HOCK v. THIPEDEAU

3:99 CV 1281 (GLG)

238 F. Supp.2d 446 (2002) | Cited 0 times | D. Connecticut | October 29, 2002

MEMORANDUM DECISION

The plaintiff, Lori Hock, an inmate in the custody of the State ofConnecticut Department of Correction (department), brought this actionagainst the defendant, Paul Thipedeau, for violating her Eighth Amendmentright to be free from cruel and usual punishment.1 At the conclusionof trial, the defendant moved to set aside the jury verdict as contraryto law.2 The defendant claims that because the plaintiff failed to(1) exhaust administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)and (2) make a prior showing of physical injury pursuant to42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), the jury's verdict awarding her nominal andpunitive damages must be set aside as contrary to law.3

The defendant's motion is DENIED.

"[T]he Prisoner Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA),42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) requires prisoners to exhaust administrativeremedies prior to commencing an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Heathv. Saddlemire, No. 9:96-CV-1998, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18869 (N.D.N.Y.Oct. 7, 2002). The Commissioner of the State of Connecticut Department ofCorrection is required by Connecticut General Statutes § 18-81 to"establish rules for the administrative practices . . . in accordancewith recognized correctional standards." The Commissioner of Correctionhas set forth the administrative procedures for inmate grievances inAdministrative Directive 9.6.4

Administrative Directive 9.6, subparagraph 9, provides that an inmateis required to seek informal resolution of a particular problem prior tothe filing of an inmate grievance. It states, "Informal resolutionincludes personal contact with staff able to resolve the matter orutilization of the Inmate Request System." The Inmate Request Systemrequires the inmate to use a certain form. The 1998 version eliminatesthe personal contact option and requires inmates to use the InmateRequest System and initiate an informal grievance via a certain form.Subparagraph 10 sets forth the procedures for filing an inmategrievance.

In this case, the plaintiff forwarded several handwritten letters toprison officialscomplaining of the defendant's conduct. Whether suchcomplaints complied with Administrative Directive 9.6 certainly did notaffect the department's reaction to them. The plaintiff's effortsresulted in the department investigating the defendant and his voluntaryresignation, followed by her commencement of this lawsuit.

Connecticut's inmate grievance procedure does not expressly allow aninmate to utilize any procedures for initiating a grievance other thanthose provided in the Administrative Directives. In all practicality,however, at least in the present case, the department went forward withan investigation irrespective of whether the plaintiff followed theproper procedures. Under these circumstances, the department essentiallycreated informal means of pursuing an inmate grievance outside of itsprescribed procedures. Consequently, the plaintiff exhausted heradministrative remedies by utilizing such means. Our conclusion findssupport within this Circuit.

In a case involving a New York inmate, the Second Circuit held recentlythat "resolution of [a] matter through informal channels satisfies the[PLRA's] exhaustion requirement, as, under the administrative schemeapplicable to New York prisoners, grieving through informal channels is anavailable remedy." (Emphasis added) Marvin v. Goord, 255 F.3d 40, 43 n. 3(2d Cir. 2001). We recognize that New York's inmate grievance procedurediffers from Connecticut's insofar as it "is intended to supplement, notreplace, existing formal of informal channels of problem resolution."Saddlemire, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18869, at *10. New York, therefore,allows its inmates various avenues of approach for initiating a grievancenot available to Connecticut inmates. Nevertheless, because thedepartment investigated the plaintiff's complaint, which resulted in thedefendant's voluntary resignation, her compliance, or lack thereof, withthe prescribed procedures for initiating an inmate grievance under eitherversion of Administrative Directive 9.6 is not determinative here. SeeId. at *14 (holding that plaintiff satisfied PLRA requirement even if NewYork's inmate grievance procedure constituted the only satisfactoryadministrative remedy); see also Perez v. Blot, 195 F. Supp.2d 539,545-46 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).

Accordingly, the plaintiff satisfied the exhaustion of administrativeremedy requirement of Section 1997e(a), and to suggest otherwise ispatently unfair. See Saddlemire, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18869, at *14.

The defendant's argument, therefore, fails. We now consider thedefendant's argument based on Section 1997e(e) that the plaintiff'sfederal claim is barred because she made no showing of a physicalinjury.

In light of the Second Circuit's recent decision in Thompson v.Carter, 284 F.3d 411 (2d Cir. 2002), the defendant's argument based onSection 1997e(e) fails because it misinterprets the law. In Thompson, theCourt addressed the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), which states, "NoFederal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail,prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injurysuffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury."The Court stated succinctly that "[b]ecause Section 1997e(e) is alimitation on recovery of damages for mental and emotional injury in theabsence of a showing of physical injury, it does not restrict aplaintiff's ability to recover compensatory damages for actual injury,nominal or punitive damages, or injunctive and declaratory relief." Id.at 417. The Court stated further that in accordance with a majority ofsister circuits, "Section 1997e(e) does not limit the availability ofnominal damages for theviolation of a constitutional right or ofpunitive damages." Id. at 418. See also Searles v. Van Bebber, 251 F.3d 869,878, 880 (10th Cir. 2001).

Because nominal and punitive damages may be recovered for certainconstitutional violations without a showing of actual or physicalinjury, Section 1997e(e) does not bar such recovery. Therefore, the juryverdict in this case must stand. Consequently, the defendant's oralmotion to set aside the verdict, as well as his motion to dismiss [Doc.87] are DENIED. The clerk should enter judgment for the plaintiff in theamount of $30,001.

SO ORDERED.

1. The plaintiff asserted also a state law claim not relevanthere.

2. The defendant moved also on October 17, 2002, to dismiss theplaintiff's federal claim [Doc. 87]. Based on the analysis and conclusionsin this opinion, the defendant's motion to dismiss [Doc. 87] isDENIED.

3. The defendant claims also that punitive damages may not be awardedwhen only nominal damages were found in the absence of compensatorydamages. Cush-Crawford v. Adchem Corp., 271 F.3d 352, 359 (2d Cir.2001), proves otherwise.

4. There are two versions of Administrative Directive 9.6 covering thetime during which the defendant violated the plaintiff's constitutionalrights under the Eighth Amendment. The first version dated August 12,1994, was in effect until it was superceded by the August 3, 1998version.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

The plaintiff, Lori Hock, an inmate in the custody of the State ofConnecticut Department of Correction (department), brought this actionagainst the defendant, Paul Thipedeau, for violating her Eighth Amendmentright to be free from cruel and usual punishment.1 At the conclusionof trial, the defendant moved to set aside the jury verdict as contraryto law.2 The defendant claims that because the plaintiff failed to(1) exhaust administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)and (2) make a prior showing of physical injury pursuant to42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), the jury's verdict awarding her nominal andpunitive damages must be set aside as contrary to law.3

The defendant's motion is DENIED.

"[T]he Prisoner Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA),42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) requires prisoners to exhaust administrativeremedies prior to commencing an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Heathv. Saddlemire, No. 9:96-CV-1998, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18869 (N.D.N.Y.Oct. 7, 2002). The Commissioner of the State of Connecticut Department ofCorrection is required by Connecticut General Statutes § 18-81 to"establish rules for the administrative practices . . . in accordancewith recognized correctional standards." The Commissioner of Correctionhas set forth the administrative procedures for inmate grievances inAdministrative Directive 9.6.4

Administrative Directive 9.6, subparagraph 9, provides that an inmateis required to seek informal resolution of a particular problem prior tothe filing of an inmate grievance. It states, "Informal resolutionincludes personal contact with staff able to resolve the matter orutilization of the Inmate Request System." The Inmate Request Systemrequires the inmate to use a certain form. The 1998 version eliminatesthe personal contact option and requires inmates to use the InmateRequest System and initiate an informal grievance via a certain form.Subparagraph 10 sets forth the procedures for filing an inmategrievance.

In this case, the plaintiff forwarded several handwritten letters toprison officialscomplaining of the defendant's conduct. Whether suchcomplaints complied with Administrative Directive 9.6 certainly did notaffect the department's reaction to them. The plaintiff's effortsresulted in the department investigating the defendant and his voluntaryresignation, followed by her commencement of this lawsuit.

Connecticut's inmate grievance procedure does not expressly allow aninmate to utilize any procedures for initiating a grievance other thanthose provided in the Administrative Directives. In all practicality,however, at least in the present case, the department went forward withan investigation irrespective of whether the plaintiff followed theproper procedures. Under these circumstances, the department essentiallycreated informal means of pursuing an inmate grievance outside of itsprescribed procedures. Consequently, the plaintiff exhausted heradministrative remedies by utilizing such means. Our conclusion findssupport within this Circuit.

In a case involving a New York inmate, the Second Circuit held recentlythat "resolution of [a] matter through informal channels satisfies the[PLRA's] exhaustion requirement, as, under the administrative schemeapplicable to New York prisoners, grieving through informal channels is anavailable remedy." (Emphasis added) Marvin v. Goord, 255 F.3d 40, 43 n. 3(2d Cir. 2001). We recognize that New York's inmate grievance procedurediffers from Connecticut's insofar as it "is intended to supplement, notreplace, existing formal of informal channels of problem resolution."Saddlemire, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18869, at *10. New York, therefore,allows its inmates various avenues of approach for initiating a grievancenot available to Connecticut inmates. Nevertheless, because thedepartment investigated the plaintiff's complaint, which resulted in thedefendant's voluntary resignation, her compliance, or lack thereof, withthe prescribed procedures for initiating an inmate grievance under eitherversion of Administrative Directive 9.6 is not determinative here. SeeId. at *14 (holding that plaintiff satisfied PLRA requirement even if NewYork's inmate grievance procedure constituted the only satisfactoryadministrative remedy); see also Perez v. Blot, 195 F. Supp.2d 539,545-46 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).

Accordingly, the plaintiff satisfied the exhaustion of administrativeremedy requirement of Section 1997e(a), and to suggest otherwise ispatently unfair. See Saddlemire, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18869, at *14.

The defendant's argument, therefore, fails. We now consider thedefendant's argument based on Section 1997e(e) that the plaintiff'sfederal claim is barred because she made no showing of a physicalinjury.

In light of the Second Circuit's recent decision in Thompson v.Carter, 284 F.3d 411 (2d Cir. 2002), the defendant's argument based onSection 1997e(e) fails because it misinterprets the law. In Thompson, theCourt addressed the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), which states, "NoFederal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail,prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injurysuffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury."The Court stated succinctly that "[b]ecause Section 1997e(e) is alimitation on recovery of damages for mental and emotional injury in theabsence of a showing of physical injury, it does not restrict aplaintiff's ability to recover compensatory damages for actual injury,nominal or punitive damages, or injunctive and declaratory relief." Id.at 417. The Court stated further that in accordance with a majority ofsister circuits, "Section 1997e(e) does not limit the availability ofnominal damages for theviolation of a constitutional right or ofpunitive damages." Id. at 418. See also Searles v. Van Bebber, 251 F.3d 869,878, 880 (10th Cir. 2001).

Because nominal and punitive damages may be recovered for certainconstitutional violations without a showing of actual or physicalinjury, Section 1997e(e) does not bar such recovery. Therefore, the juryverdict in this case must stand. Consequently, the defendant's oralmotion to set aside the verdict, as well as his motion to dismiss [Doc.87] are DENIED. The clerk should enter judgment for the plaintiff in theamount of $30,001.

SO ORDERED.

1. The plaintiff asserted also a state law claim not relevanthere.

2. The defendant moved also on October 17, 2002, to dismiss theplaintiff's federal claim [Doc. 87]. Based on the analysis and conclusionsin this opinion, the defendant's motion to dismiss [Doc. 87] isDENIED.

3. The defendant claims also that punitive damages may not be awardedwhen only nominal damages were found in the absence of compensatorydamages. Cush-Crawford v. Adchem Corp., 271 F.3d 352, 359 (2d Cir.2001), proves otherwise.

4. There are two versions of Administrative Directive 9.6 covering thetime during which the defendant violated the plaintiff's constitutionalrights under the Eighth Amendment. The first version dated August 12,1994, was in effect until it was superceded by the August 3, 1998version.

Case Summary:
To generate a summary for HOCK v. THIPEDEAU click here.
Back to top