Not what you're
looking for? Try an advanced search.
Buy This Entire Record For
BECKFORD v. IRVIN
April 13, 1999
EASTON BECKFORD, PLAINTIFF,
FRANK IRVIN, STEPHEN KRUPPNER, DONALD R. WOLFF AND THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Heckman, United States Magistrate Judge.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to
have the undersigned conduct all proceedings in this case,
including the entry of final judgment (Item 32). A jury trial was
held beginning on November 9, 1998, and a verdict was rendered in
favor of the plaintiff on November 18, 1998 (See Item 82).
Plaintiff was awarded $15,000 in punitive damages from defendant
Irvin, $10,000 in punitive damages from defendant Kruppner, and
$125,000 in compensatory damages from the State of New York.
Pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1), 50(b), 50(c), 59(a), and 59(e), of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants move to dismiss
plaintiff's Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") claim, and to
set aside the jury verdict (Item 83).
For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is denied.
I find that Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act
pursuant to a valid exercise of authority under section five of
the Fourteenth Amendment. I also find that plaintiff established
an Eighth Amendment claim against defendants Irvin and Kruppner,
and is entitled to an award of punitive damages. Furthermore,
plaintiff will be awarded nominal damages in the amount of $1.00
from both defendant Irvin and defendant Kruppner. Finally,
defendants' motion for a new trial and defendants' motion for
remittitur is denied.
Plaintiff Easton Beckford, an inmate in the custody of the New
York State Department of Correctional Services, brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his
Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, and
violations of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities
Act and section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act (Item 40).
Plaintiff has been confined to a wheelchair since 1984. All
events at issue at trial took place between January 1994 and May
1995, while plaintiff was confined at the Wende Correctional
On January 13, 1994, plaintiff was transferred from the Central
New York Psychiatric Center to Wende, and was placed in Wende's
Mental Health Observation Unit ("MHU"). Plaintiff was transferred
to Wende because it is one of only three facilities with
wheelchair accessible medical units. He was not placed in MHU for
mental health treatment. He was placed in MHU because the cell
was bigger and because his wheelchair fit in the cell. However,
as the record demonstrates, once plaintiff arrived at Wende, one
of the first things prison officials did was to take away his
wheelchair. Within his first month at Wende, plaintiff exhibited
behavior that plaintiff's counsel characterized as "peculiar,"
and "anti-[plaintiff]." For example, on January 31, plaintiff
covered his body with feces. On February 2, after being denied
his one hour of recreation, plaintiff stabbed himself with a
Plaintiff was unable to file any grievances while in SHU
because he lacked a pencil and paper. Plaintiff said this was
because he had not yet received his property after being
transferred. However, another SHU inmate, Abdallah Davis, filed
grievances on plaintiff's behalf. When Deputy Murray responded to
one of those grievances, he indicated that his review of
plaintiff's records failed to show the need for a cane or a
wheelchair. In addition, Defendant Kruppner, Deputy
Superintendent for Administration at Wende, read from a note in
plaintiff's mental health records in which the author indicated
that plaintiff had not showered in thirty-three days. Corrections
officers who responded to a query from the note's author said
that the showers in SHU are not wheelchair accessible.
There was some conflicting evidence as to plaintiff's bedsores.
A nurse observed plaintiff's bedsores on both February 24 and
February 28, 1994. Both times the nurse described the sores as a
discoloration. Plaintiff was told that he would need to put in a
sick call slip if he wanted to receive treatment for his sores.
On March 3, 1994, after filing a March 1, 1994, grievance,
plaintiff was seen by a doctor. Because plaintiff had seen a
physician, his grievance was denied.
Joseph Gerken, an attorney formerly employed with Prisoners'
Legal Services ("PLS") in Buffalo, New York, testified about
visiting plaintiff at Wende on February 24, 1994, and observing
plaintiff's bedsores. Mr. Gerken made this visit in response to a
letter from plaintiff complaining about bedsores. While not a
health professional, Mr. Gerken testified as to his previous work
experience as an orderly, and his familiarity with seeing
bedsores on patients he worked with. He testified that he saw
open and oozing sores on plaintiff's body. While leaving the
facility, Mr. Gerken testified that he informed defendant Wolff,
Deputy Superintendent for Security at Wende, about his
observations, and followed this up with a letter to defendant
On March 7, 1994, plaintiff was transferred to Great Meadow
Correctional Facility. When he returned to Wende, plaintiff was
sent directly to MHU. Plaintiff was allowed to use a wheelchair
upon his return from Great Meadow. Plaintiff was also sent to
several medical specialists who recommended that plaintiff
receive physical therapy. One physical therapist suggested that
plaintiff would probably be able to walk if he was fitted with a
leg brace and assistive devices. Plaintiff was not given physical
therapy or a leg brace.
Defendant Irvin testified that Amnesty International took an
interest in plaintiff's condition, and that letters were received
from as far away as Switzerland and Australia. However,
defendants' exhibit 23 showed that defendant Irvin informed
officials in Albany that plaintiff was observed walking and that
he has been taking showers regularly. At trial, defendants did
not offer any testimony about plaintiff walking in his cell.
In June 1994, plaintiff was transferred to Shawangunk
Correctional Facility. In Shawangunk, plaintiff was placed in a
wheelchair-accessible SHU. Plaintiff was returned to Wende in
September 1994 so that he could obtain medical treatment at the
Erie County Medical Center. Once again, plaintiff was housed in
the MHU. Plaintiff was returned to Shawangunk on October 5, 1994.
On October 30, 1994, plaintiff was sent back to Wende, and was
once again housed in the MHU. Plaintiff's medical record showed
that he was taking
Dilantin and Phenobarbital for his seizures. He was also taking
Naproxen, Mellaril, Elavil, and Prozac. However, when plaintiff
was returned to Wende he was not provided with all of his
medications. Plaintiff was only given Dilantin, Phenobarbital,
Dr. Capote, an employee at Wende, testified about evaluating
plaintiff's psychiatric condition. While Dr. Capote found
plaintiff to be competent, he testified that he never really
looked at plaintiff's medical records and that he really did not
know much about plaintiff. Plaintiff was not Dr. Capote's
On November 14, 1994, plaintiff was committed to the custody of
James Stone, Commissioner of Mental Hygiene, by Duchess County
Court Judge George D. Marlow. Plaintiff received a copy of the
commitment order from Dr. Green, head of Wende's MHU.
Commissioner Stone never took custody of plaintiff. Plaintiff's
medical record indicates that his mental health started to
deteriorate around this time. Plaintiff threatened staff and
threatened to throw feces. On December 17, plaintiff followed
through with his threat and threw feces from his cell. Prison
officials removed plaintiff's wheelchair as punishment and
erected a plexiglass shield in front of his cell. Plaintiff did
not begin receiving all of his medications until early January,
Plaintiff also complained about the difficulty he had bathing
and getting a drink of water while in his cell. Both sides agreed
that the toilet and sink are attached, and that the drinking
fountain is on top of the sink. Because of his wheelchair,
plaintiff was unable to reach the sink or fountain in his cell
unless he used a cup. However, plaintiff was not allowed to keep
a cup in his cell because it violated prison rules. He was
occasionally denied meals for keeping a cup from his meal tray in
his cell. Plaintiff testified that when he did have use of a cup,
he would use it to draw water from his toilet in an effort to
bathe and cleanse his bedsores.
The jury also watched a videotape of plaintiff being extracted
from his cell on April 12, 1995, in an effort to remove his
wheelchair. Prior to the cell extraction, another MHU inmate,
Leon Wright, set a fire in his cell. Plaintiff banged on his cell
bars with part of the wheelchair, complaining that smoke
obstructed his breathing and requested to be removed from the
cell. According to Lieutenant Cooks, plaintiff was asked to give
up his wheelchair because he was banging it against the cell
doors. Dr. Capote testified that during this incident he went to
talk to plaintiff because he heard plaintiff had suicidal
ideation. According to Dr. Capote, there was no mention of the
wheelchair in his conversation with plaintiff. Shortly after
meeting with Dr. Capote, correctional officers entered
plaintiff's cell, removed plaintiff's wheelchair, removed
plaintiff from his cell, placed shackles on his hands and feet,
and forcibly moved plaintiff to a shower (See Pl.Ex. 9).
Plaintiff was left lying face down and shackled on a shower
floor, with the water intermittently being turned on and off, for
approximately twenty minutes.
Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a pro se complaint on
April 23, 1996 (Item 1). On May 24, 1996, plaintiff moved for
appointment of counsel (Item 4). Plaintiff's motion was granted,
and counsel was appointed on January 14, 1997 (Item 31). With the
court's approval, an amended complaint was filed on September 5,
1997 (Item 40).
Two claims were ultimately presented to the jury. First,
plaintiff complained that defendants Irvin, Wolff and Kruppner
were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical
needs, in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from
cruel and unusual punishment, by failing to train and supervise
their subordinates, and by failing to respond adequately to
plaintiff's complaints. Second, plaintiff complained that
defendant State of New York violated plaintiff's rights under the
Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., by
denying him access to programs and services available to
non-disabled inmates, by subjecting him to discrimination by
virtue of his disability, by failing to provide him with his
wheelchair for sustained periods of time, and by failing to
provide him with a wheelchair accessible environment.
The trial took place from November 9, 1998, through November
18, 1998. On November 18, 1998, the jury returned a verdict in
the amount $150,000 for the plaintiff (See Item 77, 80). The
jury found an Eighth Amendment violation against defendants Irvin
and Kruppner, but not against defendant Donald Wolff (Item 77, at
1). Without awarding compensatory or nominal damages, the jury
awarded plaintiff punitive damages against defendant Irvin in the
amount of $15,000, and $10,000 in punitive damages against
defendant Kruppner (Item 77, at 3-4). On the ADA claim, the jury
awarded plaintiff $125,000 in compensatory damages against the
State of New York (Item 77, at 4-5).
Judgement was entered in favor of the plaintiff on November 30,
1998 (Item 82). On December 9, 1998, defendants filed a motion
seeking the following relief: (1) dismissal of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) claim for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction; (2) granting judgment as a matter of law on the
ground that there is insufficient proof to support the jury's
findings; (3) setting aside the jury verdict rendered against the
defendants in the amount of $0.00 in compensatory damages, $0.00
in nominal damages, and (cumulatively) $25,000 in punitive
damages against defendants Irvin and Kruppner; (4) setting aside
the jury verdict against defendant State of New York; and, (5) in
the alternative, granting remittitur relative to the amount of
damages found by the jury (Item 83).
I. Sovereign Immunity and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Defendants argue that the ADA does not abrogate a state's
sovereign immunity because it was not enacted pursuant to a valid
exercise of congressional authority under section five of the
Fourteenth Amendment (Item 84, at 3). In support of this
argument, defendants recognize that Congress possessed the power
to enact the ADA, but argue that it lacked the authority to
abrogate a state's sovereign immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment (Item 84, at 8).
The ADA, "[l]ike the other antidiscrimination statutes, . . .
is an exercise of Congress' power under section 5 of the
Fourteenth Amendment." Crawford v. Indiana Dept. of
Corrections, 115 F.3d 481, 487 (7th Cir. 1997); Muller v.
Costello, 997 F. Supp. 299, 304 (N.D.N.Y. 1998); see also Cooper
v. New York State Office of Mental Health, 162 F.3d 770, 777 (2d
Cir. 1998) (holding ADEA enacted pursuant to section five of the
Fourteenth Amendment), petition for cert. filed, 67 USLW 3614
A two-part test is used to determine whether Congress
effectively abrogated the States' sovereign immunity under the
Eleventh Amendment. First, it is necessary to determine "whether
Congress has unequivocally expressed its intent to abrogate the
immunity." Seminole Tribe
of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134
L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (quoting Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68,
106 S.Ct. 423, 88 L.Ed.2d 371 (1985)) (internal ...