Wright v. Goord

Decision Date03 February 2009
Docket NumberDocket Nos. 06-1728(L), 06-1808-pr.
Citation554 F.3d 255
PartiesMelvin M. WRIGHT, Jr., as Administrator of the Affairs of Melvin O. Wright, deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Glenn S. GOORD, Commissioner; A. Dire, Corrections Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; M. Dermutt, Corrections Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; M. Kasunic, Corrections Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; Gary H. Filion, Superintendent of Coxsackie Correctional Facility; Tiberis, Corrections Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; Zimber, Corrections Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; and A. Morris, Corrections Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Defendants-Appellees, New York State Department of Correctional Services, New York State, and David A. Paterson,<SMALL><SUP>*</SUP></SMALL> Governor of New York State in his official capacity, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Carolyn A. Kubitschek, New York, N.Y. (Darius Charney, Lansner & Kubitschek, New York, NY, Efaon Cobb, law student intern, Daniil Karp, student intern, on the brief), for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Martin A. Hotvet, Assistant Solicitor General of the State of New York, Albany, N.Y. (Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General, Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General, Andrea Oser, Deputy Solicitor General, Albany, NY, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, KEARSE and KATZMANN, Circuit Judges.

KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

In these consolidated appeals, plaintiff Melvin M. Wright, Jr., as administrator of the affairs of Melvin 0. Wright ("Wright"), who was an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") from 1982 until November 2007, a month before his death, pursues challenges to summary judgments entered in two actions in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissing Wright's claims, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against several DOCS corrections officers ("COs") for alleged use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. On appeal, plaintiff contends that summary judgment was inappropriate because there were genuine issues of material fact to be tried with respect to these claims. For the reasons that follow, we find no error and affirm the judgments.

I. BACKGROUND

The present appeals arise out of two actions brought by Wright, then proceeding pro se, to complain of a series of events that occurred in 2003 at New York State's Coxsackie Correctional Facility ("Coxsackie"), where Wright had been incarcerated since August 2002. The issues on appeal have been limited (see Part I.E. below) by a prior order of this Court dismissing Wright's appeal with respect to certain of his claims and allowing him to proceed— and appointing counsel to represent him— on his "claim that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when he was assaulted and intimidated by correctional officers at Coxsackie Correctional Facility" and other undismissed claims. Wright v. Goord, No. 06-1808 (2d Cir. Sept. 22, 2006).

A. The First Action ("Action I")

Wright first commenced an action in June 2003 against DOCS and several individual defendants. His second amended complaint in that action ("second amended complaint" or "Action I Second Amended Complaint") named as individual defendants DOCS Superintendent Glenn S. Goord, Coxsackie Superintendent Gary H. Filion, and Coxsackie COs Tiberis, Zimber, and Morris, and described incidents occurring in February and April 2003 in which Wright asserted that his constitutional rights had been violated.

The first incident, according to the second amended complaint, occurred on or about February 6. Wright, an African-American housed in a DOCS regional medical ward annexed to Coxsackie, was assaulted by his then-cellmate Robert Brandel with the latter's walking cane. Brandel, who Wright alleged was Caucasian, then summoned "security" and accused Wright of both assaulting him and calling him a "Cracker." (Action I Second Amended Complaint ¶¶ 6-8.) "[S]ecurity" took Brandel's cane and moved Wright to another cell, making comments to Wright about his not liking "crackers." (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) No disciplinary action was taken against either inmate. (Deposition of Melvin O. Wright ("Wright Dep.") 13.) Wright did not know the names of the COs to whom he referred as security. (Id. at 17-18.)

The second amended complaint alleged that on February 26, the COs, upon learning that Brandel had committed the assault, gave the cane back to him. The pleading suggested that the return of the cane to Brandel in these circumstances, with the COs believing that Wright disliked "crackers," constituted a threat against Wright by the COs themselves:

[w]hen, security learned that inmate Brandel, was the person that committed the assault against [Wright], February 26, 2003; security gave Brandel, back his walking cane. After taken the cane from him that night of February 6, 2003; stating: "You don't like crackers?"

. . . .

10. Especially, after the willful attempt and threats to inflict injury upon [Wright], and coupled with an apparent present ability so to do from corrections officers; and any intentional display of force such as was shown that night of February 26, 2003. Was enough for [Wright] to have reason to fear or expect immediate physical harm or assault by the officers; therefore, also a grievance was filed.

(Action I Second Amended Complaint ¶¶ 8, 10.) On February 27, Wright wrote a letter to the county district attorney, with a copy to Superintendent Filion, complaining about these events. Wright never received a response to this letter (see id. ¶ 9), the text of which is set out in Part II.B.2. below.

The second incident of which Wright complained in Action I occurred on or about April 2, 2003. While Wright was in his cell working on legal papers, another inmate, George Cavallo, brought newspapers to Wright's cell. (See id. ¶ 11.) CO Morris observed this and ordered Wright to get rid of the papers. Wright responded that he was not going to get rid of his legal papers, and he then took the newspapers to Cavallo's cell. (See Wright Dep. 18-19.) Morris promptly issued a misbehavior ticket to Wright charging him with (1) refusing a direct order, (2) being out of place, (3) engaging in unauthorized exchange of personal property, and (4) possessing an authorized item in an unauthorized area. (See Inmate Misbehavior Report, dated April 2, 2003.) With respect to the same incident, Morris also issued a misbehavior report against Wright on April 9, 2003. (See Action I Second Amended Complaint ¶ 13.) Wright filed grievances complaining of Morris's actions. He claimed, inter alia, that Morris's instruction that Wright "move his legal work" on April 2 constituted an obstruction of justice and that Morris's filing of the April 2 misbehavior report was "in []retaliation of a complaint [Wright] filed February 27, 2003, for an assault committed against him." (Wright grievance dated April 2, 2003, at 1-2). He claimed that Morris's April 9 misbehavior report with regard to the April 2 incident was intended to interfere with Wright's legal work. (See Wright Dep. 22-23; Wright grievance dated April 9, 2003.)

The April 9 misbehavior report was summarily dismissed two days later by a DOCS sergeant. (See Action I Second Amended Complaint ¶ 14.) The charges in the April 2 misbehavior report were adjudicated in a disciplinary hearing conducted by Tiberis on April 14. (See Disciplinary Hearing, April 14, 2003, at 1-2.) Tiberis found Wright not guilty of refusing a direct order or of being out of place. However, he found that Wright had taken the newspapers back to Cavallo in violation of prison rules and that Wright was thus guilty of the two remaining charges, i.e., possessing property in an unauthorized area and unauthorized exchange of property. (See id. at 12-13.)

No misbehavior report was issued to Cavallo. The second amended complaint asserted that the bringing of disciplinary charges against Wright, a Black person, but not against Cavallo, a White person, denied Wright equal protection. (See Action I Second Amended Complaint ¶ 15.)

The second amended complaint demanded damages against each defendant in his individual and official capacity in the amounts of "$3,600 Zillions dollars; $3,600 Tillions dollars; $3,600 Billions dollars; $3,600 Millions dollars; $3,600 Thousands dollars." (Id. ¶ 19.)

In November 2003, Wright sought permission to insert another claim in his second amended complaint; he proposed to name additional COs as defendants, including M. Kasunic, asserting that he had been assaulted and retaliated against by Kasunic in May 2003. However, the document Wright proffered was a fragment of a pleading to be inserted as a supplement to his second amended complaint, and the court denied his request because court rules required that any amended complaint be a complete pleading. Rather than proffering a complete third amended complaint, Wright commenced a second action.

B. The Second Action ("Action II")

In Wright's second action, his pleading consisted of a short document labeled a complaint (but containing no factual allegations) plus an expressly incorporated accompanying affidavit containing numbered paragraphs that set out, inter alia, Wright's factual allegations (collectively "Action II Complaint" or "Complaint"). The Action II Complaint named as individual defendants Goord and COs A. Dire ("Dirie"), M. Dermutt ("McDermott"), and Kasunic, and reiterated the allegations made in Action I as to, inter alia, Brandel's assault on Wright in early February, the comment that Wright did not like "Crackers," the COs' return of Brandel's cane to Brandel construed by Wright as a threat of attack by the COs, and Wright's letter of complaint to the county district attorney. (See Action II Complaint ¶¶ 9-13.) Paragraph 14 of the Complaint...

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