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Condon v. Bouffard

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 21, 2018

JOHN JAY CONDON, Plaintiff
v.
RODNEY BOUFFARD, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff, a former inmate at the Maine State Prison (the prison), alleges Defendants Rodney Bouffard, Troy Ross, and Jody Breton violated his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, and the First Amendment Petition Clause. Plaintiff alleges Defendants, officials at the prison, subjected him to prolonged confinement in segregation and, after he petitioned for review of administrative action in state court, transferred him to the Zephyrhills Correctional Institution in Florida.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 70.) Following review and consideration of the parties' summary judgment filings and the record, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.[1]

         I. Background

         In response to Plaintiff's verified complaint (Complaint, ECF Nos. 1, 1-1, 1-2), Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Motion, ECF No. 6), which the Court granted in part. (ECF Nos. 17, 37.) The Court dismissed Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim, but denied the motion with respect to Plaintiff's due process, equal protection, and retaliation claims.

         Defendants contend the summary judgment record establishes that the conditions of confinement experienced by Plaintiff in the Special Management Unit (SMU), the prison's segregation unit, did not constitute an atypical and significant hardship; that the process regarding Plaintiff's administrative segregation complied with due process; that the law permitted Defendants to transfer Plaintiff to an out-of-state facility without providing notice or a hearing; that the funds taken from Plaintiff to pay the cost of shipping his property to Florida have been restored, mooting the property claim; and that Defendant Bouffard, the warden of the prison, made the decision to transfer Plaintiff to Florida before Plaintiff filed his request for judicial review of administrative action in state court, and thus Plaintiff cannot demonstrate a retaliatory motive for the transfer to Florida.

         II. Material Facts [2]

         Plaintiff is serving a life sentence, imposed by the State of Maine, following his conviction in 1982 on three counts of murder. For most of the past thirty years, Plaintiff served his sentence in federal prison facilities. On April 20, 2012, at the request of the Maine Department of Corrections, Plaintiff was transferred to the Maine State Prison. (DSMF ¶¶ 1 - 3.) In letters written to administrators at the prison, Plaintiff admitted that he killed another prisoner in 1993 while incarcerated in a federal corrections facility.[3] (Id. ¶ 4.) Upon his arrival at the prison, Plaintiff was advised that his behavior would be monitored closely and that, if there were problems with his return to Maine, officials would seek another placement for him. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         On March 4, 2014, a prisoner told Antonio Mendez, Unit Manager of the Close Unit to which Plaintiff was assigned, that Plaintiff expressed an intention to kill Holly Harris, another Unit Manager of the Close Unit. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff denies threatening to kill or otherwise harm Ms. Harris or anyone else. (PRSMF ¶ 6.)

         Due to Plaintiff's history of violent behavior, prison officials immediately placed Plaintiff on emergency observation status (EOS) in the SMU. (DSMF ¶ 7.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff's status was changed to “administrative segregation, ” and he remained in the SMU until he was transferred to Florida on October 28, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 22.)

         Under Maine prison policy in effect at the Maine State Prison, the placement of a prisoner in EOS and administrative segregation is not dependent on whether a prisoner is charged with or found guilty of a disciplinary infraction. A prisoner can be placed and maintained in segregation if the prisoner presents an immediate danger to staff or other prisoners even if the prisoner is not charged with a disciplinary offense. (DSMF ¶ 9.)

         Conditions of confinement in the SMU

         According to Defendants, the living conditions in the SMU are approximately the same as in the general population: cells in the SMU and in the close and medium custody, general population units are approximately the same size; cells in all three custody levels have exterior windows and are equipped with tray slots in the doors, although the tray slots in SMU have an additional plastic covering for security; prisoners in all custody levels may turn off their cell lights, but a low light level is always on to allow security staff to observe prisoners during counts; and cells in all custody levels are furnished similarly. (Id. ¶ 10.) Prisoners in the SMU are allowed to speak with each other and with staff, although the opportunity for physical interaction between prisoners in SMU is more restricted than in general population units. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Prisoners in administrative segregation are allowed out of their cells a minimum of one hour each day, five days per week, for exercise, including outdoor exercise in fenced areas. (Id. ¶ 12.) When Plaintiff was assigned to the SMU, an increasing number of programs were introduced, and prisoners were allowed to participate in many of the programs. Depending on the number of programs in which a prisoner might participate, a prisoner on administrative segregation status could be out of his or her cell an additional six and a half hours each week. (Id.) Prisoners in administrative segregation were allowed one telephone call and one non-contact visit each week, were allowed to send and receive mail, and were permitted to possess written legal materials, stationery, religious materials and leisure reading materials. Unlike general population prisoners, they were not permitted to possess electronic devices such as radios, televisions and electronic games. Prisoners in the SMU were allowed access to a special “thin client” computer terminal to perform legal research and could also use computers installed in some SMU cells for specific programs. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         Contrary to Defendants' characterization, Plaintiff contends prisoners remain in their cells for 23 hours each day, if not longer, and that the only outside recreation is a fenced in “dog run” measuring approximately five by fifteen yards. (Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Declaration ¶¶ 14 - 15, ECF No. 89.) Communication with other prisoners in the SMU occurs through each prisoner's steel cell door, which requires prisoners to “scream” to communicate. (Id. ¶ 15.) Canteen food purchases are not permitted. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff was provided a pen with which to write, but it was a “child's safety pen, ” and he did not have access to a chair or a desk at which to write or eat. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff asserts that his experience was exacerbated by the fact that he was not told he could be transferred, and that he worried he “would live out the remainder of [his] life in some obscure SMU cell.” (Id. ¶ 26.)

         Plaintiff asserts a prisoner in the general population has much greater liberty, including an open cell door for approximately 12 - 14 hours each day, the ability to leave the cell to obtain canteen items and access a microwave oven, socialize and play games with other prisoners at a card table, take a shower, make a phone call, leave the unit to access outdoor recreational yards measured in acres, toss footballs or play softball, access a gym, visit a “well-stocked leisure library, ” use a word processor, get a haircut, attend club functions, attend religious activities, attend classes, attend musical functions, work in the green house, and eat alongside other prisoners. (Id. ¶¶ 15 - 18.)

         Administrative segregation review

         Plaintiff was in administrative segregation in the SMU for approximately eight months. Pursuant to the Department of Corrections' policy, a management team reviewed Plaintiff's placement in administrative segregation on twelve occasions in 2014: March 10, March 20, March 27, April 1, April 14, April 17, April 23, May 23, June 11, June 24, July 30, and August 29. (DSMF ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was present for and could participate in most of the reviews. (Id.) He was not allowed to attend on May 23 and June 24. (Plaintiff's Summary Judgment Declaration (PSJD) ¶ 23, ECF No. 89.) Defendant Breton, the Associate Commissioner, acting as the Commissioner's designee, conducted a six month review on September 5. (DSMF ¶ 14.)

         At an early stage of Plaintiff's assignment to the SMU, the prison's management, including Defendant Bouffard, Deputy Warden Tausek and Defendant Ross, discussed Plaintiff's situation. The officials were concerned about the danger Plaintiff presented to prison staff, and the impact of an extended period in segregation. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the prison and, after a period of time in administrative segregation, he expressed a preference for a transfer out of state in federal custody. (Id. ¶ 16; PSJD ¶ 25.)

         Transfer to Florida

         In mid-May 2014, Defendant Bouffard, with Defendant Ross' agreement, decided to request that Plaintiff be transferred out of state. (DSMF ¶ 18.) On May 16, 2014, Defendant Bouffard wrote to Scott McCaffery, the Department's Director of Classification, requesting the transfer. (DSMF ¶ 19.) According to Plaintiff, he was never informed that Defendants were pursuing the transfer and only learned of it on the date he was transported out of the prison. (PSJD ¶ 26.) He asserts it would have “eased [his] mind considerably” if he had been informed. (Id.)

         The Department of Corrections transfers prisoners to other states on a one-for-one exchange basis, and it often takes some time to find a state interested in such an exchange. (Id. ¶ 20.) When a state places a prisoner in the federal system, the state must pay the federal government to incarcerate the prisoner; when a state exchanges a prisoner for a prisoner in another state under the Interstate Compact, the state does not incur an additional cost. For this reason, the Department of Corrections attempts to avoid transferring a prisoner to the federal system whenever possible. (Id. ¶ 21.) Eventually, Mr. McCaffery arranged for Plaintiff's transfer to the Florida Department of Corrections. Plaintiff left the Maine State Prison on October 28, 2014. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         Plaintiff asserts that he was subjected to more severe conditions for more than a year following his transfer to Florida. Plaintiff states that he has “no argument with the conditions of … SMU confinement, ” but the conditions in Florida “matched toe-to-toe with the conditions at the Ohio State Penitentiary mentioned in Wilkinson v. Austin.” (PSJD ¶¶ 28, 30.) Plaintiff maintains Defendants are responsible for the difficulties he experienced in Florida because he believes that statements Defendants made about his conduct caused the administrators of the Florida facility to place him under especially difficult conditions when he arrived. (Id. ¶¶ 31 - 32.) Defendants represent that they did “not have any say” as to where administrators in Florida placed Plaintiff. (DSMF ¶ 23.)

         Retaliation Claim

         Defendants assert Defendant Bouffard was not aware that Plaintiff had filed a petition for judicial review in state court in July 2014 regarding his confinement in the SMU; that Defendant Bouffard asked Mr. McCaffery to arrange for Plaintiff's transfer out of state two months before Plaintiff filed the petition; and that Plaintiff's petition for judicial review was ...


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