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February 5, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, District Judge.



Plaintiff, John Baumann, brings this civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the Defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the following federal causes of action against Defendants: (1) violations of his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to provide (a) reasonably safe work conditions and (b) adequate medical care; and (2) violations of his Fourteenth Amendment rights by (a) subjecting him to pain, suffering, and emotional distress inconsistent with standards of human decency, (b) being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, and (c) denying him a liberty interest without due process through their deliberate indifference to his safety. Plaintiff further alleges the following state law claims: (1) Defendant McCollum violated state law prohibiting corrections officers from diagnosing inmates' medical complaints; (2) Defendants Byrnes and Spyker-Oles violated state law by failing to provide medical care consistent with medical care given non-inmates and by deliberately disregarding their duty to provide medical care; and (3) Defendants Walsh, McMann, and McCollum violated state law by failing to provide a safe working environment.

Plaintiff filed two motions for summary judgment against Defendants. Defendants cross-moved for summary judgment and to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. Presently before the Court is the Order and Report-Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Gary L. Sharpe, dated September 9, 1998. Magistrate Judge Sharpe recommends denying Plaintiff's motions for summary judgment. Magistrate Judge Sharpe also recommends that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part, leaving only the Eighth Amendment claims against Defendant McCollum, i.e., violations of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights by (1) preventing him from receiving adequate medical care and (2) forcing him to work in a hazardous or unsafe environment.

Defendants object to that portion of Magistrate Judge Sharpe's Report-Recommendation that does not recommend dismissal of the complaint against Defendant McCollum. Defendants contend that Magistrate Judge Sharpe erred in concluding (1) that Plaintiff's medical infirmities rose to the level of a "serious medical need" and (2) that Defendant McCollum was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's personal safety.*fn1


This Court conducts a de novo review of those findings and recommendations in a magistrate judge's report-recommendation to which a party has filed objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). As noted, Defendants object in part to Magistrate Judge Sharpe's recommendation regarding their cross-motion for summary judgment. A moving party will be granted summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Defendants, as the moving party, have the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). When the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue exists for trial. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Because Plaintiff is the non-moving party, all inferences and ambiguities are drawn in his favor. See Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990). Additionally, since Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, the Court will construe his pleadings and submissions more liberally than submissions drafted by an attorney. See Platsky v. CIA, 953 F.2d 26, 28 (2d Cir. 1991).

Eighth Amendment Claims

Plaintiff brings two separate Eighth Amendment claims. Each of these claims is subject to different tests and is analyzed below.*fn2

A. Medical Claim

To establish an Eighth Amendment violation for improper or inadequate medical treatment, Plaintiff must show (1) deliberate indifference to (2) a serious medical need. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). The first is a subjective component, while the latter is objective. See Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998). The Court will examine these factors in reverse order.

1. Serious Medical Need

Magistrate Judge Sharpe found that Plaintiff established a serious medical need, as evidenced by the extensive amount of treatment received since 1995. As Magistrate Judge Sharpe recognizes, no Circuit authority explicitly defines "serious injury." However, courts recognize that Eighth Amendment protection extends "beyond current health problems to those that are `sufficiently imminent' and `sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering in the next week or month or year.'" Labounty v. Coombe, No. 95 CIV 2617, 1998 WL 2553, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan.5, 1998) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33, 113 S.Ct. 2475, 125 L.Ed.2d 22 (1993)). The standard for serious medical needs contemplates "a condition of urgency that may result in degeneration or extreme pain." Chance, 143 F.3d at 702 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Plaintiff originally injured his elbow by falling out of a top bunk. On September 15, 1995, he reinjured that elbow by falling off a shelf at his prison job in the State Shop. Plaintiff was seen by medical personnel because of pain or injury to his right elbow no less than 27 times since his September 1995 accident, indicating a pattern of persistent pain and discomfort, rather than what Defendants refer to as "some intermittent pain." See Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., at 16. The Second Circuit once concluded that a "serious injury" existed based largely on an inmate's repeated complaints of hip pain related to broken pins in his hip. See Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 67 (2d Cir. 1994). Moreover, Plaintiff's prison medical reports show he continually complained of "severe" pain, and several medical personnel labeled his elbow condition as "degenerative arthritis¤ 7D" or as indicating "degenerative changes."*fn3 See Spyker-Oles Aff. and Annexed Materials; Pl.'s Affirmation of Service, Jul. 14, 1997, Annexed Medical Record of Oct. 7, 1996 from Nassau County Medical Center.

The Second Circuit's recent decision in Chance v. Armstrong reinforces Magistrate Judge Sharpe's conclusion that Plaintiff had a serious medical need. Chance held that when determining whether a medical condition is serious, among the factors that "are highly relevant to the inquiry" are the "existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's ...

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