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ATKINS v. COUNTY OF ORANGE

March 14, 2003

ROMUS ATKINS, MARK BELLOTTO, DAWN BROWN, JANE BROWN, MICHAEL J. CROCI, JR., MICHAEL P. KRACHT AND ROBERT GRASSFIELD, PLAINTIFFS
v.
COUNTY OF ORANGE, JOSEPH P. RAMPE, FORMER COUNTY EXECUTIVE, SUED IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, CHRIS ASHMAN, COMMISSIONER OF MENTAL HEALTH, SUED IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, AND JOHN AND/OR JANE DOES, ONE THROUGH TWELVE, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, Senior United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Romus Atkins, Mark Belltt, Dawn Brown,Jane Brown, Michael J. Croci, Jr., Michael P. Kracht and Robert Grassfield (collectively "plaintiffs") bring this action against the County of Orange, Joseph P. Rampe,former County Executive, sued in his individual capacity, Chris Ashman, Commissioner of Mental Health, sued in his individual and official capacities, and John and/or Jane Does one through twelve (collectively "defendants"), pursuant to: 1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of their rights under the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments; 2) Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); 3) § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act") alleging discrimination based on plaintiffs' mentally disabled status; and 4) New York Correction Law § 137(5) alleging degrading treatment. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), defendants now bring this motion to dismiss the third cause of action alleging discrimination based on the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, the fourth cause of action alleging degrading treatment under New York Correction Law § 137(5) and all claims against Joseph P. Rampe. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

The following statement of facts relative to the instant motion is based on the allegations in plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, which, for the purposes of this motion, we assume to be true.*fn1 All plaintiffs were incarcerated at the Orange County Correctional Facility (the "Jail") at various times between 1999 and 2002. (2d Am. Complt. ¶¶ 11-17.) While incarcerated, each plaintiff was tinder the care of the Orange County Department of Mental Health ("DMH"), which operates and staffs the forensic mental health clinic (the "forensic clinic"). (Id. ¶ 29.) The forensic clinic employed two part-time psychiatrists to treat inmates at the Jail. (Id. ¶ 30.)

In 1995, the DMH Commissioner, Ashman, was personally informed by Susan Menon, then a nurse administrator working for the medical services contractor at the Jail, that the forensic clinic psychiatrists were routinely over-prescribing psychotropic drugs to inmates under their care. (Id. ¶ 33.) Two years later, Menon again informed Ashman of problems at the forensic clinic including over-medication, delays in treatment and lack of emergency backup treatment and facilities. (Id. ¶ 34.) In 1998, Menon along with another nurse, Lurana Berweger, again informed Ashman of the same problems. (Id. ¶ 35.)

In 1997, Menon met with Deputy County Executive Toni Murphy. (Id. ¶ 38.) She explained the treatment problems occurring in the forensic clinic and provided memos she had written to others in authority detailing the same problems. (Id.) Murphy told Menon that Rampe would be shocked by this information and that it would be dealt with after his re-election. (Id. ¶ 39.) In 1998, Berweger wrote a letter to Rampe outlining the same treatment problems she observed and included documentary support. (Id. ¶ 40.) Neither Ashman nor Rampe took measures to rectify the problems at the forensic clinic although at all times they were bound by the Consent Judgment in Merriweather v. Sherwood, No. 77 Civ. 3421 (S.D.N.Y.).*fn2

Plaintiffs claim they were subjected to the following mistreatment while in jail: over-medication with psychotropic drugs; denial of timely psychiatric evaluations; denial of emergency psychiatric care; denial of timely prescription drug administration; denial of adequate staffing of observation holding cells; denial of adequate therapeutic psychiatric care; and denial of discharge planning and treatment plans. (2d Am. Complt. ¶ 3.) Each plaintiff, however, has specific allegations that we will briefly review.

Atkins was incarcerated at the Jail in 2001. (Id. ¶ 47.) He suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and, upon his incarceration, was referred to the forensic clinic. (Id. ¶ 46.) One day later, a forensic clinic psychiatrist evaluated Atkins and prescribed medication, which Atkins refused to take. (Id. ¶ 48.) No action was taken when the forensic unit was informed of his refusal. (Id.) Atkins then experienced a psychotic episode after which he was placed in a "bullpen," pepper-sprayed. restrained and beaten. (Id. ¶¶ 49-50.) Without a psychiatrist's order, Atkins was placed in therapeutic restraint, a seclusion cell that is monitored by staff every fifteen minutes. (Id. ¶ 53.) Atkins was not seen by a forensic unit psychiatrist until two days later. (Id. ¶ 51.)

Bellotto, a minor with no previous history of mental illness, was serving a thirty-day sentence in 2000. (Id. ¶ 56.) A forensic unit psychiatrist, citing depression, prescribed Paxil to Bellotto. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57, 59.) Bellotto was not informed he could refuse medication; his mother protested the administration of the drug to her son. (Id. ¶¶ 60-61.) DMH continued to administer Paxil to Bellotto for the remainder of his sentence. (Id. ¶ 62.)

Dawn Brown was an inmate at the Jail on several occasions and suffers from schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68.) In 2000, Dawn Brown was behaving irrationally and was referred to the forensic clinic. (Id. ¶ 69.) The nursing staff placed her on close watch but she was not seen by a psychiatrist until five days later. (Id. ¶¶ 70-71.) On several other occasions during her incarceration, Dawn Brown refused treatment and DMH took no further steps to provide her with care. (Id. ¶¶ 76, 80.) She was also put in keeplock isolation, restraints and was beaten. (2d Am. Complt. ¶¶ 75, 77, 80-82.)

Jane Brown was incarcerated at the Jail in 2001 and suffers from cyclothymic disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to being a recovering substance abuser. (Id. ¶¶ 89-91.) A psychiatrist at the forensic clinic prescribed Paxil to Jane Brown but she frequently missed taking the drug because she was attending GED classes during the time it was distributed. (Id. ¶ 92.) Her request to have to the distribution schedule changed went unheeded until one week before her release. (Id. ¶¶ 92-93.) The forensic clinic provided no discharge planning and Jane Brown suffered withdrawal symptoms after release. (Id. ¶ 95.)

Croci was incarcerated at the Jail twice between 1999-2001 and suffers from bipolar disorder, claustrophobia and anxiety. (Id. ¶¶ 98-99.) Upon incarceration, Croci was referred to DMH "ASAP" but was not seen until many days later. (Id. ¶ 102.) When he was finally seen, he was administered a number of prescribed medications that left him in an "almost constant state of somnolence." (Id. ¶ 103.) During another period of incarceration, Croci was seen by DMH but there was no follow-up treatment even though he refused medication. (Id. ¶¶ 106, 109-10.) Thereafter, he had a psychotic episode, was beaten by corrections officers and restrained in the "bullpen." (Id. ¶¶ 107-8.)

Kracht has been incarcerated at the Jail more than ten times, the last time being in 2001. (Id. ¶¶ 116-17.) He suffers from bipolar disorder. (Id. ¶ 115.) Kracht alleges that DMH knew of his mental illness but denied him medication for his illness for a week. (Id. ¶ 118.) When he was finally seen by a psychiatrist, his previous mental health records were not reviewed and he was given several prescribed psychotropic medications. (Id. ¶¶ 119-20.) Upon learning of side effects Kracht was experiencing, a different psychiatrist thereafter abruptly stopped one of his medications, which is not recommended, and put him on another one, which was not closely monitored. (Id. ¶¶ 123-24.) Kracht's medications were changed again and a caseworker noticed he was "sleeping day and night." (Id. ¶ 130.) Kracht alleges he missed "recreation and meal opportunities" and was otherwise deprived of any significant activity of any kind while at the Jail. (Id. ¶ 135.)

Grassfield was incarcerated in 2002 and suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Grassfield saw a psychiatrist four days after being admitted who then renewed the medications he had been deprived of since entering the Jail. (Id. ¶¶ 140, 142-43.) Grassfield claims, however, that he received his medications sporadically and became depressed. (Id. ¶ 144.) Grassfield then tried to commit suicide but when the corrections officers found him, they beat and handcuffed him. (Id. ¶¶ 149-50.) Grassfield was placed in ...


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