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Second Circuit Court of Appeals Partly Overturns New York District Court, Allows Prisoner’s PREA Violations Claims to Proceed

The court’s October 5, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Taheen Hayes after his civil rights action was dismissed by the district court. Hayes’s complaint alleged that he was sexually molested on April 15, 2016, by guard T. Dahlke during a routine pat frisk.

Hayes averred that Dahlke’s clothed frisk of him lasted five to eight minutes, during which Dahlke “had his lower body (genitals) pressed up against [Hayes’s] butt and tightly pressed his hands down [Hayes’s] back and into the crack of his butt (inside) all the way down and around his groin.” Hayes testified during his deposition that Dahlke “lifted up and was going around” his testicles.

While Dahlke did not make sexual comments during the frisk, he asked questions of that nature while searching Hayes’ cell. Hayes alleged Dahlke asked him, “Do you consider yourself a male or female?” and “do you s--- d---- or f--- men?”

Later that day and the next, Hayes contacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act hotline. He also filed a written grievance. He was subsequently subjected to an alleged false disciplinary report by guard K. Hoffman as retaliation for his grievance. That caused another round of grievances. Following his release from segregation, Hayes was allegedly threatened with additional segregation by Superintendent Daniel Martuscello if he continued to pursue his grievances. That matter also was grieved. Hayes further alleged guards Jason A. Meier and Gregory E. Langtry attacked and beat him as retaliation for his grievances.

Hayes followed the steps of the grievance procedure. Under DOCCS’ grievance procedure, CORC “shall review each appeal [and] render a decision on the grievance … within 30 calendar days from the time the appeal was received.” An extension can only be granted “with the written consent of the grievant.” Finally, without an extension, “matters not decided within the time limits may be appealed to the next step.”

At the time Hayes filed his civil complaint that alleged First and Eighth Amendment claims, more than 30 days had elapsed on all of the grievances he submitted to CORC, except the grievance related to Martuscello’s alleged threat. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgement, finding Dahlke’s conduct did not violate the Eighth Amendment and that Hayes failed to exhaust administrative remedies on the other claims.

The Second Circuit disagreed as to the exhaustion issue. It held DOCCS’ grievance procedure “imposes a mandatory deadline for the CORC to respond.” The court said the exhaustion requirement requires a prisoner to follow all the steps of a prison’s grievance procedure, but it does not “allow prison officials to stall the resolution of complaints - meritorious or not - for an indefinite period of time.”

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Related legal case

Hayes v. Dahlke