United States District Court, S.D. New York
August 3, 2005.
Joel Murray, Plaintiff,
New York City, Warden Howard Robertson (H.D.M.), Johnson # 260, Bonalla # 854 and Department of Corrections, In Their Personal & Official Capacity, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CASEY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM & ORDER ADOPTING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
Plaintiff Joel Murray ("Plaintiff"), appearing pro se, filed
this § 1983 action against Howard Robertson, warden of the James
A. Thomas Center facility on Rikers Island in which Plaintiff was
housed, Correctional Captains Terrance Johnson and Alphonso
Bonilla, the City of New York, and the Department of Corrections
(collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges several
constitutional violations arising out of Defendants' treatment of
him while he was a prisoner on Rikers Island. At the conclusion
of discovery,*fn1 the parties filed motions, which
Magistrate Judge Dolinger treated as cross-motions for summary
judgment. In a Report and Recommendation ("Report") dated April
21, 2005, Magistrate Judge Dolinger recommended that Defendants'
motion for summary judgment be granted and that Plaintiff's
motion be denied. After considering Plaintiff's objections, this
Court adopts Judge Dolinger's Report in its entirety.
In January 1999, Plaintiff was taken into custody and processed
at Rikers Island. At that time, corrections officers discovered a
razor concealed in his coat and, as a result, classified him as a
"red-card inmate." Pltff's Dep. Tr. at 125, 127. Red-card inmates
are handcuffed with their hands behind their backs and are
required to wear gloves when they are transported outside the
prison. The January 1999 charges were eventually dismissed, but
when Plaintiff was rearrested in April of that year, his red-card
classification remained in place. Id. at 81-83, 127.
Before the incidents giving rise to this complaint, Plaintiff
states that he sustained several head injuries in the 1970s, which resulted in periodic blackouts.
Id. at 113-15. Plaintiff also claims that he has experienced
seizures since he was a child, but they became more intense in
1994. Id. at 172-73. While in custody, on August 18, 1999
Plaintiff sustained back and head injuries in a collision between
two Corrections Department buses. Id. at 116-119. Additionally,
on September 7, 1999, while in court, his "whole back and leg
gave out," and Plaintiff has since been authorized to walk with
the assistance of a cane. Id. at 118-23.
Plaintiff states that although his red-card status required
shackling from behind, some Rikers correction officers allowed
him to be shackled in front. Id. at 127-28. Once, due to
administrative error, he was not shackled at all while being
transported to court. Id. at 128-29. Plaintiff also claims that
after the September 7 incident, some guards shackled him in front
so that he could use his cane. Id. at 129.
On November 15, 1999, Plaintiff refused to enter the prison bus
scheduled to take him to court for his trial because the
corrections officer insisted on shackling him from behind. Id.
at 130-31. Plaintiff then went to the prison clinic, accompanied
by one or more guards, to seek a new permit card for his cane.
The nurse on duty advised him and the officers that the clinic
records showed that Plaintiff was authorized to have a cane, but
that the clinic doctors had not approved him to be handcuffed in
the front. The nurse also told the Plaintiff to return to the
clinic after the day in court to be evaluated. Id. at 135-37.
Plaintiff then allowed himself to be shackled from behind and
took his cane and went to the bus. Id. at 137.
When the bus arrived at 111 Centre Street,*fn2 Plaintiff
was told to exit. Plaintiff apparently used his cane to guide
himself backwards down the steps and in doing so he "miscounted"
the number of steps. As a result he fell and struck his head.
Id. at 140-43. Plaintiff was taken to court in a wheelchair. At
the conclusion of the trial day, the presiding judge ordered
Plaintiff to seek medical attention. Id. at 148-50.
Plaintiff was then taken to the holding area for red-card
inmates. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Johnson entered the
bullpen, stood on a bench, and asked "how are we going to do this
in an intimidating way?" Plaintiff insists he ignored Defendant
Johnson. Id. at 152-54. Nurse Bonds entered the holding area,
took Plaintiff out into the hallway, examined him, and gave him
Motrin (and "stuff like that"), but did not take him for x-rays.
Id. at 152-54. Because he was not given x-rays, Plaintiff
refused to countersign the medical report. Id. at 157. Nurse
Bonds reported Plaintiff was cleared for transportation and
instructed Defendants Johnson and Bonilla to lift him by the
elbows when removing him from the wheelchair. Plaintiff claims
that Defendants Johnson and Bonilla lifted Plaintiff out of the
wheelchair, and threw him onto a bench seat in the van. Id. at
157. Plaintiff suffered no injuries as a result of this toss
"because at that point they really didn't force they picked me
up and threw me on. They really didn't use no force." Id. at 160.
Plaintiff testified that while he was on the van he blacked out
or fell asleep and awoke to find himself on the prison bus with
intense back and head pain. Id. at 161-63. Once back at Rikers,
Plaintiff was carried off the bus on a stretcher and examined by
a doctor who gave him ice packs, Motrin, and a cane. Id. at
166-67. According to prison medical records, the examining doctor
observed a hematoma on the back of Plaintiff's head, but
Plaintiff was able to walk back to his cell on his own. Pltff's
Memo at Ex. D.
Over the next few days, Plaintiff refused to have x-rays taken
of his back because he wanted the prison to x-ray his head as
well. Pltff's Dep. Tr. at 168-69. Before meeting again with the
prison doctor, Plaintiff encountered Defendant Robertson in the
hall and complained to him about his intense head pains. The
warden responded that he could only "contact the medical
department and ask them to reevaluate [Murray's] medical
condition." Id. at 169. Plaintiff attributes the subsequent
summons for back and head x-rays to the warden's intervention.
Id. at 170. The prison doctor allegedly told Plaintiff that the
x-rays did not reveal anything and prescribed physical therapy.
Id. at 170-71. Plaintiff received therapy and a back brace and
was given a course of Depakote by a neurologist to control
"seizures and stuff like that." Id. at 171; Pltff's Memo at Ex.
After a thorough review of the complaint, Plaintiff's
deposition, and other exhibits, Magistrate Judge Dolinger found
that he could not sustain a cause of action under § 1983.
Plaintiff has not established that the red-card classification
and its requirements violated his equal protection rights. Nor
has he demonstrated that any alleged denial of medical care
reached the level of deliberate indifference to his serious
medical needs or that he was subjected to excessive force in
violation of due process protections. Although Plaintiff objects
to the entire Report, his objections do not raise issues that
have not already been thoroughly and properly resolved by
Magistrate Judge Dolinger.
The Court reviews de novo the portions of the Report to which
the Plaintiff objects. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b);
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c).
A. General Objections
Plaintiff objects that in delaying a decision on the
cross-motions, Magistrate Judge Dolinger has prejudiced Plaintiff
because it will be more difficult to locate eye-witnesses and
documents in support of his case. As was noted above, Plaintiff
had several opportunities to identify and locate eye-witnesses
and documents throughout the discovery process. Discovery was
complete at the time the parties filed their motions for summary
judgment. Therefore, Plaintiff could not possibly be prejudiced
by the time Magistrate Judge Dolinger spent reviewing his claims.
Plaintiff objects to the Report in its entirety because it
suggests that Plaintiff was absentminded concerning his whereabouts during his trial. Again, as the Court
has pointed out, the dispute about the location of Plaintiff's
criminal trial and Magistrate Judge Dolinger's judicious attempt
at resolving it are not relevant to the success of Plaintiff's
claims. Moreover, Magistrate Judge Dolinger explicitly viewed the
record in a light most favorable to Plaintiff and considered
possible actions by Defendants that Plaintiff proposed, even when
there was no evidentiary support for them. See generally Report
at 6-18; see also id. at 12 (considering possibility, as
Plaintiff suggested, that Defendants had thrown him from the
B. Constitutional Claims
Plaintiff insists that the red-card policy violates his rights
under the Equal Protection Clause. Although the Equal Protection
Clause requires that "`the government treat all similarly
situated people alike,'" Cobb v. Pozzi, 352 F.3d 79, 99 (2d Cir.
2003) (quoting Harlen Assocs. v. Inc. Vill. of Mineola,
273 F.3d 494, 499 (2d Cir. 2001), the Supreme Court has upheld a "unitary,
deferential standard for reviewing prisoners' constitutional
claims. . . ." Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001).
Therefore, "so long as there is a plausible policy reason for the
classification . . . and the relationship of the classification
to its goal is not so attenuated as to render the distraction
arbitrary or irrational," the Equal Protection Clause is
satisfied. Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1, 11 (1992). Although
the red-card policy requires behind-the-back shackling that
presented a physical challenge to Plaintiff who required the use
of a cane, the policy was designed to ensure the safety of prison
staff, other inmates, and the public from potentially dangerous
inmates. Because Plaintiff was in possession of a weapon at the
time of his processing at Rikers Island, the enforcement of the
red-card policy was clearly legitimate and thus did not violate
Plaintiff's rights under the Equal Protection Clause.
Plaintiff also claims he was denied appropriate medical care.
To establish denial of appropriate medical care, an inmate must
demonstrate "deliberate indifference to his serious medical
needs." Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994)
(citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)). Serious medical
conditions exist where "the failure to treat a prisoner's
condition could result in further significant injury or the
unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Chance v. Armstrong,
143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotations and
citations omitted). Plaintiff described his injuries as serious
head pain and back strain as a result of his fall from the prison
bus on November 15, 1999, which were aggravated during the bus
ride back to the prison later that evening. Plaintiff conceded,
however, that he received medical treatment at the courthouse
after his fall from the bus, that he received further medical
attention upon his return to the prison that evening, and that he
received follow-up care in the succeeding days. Further, there is
no evidence to indicate that any authoritative figure acted with
deliberate indifference to his condition. Therefore, Plaintiff's
claim that he was denied appropriate medical care is baseless.
Plaintiff also claims he was subjected to excessive force when
defendants "threw" him into the prison van prior to his
transportation to Rikers Island on November 15 and when Captain
Johnson's acted in an "intimidating" manner towards Plaintiff in
the red-card bullpen. To establish an excessive force claim under
the Due Process Clause, the Plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct of the prison staff amounted to "wanton and
unnecessary infliction of pain." Gregg v. Goergia,
428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976) (citations omitted). The court must ascertain
whether the correctional officer acted "`in a good-faith effort
to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and
sadistically to cause harm.'" Sims v. Artuz, 230 F. 3d 14, 21
(2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7
(1992). Although Plaintiff alleged that the officers "threw" him
into the bus, he later admitted they used no force and that he
had suffered no injury. Additionally, although Plaintiff
complained that Captain Johnson used intimidating tactics,
Plaintiff again conceded that the captain used only words and
gestures (including standing on a bench), and never touched him.
By admitting no excess force was used in either scenario, the
Plaintiff effectively invalidated his own excessive force claim.
As to the City's liability, Plaintiff must show that a policy
or practice of the City caused the alleged deprivation of his
rights. Moreover, a plaintiff "must prove that the defendants'
actions against him were caused by a specific identifiable policy
. . . or that the challenged conduct resulted directly from a
decision `properly made by the government's authorized
decision-makers.'" Flynn v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 2002 WL
31175229, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2002) (quoting Monell v. New
York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978) and
Penbaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481 (1986)).
Because Plaintiff has alleged no such policy, Plaintiff's claim
against the city should be dismissed.
Finally, Plaintiff moved for sanctions regarding spoilage of
evidence. This Court adopts the Magistrate's recommended denial
of Plaintiff's motion because there has been no demonstration
that Defendants engaged in discovery misconduct.
For the reasons explained above, the Court adopts the
Magistrate's thorough and reasoned Report and Recommendation.
Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. Plaintiff's
motion is denied. The Court agrees that Plaintiff's request for
sanctions should be denied. The Clerk of the Court is asked to
close the case.