Monday, March 30, 2015

Inmate wins civil rights appeal

This inmate brought a First Amendment lawsuit alleging that prison authorities retaliated against him for filing grievances. The inmates also raised a due process claim. The district court dismissed the case on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reinstates the lawsuit.

The case is Rosales v. Kikendall, a summary order decided on March 26. The district court said that plaintiff could not show a connection between his grievance dated July 28, 2006 and the allegedly false misbehavior report issued on October 24, 2006. That three-month gap killed off any causation. But, the Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Walker and Chin) says, it was not really a there-month gap. Plaintiff continued to complain during that time period. Citing Traglia v. Town of Manlius, 313 F.3d 713 (2d Cir. 2002), the Court says, "This much tighter time temporal connection supports and inference of a causal link between Rosales's grievances and the misbehavior report." 

Apart from the circumstantial evidence, there was also direct evidence of retaliatory intent, which allows us to pitch aside the time line. The "close temporal connection" method of causation is only necessary when plaintiff does not have direct evidence. In this case, the prison people told plaintiff that they would "set him up" if he did not resign his position on the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee. While defendants say they would have disciplined plaintiff even without his protected activity, since plaintiff hotly disputes committing any misconduct, defendant's Mount Healthy defense is for the jury to decide.

Plaintiff also has a due process claim, claiming there was no evidence to support the misconduct finding against him. The jury could reject defendants' claim that they assisted plaintiff to the best of their ability at the misconduct hearing.The Second Circuit does not explain this holding, but the law requires that prison officials assist inmates round up evidence when they are charged with misconduct. It's been a long time since I saw a holding where the inmate won a due process claim on the theory that prison officials failed to assist in good faith. Plaintiff identifies evidence that could have helped him at the hearing that the prison officials were not able to round up for him, including an eyewitness letter from a fellow inmate that said plaintiff had done nothing wrong. 

Inmates rarely win their lawsuits. Who knows if plaintiff will win this case. But he did prevail at the Court of Appeals, which remands the case to the Western District of New York for a trial on the merits.

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