintiff was assaulted are dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. §
The claim of failure to protect or deliberate indifference to safety against
Officer Yekel will proceed. Identifying an inmate as a snitch poses a threat to the
inmate’s health and safety. See Campbell v. Gardiner, No. 12-CV-6003P, 2014 WL
906160, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2014) (citing cases). The plaintiff has alleged that
Officer Yekel routinely and intentionally called him and other inmates a snitch.
Yekel’s alleged conduct, if true, exposed the plaintiff, other inmates, and corrections
officers and other prison staff to an unreasonable risk of harm with reckless
disregard for the safety and security of the facility and its occupants, by creating a
volatile environment susceptible to potentially lethal violence at any time. Moreover,
the plaintiff actually suffered physical injuries due to the alleged egregious conduct
of Officer Yekel. Such conduct is a flagrant violation of a corrections officer’s duty to
protect inmates in the custody of prison officials and state a plausible claim of failure
to protect from harm and deliberate indifference to safety under the Eighth
Amendment. See Medina v. Whitehead, No. 3:13-cv-885(VLB), 2014 WL 3697886, at *2
(D. Conn. July 24, 2014) (denying motion to dismiss because inmate claimed that “as
a result of the defendant’s comments labeling him as a snitch and suggesting that he
should be assaulted, four inmates tried to fight with him”). The Eighth Amendment
failure to protect and deliberate indifference to safety claims will proceed against
defendant Yekel his individual capacity.
The Court enters the following orders:
The claims against all defendants in their official capacities are
DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and (2). The Fourteenth Amendment
claims against all defendants in their individual capacities as well as the Eighth
Amendment claims against Warden Chapdelaine, Correctional Officer John Doe #1,
and Correctional Officer John Doe #2 in their individual capacities are DISMISSED
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). Thus, all claims against defendants
Chapdelaine, Doe #1, and Doe #2 have been DISMISSED. The Eighth Amendment
failure to protect and deliberate indifference to health and safety claims will proceed
against Correctional Officer Yekel in his individual capacity.
Within twenty-one (21) days of this Order, the Clerk shall ascertain from
the Department of Correction Office of Legal Affairs the current work address for
Correctional Officer Yekel and mail a waiver of service of process request packet to
him in his individual capacity at his current work address. On the thirty-fifth (35th)
day after mailing, the Clerk shall report to the Court on the status of the request. If
the defendant fails to return the waiver request, the Clerk shall make arrangements
for in-person service by the U.S. Marshals Service and the defendant shall be
required to pay the costs of such service in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil
Defendant Yekel shall file his response to the complaint, either an
answer or motion to dismiss, within sixty (60) days from the date the notice of lawsuit
and waiver of service of summons forms are mailed to them. If the defendant
chooses to file an answer, he shall admit or deny the allegations and respond to the
cognizable claims recited above. He may also include any and all additional defenses
permitted by the Federal Rules.
Discovery, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26 through 37,
shall be completed within six months (180 days) from the date of this order.
Discovery requests need not be filed with the court.
All motions for summary judgment shall be filed within seven months
(210 days) from the date of this order.
SO ORDERED at Hartford, Connecticut this 5th day of January, 2017.
VANESSA L. BRYANT
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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