Jeffers v. City of New York et al
ORDER granting plaintiff's 2 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed and I grant him 30 days to amend his due process challenge for the reasons stated in the attached order. Ordered by Judge John Gleeson on 9/27/2013. (Merle, Natasha)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
- against THE CITY OF NEW YORK; C.O. MOORE,
#3822, In Her Official and Individual Capacity;
C.O. LEE, #3238 In Her Official and Individual
Capacity Both Corrections Officers For D.O.C
JOHN GLEESON, United States District Judge:
On June 7, 2013, plaintiff Jeffrey Jeffers, while incarcerated at Rikers Island, filed
this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On June 14, 2013, he filed an
amended complaint. Jeffers’s request to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915
is granted. For the reasons discussed below, Jeffers’s complaint is dismissed and I grant him 30
days to amend his due process challenge to being disciplined within the facility.
Jeffers alleges that on or about May 27, 2013, he was told to move cells by
Corrections Officers Lee and Moore. Amend. Compl. at 1. When Jeffers questioned the move
Officer Moore responded “there isn’t anything to talk about ‘pack your shit!’” Id. at 1. The two
officers then tried to verbally provoke Jeffers by saying things to him, such as “fuck you and
your dead mother,” knowing that Jeffers’s mother had passed away on May 5, 2013. Amend.
Compl. at 2. Jeffers states that the officers also cursed at him, called him names such as “fat
washed up whining ass, and old motherfucker.” Jeffers was then escorted to the intake area and
Jeffers’s phone pin number was also tampered with so that he could not make
phone calls for two days. Id. at 2-3. Jeffers alleges that “both correctional officers were in
violation when they had other staff or go themselves into the phone systems (computers) and had
my phone pin # tampered with as a retaliation act against plaintiff.” Amend. Compl. at 7.
Jeffers filed two grievances “in which nothing was done and my pin # was used to the amount
$27 was deducted out of my inmate account for calls I never made . . .” Amend. Compl. at 3.
He further alleges he was “written an infraction for my argument with C.O. Moore in which I
received 40 days in S.H.U. for her false statement and . . . infraction, which was done to cause
me duress, hardship, emotional distress . . .” and he was “deprived of everyday prison life as well
as cruel and unusual punishment a violations of his Eighth amendment rights.” Amend. Compl.
at 4 and 8. Jeffers seeks $400,000 in damages. Amend. Compl. at 8-9.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by
attorneys and I am required to read the plaintiff’s pro se complaint liberally and interpret it as
raising the strongest claims it suggests. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007); Hughes v.
Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant #1, 537 F.3d 185, 191-93 (2d
Cir. 2008). Moreover, at the pleadings stage of the proceeding, I must assume the truth of “all
well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegations” in the complaint. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch
Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111, 123 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79
(2009)). A complaint must plead sufficient facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
However, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, a district court “shall review, before
docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a
civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee
of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Upon review, a district court shall dismiss a
prisoner’s complaint sua sponte if the complaint is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted; or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune
from such relief.” Id.; Liner v. Goord, 196 F.3d 132, 134 & n.1 (2d Cir. 1999) (noting that under
PLRA, sua sponte dismissal of frivolous prisoner complaints is not only permitted but
mandatory); see also Tapia-Ortiz v. Winter, 185 F.3d 8, 11 (2d Cir. 1999).
In order to maintain a section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege (1) that the
challenged conduct was “committed by a person acting under color of state law,” and (2) that
such conduct “deprived [the plaintiff] of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States.” Cornejo v. Bell, 592 F.3d 121, 127 (2d Cir. 2010)
(quoting Pitchell v. Callan, 13 F.3d 545, 547 (2d Cir. 1994)). Section 1983 does not create any
independent substantive right; but rather is a vehicle to “redress. . . the deprivation of [federal]
rights established elsewhere.” Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999). A civil
rights complaint must contain “specific allegations of fact that indicate a deprivation of
constitutional rights; allegations which are nothing more than broad, simple, and conclusory
statements are insufficient” to state a claim under section 1983. See Morpurgo v. Inc. Village of
Sag Harbor, 697 F.Supp.2d 309, 341 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (citations omitted).
Here, plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights were violated by defendants. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel
and unusual punishment and guarantees convicted prisoners humane conditions of confinement.
“[A] person detained prior to conviction receives protection against mistreatment at the hands of
prison officials under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment if the pretrial detainee is
held in federal custody, or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if held in state
custody.” Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 69 (2d Cir. 2009). In any case, the standard is the
same. Id. at 72. (“Claims for deliberate indifference to a serious medical condition or other
serious threat to the health or safety of a person in custody should be analyzed under the same
standard irrespective of whether they are brought under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment.”)
“To determine whether a punishment is cruel and unusual, courts must look
beyond historical conceptions to ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a
maturing society.’” Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S.
97, 102 (1976)). The Supreme Court held that “[t]he Constitution ‘does not mandate
comfortable prisons,’ but neither does it permit inhumane ones.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 832 (1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)); Walker v. Schult, No.
12-cv-1806, 2013 WL 2249159, at *4 (2d Cir. May 23, 2013).
To state a claim based on conditions of confinement, plaintiff must allege that: (1)
objectively, the deprivation he 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.”
Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (1994))
(internal quotation marks omitted); Jabbar v. Fischer, 683 F.3d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 2012).
First, Jeffers’s allegation of inconvenience from being unable to use the telephone
for two days and that his pin number was tampered with, which resulted in $27 being taken out
of his account, fails to allege a serious deprivation of basic human needs that would suggest a
violation of his constitutional rights. See Weiss v. Inc. Village of Sag Harbor, 762 F.Supp.2d
560, 568 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (to state a cognizable § 1983 claim plaintiff must allege a deprivation
of a right guaranteed by the Constitution). In addition, “allegations of verbal harassment are
insufficient to base a § 1983 claim if no specific injury is alleged.” Johnson v. Eggersdorf, 8
Fed.Appx. 140, 143 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing Purcell v. Coughlin, 790 F.2d 263, 265 (2d Cir. 1986)
(“The claim that a prison guard called Purcell names also did not allege any appreciable injury
and was properly dismissed.”)).
Next, Jeffers claims that his constitutional due process rights were violated by
being placed in a segregated housing unit (“SHU”) for 40 days, as punishment for his argument
with Correction Officer Moore. I construe his complaint as raising a due process violation.
“[R]estrictions on pretrial detainees that implicate a liberty interest protected under the Due
Process Clause may not ‘amount to punishment of the detainee.’” Benjamin v. Fraser, 264 F.3d
175, 188 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979)). “Absent a showing
of an expressed intent to punish, the determination whether a condition is imposed for a
legitimate purpose or for the purpose of punishment ‘generally will turn on whether an
alternative purpose to which [the restriction] may rationally be connected is assignable for it, and
whether it appears excessive in relation to the alternative purpose assigned [to it].’” Benjamin,
264 F.3d at 188 (alteration in original) (quoting Bell, 441 U.S. at 538). Under this standard,
“pretrial detainees need not show that an imposed restraint imposes atypical and significant
hardships to state deprivation of a liberty interest protected by procedural due process.”
Benjamin, 264 F.3d at 188–89; see e.g., Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 448 (9thCir. 2000)
(reading Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995) to mean that a pretrial detainee, unlike a
convicted prisoner, has a liberty interest in not being placed in disciplinary segregation.) .
Here, Jeffers states, “I was also written an infraction for my argument with C.O.
Moore in which I received 40 days in S.H.U. for her false statement and false infraction, which
was done to cause me duress, hardship, emotional distress.” Amend. Compl. at 4. Specifically,
he alleges he was placed in SHU due to his argument with Officer Moore. Jeffers has failed to
allege facts sufficient to raise a plausible claim of a due process violation. He alleges excessive
punitive segregation, but he fails to allege the content of Moore’s false charges against him,
when or how they were presented to him or what, if any, process he sought and/or received in
relation to those charges. He will be afforded an opportunity to remedy those defects, as
Finally, Jeffers’s claims against the City of New York must be dismissed since he
has failed to allege facts demonstrating that an officially adopted policy or custom of the City of
New York caused a violation of his federally protected rights. See Bd. of County Comm’rs of
Bryan County, OK v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997); Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs. of City
of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “[T]o hold a city liable under § 1983 for the
unconstitutional actions of its employees, a plaintiff is required to plead and prove three
elements: (1) an official policy or custom that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a
denial of a constitutional right.” Torraco v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 615 F.3d 129, 140 (2d
Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94,
100 (2d Cir. 1993) (stating that a mere assertion of a custom or policy is not sufficient to sustain
a § 1983 claim against a municipal defendant in the absence of any allegations of fact). Jeffers
names the City of New York in the caption of his complaint, but does not make any mention of
this defendant in the body of his complaint, much less allege facts to support a Monell claim.
Accordingly, the complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Jeffers is granted 30 days leave from the date of this
order to file an amended complaint as to his SHU due process claim only. Cruz v. Gomez, 202
F.3d 593 (2d Cir. 2000). To the best of his ability Jeffers should identify as defendants those
individuals who had some personal involvement in his placement in SHU and describe the role
he or she played in the alleged deprivation of his rights. Further, Jeffers should provide the dates
and locations for each relevant event, including the dates of any disciplinary charges, hearings or
appeals and he should attach any relevant and available documents.
No summons shall issue at this time and all further proceedings shall be stayed for
30 days. 1 If Jeffers fails to file an amended complaint, judgment dismissing this action without
prejudice shall be entered. I certify pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal would not
be taken in good faith and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for purpose of an appeal.
Coppedge v. United States, 269 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).
John Gleeson, U.S.D.J.
Dated: September 27, 2013
Brooklyn, New York
At this time, Jeffers’s request for a telephone conference is denied. Dkt. Nos. 14, 18, 20. The
Court is aware that Jeffers anticipates being released from prison “by the end of November 2013 or no later than
December 2013.” Dkt. No. 14.
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