Amador v. Andrews, 03 Civ. 0650 (KTD) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This action, filed in January 2003, challenges the sexual abuse–including forcible rape–of women prisoners by state correctional officers throughout the state prison system, and a failure by facility and departmental administrators to supervise and train their staff, to investigate allegations of sexual abuse thoroughly, and to discipline staff members who have engaged in sexual abuse of prisoners. (The present supervisory attitude is summed up in the unwritten rule that officers cannot be disciplined, or even transferred to different assignments, without physical proof of the abuse.) The case seeks an injunction to reform these supervisory failures and damages for many of the 15 named plaintiffs, who have suffered abuse or rape by male staff.

Current Status: The class certification motion was fully submitted in October 2003. The defendants moved to dismiss the case for reasons including failure to exhaust administrative remedies. On exhaustion, we submitted substantial briefing as well as psychological and security expert reports addressing the relationship among rape, post-traumatic stress disorder, and women’s ability to make use of prison grievance procedures, supported by amici curiae the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, NOW New York, and other organizations. Depositions and documentary discovery on the individual plaintiffs’ claims went forward.

In December 2007, four years after the motions to dismiss and for class certification were filed, the court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ injunctive claims and all but six of the plaintiffs’ damages claims on the grounds that most of them failed to exhaust the prison grievance system, even though they had complained to the prison system’s Inspector General system, which is where grievances about sexual abuse are referred, and even though the prison system instructed women subjected to such conduct to complain to anyone they are comfortable with. The claims of some women who did file grievances were dismissed on the ground that they had been released from prison during the years the motions awaited decision. One woman who had filed a grievance and was still in prison had her injunctive claim dismissed on the ground that her grievance did not name the supervisory defendants or spell out the underlying prison policies and procedures that led to her being assaulted—even though by alleging assault she was be definition alleging that the Department’s “zero tolerance” policy was not working, and even though prisoners cannot comply with such a rule since they are not privy to internal prison policies and procedures.

We regard this decision as contrary to law in multiple respects. If it stands, it would preclude any effective remedy for the widespread and long-standing pattern of sexual abuse of women prisoners. The Second Circuit granted our request for an interlocutory appeal. Oral argument took place in June 2009, and we await the court’s decision. Meanwhile, we are moving forward with the remaining damages claims.

Persons Affected: Roughly 3,000 women prisoners in the seven state women’s prisons.

Reported decisions: Amador v. Superintendents of Dep’t of Correctional Services, 2007 WL 4326747 (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 4, 2007); Amador v. Superintendents of Dep’t of Correctional Services, 2005 WL 2234050 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2005) (dismissing some named plaintiffs for lack of standing, requesting additional briefing on other issues).