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Sexual Assault Claim Against Suffolk County, New York Jail Moves Forward

By Christopher Zoukis

District Judge Ann M. Donnelly recently granted the Plaintiffs' motion to amend their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against the Suffolk County, New York jail, as well as the county sheriff and several officers. The complaint, initially brought by a class of female prisoners housed at the jail, alleges a pattern of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of male guards.

The motion aimed to add Janet Viola as a plaintiff in the case. Viola was a prisoner at the jail in 2010 when she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by jail guard Joseph Foti. The defendants alleged that the assault of Viola took place outside the statute of limitations and that Viola did not exhaust her administrative remedies, and as such, the amendment should not be allowed.

Judge Donnelly of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York allowed the amendment. The judge found that Viola had alleged some acts, including one sexual assault that occurred within three years of the suit. Moreover, the court ruled that Viola could not have exhausted her administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, because such remedies were not available to her. Specifically, the judge noted that "[a]n administrative remedy is not available when prison officials prevent inmates from using the grievance process through 'machination, misrepresentation or intimidation,'" which Viola specifically alleged to be the case.

The Plaintiffs, including Viola, are represented by lawyers from the New York office of Outten & Golden, LLP.

Case: Watts v. County of Suffolk, et al., United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Case No. 2:13-cv-01697 (AMD)(AKJ) (January 6, 2017).

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Related legal case

Watts v. County of Suffolk