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Machiavelli v. Abbott

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 4, 2017

HAROLD ABBOTT, JR., et al., Defendants


          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Anthony Machiavelli, currently incarcerated at the Maine State Prison, alleges that Defendants - Warden Randall Liberty, Deputy Warden Troy Ross, Captain Harold Abbott, Jr., and Unit Manager Antonio Mendez - violated his constitutional rights when they denied him due process of law in connection with certain disciplinary proceedings, and imposed sanctions in retaliation for Plaintiff's pursuit of judicial remedies.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 61.) Through the motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies with respect to his retaliation claim, that the record lacks any evidence of retaliatory intent, and that Plaintiff's due process claim is moot because the decision about which he complains was subsequently reversed.

         Following a review of the record, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend the Court grant the motion.

         Factual Record

         In 2014, Plaintiff was classified as medium custody, and was assigned to and worked in the close custody unit managed by Defendant Mendez.[1] (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts (DSMF), ECF No. 62, ¶ 2; Plaintiff's Opposing Statement of Material Facts (POSMF), ECF No. 78, ¶ 2; Supp. Decl. of Antonio Mendez, dated Jan. 12, 2017, ECF No. 84-2, ¶ 2.) Plaintiff was employed on the close unit plumbing crew, for which work he was paid $200 each month. He was one of the more highly compensated prisoners at the prison. (DSMF ¶ 3.)

         On September 26, 2014, based on information he received from a corrections officer that Plaintiff deliberately attempted to disrupt the distribution of medication to prisoners in the close unit by urging prisoners to slow down as they were released to receive their medication, Defendant Mendez wrote a disciplinary report charging Plaintiff with interference. (DSMF ¶ 5.) Plaintiff continued to work pending the conclusion of disciplinary proceedings that followed. (POSMF ¶ 4; Decl. of Antonio Mendez dated Jan. 1, 2017, ECF No. 84-1, ¶ 2; Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts (PSAMF), ECF No. 79, ¶¶ 2, 5 - 8.) According to Plaintiff, he actually worked “extra duty” in this time. (POSMF ¶ 12; PSAMF ¶ 26.)

         Following a hearing on the disciplinary report on October 24, 2014, Defendant Abbott found Plaintiff guilty of the disciplinary violation. (DSMF ¶ 9; see also Summary of Hearing, ECF No. 62-3, PageID # 459.) During the hearing, Defendant Abbott denied Plaintiff the opportunity to present the witnesses he requested. (PSAMF ¶ 25.)

         The Department's Prisoner Discipline Policy 20.1, Procedure F, states:

Conduct constituting a disciplinary violation may result in changing a prisoner's custody level, housing status, and/or programs, or the taking of any other action based on a determination that such action is in the interest of the prisoner, in the interest of the prisoner population, or in the interest of safety, security or orderly management of the facility, regardless of whether the disciplinary process is initiated and, if initiated, regardless of whether the conduct leads to an informal resolution or formal resolution of the violation. A dismissal or a finding of not guilty does not preclude taking any such action. Such action is not in the nature of punishment.

(DSMF ¶ 7.) Upon the guilty finding, Defendant Abbott imposed sanctions of lost good time, a disciplinary restriction, and a $75 fine.[2] (DSMF ¶ 9; see also Summary of Hearing, ECF No. 62-3, PageID # 459.) The finding and sanction were affirmed administratively on November 13, 2014. (Decision on Appeal, ECF No. 62-3, PageID # 478.)

         Plaintiff filed a petition for judicial review in state court pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80C on November 20, 2014. The petition was served on the Office of the Attorney General and the Maine Department of Corrections on November 14, 2014. (Id. ¶ 11.) Defendant Mendez terminated Plaintiff's employment on December 5, 2014.[3] (PASMF ¶ 20.) Defendant Mendez maintains that he had no knowledge of the Rule 80C petition when he made his decision to terminate Plaintiff from the plumber position. (DSMF ¶ 8.) Plaintiff, however, states he told Defendant Mendez that he had filed an action. (POSMF ¶ 8.)

         After Plaintiff filed his Rule 80C petition, the Department of Corrections, based on advice from the Attorney General's office, reversed its disciplinary decision and dismissed the disciplinary charge against Plaintiff. The Department restored the good time, refunded the monetary sanction and reimbursed Plaintiff's court filing fee.[4] (DSMF ¶ 12.) On March 20, 2015, the Attorney General's office filed a motion to dismiss the petition for judicial review as moot. On June 1, 2015, the state court granted the motion over Plaintiff's objection. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         The Maine Department of Corrections has in place a prisoner grievance policy that allows prisoners to “request administrative review of any policy, procedure, practice, condition of confinement, action, decision, or event that directly affects” the prisoner. (DSMF ¶ 15.) The Prisoner Grievance Policy provides that “[t]he prisoner shall state, using one grievance form only, as briefly and concisely as possible, the specific nature of the complaint, including all the persons and dates involved.” (ECF No. 62-12, PageID # 522, ¶ 12.)

         On June 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed a grievance in which he stated, “I was only fired because I was found guilty for the report and for no other reason.” (DSMF ¶ 16; Grievance Paperwork (six exhibits), ECF No. 62-13.) Plaintiff did not mention a claim of retaliation in the grievance. (Id.) The grievance process at the prison includes complaints for unlawful retaliation. (DSMF ¶ 15.) As part of the grievance, Plaintiff expressed a willingness to “accept a different job with the same pay of $200.00 per month.” (PageID # 529.) In response to the grievance, Defendant Mendez noted that an informal resolution, which is the initial stage of the grievance process, was not available because Plaintiff was not entitled to reinstatement, but could apply for the position when available. (Id.) Grievance Review Officer Wendell Atkinson responded similarly to Plaintiff's level 1 grievance. (PageID # 530.)

         In his appeal from the level 1 denial of his grievance, Plaintiff argued that the expungement of the guilty finding should result in his return to his work. He requested that he be reinstated with back pay. (PageID # 531.) The appeal was denied, and the reviewing officer determined that work supervisors have the authority to remove a prisoner from a work assignment. (PageID # 532.) In his appeal from the level 2 denial, Plaintiff contended that his “boss” had not fired him, but instead, after 71 days, fired him because he lost his disciplinary appeal. (PageID # 533.) On August 12, 2015, Commissioner Fitzpatrick denied the final appeal. According to Commissioner Fitzpatrick: “Termination from a work assignment has its own appeal process and, therefore, this matter is not grievable.” (PageID # 534.)

         Although Plaintiff was classified as a medium-custody inmate, he was assigned to the close unit in a single-occupancy cell, principally because he has a colostomy bag. (PSAMF ¶ 24; Client Classification Form, ECF No. 79-3, PageID # 651.) According to Plaintiff, on July 13, 2015, he gave Defendants Abbott, Mendez and Ross a copy of his complaint in this matter before he filed it on August 20, 2015. On July 17, 2015, Plaintiff's housing classification was changed and he was moved to a double cell in the medium custody unit. (Addendum to Complaint, ECF No. 1-2, PageID # 21; POSMF ¶ 23.)[5]Defendant Mendez asserts that he was unaware of this federal case when he decided to transfer Plaintiff to the medium unit. (DSMF ¶ 23.)

         Most prisoners who were transferred to the medium unit at the time were required to double-bunk, although the specific assignments were made by the medium unit manager. A number of prisoners, particularly those who had been accustomed to living in a single cell for a long time, voiced strong complaints about the change. (DSMF ¶ 21.) While Defendant Mendez asserts that Plaintiff's transfer in July 2015 was related to a decision to reclassify Plaintiff to medium custody in February 2015 (DSMF ¶ 22), Plaintiff in fact was already classified as medium. In addition, although Defendant Mendez stated that on July 17, 2015, he selected eleven prisoners, including Plaintiff, to be transferred to the medium unit (id.), for several months prior to Plaintiff's transfer, the prison ...

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