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HALLETT v. NEW YORK STATE DEPT. OF CORRECT. SERV.
August 14, 2000
CHAMP HALLETT, PLAINTIFF,
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, District Judge.
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.
The facts as alleged by plaintiff in his amended complaint are
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
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
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 ...