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They say that the pen is mightier than the sword — unless, of course, the pen is defective. And according to two Connecticut inmates, the pens they have been supplied with through the Department of Corrections commissary are exactly that. Inmate Christopher Shuckra, who is serving a 15-year sentence for first degree assault, and inmate Juan Santiago, currently serving 140 years for murder, have brought a product liability claim against DOC Commissioner John Armstrong and the Bic Corporation for allegedly conspiring to sell defective ballpoint pens to inmates Shuckra and Santiago. The two inmates, who are acting pro se, are seeking $275,000 in punitive and compensatory damages in their suit, and ask that Bic be required to market a non-defective product to the plaintiff-prisoners. On Nov. 28, Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman denied a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by the inmates. The motion had requested that Armstrong allow the two inmates to communicate on “litigation strategy,” possess certain legal papers, and refrain from transferring either of them out of the jurisdiction. “This court declines to afford another opportunity, albeit in the context of a lawsuit about the sale of pens in prison, for the plaintiff and his co-litigant to engage in a fruitless quest to shop for a judge who will buy their argument,” Pittman wrote in her decision. Shuckra has been the plaintiff in 12 civil suits in state courts since 1994. Shuckra and Santiago first filed a complaint against Armstrong and Bic in August 2000, alleging that the pens sold to inmates in the commissary were “always defective in workmanship and quality.” The inmates also alleged that the defendants conspired to sell “a defective product [Bic pens] to plaintiffs for financial gain and knowingly engaged in illegal conduct at the expense of the plaintiffs.” The inmates also claim that because Bic prides itself on selling a quality product, namely pens that “write the first time, every time,” the Connecticut corporation was conspiring to sell defective writing instruments to inmates. Both Assistant Attorney General Perry Zinn-Rowthorn, who represents Armstrong, and attorney Steve Malitz of Halloran & Sage, who represents Bic, have filed motions to dismiss the complaint. Zinn-Rowthorn said he thought the case should be dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds and that, because under state statue if the state does not waive its immunity, the inmates must first obtain consent from the claims commissioner to bring the suit to superior court. According to a representative in the claims commissioner’s office, the claim was originally filed in February, but had not been properly filled out by the plaintiffs. However, a correct claim was filed with the office in August. The representative indicated that the plaintiffs’ request for a review of the case would “take awhile,” and that a position statement from the attorney general’s office had not yet been received. Malitz said his client, Bic, declined to comment on pending litigation. “Our motion speaks for itself,” Malitz said. “We obviously think this is a very weak matter.”

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