Matthews v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. & Cmty. Supervision

Decision Date03 March 2020
Docket Number9:17-cv-00503
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge


Presently before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss certain claims asserted in the Second Amended Complaint. Dkt. No. 172. The plaintiffs oppose the motion, Dkt. No. 178, and the defendants filed a reply. Dkt. No. 183. The Court has determined to decide the motion without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The plaintiffs are New York state prisoners under the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). Their claims stem from incidents that occurred after Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") on June 6, 2015. At the time of the escapes, the plaintiffs were incarcerated at Clinton. Following the escapes, the plaintiffs and other prisoners were transferred to Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate") and then again to Sullivan Correctional Facility ("Sullivan").

Plaintiffs, through counsel, commenced this action in the Southern District of New York. Dkt. No. 1. The Southern District transferred venue to this court, and the undersigned ruled on the defendants' initial motion to dismiss the Complaint, dismissing certain claims and defendants. Dkt. No. 41. Plaintiffs thereafter filed an Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 62, which the remaining defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Dkt. No. 152. Plaintiffs then filed a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), Dkt. No. 167, which the Court initially struck sua sponte. Dkt. No. 161. After reconsideration, the plaintiffs were allowed to proceed via the SAC, and the defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint was denied as moot. The SAC is now the operative pleading.

Defendants DOCCS, Timothy Stampfler, Shane Rivers, Darcel Russell, Travis Baxter, Adam Tamer, Shawn Gonyo, Bert Drake, Adam Besaw, Rahn Marion, Nathan Bunker, Darren Butchino, Chad Keysor, Todd Perry, Rafael Rivera, Mark Orzech, Jason Goodspeed, Eric Fessette, Dylan Bombardier, Andrew Burgess, David Duquette, Brian Hartman, L. Sweeney, Michael Tompkins, Michael Guynup, Travis Terry, Ronald Wood, Terry Brunet, Charles Durkin, Jeremiah Brooks, Mark Reif, Patrick Devlin, J. Skiff, Correctional Emergency Response Team ("CERT") Officer 44-23, CERT Officer 44-5,CERT Officer 44-4, CERT Officer 44-3,1 Christy Conklin, Dr. Kumar, Mary Kowalchuck, Cherie Fairchild, and Matthew Ranger (hereinafter collectively, the "Moving Defendants") move to dismiss the SAC, in part, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). All defendants except for DOCCS are sued in their individual/personal capacities. SAC, ¶¶ 13-17.

The factual allegations underlying the claims in the SAC are asserted from paragraph 18 through paragraph 256. See SAC ¶¶ 18-256. Thereafter, the plaintiffs assert two causes of action. The First Cause of Action, brought by all plaintiffs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, is asserted against "Defendants Clinton Corrections Officers, Skiff, CERT Officers, and Upstate Correctional Facility Medical Officials." SAC ¶¶ 257-262. Plaintiffs assert that the defendants' actions deprived them of their rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, "more specifically: a. the right to be free from the use of excessive and unreasonable force and seizure; b. the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment; c. the right to be free from deprivation of liberty without due process of law; and d. the right to equal protection under the law." SAC ¶ 259. The SAC does not identify which of the defendants' actions asserted in paragraphs 18-256 violated which of these rights.

The Second Cause of Action is captioned as brought by Plaintiff Smith pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against DOCCS. SAC, p. 34. Plaintiffs assert that "[t]he acts and conduct of Defendants Clinton Corrections Officers, Skiff, and CERT Officers complained of herein were motivated by racial animus, and were intended to discriminateon the basis of race. [These defendants] committed the foregoing acts intentionally, willfully, wantonly, maliciously, and/or with such reckless disregard of [the] consequences as to reveal a conscious indifference to the clear risk of death or serious injury to Plaintiffs that shocks the conscience. They are therefore also liable for punitive damages." SAC ¶¶ 264-265. The SAC does not identify which of the alleged acts in paragraphs 18-256 were motivated by racial animus and/or were intended to discriminate on the basis of race.


On a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept "all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw[] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). This tenet does not apply to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Similarly, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements ... are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id.; see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(stating that a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "While Twombly does not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, it does require enough facts to 'nudge [plaintiffs'] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" In re Elevator Antitrust Litig., 502 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2007)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see Anderson News, L.L.C. v. Am. Media, Inc., 680 F.3d 162, 184 (2d Cir. 2012)( Plausibility is "a standard lower than probability."). Aclaim will only have "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. This pleading standard "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully -harmed me accusation" in order to withstand scrutiny. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

A court "may not properly dismiss a complaint that states a plausible version of the events merely because the court finds that a different version is more plausible." Anderson News, 680 F.3d at 185. "The role of the court at this stage of the proceedings is . . . merely to determine whether the plaintiff's factual allegations are sufficient to allow the case to proceed." Doe v. Columbia Univ., 831 F.3d 46, 59 (2d Cir. 2016).

a. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The defendants move to dismiss any Section 1983 claim brought against DOCCS as barred by the Eleventh Amendment, arguing that no exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity applies because every individual defendant is sued in his or her personal capacity only and there are no claims for injunctive relief. The plaintiffs have failed to respond to this aspect of the defendants' motion.

To the extent that the SAC asserts any Section 1983 claims against DOCCS, these claims are dismissed as barred by the Eleventh Amendment, see Ennis v. New York Dept. of Parole, No. 18-CV-00501, 2018 WL 3869151, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Jun. 12, 2018), rep. rec.adopted, 2018 WL 3862683 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2018); Rother v. NYS Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision, 970 F. Supp.2d 78, 89-90 (N.D.N.Y. 2013), and as abandoned. See Mainella v. Golub Corp., No. 15-cv-1082, 2018 WL 1587049, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2018) ("Where a plaintiff fails to respond to a defendant's arguments regarding some of her claims but responds to its arguments regarding other claims, the courts generally assume that the plaintiff has abandoned those claims."); Thurmand v. Univ. of Connecticut, No. 3:18-CV-1140 (JCH), 2019 WL 369279, at *3 (D. Conn. Jan. 30, 2019)("Courts in this Circuit have presumed that plaintiffs have abandoned their claims when they do not oppose a motion to dismiss them.")(collecting cases).

b. Personal Involvement - Clinton Defendants & Defendant Skiff

Among the moving defendants are thirty-one (31) individual defendants who worked as correctional/security staff at Clinton2 (the "Clinton Defendants"), and Defendant J. Skiff, an Office of Special Investigations ("OSI") officer. The Clinton Defendants move to dismiss the Section 1983 claims against them because, they argue, none of the allegations in the SAC plausibly suggest that they were personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations. Defendant Skiff moves to dismiss the Section 1983 claims against him, except for one excessive force/failure-to-intervene claim asserted by Plaintiff Gomez, see SAC at ¶¶ 30-34, because, he contends, the SAC fails to sufficiently allege his personal involvement.

"[P]ersonal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Farrell v. Burke, 449 F.3d 470, 484 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). As is relevant here, personal involvement may be shown with evidence that "[t]he defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation . . . [or] exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information...

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