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SHARIFF v. GOORD

August 2, 2005.

ABDUL SHARIFF, Plaintiff,
v.
GLENN S. GOORD, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, et. al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES SIRAGUSA, District Judge

AMENDED DECISION & ORDER

INTRODUCTION

  This is an action in which plaintiff alleges violations of his rights as guaranteed by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Now before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), all causes of action set forth in the complaint, except plaintiff's "First Claim" as it pertains to defendant Williams and plaintiff's "Fifth Claim" which pertains only to defendant Gregoire. Alternatively, as to defendants Goord and New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), defendants move to dismiss pursuant to the "first-to-file" rule. For the reasons stated below, defendants' application is granted in part and denied in part.

  BACKGROUND

  According to his complaint, plaintiff is presently an inmate within the New York State Department of Correctional Services, and has been during all times relevant to this litigation. In addition, plaintiff has been confined to a wheelchair during his entire period of incarceration. On September 28, 2000, plaintiff was housed at the Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven") in Stormville, New York. On that date, while in his wheelchair, plaintiff maintains that he was transported by van to an outside medical facility, and that he was injured when the van in which he was traveling made a sharp turn. He claims that the wheelchair he had been issued was not suitable to provide for his safe transport in the van, and that defendant DOCS and defendant, Glen S. Goord ("Goord"), the Commissioner of DOCS, were aware of the unsuitability. On February 14, 2001, in connection with this incident, plaintiff commenced an action in the Southern District of New York.

  During the course of that lawsuit, plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction requiring defendants to transport plaintiff using procedures and equipment consistent with the ADA. In support of his application, plaintiff submitted a report prepared by an expert on wheelchair transportation, Gina Bertocci, Ph.D. The report, which resulted from Dr. Bertocci's March 28, 2003, inspection of the equipment and techniques used at Green Haven for the transportation of prisoners requiring wheelchairs, indicates the following: that the wheelchair used by Green Haven to transport plaintiff is not intended for use as a motor vehicle seat, and does not meet the current standards of the American National Standards Institute/Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America ("ANSI/RESNA"); that the technique used to secure wheelchair-bound inmates exposes them to a higher risk of injury; and that the failure to properly use the Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint System ("WTORS") exposes wheelchair-bound inmates to a higher risk of injury. Dr. Bertocci concluded: that the procedures demonstrated by Green Haven personnel were in violation of ADA regulations, industry recommended practice, and guidelines provided by the WTORS manufacturer, which are posted in the vehicle; that use of the wheelchair that is inappropriate for vehicular transport, together with the poor procedures in place, will lead to an increased risk of injury during normal driving maneuvers, emergency driving maneuvers, or a crash; and that to reduce the risk of injury, ANSI/RESNA WC-19 compliant wheelchairs should be used for the vehicular transportation of wheelchair-bound inmates, and that those responsible for such transportation should undergo appropriate training.

  Neither Goord or DOCS disputed any of Dr. Bertocci's conclusions, or presented expert testimony of their own. However, on May 23, 2003, plaintiff was transferred to Five Points Correctional Facility ("Five Points") in Romulus, New York, and subsequently, on August 8, 2003, the Southern District entered an order denying injunctive relief, on the grounds that plaintiff's transfer rendered such application moot.

  On February 10, 2004, while incarcerated at Five Points, plaintiff was again transported by van, while in his wheelchair, to another outside medical facility. He claims that, on this occasion, he was injured when the van became involved in a motor vehicle accident. He also claims that he was not afforded proper medical care for the injuries he received as a result of the accident. Plaintiff further maintains that the equipment and procedures, which are the subject of the action before this Court, are the same as those employed at Green Haven on September 28, 2000.

  STANDARDS OF LAW

  A. Motion to Dismiss — Failure to State a Cause of Action

  To prevail on a motion for dismissal under Rule 12, a defendant must show that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. See H.J. Inc. v. Northwest Bell Telephone Co., 492 U.S. 229, 249 (1989); see also 2 MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE, § 12.34[1][a] (Matthew Bender 3d ed.). "In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a district court must limit itself to facts stated in the complaint or in documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated in the complaint by reference." Kramer v. Time Warner, Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773 (2d Cir. 1991). The Court must view the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.; see also 2 MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE, § 12.34[1][b] (Matthew Bender 3d ed.) (court must accept plaintiff's factual allegations as true). Under the modern rules of pleading, a plaintiff need only provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), and that "all pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice," FED. R. CIV. P. 8(f). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the issue before the Court "is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim." Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995).

 
Finally, while the plaintiff need not set out in detail the facts upon which he bases a claim, he must provide the "defendant fair notice of the nature of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests." Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134, 1140 (2d Cir. 1986) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99, 103, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 [1957]). Where the allegations are so baldly conclusory that they fail to give notice of the basic events and circumstances of which the plaintiff complains, they are meaningless as a practical matter and legally insufficient to state a claim. Barr v. Abrams, 810 F.2d 358, 363 (2d Cir. 1987) (citing Ostrer v. Aronwald, 567 F.2d 551, 553 [2d Cir. 1977]).
Parisi v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 995 F. Supp. 298, 300-01 (E.D.N.Y. 1998).

  B. Motion to Dismiss — The First-to-File Rule

  The parties agree that the claims made in the complaint against defendants Goord and DOCS in this case are similar to those made against them, by the same plaintiff, in the previously-filed lawsuit in the Southern District of New York. Defendants claim that based on this, the Court should dismiss the claims against these defendants. The Second Circuit has held that, "[t]he first to file rule embodies considerations of judicial administration and conservation of resources." First City Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. v. Simmons, 878 F.2d 76, 80 (1989). In that case, the court also wrote:
"[w]here there are two competing lawsuits, the first suit should have priority, absent the showing of balance of convenience . . . or . . . special circumstances . . . giving priority to the second." Motion Picture Lab. Technicians Loc. 780 v. McGregor & Werner, Inc., 804 F.2d 16, 19 (2d Cir. 1986). . . .
Balancing factors of convenience is essentially an equitable task. For that reason, an "ample degree of discretion" is afforded to the district courts in determining a suitable forum. Kerotest Mfg. Co., 342 U.S. 180, at 183-84 (1952). . . .
Id. at 79 (some internal citations omitted). Thus, there is a "presumption in favor of allowing the controversy to be adjudicated in the forum ...

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