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CRUZ v. JORDAN

July 28, 1999

FELIX CRUZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. BARRY JORDAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

  OPINION

Plaintiff Felix Cruz brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking monetary damages for injuries he suffered due to defendants' alleged deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Defendants move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) to dismiss the action on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) ("PLRA"). See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).*fn1

I. Defendantsi Alleged Misconduct: The Complaint

For purposes of this motion, the following facts alleged in the Complaint are presumed to be true. Plaintiff is an inmate in New York State's Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York ("Green Haven"). On August 22, 1996, New York State prison officials transported plaintiff from Green Haven to Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, where plaintiff underwent surgery to repair a rupture in his abdominal wall and to remove a cyst. Plaintiff claims that the performing doctor failed to close his surgical wound prior to releasing him for his return to Green Haven (Compl. at 8),*fn2 and that this and the allegations that follow reflected deliberate indifference to plaintiff's medical needs.

At Green Haven, plaintiff alleges, the doctors in its medical center failed to examine his surgical wound, put him directly in his cell where, later that evening after the anesthetic plaintiff received wore off, he found that his wound was open and bleeding profusely. (Compl. at 4-5). Plaintiff cried for help, but no one responded; the prison officials, plaintiff alleges, were indifferent to his calls. Plaintiff alleges that he fell unconscious, and was not discovered until morning, in a pool of his blood. He was brought back to the Green Haven medical center when, plaintiff alleges, a nurse on duty observed that the incision on his body showed no "sign of being stitched." (Compl. at 6).

Plaintiff required additional care, including additional surgery and hospitalization, requiring a stay of 357 days in Green Haven's medical center. Plaintiff alleges that he was unable to walk of his own power, required a walker or wheelchair, and fell twice suffering injury to his back. Again, plaintiff alleges, defendants ignored his pleas for help, and exacerbated his condition by forcing him to sleep on the floor of his cell for nearly two weeks without bed or bedding. (Compl. at 13).

On August 25, 1997, plaintiff filed a grievance for the denial of a bed and bedding. (Compl. at 15). Three days later, on August 28, 1997, plaintiff was transferred to another cell where he received proper bedding. (Id.). Plaintiff did not file a grievance concerning his claims of medical indifference.

II. The Relevant Constitutional Standard

At the same time, however, the Court recognized that not every denial of medical needs rises to the level of a Constitutional violation: "Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Id. at 106, 97 S.Ct. 285. In order to state a claim under section 1983, a prisoner must allege "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. It is only such indifference that can offend `evolving standards of decency' in violation of the Eight Amendment." Id. Objectively, the claim must be "sufficiently serious;" subjectively, the claim requires proof that an official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), cert. denied; 513 U.S. 1154, 115 S.Ct. 1108, 130 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1995).

III. The PLRA — The Governing Statute and its Legislative History

A. The Statute

Section 1997e(a) of title 42 was enacted in 1996, and provides:

  No action shall be brought with respect to prison
  conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any
  other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any
  jail, prison, or other correctional facility until
  such administrative remedies as are available are
  exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Defendants argue that plaintiff's claim of medical indifference is "brought with respect to prison conditions" and that plaintiff's failure to exhaust "such administrative remedies as are available" requires dismissal of his case. Plaintiff argues that section 1997e(a) does not apply because a claim for deliberate indifference to medical needs is not a claim "brought with respect to prison conditions" and because the remedy of monetary damages is not "available" in Green Haven's grievance procedures.

B. The Legislative History

The PLRA, as initially introduced in the House and the Senate, was part of two omnibus criminal law reform measures — the Taking Back Our Streets Act of 1995 in the House, and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Improvement Act of 1995 in the Senate. See Bernard D. Reams, Jr. & William H. Manz, A Legislative History of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321, Docs. No. 32 & 33 (1997) ("PLRA Legislative History").*fn3 The bills were intended to address numerous issues raised in then-recent political campaigns relating to crime, law enforcement and prisoners, and included proposals to change habeas corpus, criminal sentencing, the exclusionary rule, and other law enforcement programs. Ultimately, the PLRA was passed as a rider to an appropriations bill. See Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325 n. 8 (11th Cir. 1998); Garrett v. Hawk, 127 F.3d 1263, 1265 n. 2 (10th Cir. 1997).

The legislative history giving rise to the PLRA is relatively sparse. See Beeson v. Fishkill Correctional Facility, 28 F. Supp.2d 884, 891 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (Mukasey, J.) (noting that legislative history is "relatively meager"). Floor debates are perhaps the best source. See Alexander, 159 F.3d at 1325 n. 8; Garrett, 127 F.3d at 1265 n. 2; see also Greig v. Goord; 169 F.3d 165, 107 (2d Cir. 1999) (relying upon statements of Senators Dole and Kyl). The legislative history that exists is scattered among all the other measures that were part of the omnibus legislation, and mostly relates to funding, consent decree and habeas corpus issues. See, e.g., PLRA Legislative History, Hearing Before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, July 27, 1995, Statement of Senator Spencer Abraham, Doc. 55, at 101-02 (noting that hearings covered "several diverse, unrelated to some extent topics").*fn4

The legislative history concerning the PLRA indicates that Congress was primarily concerned about the rising number of lawsuits filed by prisoners and the perception that most of these suits were frivolous. See, e.g., 141 Cong.Rec. S14408-01, *S14413 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 1995) (statement of Senator Dole) (noting that prisoner suits increased from 6,600 in 1975 to more than 39,000 in 1994 and included claims for "insufficient storage locker space, a defective haircut by a prison barber, the failure of prison officials to invite a prisoner to a pizza party for a departing prison employee, and . . . being served chunky peanut butter instead of the creamy variety"); 141 Cong.Rec. S14408-01, *S14418 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 1995) (statement of Senator Hatch) (noting that 297 inmate suits were filed in the state of Utah in 1994 and that these suits accounted for 22% of all the Federal civil cases filed in Utah in 1994); id. (statement of Senator Kyl) (referring to an inmate suit concerning denial of use of a Gameboy video game); 141 Cong.Rec. S7498-01, *S7526 (daily ed. May 25, 1995) (statement of Senator Kyl) (citing that in 1994, prisoners brought more than one-fourth of all civil suits filed in the United States District Courts: 60,086 of the 238,590 total suits filed). Some courts have echoed these concerns. See, e.g., Greig, 169 F.3d at 167 (quoting statement of Senators Dole and Kyl that filing lawsuits "has become a recreational activity for long-term residents of our prisons" to gain "a short sabbatical in the nearest Federal courthouse") (internal quotation marks omitted); Alexander, 159 F.3d at 1324; Roller v. Gunn, 107 F.3d 227, 230 (4th Cir. 1997), cert. denied; 522 U.S. 874, 118 S.Ct. 192, 139 L.Ed.2d 130 (1997). The short title given to the House measure that contained the PLRA reflects this Congressional concern: "Stopping Abusive Prisoner Lawsuits." PLRA Legislative History, ...


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