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DuPonte v. Wall

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

January 22, 2018

RICHARD J. DUPONTE, II, Plaintiff,
v.
ASHBEL T. WALL, MATTHEW KETTLE, JEFFREY ACETO, BRUCE ODEN, JACK WARD, FREDD SPECHT, TERESA BERUBE, JOSEPH DINITTO, and WILLIAM BEGONES, in their individual and official capacities, and the RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. McCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.

         Richard J. DuPonte, II, an inmate in the custody of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections ("RIDOC"), has brought a complaint against RIDOC and various employees alleging violations of his civil rights. Specifically, he argues that his placement of one year in disciplinary segregation violates both his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Defendants have moved to dismiss (ECF No. 14), which Mr. DuPonte opposes (ECF No. 17). For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court recites the plausible facts as alleged by Mr. DuPonte pertaining to the two incidents that give rise to his Complaint.

         A. The June 12 Incident

         On June 12, 2017, Mr. DuPonte and another inmate, S. Romano, engaged in a physical altercation in the kitchen. The incident was categorized as "Fighting (inmate on inmate) that did not involve serious injury." Mr. DuPonte alleges that he and Mr. Romano were "horsing around" and that Mr. Romano fell. After a hearing, Mr. DuPonte was found guilty of the infraction. He was sentenced to twenty days' loss of good time and twenty days of disciplinary segregation.

         Subsequent to the hearing, Defendant and then-Deputy Warden Jeffrey Aceto recommended that Mr. DuPonte's status be downgraded-i.e., that he be reclassified at a more restrictive setting-for both his role in the incident and because of his history of violent conflict with other inmates. Prison records submitted by Mr. DuPonte with his Complaint state that his "last four bookings [were] for violence with inmates and assault on staff." Mr. DuPonte countered that, prior to this incident, he had not been subject to discipline for two years, had been active in rehabilitative, vocational, and educational program, was employed in the prison kitchen, and was due for good time release in six months (i.e., in December of 2017).

         At the classification hearing for this incident, Defendant Jack Ward, the classification panel chairperson, downgraded Mr. DuPonte to high security "C" status.[1] Mr. DuPonte was not provided a counselor before, during, or after this hearing. As justification for the downgrade, Mr. Ward told Mr. DuPonte that it was because of "a stabbing over at Max" earlier that day, July 12.

         B. The July 12 Incident

         On the morning of July 12, Mr. Romano was attacked by several other inmates. The attack was categorized as "Assault with a Weapon on an Inmate with serious injury resulting, " and the severity level was "Highest (Predatory)." At the time, Mr. DuPonte was standing at a phone bank some thirty to fifty yards away.

         The infraction was recorded against Mr. DuPonte by Defendant Inspector William "Billy" Begones two days later. According to the report, Mr. DuPonte "had knowledge of inmate Romano being assaulted by first meeting with these inmates prior to going into the yard and inmate DuPonte stating I don't what [sic] anything happening-then during the interview were [sic] also stated that 'he knew inmate Romano was going to be assaulted but it was only going to be a beaten [sic].'" The report also charged Mr. DuPonte with "standing at a phone bank pretending to be on the phone." The report states that "the phone was checked and no call was made by inmate DuPonte from that particular phone at that time."

         Lt. William Galligan, the supervising officer, read the booking to Mr. DuPonte. Mr. DuPonte denied making the above statement to the investigator and stated that he was, in fact, on the phone. He challenged being charged with assault with a weapon when he was not present for the incident. He also asked how any coordination could have occurred when he had just left disciplinary confinement. Mr. DuPonte said he was innocent and requested counselor representation at his disciplinary hearing. He made attempts that evening to secure the presence of either Defendant Counselor Teresa Berube or Defendant Counselor Fredd Specht at his hearing, ' he also asked them to collect records of his phone usage on the date of the incident, housing assignments for all inmates involved, and video of the incident with timestamps.

         Defendant Lt. Bruce Oden conducted Mr. DuPonte's disciplinary hearing, Lt. Oden was the sole adjudicative officer present for the hearing. Mr. DuPonte again requested a counselor representative. Lt. Oden attempted to contact Counselor Berube, but she was unavailable. Lt. Oden then said he would have to call Counselor Specht, but that it "would take all day." Lt. Oden asked Mr. DuPonte what he needed a counselor for; Mr. DuPonte responded that it was to provide his pre-requested evidence. Lt. Oden told Mr. DuPonte that the counselors were not his attorneys, and Mr. DuPonte was not allowed to present his evidence. No counselor attended the hearing or met with Mr. DuPonte before or after the proceeding. Mr. DuPonte was found guilty "based on invest, report and evidence obtained through investigation."

         Lt. Oden sentenced Mr. DuPonte to 365 days of segregation. Mr. DuPonte asked Lt. Oden how he could justify such a sentence when he had nothing to do with the incident; Lt. Oden replied that he was told to give a year to everyone involved in the July 12 incident. Lt. Oden then refused to give Mr. DuPonte a copy of the results of the hearing. Mr. DuPonte made several inquiries of Lt. Oden and Counselor Berube for the results, but they went unanswered; it is unclear if or when he received a copy. However, he does appear to have taken an appeal.

         On August 1, Mr. DuPonte received now Warden Aceto's denial of his appeal, The appeal also appears to have been denied by Defendant Deputy Director Matthew Kettle. Mr. DuPonte spoke with Warden Aceto that morning, and directly questioned the sufficiency of the evidence against him.' Warden Aceto declined to discuss it. Nevertheless, on August 11, Mr. DuPonte received a memo from Warden Aceto stating that a phone log was a government record-presumably referring to the log Mr. DuPonte claimed would prove he was actually using the phone on the day of the incident, and thus, was not involved-and that Warden Aceto could not access the record or authorize its release, even though the phone log was apparently used as evidence against Mr. DuPonte.

         On August 16, Mr. DuPonte was again brought before a classification board chaired by Mr. Ward. Mr. DuPonte twice asked for the hearing to be recorded; Mr. Ward twice denied his requests. Mr. DuPonte was again not provided with a counselor. He told the board he received no notice of the hearing and had no chance to prepare for it. Mr. DuPonte also asked that Mr. Ward not chair the hearing, as he had filed a grievance against Mr. Ward for his handling of the J\dy 12 hearing. Mr. DuPonte argued that his downgrade was based on what he believed to be false evidence; the hearing officer told Mr. DuPonte that all he "cared about was [that Mr. DuPonte] was found guilty" and that he could submit another grievance.

         While in disciplinary confinement for one year, Mr. DuPonte has been and will be subjected to "the RIDOC version of housing that most closely resembles the general definition of solitary confinement." State of Rhode Island, Report of the Special Legislative Commission to Study and Assess the Use of Solitary Confinement at the Rhode Island ACI (the "Report") 5 (2017), http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/ Reports/Solitary%20final%20report.pdf. As a prisoner at the maximum security facility, Mr. DuPonte is in a single cell for twenty-three hours per day, and is allowed one hour of exercise per day. Id. His status is reviewed every ninety days, he has the ability to request a review from the warden, and can have immediate review if staff or mental health professionals advise the warden that confinement is harmful to his mental health. Id. at 6. Mr. DuPonte specifically alleges he is deprived the same privileges as those inmates in the general population and in administrative segregation: Visits, phone calls, radios access, television access, newspaper access, programming, a mirror, a desk, plastic bins for clothing and legal material, and weather-appropriate footwear. Mr. DuPonte claims that he has lost educational opportunities, including enrollment at C.C.R.I, and a federal Pell Grant; that he suffers emotional distress; that his anxiety, sleep problems, and sciatica have grown worse; and that his mental health is deteriorating.

         II. ...


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