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Jefferson v. Raimondo

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 15, 2018

LEONARD C. JEFFERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
GINA RAIMONDO, Governor of the State of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations; ASHBEL T. WALL, Director of Rhode Island Department of Corrections [RIDOC; BARRY WEINER, Assistant Director of Rehabilitative Services at RIDOC; MATTHEW KETTLE, Associate Director at RIDOC; DEPUTY WARDEN ACETO, of the Maximum Security Unit [Max of RIDOC; CAPTAIN DUFFY, LIEUTENANTS AMARAL and BURT, Superior Officers at Max; CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS PAOLELLO and CROWLEY; JENNIFER CLARKE, Medical Program Director at RIDOC; and SIMON MELNICK, Treating Physician at RIDOC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion[1] to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) Plaintiff Leonard C. Jefferson's Complaint (ECF No. 1). Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan filed a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (ECF No. 20), recommending that the Motion be granted as to all Counts, but Count V. Magistrate Judge Sullivan recommends, however, that Count V be dismissed only as to the individual claims against Defendants Wall and Kettle, and “all claims against Defendants Raimondo, Duffy, Burt and Paolello should be dismissed.” (R. & R. 34.) Plaintiff filed a timely Objection to the R&R (“Objection”) (ECF No. 22).

         Additionally, after the R&R was filed, Defendants Dr. Jennifer Clarke and Dr. Simon Melnick (“Medical Defendants”) separately moved to dismiss (ECF No. 23). After careful review, the Court accepts the R&R. The Court therefore grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court also grants Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Discussion

         A. Defendants'[2] Motion to Dismiss

         At the outset, Plaintiff does not object to the recommendation that Counts VI-IX be dismissed. (See Obj. 1.) As to Counts I-V, however, Plaintiff raises twenty-one objections. (See generally id.) Objections must “specify the findings and/or recommendations to which objection is made and the basis for the objection.” DRI LR Cv 72 (d)(2). The Court “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         However, “this Court need not ‘consider frivolous, conclusive, or general objections.'” Seymour v. Cont'l Airlines, Inc., No. 09-526-ML, 2010 WL 3894023, at *1 (D.R.I. Oct. 4, 2010) (quoting Espada-Santiago v. Hosp. Episcopal San Lucas, No. 07-2221(ADC), 2009 WL 702350, at *1 (D.P.R. Mar. 11, 2009)); see also Sackall v. Heckler, 104 F.R.D. 401, 403 (D.R.I. 1984) (holding objections need to be “well grounded in fact and . . . warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law”).

         Here, Plaintiff places the R&R under a microscope, complaining line-by-line about Magistrate Judge Sullivan's analysis. (See generally Obj.) For example, Plaintiff begins with the statement that Defendants are in “sham-compliance” with his prior case's settlement agreement in Jefferson v. Piccirillo, No. 14-475-M-LDA, 2015 WL 3700796 (D.R.I. June 12, 2015). (Id. at 1; see also R. & R. 3.) Further, although Plaintiff complains about res judicata barring his claims, he concedes in an earlier objection that, “the claims set forth in Counts I thru IV of the Raimondo Complaint may be similar in kind to those resolved by the Piccirillo settlement.” (Obj. at 5.) Later, Plaintiff objects to the word “extensive” describing the “inspection of Max [that] occurred on April 24, 2017.” (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff's scattershot attacks on the R&R lack merit. And to the extent that Plaintiff has raised objections not specifically addressed below, the Court has reviewed all arguments and “has determined that they are without merit.” See Seymour, 2010 WL 3894023, at *4. This Court's de novo review leads it to the same conclusion as Magistrate Judge Sullivan, and for the reasons she articulated, Defendants' Motion must be granted.

         1. Eighth Amendment

         Plaintiff attacks the R&R's finding that “the complaint does not allege that the occasional chilly temperatures . . . amount to a ‘dangerously cold' condition.” (Obj. 5-6 (quoting R. & R. 11).) Citing Sampson v. Berks County Prison, 171 Fed.Appx. 382 (3d Cir. 2006), Plaintiff argues that low cell temperatures in combination with other factors, such as length of confinement, create a deprivation of human needs sufficient to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment. (See id. at 6.) Magistrate Judge Sullivan's analysis, however, which highlights the Court's prior decision in Jefferson v. Pepin, C.A. No. 16-016S, 2017 WL 5197880 (D.R.I. Jan. 26, 2017), is correct. (See R. & R. 15-16.) In Pepin, the same Plaintiff alleged an Eighth Amendment violation as to cold temperatures resulting from proximity to the HVAC system, which the Court rejected, stating that he had not plead that his cell was “dangerously cold.” (Id. at 15); see also Pepin, 2017 WL 5197880, at *4-5. As Magistrate Judge Sullivan explained, in this case Plaintiff once again did not plead that his cell was “dangerously cold, ” and his similar allegations are inadequate to “permit[] the inference that the cold . . . deprived him of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” (R. & R. 16 (quoting Restucci v. Clarke, 669 F.Supp.2d 150, 155-56 (D. Mass. 2009)).

         Similarly, Plaintiff objects to the finding that “the mere presence of mold or occasional temperatures below 65° are insufficient to indicate an objectively serious deprivation of life's necessities.” (Obj. 12 (quoting R. & R. 14).) Additionally, Plaintiff objects to the recommendation that the Complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim for lack of an allegation or evidence supporting “deliberate indifference.” (Id. at 17-18.)

         To prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim, “a plaintiff must satisfy both a subjective and objective inquiry.” Leavitt v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 645 F.3d 484, 497 (1st Cir. 2011). As to Plaintiff's arguments about mold, “[e]ven if the Court were satisfied with the adequacy of Plaintiff's pleading of conditions causing objectively serious harm, Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims are nevertheless subject to dismissal because the Complaint fails to plead deliberate indifference.” (R. & R. 17.) Plaintiff's Complaint shows the opposite, citing the multiple times he has been able to see doctors “who examined, tested and treated him for the allergies and illnesses he claims were caused by these conditions.” (Id.) “[P]laintiff[] disagree[s] with the Magistrate's factual findings but offer[s] nothing to bolster [his] objections except [his] own interpretation of the evidence.” Monfort-Rodriguez v. Hernandez, 286 F.Supp.2d 119, 121 (D.P.R. 2003). Therefore, Plaintiff's Objections are denied.[3]

         B. Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss[4]

         Medical Defendants allege that Count IV of Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because it is barred by res judicata. (See Mem. in Supp. Defs. Melnick & Clarke's Mot. to Dismiss (“Med. Defs.' Mem.”) 3.) Further, as Magistrate Judge Sullivan articulated, “the claim preclusion doctrine of res judicata, coupled with the effect of the release arising from the Piccirillo settlement agreement, together require that Counts I-IV should be dismissed in their entirety.” (R. & R. 23-24; see also Med. Defs.' Mem. 3-4 (citing R&R's dismissal of Count IV as to other Defendants to support application of res judicata).)

         Although the R&R does not encompass Medical Defendants, its reasoning applies to their Motion with equal force, and the claims against these defendants will be dismissed for the same reasons. (See generally R. & R.) Therefore, the Court grants Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         II. Conclusion

         For the above reasons, this Court ACCEPTS the R&R (ECF No. 20) and adopts its reasoning and recommendations. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part. Additionally, Medical Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23) is GRANTED. To avoid complete dismissal of his case, Plaintiff may file an amended complaint that remedies the deficiencies outlined herein and in the R&R within thirty days of this Memorandum and Order.

         IT IS SO ORDERED.

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) brought by some but not all of the defendants[1] named in this sixty-five-page, 452-paragraph, nine-Count “Verified Complaint with Jury Demand.” ECF No. 1 (“Complaint”). Plaintiff Leonard C. Jefferson is an inmate at the Adult Correctional Institutions (“ACI”). He is serving a life sentence without parole in the Maximum Security Unit (“Max”). In his pro se Complaint, he has joined together the following three unrelated claims:[2]

         1. Counts I-IV challenge conditions of confinement at Max, which Plaintiff claims adversely affect his health, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments:

a. Counts I-II allege that RIDOC policy requires that windows in Max are opened from May until September or early October, sometimes exposing Plaintiff to below minimal “Public Health standards” temperatures, yet Plaintiff was also prohibited by RIDOC's summer uniform policy from wearing warm clothing; and
b. Counts III-IV allege that RIDOC has allowed Max to be contaminated with black mold, but has refused to provide Plaintiff with the skin testing that he wanted to identify the toxin causing his allergies.

         2. Counts V-VII allege that RIDOC suspended weekly Muslim group prayer services (“Jumu'ah services”) (apparently while looking for an Imam to lead them) for months during which Christian and Catholic services were conducted, as well as that RIDOC policy prohibited the wearing of a kufi at the 2017 Iftar ritual of Ramadan, in violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment and (as to Count VI) the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         3. Counts VIII-IX allege that RIDOC imposed a six-day discipline on Plaintiff in violation of the Morris Rules and contrary to the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was done in retaliation for Plaintiff's artwork and for filing two lawsuits in 2016. All of these claims are asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages.

         The moving Defendants urge the Court to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and, as to the Morris Rules claim in Count VIII, based on the lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Relatedly, they ask the Court to examine the viability of the claims in light of the minimal pleading requirements in Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), as interpreted by Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Defendants Raimondo and Duffy make a separate pitch for dismissal because the Complaint lacks plausible facts sufficient to expose them to individual or official capacity liability.[3] Finally, focusing on the doctrine of res judicata, the moving Defendants ask the Court to dismiss the conditions-of-confinement claims in Counts I-IV because they are precluded by the settlement of essentially identical claims on April 15, 2015, which settlement was merged into final judgment on the merits in Jefferson v. Piccirillo, No. 14-475-M-LDA, 2015 WL 3700796, at *2 (D.R.I. June 12, 2015) (holding settlement terminating litigation “produces a result equivalent to a dismissal ‘with prejudice'”), aff'd, (1st Cir. Apr. 13, 2016) (holding that settlement precludes Plaintiff from “turning around and re-filing some of the very same claims based on pre-settlement acts or omissions of defendants”), first motion to reopen denied, (D.R.I. July 26, 2016) (finding defendants “in compliance with settlement agreement”), second motion to reopen denied, (D.R.I. Dec. 14, 2016) (finding defendants “in compliance with the settlement agreement”) (hereinafter “Piccirillo”).

         For the reasons explained below, I recommend that the Motion be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background[4]

         Plaintiff Leonard Jefferson is serving a life sentence imposed in 1974 for a first degree murder committed during an attempted robbery in Providence, Rhode Island. ECF No. 1 ¶ 331; see Jefferson v. State, 472 A.2d 1200, 1206 (R.I. 1984) (affirming denial of post-conviction relief). After he was convicted, he served a portion of the 1974 sentence and was released on parole in 1985. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 332-34. He relocated to Pennsylvania, where he was convicted in 1993 of aggravated assault and sentenced to twenty years. While Plaintiff was serving his Pennsylvania sentence, Rhode Island's Parole Board revoked parole. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 334-36. In November 2013, after he completed the Pennsylvania sentence, Plaintiff was returned to Rhode Island to serve the remainder of the 1974 life sentence. RIDOC imprisoned him in Max, which he describes in his opposition brief as the “Old Maximum Security Building, ” where he has remained since. ECF No. 16-1 at 2-3. Plaintiff is now almost seventy years old. See ECF No. 1 ¶ 112.

         Some of Plaintiff's prior litigation in this Court is pertinent to the issues posed by the Motion.

         In the 1970s and 1980s, Plaintiff was a named plaintiff in some of the cases that challenged conditions of confinement at Max following the decision (Morris v. Travisono, 310 F.Supp. 857, 871-74 (D.R.I. 1970)), which memorialized the State's agreement to adopt certain procedures that have come to be known as the Morris Rules. E.g., Jefferson v. Moran, 563 F.Supp. 227 (D.R.I. 1983); Jefferson v. Southworth, 447 F.Supp. 179, 191 (D.R.I. 1978), aff'd sub nom., Palmigiano v. Garrahy, 616 F.2d 598 (1st Cir. 1980). Throughout the current Complaint (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 38-41, 159, 376-77) are allusions to the forty-year-old findings from these cases made by the late District Judge Raymond Pettine that Max was unfit for human habitation in the 1970s, based among many other reasons on the cold temperatures and mold in the shower area. E.g., Southworth, 447 F.Supp. at 184 (“cold temperature level . . . as being 49 degrees”; windows open because cold preferable to “stench of cell area”); Palmigiano v. Garrahy, 443 F.Supp. 956, 961-62 (D.R.I. 1977) (temperature in 50° range in winter and spring; mold and mildew in shower area). However, Plaintiff has not included any plausible facts in his 2017 Complaint permitting the inference that the shocking conditions from the 1970s have persisted unchanged to the present, apart from the indisputable fact that today Max is an even older building. See ECF No. 1 ¶ 113 (in 2014, physician linked likelihood of presence of allergens like mold to age of Max; “this old building”).

         More recently, in 2014, Plaintiff filed Piccirillo. Among other defendants, he named Director Wall, who is also a RIDOC Defendant in the instant Complaint. In pertinent part, the Piccirillo complaint asserted Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claims grounded in the allegations that (1) RIDOC policy required that, each year, the heat be turned off from April until October, resulting in temperatures as low as 45°, yet its “summer uniform policy” also mandated that light clothing be worn, causing Plaintiff to suffer adverse health effects (including pneumonia, lung congestion, leg pain and osteoarthritis); and (2) Plaintiff suffered from respiratory symptoms that RIDOC physician Dr. Vohr advised were likely caused by environmental allergens at Max, yet Dr. Vohr prescribed allergy medication and refused to order testing to identify the specific allergen. Piccirillo at ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 115-41, 156-58, 162-64, 175- 77; ECF No. 29 ¶ 15. In his March 2015 supplement to his Piccirillo complaint, Plaintiff alleged that RIDOC staff refused his requests for permission to wear warmer clothing unless on the advice of a medical provider, and that, following an examination, RIDOC's physician advised that, despite his age, there was no medical reason for Plaintiff to wear more clothing than RIDOC policy permitted. Piccirillo at ECF No. 29 ¶¶ 13, 19-20, 30-35.

         Piccirillo ended in a binding settlement following an all-day mediation on April 15, 2015, conducted pursuant to Order of the Court by the Court's Alternative Dispute Resolution Administrator. Piccirillo at Text Order of Mar. 4, 2015; 2015 WL 3700796, at *1. The resulting settlement agreement addressed Plaintiff's concerns about his need for extra clothing to cope with the cold temperatures, as well as his health concerns about respiratory and allergy issues in a forward-looking fashion, by requiring RIDOC to take specified actions post-settlement, while Plaintiff gave up his right to maintain the suit or to recover money damages. Piccirillo at ECF No. 40-1 (settlement term sheet). This ...


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