CHIN, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiff-appellant Ellis Walker brought this action below pro se, alleging that the conditions of his confinement in the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, New York ("FCI Ray Brook") amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Kahn, J.) granted defendants-appellees' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Walker appeals.
We conclude that Walker's complaint plausibly alleged violations of his constitutional rights, except as to two defendants. We therefore affirm in part and vacate in part and remand for further proceedings.
The following facts are drawn from Walker's pro se complaint, and we assume them to be true for purposes of this appeal. On November 18, 2008, while Walker was an inmate at FCI Ray Brook, he was placed in a six-man cell. Compl. ¶ 1. The cell was approximately 170 to 174 square feet in size, providing each prisoner with 28 to 29 square feet of total space, and "less than 6-square feet moving space," which was not enough space "to even turn or move in the 6-man cell." Id. ¶ 4 & n. 3. In addition to the six prisoners, the cell contained their bunk beds, their belongings, two toilets, and two sinks. Id. ¶¶ 4, 8, 19. The prisoners were required to be in their cells each day from approximately 9:15 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and for 45-minute periods each mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Id. ¶ 23.
Walker, who is 6'4" tall and weighs 255 pounds, was assigned to one of the top bunk beds for four months. Id. ¶ 4 n. 3. The bed itself was only twenty-eight inches wide — four inches narrower than what guards told Walker was the required width of beds — which forced Walker "to sleep on his side; rotating back and forth."
Walker's cellmates included gang members, non-gang members, and men of different races. Id. ¶¶ 5, 6, 11, 12. Mixing inmates from different backgrounds caused "insurmountable problems," including fights, friction, and violence throughout the prison. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5, 6, 11, 12. The "overcrowding, gang activities, violence... [and] fights" in the cell placed Walker "in a situation to kill or be killed." Id. ¶ 12. Further, because the cell was so crowded and noisy, the prison guards would not know when prisoners were fighting unless another prisoner alerted them. Id. ¶ 13.
Walker's five cellmates stayed up all night watching television and playing games, which led to "hollering, screaming and sometimes fights." Id. ¶ 15. In addition, his cellmates "constantly" had other prisoners running into the cell "using the toilet/sink and making noise." Id. ¶ 22. Walker got "almost no sleep" and was "tired most of the time," because "[t]he noise inside the cell [was] constant and loud." Id. ¶ 14. Walker got so little sleep that there was "no way [he] could work on a job 8 hours/day without hurting himself or someone else." Id. ¶ 16.
Walker's cell was also unsanitary, with so much "urine ... on the floor and sometimes... on the toilet" that the toilet required cleaning "[a]t least 15-20 times per day." Id. ¶¶ 19, 20. Walker's cellmates warned him that "urin[e] or defecat[ion] would splatter to the floor." Id. ¶ 19. The inmates were not provided sufficient cleaning supplies or equipment to keep the toilet and surrounding area clean. Id. ¶¶ 18, 20. Thus, Walker had to use his personal soap and dishwashing liquid to clean the toilets and cell. Id. ¶¶ 18-20 & n. 5.
Finally, Walker's cell was inadequately ventilated, such that "during the winter the cell [was] cold and [during the] summer months extremely hot and quite difficult to breathe." Id. ¶ 21.
Walker still resided in the six-man cell when he filed his complaint on March 16, 2011 — nearly twenty-eight months after having been placed there on November 18, 2008.
According to Walker, defendants were aware of and did nothing to remedy the conditions in his cell. FCI Ray Brook wardens Deborah G. Schult and Russell Perdue,
Walker pursued his administrative remedies, but alleged that defendants interfered with and obstructed his efforts to obtain relief. Id. ¶¶ 24-27.
On March 16, 2011, Walker, proceeding pro se, filed the instant action alleging that defendants violated his constitutional rights while he was imprisoned at FCI Ray Brook.
On August 25, 2011, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on (1) Walker's failure to exhaust administrative remedies; (2) Walker's failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; (3) Walker's failure to allege defendants' personal involvement in the constitutional violations; and (4) qualified immunity.
By report and recommendation filed on January 20, 2012, Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece recommended dismissing Walker's complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The Magistrate Judge noted that he was unable to properly assess whether Walker fully exhausted his available administrative remedies or whether defendants should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as an affirmative defense. With respect to Walker's allegation that his cell lacked a ladder to access his top bunk bed, the Magistrate Judge recommended in the alternative granting the motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. The Magistrate Judge also recommended dismissing the claims against Sepanek and Lappin for failure to serve them.
On March 27, 2012, the district court adopted the report and recommendation in full and dismissed the case.
This appeal followed.
Motions To Dismiss
"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. In exercising this review, our "task is necessarily a limited one. The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); accord DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 113 (2d Cir.2010) ("In ruling on a motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the duty of a court is merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
Where, as here, the complaint was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally "to raise the strongest arguments [it] suggest[s]." Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir.2006) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). Nonetheless, a pro se complaint must state a plausible claim for relief. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 73 (2d Cir.2009).
We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true and drawing all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir.2002).
2. The Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. Although the Constitution does not require "comfortable" prison conditions, the conditions of confinement may not "involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 349, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981).
To state an Eighth Amendment claim based on conditions of confinement, an inmate must allege that: (1) objectively, the deprivation the inmate suffered was "sufficiently serious that he was denied the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," and (2) subjectively, the defendant official acted with "a sufficiently culpable state of mind ..., such as deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety." Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir.2001) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
To meet the objective element, the inmate must show that the conditions, either alone or in combination, pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his health. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392; Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185 (2d Cir.2002) (per curiam). Thus, prison officials violate the Constitution when they deprive an inmate of his "basic human needs" such as food, clothing, medical care, and safe and sanitary living conditions. Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]here is no static test to determine whether a deprivation is sufficiently serious; the conditions themselves must be evaluated in light of contemporary standards of decency." Jabbar v. Fischer, 683 F.3d 54, 57 (2d Cir.2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, conditions of confinement may be aggregated to rise to the level of a constitutional violation, but "only when they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the deprivation of a single, identifiable human need such as food, warmth, or exercise." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 304, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991) (noting that "low cell temperature at night combined with a failure to issue blankets" may establish an Eighth Amendment violation).
To meet the subjective element, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with "more than mere negligence." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835, 114 S.Ct. 1970. To constitute deliberate indifference, "[t]he prison official must know of, and disregard, an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Jabbar, 683 F.3d at 57. Evidence that a risk was "obvious or otherwise must have been known to a defendant" may be sufficient for a fact finder to conclude that the defendant was actually aware of the risk. Brock v. Wright, 315 F.3d 158, 164 (2d Cir.2003).
A federal official is entitled to qualified immunity from suit for money damages unless the plaintiff shows that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and that the right was "clearly established" at the time of the challenged conduct. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2080, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)).
"A Government official's conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right." Id. at 2083 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Courts "do
Although courts should resolve the question of qualified immunity at the "earliest possible stage in litigation," Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009), "a defendant presenting an immunity defense on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion instead of a motion for summary judgment must accept the more stringent standard applicable to this procedural route," McKenna v. Wright, 386 F.3d 432, 436 (2d Cir.2004).
We conclude that the district court erred by dismissing Walker's complaint for failure to state a claim. First, he plausibly alleged conditions that, perhaps alone and certainly in combination, deprived him of a minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. Second, he plausibly alleged that defendants were deliberately indifferent to this deprivation. Third, he plausibly alleged violations of clearly established rights. We address each of these issues in turn.
The Conditions of Confinement
Walker plausibly alleged that his conditions of confinement at FCI Ray Brook deprived him of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities and subjected him to unreasonable health and safety risks. He alleged that for approximately twenty-eight months, he was confined in a cell with five other men, with inadequate space and ventilation, stifling heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, unsanitary conditions, including urine and feces splattered on the floor, insufficient cleaning supplies, a mattress too narrow for him to lie on flat, and noisy, crowded conditions that made sleep difficult and placed him at constant risk of violence and serious harm from cellmates. Based on these allegations, we conclude that Walker has plausibly alleged cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
First, it is well settled that exposing prisoners to extreme temperatures without adequate ventilation may violate the Eighth Amendment. See Gaston, 249 F.3d at 164 ("We have held that an Eighth Amendment claim may be established by proof that the inmate was subjected for a prolonged period to bitter cold."); see also, e.g., Corselli v. Coughlin, 842 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir.1988) (claims that inmate was exposed to subfreezing temperatures for three months with ice forming in toilet bowl were sufficient to raise issues of fact for jury, even where prison officials gave inmate extra blanket).
Second, sleep is critical to human existence, and conditions that prevent sleep have been held to violate the Eighth Amendment. See Tafari v. McCarthy, 714 F.Supp.2d 317, 367 (N.D.N.Y.2010) ("Courts have previously recognized that sleep constitutes a basic human need and conditions that prevent sleep violate an inmate's constitutional rights.") (citing Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716, 720 (5th Cir.1999)); see also, e.g., Wright v. McMann, 387 F.2d 519, 521-22, 526 (2d Cir.1967) (inmate stated Eighth Amendment claim by alleging he was "forced to sleep completely nude on the cold rough
Third, we have long recognized that unsanitary conditions in a prison cell can, in egregious circumstances, rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment. See Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96, 106 (2d Cir.1981) (noting that prisoners are entitled to, inter alia, sanitation); LaReau v. MacDougall, 473 F.2d 974, 978 (2d Cir. 1972) ("Causing a man to live, eat and perhaps sleep in close confines with his own human waste is too debasing and degrading to be permitted."); Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 365 (3d Cir. 1992) (noting that the denial of "basic sanitation... is cruel and unusual because, in the worst case, it can result in physical torture, and, even in less serious cases, it can result in pain without any penological purpose." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
Further, the failure to provide prisoners with toiletries and other hygienic materials may rise to the level of a constitutional violation. See Trammell v. Keane, 338 F.3d 155, 165 (2d Cir.2003) ("[T]his court and other circuits have recognized that deprivation of toiletries, and especially toilet paper, can rise to the level of unconstitutional conditions of confinement...."); see also, e.g., Atkins v. Cnty. of Orange, 372 F.Supp.2d 377, 406 (S.D.N.Y.2005) ("The failure to regularly provide prisoners with ... toilet articles including soap, razors, combs, toothpaste, toilet paper, access to a mirror and sanitary napkins for female prisoners constitutes a denial of personal hygiene and sanitary living conditions." (internal quotations marks and citations omitted)). Availability of hygienic materials is particularly important in the context of otherwise unsanitary living conditions. See, e.g., MacDougall, 473 F.2d at 978.
In dismissing Walker's complaint, the district court improperly "assay[ed] the weight of the evidence," DiFolco, 622 F.3d at 113, and failed to draw all reasonable inferences in Walker's favor. For example, the district court found that Walker's failure to indicate "the exact extent or duration of [his] exposure to unsanitary conditions" was fatal to his Eighth Amendment claim. Similarly, the court held that Walker's allegations of inadequate ventilation were insufficient because he did not provide any details about the temperatures in his cell. Such detailed allegations, however, are not required for a pro se complaint to survive a motion to dismiss. Moreover, Walker alleged that he was placed in the six-man cell on November 18, 2008 and was still there when he filed his complaint on March 16, 2011. He also alleged that it was so hot during the summer that he had difficulty breathing, and it was so cold during the winter that ice formed inside the cell windows. Drawing all reasonable inferences in Walker's favor, these allegations plausibly alleged that the conditions persisted for twenty-eight months and that the temperatures were extreme enough to state an Eighth Amendment claim.
Further, the district court erred by dismissing Walker's claims of overcrowding on the ground that "[t]he twenty-nine square feet that Plaintiff complains about having in his six-person cell is fundamentally the same complaint confronted by the Supreme Court in Rhodes [v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981),] and by the Northern District [of New York] in Chapdelaine [v. Keller, No. 95-CV-1126, 1998 WL 357350, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23017 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 16, 1998)]." Rhodes and Chapdelaine are plainly distinguishable for three reasons. First, while the Supreme Court in Rhodes found that the thirty-one square feet afforded each inmate in that case did not violate the Eighth Amendment, see Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, it did not hold that that amount of living space was sufficient as a matter of law. Rather, housing multiple inmates together in one cell "can amount to an Eighth Amendment violation if combined with other adverse conditions." Bolton v. Goord, 992 F.Supp. 604, 626 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (quoting Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 67 (3d Cir.1996)). Here, Walker plausibly alleged that the overcrowding and lack of living space in his cell were exacerbated by the ventilation, noise, sanitation, and safety issues, leading to deprivations of specific life necessities.
Second, in contrast to the six-man cell to which Walker was assigned, the inmates in Rhodes and Chapdelaine were housed in two-man and four-man cells, respectively. See Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 343, 101 S.Ct. 2392 (plaintiffs were assigned to two-man cells
Third, Rhodes and Chapdelaine were decided after development of the factual record. See Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 340-41, 342-43, 101 S.Ct. 2392 (noting that district court had made "extensive findings of fact about [the prison] on the basis of evidence presented at trial and the court's own observations during an inspection that it conducted without advance notice," which showed that the prison was "unquestionably a top-flight, first-class facility" (internal quotation marks omitted)); Chapdelaine, 1998 WL 357350, at *1-2, *5-6, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23017, at *3-4, *13-15 (treating defendants' motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment "[s]ince the parties ... submitted affidavits and exhibits"). Here, in contrast, Walker has not had any opportunity to take discovery or develop the record.
Accordingly, the district court erred by concluding as a matter of law that Walker failed to allege objectively serious conditions that denied him the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.
Liberally construed, Walker's complaint adequately alleged that defendants knew of and disregarded the excessive risks to his health and safety to which he was exposed at FCI Ray Brook. Specifically, Walker alleged that "Defendants Schult, Perdue, Salamy, Sepanek, Porter, Carter, [and] Wagner" each "knew of the overcrowding" in his cell, Compl. ¶ 12, and that he "spoke with Defendant Schult four times about the unconstitutional 6-man cells," id. ¶ 2.
Because Walker set forth sufficient allegations of defendants' deliberate indifference, the district court erred by dismissing his complaint. See Gaston, 249 F.3d at 166 (asserting that defendant prison guards "made daily rounds of SHU" was sufficient to allege that defendants had actual knowledge of obvious inhumane conditions); Phelps, 308 F.3d at 186-87 (noting that a plaintiff's ability to prove facts such as subjective intent is an issue for summary judgment).
In so holding, we reaffirm that each prisoner complaint alleging a constitutional violation must be carefully analyzed in light of the particular facts contained therein. Here, the specific facts in Walker's complaint plausibly alleged a violation of the Eighth Amendment. But each complaint is different, and courts have the power and duty to dismiss complaints that contain only conclusory, frivolous, or implausible allegations.
Although the district court's discussion of qualified immunity was limited in scope, defendants assert on appeal that they are entitled to qualified immunity on all of Walker's claims because any constitutional rights they may have violated were not "clearly established."
Although federal officials' claims of qualified immunity should be decided as early as possible in a case, see Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, it would be premature to dismiss the case now on this basis. Rather, as we have noted previously, qualified immunity is often best decided on a motion for summary judgment when the details of the alleged deprivations are more fully developed. See Castro v. United States, 34 F.3d 106, 112 (2d Cir.1994) ("Although a defense of qualified immunity should ordinarily be decided at the earliest possible stage in litigation, and it is a defense that often can and should be decided on a motion for summary judgment, some limited and carefully tailored discovery may be needed before summary judgment will be appropriate." (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)); Warren v. Dwyer, 906 F.2d 70, 76 (2d Cir.1990) ("The better rule, we believe, is for the court to decide the issue of qualified immunity as a matter of law, preferably on a pretrial motion for summary judgment when possible....").
Because we hold that Walker's complaint plausibly alleged conditions of confinement that could constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and that defendants acted (or failed to act) with deliberate indifference, further facts are required to decide the question of qualified immunity. In light of the specific allegations here, it would be inappropriate to conclude as a matter of law at the pleadings stage of the litigation that defendants did not violate Walker's clearly established constitutional rights.
For the reasons stated above, the judgment of the district court is affirmed as to defendants Norwood and Lappin, and vacated as to defendants Schult, Perdue, Salamy, Sepanek, Porter, Carter, and Wagner. The case is remanded to the district
Pl.'s Opp. at 11, Walker v. Schult, No. 11 Civ. 0287 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2011), ECF No. 29. A district court deciding a motion to dismiss may consider factual allegations made by a pro se party in his papers opposing the motion. See, e.g., Gill v. Mooney, 824 F.2d 192, 195 (2d Cir.1987) (considering a pro se plaintiff's affidavit in opposition to a motion to dismiss in addition to those in the complaint).