Johnson v. Cook

Decision Date01 July 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:19-cv-1464 (CSH)
PartiesISIS M. JOHNSON, Plaintiff, v. COMMISSIONER ROLAND COOK, ET AL., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

Plaintiff Isis M. Johnson ("Johnson" or "Plaintiff"),1 a convicted prisoner, has filed a pro se civil rights complaint asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1988 against former Commissioner of Correction Roland Cook; Wardens Corecella, William Mulligan and Amonda Hannah; Deputy Wardens Nathan Hein, Denise Walker and Jeanotte; Captains Miranda, Dorosko, Fusaro, Diloretto and Allen; Correctional Officers Somer and Zegrazewski; Maintenance Officer Sendzik; Drs. Matt Moyer and Burns; Nurses Janine Brennan, D. Fritz, Loreen Williams, K. Philips and Spano-Lonis; Regional Director of Mental Health Andrea Reischler ("Mental Health Director Reischler"); Health Services Administrator Ronald Labonte; RCOO Krista Shea; and Certified Correctional Health Professional ("CCHP") Colleen Gallagher (collectively, "Defendants"). Doc. 11 ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 5-36.2 Plaintiff claims thatDefendants were deliberately indifferent to her medical and mental health needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and denied her treatment for those needs in violation of her rights to equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.3 Johnson also asserts claims of negligence, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. Id. at ¶¶ 84-117. Plaintiff previously was confined at the Connecticut Department of Correction's ("DOC's") Garner Correctional Institution ("Garner"), but she has since been released from state custody to a private residence in Naugatuck, Connecticut. See Am. Compl. ¶ 4; Doc. 19 (notifying the Court of change of address).

The Court now reviews Johnson's Amended Complaint to determine whether her claims may proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


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." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). Although detailed allegations are not required, a complaint must "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S 544, 570 (2007)). "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." Id. Thisplausibility standard is not a "probability requirement," but imposes a standard higher than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

In undertaking its analysis, the Court must "draw all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor, assume all well-pleaded factual allegations to be true, and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, the Court is "not bound to accept conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions," id., and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Ultimately, "[d]etermining 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. at 679.

With respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established that their "submissions are reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 F. App'x 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ("A document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed,' and 'a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" (internal citations omitted)). This liberal approach, however, does not exempt pro se litigants from the minimum pleading requirements described above: a pro se plaintiff's complaint still must "'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 F. App'x 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Therefore, even in a pro se case, "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice," and the Court may not "invent factualallegations" that the plaintiff has not pleaded. Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).


The following facts are derived from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, as well as the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's Complaint.

On May 1, 2018, Johnson was admitted to the DOC as a pretrial detainee. Prior to her admission, medical and mental health providers diagnosed Johnson as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, and gender dysphoria/identity disorder—a condition that involves a conflict between the sex that a person is assigned at birth and the gender with which the person identifies after birth. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23, 52, 54-55, 69-76; Doc. 1-1 ("Exh. A"), at 4-5; Doc. 1-2 ("Exh. B"), at 9; Doc. 1-3 ("Exh. C"), at 7-9.

Although born as a male, Johnson identifies with the female gender. Am. Compl. ¶ 93. She has been transitioning from the male gender to the female gender for twelve years but has not undergone sex reassignment surgery. Am. Compl. ¶ 93; Exh. C at 7. The transition process has involved hormone replacement therapy and a breast augmentation procedure. Exh. C at 7. In 2018, Johnson's treating physician in Stamford, Connecticut, recommended that she undergo laser hair removal, vocal feminization surgery and facial feminization surgery. Id.

Since her admission to DOC in May 2018, Johnson has undergone hormone replacement therapy, has been permitted to shower in an area separate from male inmates and detainees, and has been able to order items from the list of products in the commissary that are available to female inmates and detainees. Exh. B at 9; Exh. C at 8. In July 2018, Dr. Burns, DOC's ChiefPsychologist, evaluated Johnson, re-affirmed her diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and prepared an individualized treatment plan based on Johnson's diagnosis. Exh. C at 8.

On October 17, 2018, at Bridgeport Correctional Center ("Bridgeport"), Maintenance Officer Sendzik subjected Johnson to "[t]rans-phobic slurs, Gender Related Insults and public Humiliation." Am. Compl. ¶ 39. Johnson heard Officer Sendzik tell other inmates "I have someone with big breast[s] downstairs, you guys can have the best of both worlds." Id.

Johnson filed a complaint pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA") with a lieutenant and met with a mental health social worker regarding Officer Sendzik's harassment. Id. ¶ 40. Prison officials then asked Johnson to provide a written statement of her encounters with Officer Sendzik. Id. ¶ 41. On October 23, 2018, Johnson submitted a description of the sexual harassment committed by Officer Sendzik, "urgently requesting an investigation." Id.

On December 21, 2018, Johnson received a letter from Captain Fusaro of the PREA Investigations Unit. Id.; Exh. B at 3. Captain Fusaro indicated that Johnson's claim of sexual harassment had been reported, documented and investigated at Bridgeport. Exh. B at 3. Investigating officials deemed the allegation to be unsubstantiated and closed the matter at the facility level. Id. The PREA Investigations Unit also considered the matter to be closed. Id.

On November 15, 2018, Johnson filed a grievance regarding the conduct of Officer Sendzik. Exh. B at 2. On January 15, 2019, Warden Hannah denied the grievance because there was "no evidence" to substantiate Johnson's claim. Am. Compl. ¶ 46; Exh. B at 2. On January 31, 2019, Johnson appealed the denial of the grievance. Am. Compl. ¶ 46; Exh. B at 4. On March 27, 2019, a district administrator denied the appeal. Id.

On January 6, 2019, Johnson submitted a request to her unit manager at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution ("MacDougall-Walker") seeking treatment for her gender dysphoria/identity condition. Am. Compl. ¶ 52.

On January 9, 2019, Johnson submitted a request to MacDougall-Walker's medical department seeking to speak with someone regarding gender affirming medical treatment for her gender dysphoria/identity condition and to find out what options might be available beyond hormone treatment. Id.; Exh. A at 5.

On January 15, 2019, Johnson submitted a request to Deputy Warden Jeanotte seeking information about any medical treatment plans that had been formulated for her and the names of the staff members who were members of the Gender Non-Conforming Review Committee ("GNCRC"). Am. Compl. ¶ 53; Exh. A at 6.4 Deputy Warden Jeanotte indicated that Dr. Burns, Mental Health Director Reischler, Warden Mulligan and Johnson's housing unit manager were members of the GNCRC, and that Johnson should consult with Dr. Burns and Mental Health Director Reischler regarding her treatment plan. Id.

On April 3, 2019, Johnson met with Dr. Moyer to discuss her requests for gender affirming treatment including laser hair removal, vocal feminization surgery and facial feminization surgery. Exh. A at 13-14. During the appointment, Dr. Moyer indicated that he did not think the three procedures were medically necessary. Id.

On April 16, 2019, Johnson filed a request for Health Services Review...

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