A judge has dismissed a complaint filed by two state inmates who said the same guard fondled them during frisks in 2011, violating their Eighth Amendment rights.
Northern District Judge Norman Mordue (See Profile) did not address the merits of the lawsuit, but he concluded that even if the abuse occurred at the Eastern Correctional Facility, as inmates James Crawford and Thaddeus Corley allege, neither instance was “sufficiently severe” or “sufficiently serious” enough to rise to violate their constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
Mordue made his ruling from Syracuse in Crawford v. Cuomo, 9:13-cv-406.
The judge said that contrary to arguments by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Boddie v. Schneider, 105 F.3d 857 (2d Cir. 1997), is the relevant standard to determine if sexual abuse in the corrections context represents an Eighth Amendment violation.
In Boddie, a male inmate claimed a female corrections officer repeatedly rubbed her breasts and pelvis against him despite his efforts to get away from her.
The Second Circuit ruled that although “despicable,” the actions of the female officer in Boddie failed to qualify as an Eighth Amendment claim because they were “isolated,” were not severe enough to be “objectively, sufficiently serious” and were not “cumulatively egregious in the harm they inflicted.”
The same reasoning, Mordue wrote, applied to the abuse claims by Crawford and Corley.
Crawford contended he was abused by Corrections Officer Simon Prindle on March 16, 2011. He said the officer stopped him as he exited a mess hall and instructed him to put his hands against the wall to be frisked. According to Crawford’s complaint, the officer put a knee in Crawford’s back and “squeezed and roamed with his hands around Mr. Crawford’s penis and down his thigh.”
Four days earlier, at the same prison, Corley said the officer took him out of the visiting room for a frisk. According to the complaint, the officer “paused to fondle and squeeze Mr. Corley’s penis.”
Mordue ruled that both Eighth Amendment claims failed to state a claim for relief that is “plausible on its face.”
“Crawford alleges conduct that is no more objectively severe than the conduct found insufficient in Boddie and numerous district court cases,” Mordue wrote. “He alleges only a single incident, which was not excessive in duration.”
The judge continued that Crawford was fully clothed during the incident, that he does not allege that Prindle touched him beneath his clothing and that the inmate “does not allege physical injury, penetration, or pain.”
The judge found the circumstances to be essentially the same with the contact alleged by Corley.
“This single, brief incident was not severe enough to be objectively, sufficiently serious as required by Boddie,” the Mordue wrote.
Mordue rejected the contention by the plaintiffs’ attorneys that Rodriguez v. McClenning, 399 F.Supp.2d 228 (S.D.N.Y. 2005), represented a departure from Boddie. In Rodriguez, Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin (See Profile) found that standards of decency had evolved to the point where a guard’s fondling of an inmate’s genitals during a frisk was objectionable under the Eighth Amendment.
But Mordue said the “vast majority of district court decisions” in the circuit since 1997 followed Boddie and it remains the standard for analyses of sex abuse allegations involving prison personnel.
Mordue also dismissed the inmates’ supervisory liability claims against Eastern Superintendent William Brown and against unnamed corrections officers for exhibiting indifference as they witnessed the alleged abuse.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Services declined to comment.
It also declined to say whether Prindle was disciplined complained about, though it said Friday he remains on staff as a corrections officer at Eastern.
Assistant Attorney General Richard Lombardo defended the state.
He wrote in a reply memorandum of law before Mordue that the incidents described by Crawford and Corley were exactly the kind of “isolated episodes of harassment and touching” that Boddie said do not constitute Eighth Amendment violations.
Adam Perlmutter and Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, both of Manhattan, represented the plaintiffs.
Perlmutter said the inmates’ claim will continue, either through an appeal of Mordue’s ruling in federal court or in a state court action. A state court claim would be based on an alleged violation of the cruel and unusual punishment principles of the state Constitution rather than the federal Constitution.
“We think there is a pattern and practice by the corrections officer that is very disturbing and needs to be addressed,” Perlmutter said.in an inteview Friday.
Perlmuttter said he was not aware of any disciplinary action against Prindle
According to Mordue’s ruling, Crawford has recently been released on parole while Corley remains imprisoned.
The corrections officer was a defendant in the lawsuit that Mordue dismissed.