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LEON v. JOHNSON

May 22, 2000

HECTOR LEON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
SALLY B. JOHNSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Larimer, Chief Judge.

  DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Hector Leon, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, who is an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, alleges that defendants, who at all relevant times were employed at Orleans Correctional Facility, failed to apprise Leon in Spanish, his native language, of Orleans's medical policies, and that as a result he did not receive his prescribed AIDS medication until several weeks after he arrived at Orleans. Plaintiff also alleges that because there were no Spanish-speaking personnel on the Orleans medical staff, plaintiff was forced to utilize other inmates as interpreters, which caused him to disclose his condition to those inmates. Plaintiff alleges that these acts and omissions violated his rights to privacy and to be free from cruel and unusual punishments as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Plaintiff requests an award of compensatory damages of $250,000, and the same amount in punitive damages. Defendants have moved for summary judgment.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The complaint alleges that on March 8, 1996, Leon arrived at Orleans Correctional Facility, having been transferred from Attica Correctional Facility. Plaintiff alleges that at that time, he spoke only Spanish. When he arrived, however, Leon was provided with an orientation manual, written in English, regarding the policies of the Health Services Unit at Orleans. Plaintiff alleges that because he could not read that manual, he did not realize that he was supposed to go to the infirmary to pick up his medication.

Apparently plaintiff at some point contacted the Legal Aid Society ("LAS") in New York City, informing them that he had not been receiving his medication since his transfer to Orleans.*fn1 Michela Bowman, a Legal Assistant at LAS, then wrote a letter dated April 12, 1996 to a Dr. Hussain at Orleans, asking that Leon be provided all necessary medications as soon as possible. Bowman also relayed Leon's concern about having to use inmate interpreters due to the lack of Spanish-speaking medical staff.

In a letter dated April 12, 1996, defendant Brij Sinha, M.D. responded to Bowman's letter. Dr. Sinha recommended that Bowman inform Leon that he needed to pick up his medication at the infirmary, and informed her that a Spanish-language orientation packet was available to plaintiff upon his request. With respect to the interpreter matter, Dr. Sinha stated that Leon "is to provide his own interpreter." Dr. Sinha said that Orleans had no Spanish-speaking medical providers on its staff, but that there were two Spanish-speaking counselors that Leon could contact to see if they would be willing to be present at sick call.

Bowman then wrote to Leon on April 24, 1996, informing him of Dr. Sinha's response. Although it is not exactly clear from the record when plaintiff did begin receiving his medications at Orleans, it appears that this occurred at around this time. The record also reflects that Leon was provided with a Spanish version of the orientation materials on July 2, 1996.

Plaintiff subsequently filed several grievances concerning these matters. Ultimately these were reviewed by the Central Office Review Committee, which found that it did not appear that Leon had any language problems with the Orleans medical staff, but added that "the use of inmate interpreters for medical matters is inappropriate. Staff should be used for this purpose." Affidavit of Sally B. Johnson (Docket Item 45) Ex. E.

The complaint asserts three causes of action. The first alleges that defendants have provided plaintiff with inadequate medical care by causing him to go without his medication for an unreasonable length of time. The second cause of action alleges that defendants violated plaintiff's right to privacy by allowing the use of inmate interpreters. The third cause of action appears simply to restate both of these claims.

DISCUSSION

I. Denial of Medical Care

Plaintiff's first cause of action (and as explained, to some extent his third cause of action as well), though citing no particular legal basis, appears to arise from an alleged violation of Leon's rights under the Eighth Amendment's proscription of cruel and unusual punishments. That amendment has been construed not only to cover "punishments" in the ordinary sense of that word, but also, in some situations, inadequate medical care. See, e.g., Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 827, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994).

In order to establish a § 1983 claim based on inadequate medical care, a plaintiff must prove "deliberate indifference to [his] serious medical needs" on the part of the defendants. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). The standard of deliberate indifference includes both subjective and objective components. "First, the alleged deprivation must be, in objective terms, `sufficiently serious.'" Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1154, 115 S.Ct. 1108, 130 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1995); Ramos v. O'Connell, 28 F. Supp.2d 796, 802 (W.D.N Y 1998). Second, the defendant "must act with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Hathaway, 37 F.3d at 66. An official acts with the requisite deliberate indifference when that 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." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970.

In addition to the Eighth Amendment, the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") also bears upon this case. Pursuant to that Act, which became effective in 1996, 42 U.S.C. ยง 1997e(e) now provides that "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." Defendants contend that plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim fails because there is no evidence that plaintiff suffered any physical injury as a result of the delay in his receipt of ...


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