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Mattei v. Dunbar

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 8, 2016

BENJAMIN DUNBAR, et al., Defendants.


          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge.

         This action arises out of alleged retaliation by a prison employee against an inmate at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk ("MCI-Norfolk"). Plaintiff Alexander Mattei, an inmate, worked in the prison metal shop, where he was supervised by defendant Benjamin Dunbar. After Mattei was passed over for a promotion, he filed a series of grievances against Dunbar. He was subsequently terminated from the metal shop. Months later, another inmate came forward alleging that Dunbar had asked him what he would want in return for "taking care" of Mattei.

         Mattei, who is proceeding pro se, contends that Dunbar retaliated against him for filing grievances in violation of the First Amendment. Specifically, he alleges that Dunbar denied him good-time credit, terminated him from his position in the industrial shop, and attempted to recruit another inmate to cause him physical harm, all in retaliation for filing grievances.

         Dunbar has moved for summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to Mattei as the non-moving party.

         Alexander Mattei has been an inmate at MCI-Norfolk since August 2009. (Def SMF ¶ 1). MCI-Norfolk has a metal shop that employs inmates. (Def. SMF. ¶ 4). It is divided into two units: Metal Shop I and Metal Shop II. (Def. SMF ¶ 5). Inmates are assigned to work in only one shop, but they can work in the other shop if there is a need and a supervisor reassigns them. (Def. SMF. ¶ 19).

         Defendant Dunbar is the Shop Manager of Metal Shop I and is in charge of supervising and training the inmates who work there. (Def. SMF (Id. ¶ 4). Mattei began working in Metal Shop I in October 2010. (Def. SMF ¶ 44).

         Mattei contends that he submitted the first of four grievances against Dunbar on April 19, 2012. (Mattei Dep. at 60-61). His first grievance alleged that despite being the most senior person in the metal shop eligible for a pay raise, he was unfairly passed over when the raise when to another inmate. (Mattei Dep. at 62). He stated that it was the second time his seniority had been ignored and he was passed over for a promotion. (Id.). Although MCI-Norfolk has a procedure for keeping track of inmate grievances, the prison has no record of the first grievance. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 98-100). Mattei, however, has produced a handwritten copy of his grievance. (Mattei Dep. at 61).

         Dunbar denies having any knowledge of the grievance. (Def. SMF ¶ 102). Mattei contends that Dunbar was aware of the grievance, and that he said he would "do something" for him so that he would be eligible for the next promotion. (Mattei Dep. at 69). Mattei further contends that Dunbar then assigned him to work with another inmate so that he could receive additional training and thus become eligible for a raise. (Mattei Dep. at 71-72). Mattei worked with that other inmate for approximately two weeks before he was transferred to Metal Shop II, where he worked from mid-May 2012 until October 2012. (Mattei Dep. at 70-72; Def SMF ¶ 110).

         Supervisors and industrial instructors at MCI-Norfolk rate the monthly performance of inmates in vocational and other programs as "satisfactory, " "unsatisfactory, " or "incomplete." (Def. SMF ¶ 40). Inmates may be awarded Earned Good Time credit on a monthly basis for "satisfactory performance" in an employment, educational, or training program. (Def. SMF ¶ 38-39). Inmates are also paid for "good and satisfactory work." (Def. SMF ¶ 42).

         Between the end of September and beginning of October 2012, Mattei learned that he had received an unsatisfactory rating on his performance evaluation for his Metal Shop I job in April 2012 and, therefore, did not earn good-time credit for that month. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 111-12). He contends that he was denied good-time credit for April 2012 in retaliation for the grievance he filed against Dunbar. (PI. SMF ¶¶ 80-82). He received good-time credit for every other month in which he worked in the Metal Shop. (Def. Ex. 3, Dep. Ex. 6).

         On October 10, 2012, Mattei filed a second grievance, contending that he was denied good-time credit in April 2012 in retaliation for filing the previous grievance. (Def. SMF ¶ 115).

         On October 15, 2012, Mattei completed his temporary assignment to Metal Shop II and returned to Metal Shop I. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 110, 127). Two days later, on October 17, Dunbar saw him removing a back brace. (Def. SMF ¶ 128). Metal Shop I did not have a back brace. (Def. SMF ¶ 131). Dunbar asked Mattei where the brace came from. (Def. SMF ¶ 128). Mattei responded that he had received the brace from another inmate in Metal Shop II. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 128, 133). Mattei contends that he had been wearing the back brace, over his clothes where it was easily visible, for several days before Dunbar confronted him about it. (PI. SMF ¶ 128). Dunbar called the supervisor of Metal Shop II, who told him that a back brace was missing and that he had not given Mattei permission to take it. (Def SMF ¶ 132). Mattei was aware of the institutional rules and regulations prohibiting inmates from getting property from another inmate without permission. (Mattei Dep. at 97). Noncompliance with any shop or institutional rule can be grounds for termination. (Def. SMF ¶ 17).

         On October 17, after Dunbar confronted Mattei about the back brace, the DOC's grievance coordinator interviewed Dunbar regarding the second grievance. (Def. SMF ¶ 118).

         Mattei was fired from his job in the Metal Shop two days later, on October 19. (PI. SMF ¶ 136). He was told that he was fired because he had taken the back brace without permission. (Def. SMF ¶¶136-37).

         Mattei contends that Dunbar fired him after the October 17 interview and in retaliation for filing grievances. (PI. SMF ¶¶ 117, 136). In January 2013, the grievance coordinator denied Mattel's second grievance. (Def. SMF ¶ 125). His request for good-time credit was also denied because of his unsatisfactory rating for April 2012. (Id.). His appeal of that denial was denied in February 2013. (Def. SMF ¶ 126).

         In November 2012, Mattei filed a third grievance, contending that he was fired in retaliation for filing grievances. (Def. SMF ¶ 138). Following another investigation, the grievance coordinator denied that grievance as well, stating that "the termination appeared appropriate" because he admitted using the back brace, which was a tool from another shop. (Def. SMF ¶ 141). He appealed, and that appeal was denied in January 2013. (DMF ¶ 142).

         On April 18, 2013, Jeff White, another inmate who worked in the Metal Shop, approached the Director of Security at MCI-Norfolk and reported that Dunbar had offered him Dunkin' Donuts to beat up Mattei. (Def SMF ¶ 179). According to White, he told Dunbar that he would not beat up Mattei. (Def. SMF ¶ 181). An investigation ensued. Dunbar denied the encounter with White. (Def. SMF ¶ 184). In May 2013, the investigation concluded and White's claim was found unsubstantiated. (Def. SMF ¶ 186).

         Mattei learned about White's allegations against Dunbar from another inmate, who in May 2013 gave him an affidavit drafted by White. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 195-96). White's affidavit was dated April 29, 2013. (Def. SMF ¶ 195). Mattei filed a fourth grievance against Dunbar on June 9, 2013, contending that Dunbar "tried to hire an inmate to assault him" in retaliation for filing grievances. (Def. SMF ¶ 196). On June 20, 2013, the grievance coordinator denied the grievance based on the prior investigation into White's allegations. (Def. SMF. ¶ 197).

         B. Procedu ...

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