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HALLETT v. NEW YORK STATE DEPT. OF CORRECT. SERV.

August 14, 2000

CHAMP HALLETT, PLAINTIFF,
V.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

    OPINION

Plaintiff Champ Hallett ("Hallett") brings this action for declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief alleging that while he was incarcerated in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), first in Elmira Correctional Facility ("Elmira") and then in Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven"), defendants denied him access to special programs because of his status as an HIV-positive amputee. Hallett alleges that these denials violated the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (1999) (the "ADA"), § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (1999) (the "Rehabilitation Act"), and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. § 290, et seq. (1999). Hallett further alleges that the defendants denied him proper medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and state law.

Defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the grounds that: (1) plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; (2) DOCS is immune from suit; (3) plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; (4) certain of the defendants were not personally involved in the alleged violations; and (5) all defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. In the event that only that portion of the case relating to Elmira survives the motion to dismiss, defendants move to transfer the case to the Northern District of New York. For the reasons stated herein, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. Because issues relating to Green Haven survive the motion to dismiss, I do not reach defendants' alternative motion to transfer venue.

BACKGROUND

The facts as alleged by plaintiff in his amended complaint are as follows.

A. Denial of Admission to Elmira's Shock Incarceration Program and Green Haven's Work Release Program

Hallett was an inmate at Elmira, in Chemung County, New York, from May 20, 1997 to September 17, 1997, and at Green Haven, in Dutchess County, New York, from September 17, 1997 to March 2, 2000. (Am.Compl. ¶ 4). While incarcerated at Elmira, Hallett was denied admission to the facility's shock incarceration program, a six month program "consisting of physical training, military style drilling, working, educational classes, and counseling." (Am. Compl. ¶ 15). Inmates who complete the shock incarceration program are "eligible for parole release" and are awarded a certificate that assists them with obtaining parole. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 15-16). Officials at Elmira, including Acting Deputy Superintendent J. Crowley ("Crowley"), "acknowledged that [Hallett] `technically' met the qualifications of the [shock incarceration] program," but denied him entrance into the program because of his physical disability — partial loss of his right leg requiring the use of a wheelchair — and his HIV-positive status. (Am.Compl. ¶ 20). Hallett filed grievances concerning his rejection from the shock incarceration program but they were denied by both Floyd G. Bennett ("Bennett"), Superintendent of Elmira, and the Central Office Review Committee (the "CORC"). (Am.Compl. ¶ 21).

On September 17, 1997, Hallett was transferred from Elmira to Green Haven. Officials at Green Haven "repeatedly reviewed" Hallett for admission to the facility's work release program, which allows eligible inmates to leave the correctional facility to work or to gain on-the-job training. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 14, 22). Despite meeting all of the program's qualifications, Hallett was denied admission into the program because of his physical disability by the Chairperson of the Temporary Release Committee*fn1 at Green Haven and Christopher Artuz ("Artuz"), Superintendent of Green Haven. (Am.Compl. ¶ 23). Indeed, Hallett alleges that Charles Bendheim ("Bendheim"), supervising physician for the Unit for Physically Disabled at Green Haven, "repeatedly stated" that Hallett should be denied admission into the program "because he was `unsuitable for participation' or `ineligible' because [he] was a `traumatic amputee' and physically disabled." (Am.Compl. ¶ 24).

B. Denial of Necessary Medical Care at Green Haven

Hallett is able to enter and exit a wheelchair without "great difficulty" as long as the wheelchair has either a fixed frame or movable foot and arm rests. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29). Hallett owns a personal fixed frame wheelchair that accommodates his medical needs. He was permitted to use his personal wheelchair for his entire term of incarceration at Elmira and for the first seven months of his stay at Green Haven. (Am.Compl. ¶ 33).

In March 1998, Hallett was apparently told by Green Haven officials that the metal rims and spokes of his personal wheelchair posed a security risk. In response to the correctional facility's concerns, on March 16, 1998, Hallett requested that Green Haven nurse Elizabeth Weber ("Weber") authorize the purchase of plastic parts that would conform to security standards. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 35-36). Weber refused to authorize the replacement parts but did not confiscate Hallett's wheelchair. (Am.Compl. ¶ 36). On March 25, 1998, Hallett filed a grievance "concerning the denial of adequate medical care." (Am. Compl. ¶ 37). On April 9, 1998, Hallett again requested that Weber modify the wheelchair. Weber refused Hallett's second request and "misled other officials by informing them that personal wheelchairs were not repaired at Green Haven."*fn2 (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 38-39). Weber, Norman Selwin ("Selwin"), the Medical Director of Green Haven, and Artuz then confiscated Hallett's wheelchair, providing him instead with a "standard-issue" DOCS wheelchair that had neither a fixed frame nor movable foot and arm rests. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 31, 38-40). Hallett had "great difficulty entering and exiting" the issued wheelchair. (Am. Compl. ¶ 31). The exertions required to get in and out of the wheelchair caused Hallett severe back pain; once Hallett fell and cut his head trying to exit his wheelchair. (Am.Compl. ¶ 45).

On April 9, 1998 — the same day his wheelchair was confiscated — Hallett filed a grievance regarding the confiscation but "[d]efendants . . . refused to return [his] personal wheelchair." (Am.Compl. ¶ 41). On April 21, 1998, Hallett filed another grievance, this time concerning Bendheim's refusal to treat the severe back pain Hallett developed from using the inadequate wheelchair. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 46-47). Hallett also filed "complaints" with Goord, Selwin, and Lawrence Zwillinger, the Regional Health Services Administrator of Green Haven, and a grievance against Weber regarding his inadequate medical treatment. The amended complaint does not indicate the dates of these filings. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 42-43).

At some point thereafter, Hallett complained — it is unclear to whom — that denial of his wheelchair constituted inadequate medical care "in relation to the Milburn Consent Decree." (Am.Compl. ¶ 44). On September 10, 1998, Green Haven returned Hallett's personal wheelchair. The amended complaint does not indicate whether the wheelchair was modified to conform to safety standards.

DISCUSSION

A. Mootness

Hallett was released from prison on March 2, 2000. (Pl. Opp. Mem. at 2 n. 1). Because he is no longer incarcerated and under the supervision of any of the named defendants, his requests for injunctive relief are dismissed as moot. See Gadson v. Goord, No. 96 Civ. 7544, 1997 WL 714878, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 1997) (citing Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67, 104 S.Ct. 373, 78 L.Ed.2d 58 (1983)). Indeed, in his opposition papers, Hallett acknowledges that "injunctive relief is not an appropriate remedy." (Pl. Opp. Mem. at 2 n. 1). Hallett further indicated, through counsel at oral argument, that he is no longer seeking declaratory relief. (See Tr. at 5). Accordingly, I review plaintiff's claims only to the extent they seek monetary damages.

B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In reviewing a motion to dismiss, I must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). A complaint may not be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) unless it "appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Cooper v. Parsky, 140 F.3d 433, 440 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). In other words, the issue before the Court on a motion to dismiss "is not whether . . . plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer ...


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