Vega v. Artus

Decision Date26 March 2009
Docket NumberNo. 9:04-CV-0750 (GTS)(GJD).,9:04-CV-0750 (GTS)(GJD).
Citation610 F.Supp.2d 185
PartiesAlex VEGA, Plaintiff, v. D. ARTUS, Superintendent, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

Alex Vega, Alden, NY, pro se.

Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General for the State of New York, Charles J. Quakenbush, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, of Counsel, Albany, NY, for Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Alex Vega ("Plaintiff") commenced this pro se prisoner civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") alleging that ten employees of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("Defendants") violated his rights under the United States Constitution while he was incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility. Dkt. No. 1. Generally, in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was harassed and discriminated against by Defendants because of what Defendants perceived to be Plaintiff's sexual orientation. Dkt. No. 30. Plaintiff also alleges that, after he filed grievances regarding the harassment and discrimination, Defendants retaliated against him by filing false misbehavior reports, holding him back from his job on multiple occasions, denying his request for inmate legal assistance, and threatening to transfer him out of protective custody and into general population at another correctional facility. Id. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired to deny Plaintiff his constitutional rights. Id. Currently before the Court1 is Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings/motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.2 Dkt. No. 58; see also Dkt. Nos. 43, 50, and 52.3 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

After the pleadings are closed, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) is properly brought as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c). Maggette v. Dalsheim, 709 F.2d 800, 801 (2d Cir.1983) [citations omitted]; see also FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b), 12(c). However, the motion for judgment on the pleadings is then decided according to the same standard as is a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Id.

It has long been understood that a defendant may base a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on either or both of two grounds: (1) a challenge to the "sufficiency of the pleading" under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); or (2) a challenge to the legal cognizability of the claim. Jackson v Onondaga County, 549 F.Supp.2d 204, 211, nn. 15-16 (N.D.N.Y.2008) (McAvoy, J., adopting Report-Recommendation on de novo review) [citations omitted].

With regard to the first ground, FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) [emphasis added]. By requiring this "showing," FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) requires that the pleading contain a short and plain statement that "give[s] the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Jackson, 549 F.Supp.2d at 212, n. 17 [citations omitted]. The main purpose of this rule is to "facilitate a proper decision on the merits." Id. at 212, n. 18 [citations omitted].4

The Supreme Court has long characterized this pleading requirement under Fed. R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) as "simplified" and "liberal," and has repeatedly rejected judicially established pleading requirements that exceed this liberal requirement. Id. at 212, n. 20 [citations omitted]. However, even this liberal notice pleading standard "has its limits." Id. at 212, n. 21 [citations omitted]. As a result, numerous Supreme Court and Second Circuit decisions exist holding that a pleading has failed to meet this liberal notice pleading standard. Id. at 213, n. 22 [citations omitted].

Most notably, in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, the Supreme Court reversed an appellate decision holding that a complaint had stated an actionable antitrust claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1. Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In doing so, the Court "retire[d]" the famous statement by the Court in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1968-69. Rather than turning on the conceivability of an actionable claim, the Court clarified, the "fair notice" standard turns on the plausibility of an actionable claim. Id. at 1965-74. The Court explained that, while this does not mean that a pleading need "set out in detail the facts upon which [the claim is based]," it does mean that the pleading must contain at least "some factual allegation[s]." Id. at 1965 [citations omitted]. More specifically, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level [to a plausible level]," assuming (of course) that all the allegations in the complaint are true. Id. [citations omitted].5

As have other Circuits, the Second Circuit has recognized that the clarified plausibility standard that was articulated by the Supreme Court in Twombly governs all claims, including claims brought by pro se litigants (although the plausibility of those claims is to be assessed generously, in light of the special solicitude normally afforded pro se litigants).6 It should be emphasized that FED. R. CIV. P. 8's plausibility standard, explained in Twombly, was in no way retracted or diminished by the Supreme Court's decision (two weeks later) in Erickson v. Pardus, in which (when reviewing a pro se pleading) the Court stated, "Specific facts are not necessary" to successfully state a claim under Fed. R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) [citation omitted; emphasis added]. That statement was merely an abbreviation of the often-repeated point of law—first offered in Conley and repeated in Twombly—that a pleading need not "set out in detail the facts upon which [the claim is based]" in order to successfully state a claim. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, n. 3 (citing Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. 99) [emphasis added]. That statement did not mean that all pleadings may achieve the requirement of "fair notice" without ever alleging any facts whatsoever. Clearly, there must still be enough fact set out (however set out, whether in detail or in a generalized fashion) to raise a right to relief above the speculative level to a plausible level.7

Finally, in reviewing a complaint for dismissal under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. This standard is applied with even greater force where the plaintiff alleges civil rights violations and/or where the complaint is submitted pro se. However, while the special leniency afforded to pro se civil rights litigants somewhat loosens the procedural rules governing the form of pleadings (as the Second Circuit has observed),8 it does not completely relieve a pro se plaintiff of the duty to satisfy the pleading standards set forth in FED. R. CIV. P. 8, 10 and 12.9 Rather, as both the Supreme Court and Second Circuit have repeatedly recognized, the requirements set forth in FED. R. CIV. P. 8, 10 and 12 are procedural rules that even pro se civil rights plaintiffs must follow.10 Stated more plainly, when a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, "all normal rules of pleading are not absolutely suspended." Jackson, 549 F.Supp.2d at 214, n. 28 [citations omitted].

II. SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

Generally, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that certain events occurred at Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton C.F.") in January 2004 which precipitated a pattern of retaliation against him later in 2004.

In particular, Plaintiff alleges that, on January 15, 2004, Defendant LaBonte told Inmate Peter Grieco, Plaintiff's co-worker, that (1) he (LaBonte) believed Plaintiff was a homosexual because Plaintiff associated with inmate Mark Brooks, and (2) Plaintiff and Brooks would not be allowed to work in the same program at the same time. AC ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that, after Inmate Grieco told Plaintiff about his conversation with Defendant LaBonte, Plaintiff confronted Defendant LaBonte about the conversation, whereupon LaBonte repeated the statements to Plaintiff, adding that "as long as plaintiff is assigned at the Church, inmate Brooks will `NEVER' be assigned, for fear of `homosexual acts' being committed between plaintiff and inmate Brooks." AC ¶¶ 9, 11. Plaintiff alleges that, in response, he told Defendant LaBonte that he is not homosexual and is only friends with Brooks. AC ¶ 12.

Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that, on January 28, 2004, he appeared before the Clinton C.F. Assessment and Program Preparation Unit ("A.P.P.U.")11 Program Committee, which was comprised of Defendants Facteau, Garbera, and Ward, as well as "Teacher Ms. Barber" and an "unknown lady." AC ¶ 15. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Garbera told Plaintiff that they all knew about Plaintiff and Inmate Brooks "being an item," and that Plaintiff could not change his work program to be closer to Brooks. AC ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that, when he stated that he had never been homosexual, Defendants Facteau, Ward and Garbera stated that Plaintiff was "guilty by association" with Brooks, a known homosexual, and that, as a result, he should get used to being treated as a homosexual. AC ¶¶ 21, 22.

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