United States District Court, S.D. New York
March 30, 2004.
GARY SAULS, Plaintiff -against- NYC DEPT. OF CORRECTIONAL, et al., A.D.W. Guerreri Badge #71, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS GRIESA, Senior District Judge
This is a pro se action brought by a state prisoner under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that a correction official interfered with
his right to medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution. Defendants are the New York City Department of
Correction and Deputy Warden Michael Guarneri, misspelled in the caption
Now before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for
failure to exhaust administrative grievance procedures under the Prison
Litigation Reform Act and for failure to state a claim. The motion is
Procedural History and The Complaint
The initial complaint in this action was filed in August of 2001. In
an order dated July 25, 2002, Chief Judge Mukasey noted that there
was no valid cause of action against the New York City Department of
Correction stated in the initial complaint. Sauls v. N.Y.C. Dept, of
Correctional, et al., 02 Civ. 5804 (S.D.N.Y. July 25, 2002). With
regard to the claim against the individual defendant the Court did not
find sufficient indication that Sauls had exhausted his administrative
The New York City Department of Correction has established an Inmate
Grievance Resolution Program in order to provide prisoners with an
administrative forum to bring their grievances. See New York
City Department of Correction Directive No. 3375R (March 4, 1985).
Generally, the regulations establish a five-step inmate grievance
process. First, an inmate may file a complaint with the Inmate Grievance
Resolution Committee ("IGRC"), which will attempt to resolve the
grievance informally within five (5) working days. See id., at
¶ III(B)(2). The inmate may then appeal the Committee's decision to
the facility Warden, who must render a decision within five (5) working
days of receiving the appeal. See id., at ¶ III(B)(3). The
inmate may then appeal the Warden's decision to the Central Office Review
Committee ("CORC"), which must render a decision within fifteen (15)
working days. See id., at ¶ III(B)(4). The inmate may then
file an appeal of the CORC's decision to the Board of Correction ("BOC"),
which issues or has an independent arbitrator issue an
advisory recommendation within twenty (20) working days to the BOC
Commissioner. See id., at ¶ II(B)(5). Within ten (10)
working days of receipt of the BOC's recommendation, the Commissioner
must issue a final decision. See id. If a grievance is not
decided within the allotted time frames, the inmate may either grant an
extension of time to grievance officials or appeal the grievance to the
next level. See id. at ¶ III(B)(6). The IGRC Coordinator
must immediately refer emergency matters (e.g., where an inmate's health,
safety or welfare is in imminent danger; there are serious problems
relating to conditions of confinement; or the safety of the institution
is affected) directly to the Commanding Officer. See id. at
¶ IV(D). Non-grievable issues include complaints pertaining to an
alleged assault or verbal harassment, matters already being litigated,
and matters where there is already an existing NYCDOC's appeal mechanism
(e.g., determinations of disciplinary hearings and classification).
See, id., at ¶ II(B).
The complaint stated, without explanation, that Sauls' issue was
"non-grievable." Chief Judge Mukasey, therefore, directed Sauls to amend
the complaint to show how he claims to have exhausted his administrative
Sauls filed an amended complaint on September 16, 2002. The
amended complaint alleges that Sauls was incarcerated at the Anna
M. Kross Center Facility ("A.M.K.C.") at Rikers Island from October 11,
2000 to August 31, 2001, where the following incident is alleged to have
taken place. Sauls was receiving "psych medication" at the time. A Health
Transfer Information Sheet attached to Sauls' papers on this motion
further specifies that Sauls was receiving standard dosages of standard
anti-depressants (Celexa and Elavil) to treat his depression and
substance abuse problems. In the evening of June 14, 2001, the housing
unit officer initially failed to grant Sauls permission to go to the
pharmacy to retrieve his medication. Sauls then gave his Prisoner I.D.
Card to another prisoner who was going to the pharmacy, so that this
prisoner might retrieve his medication for him. Shortly thereafter the
housing unit officer made a special inquiry with the pharmacy to
double-check whether Sauls was scheduled to receive medication that
evening. When the pharmacy affirmed that he was, Sauls was then permitted
to go to the pharmacy. Sauls alleges that on his way there Deputy Warden
Guarneri stopped him, noted that he was not carrying his Prisoner I.D.
and told him to go back to his cell. Sauls alleges that he objected and
told Guarneri that he was on his way to get his medication. Guarneri,
however, did not relent and sent Sauls back to his cell, regardless.
Sauls alleges that he had violent nightmares, cold sweats, insomnia, and
a total loss of appetite as a consequence of being deprived of his
psychiatric medications for a 24 hour period. There is no allegation that
effects were more than short term. Sauls received his medications
the next day. Sauls seeks monetary damages in the amount of $10,000,000.
In the amended complaint Sauls claims that he filed a grievance with
the Inmates Grievance Resolution Committee at A.M.K.C. on August 13,
2002, but that he was still awaiting a reply as of the date of the
amended complaint. The amended complaint, however, does not supply any
supporting documentary evidence of these claims.
The case was reassigned to Judge Griesa on September 27, 2002.
On January 28, 2003 defendants filed the present motion. The motion
seeks to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and for
failure to state a claim.
In his opposition papers, dated February 27, 2003, Sauls makes certain
assertions regarding his failure to exhaust, which supplement what is
stated in the complaint. Sauls alleges that he made a good faith effort
to avail himself of the grievance procedures. He claims that he spoke
with a liaison officer at the A.M.K.C., named C.O. Dudley, the day after
the incident. The liaison officer allegedly told Sauls that he could not
raise his "medical issue"
through the grievance procedures and that he should instead raise
it at the next administration meeting that Sauls would be attending as an
inmate delegate. Dudley also allegedly encouraged Sauls to file a formal
complaint with the facility Patient Advocate, Castillo. Sauls states that
he followed Dudley's advice and met with Castillo, who took his
complaint. He also raised the issue at the administration meeting. Sauls'
principal contention in his opposition papers is that he thus made
certain attempts after the incident to press his grievance and was
discouraged from taking the issue up with the formal Inmate Grievance
Upon receiving Judge Mukasey's order, Sauls alleges that he "addressed
the issue to the Warden, C.O.R.C., the Board of Corrections, and finally
to the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections." He also states
that he sent "follow-up letters" to the same "to request an answer to the
In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim, the Court must accept as true all factual allegations made in the
complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.
Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence &
Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). Granting such a motion
is proper only when it "appears
beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in
support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Securities
Investor Protection Corp. v. BDO Seidman, LLP, 222 F.3d 63, 66 (2d
Cir 2000). Because Sauls is acting pro se in this matter, the
court must "construe the complaint liberally such that the strongest
possible argument is raised" in his favor. Richardson v.
Hillman, 201 F. Supp.2d 222, 226-227 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Moreover, in
deciding a motion to dismiss involving a pro se plaintiff, the
court may look beyond the complaint to the plaintiffs opposition papers.
Indelicato v. Suarez, 207 F. Supp.2d 216, 218 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).
When deciding such a motion, the court may consider any documents
incorporated into a complaint by reference or upon which the plaintiff
relied drafting his pleadings. Id.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides that in "the event
that a claim is, on its face, frivolous, malicious, fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief, the court may dismiss the
underlying claim without requiring the exhaustion of administrative
remedies' 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(2). The amended complaint alleges nothing
which would lead to a different result.
The Claim Against the Department
Chief Judge Mukasey held that the original complaint stated no valid
claim against the Department and explained how the claim against the
Department was barred. The amended complaint alleges nothing which would
lead to a different result.
The Claim Against Guarneri
A prisoner's claim under the Eighth Amendment cannot be based on mere
negligence. To assert a valid claim for deprivation of medical care there
must be a showing of "deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious
illness," constituting the "`unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'
proscribed by the Eight Amendment." Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 105, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291 (1976).
To establish deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must prove that
"the prison official knew of and disregarded the plaintiffs serious
medical needs." Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir.
2000). "Deliberate indifference will exist when an official knows that
inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk
by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it'" Id. To
establish an Eighth Amendment violation based on deliberate indifference
the deprivation must objectively be serious "in the
sense that a condition of urgency, one that may produce death,
degeneration, or extreme pain exists. Subjectively, the charged official
must act with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Hemmings v.
Gorczyk, 134 F.3d 104, 108 (2d Cir. 1998).
In this case, Sauls' deprivation does not meet this standard. Sauls was
deprived of standard dosages of standard anti-depressants (Celexa and
Elavil) for at most 24 hours. His Health Transfer Information Sheet
clearly specified that he was not on suicide watch and had not made any
suicide attempts. Sauls does not allege any serious harm or risk of
serious harm from being deprived of his medications for that one evening.
He merely alleges "violent nightmares, cold sweats, insomnia, and a total
loss of appetite." Moreover, there is no allegation that these effects
were more than short term. This cannot without more constitute the kind
of "substantial risk of serious harm" required to make out an Eighth
Furthermore, when Guarneri stopped Sauls and sent him back to his cell,
Sauls was not carrying his I.D. Card. We may conclude that it was
objectively reasonable for the Deputy Warden to believe that he was
enforcing the regulations, even if he knew that Sauls might not receive
his medications that night in consequence. See, New York City
Department of Correction Inmate Rule Book,
§ 115.10 ("Inmates must at all times carry their Institutional
I.D. Cards, unless otherwise directed"). But we need not do so here to
dispose of the complaint.
The basis for the court's dismissal of the amended complaint is, as
stated above, that Sauls fails to allege the requisite "deliberate
indifference to a prisoner's serious illness" required to establish a
violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Defendants' motion is granted. The amended complaint fails to state a
valid claim, and the action is dismissed.
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