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Sayers v. City of New York

March 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sifton, Senior Judge.


Plaintiff Devin Sayers ("Sayers") brings this action against defendant City of New York ("City"), Correction Officer Mitteo Ferro ("Ferro"), and Correction Officer Miguel Nieves ("Nieves")to recover damages for injuries plaintiff suffered when, seated in his wheelchair, he fell backwards while riding in the back of a police van.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that the City and the two correction officers who were riding in the front of the van, were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's safety and medical needs. Plaintiff alleges federal claims against all defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.*fn2 In addition, plaintiff states claims against all defendants for violations of § 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff also states common law claims against all defendants for negligence,*fn3 gross negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.*fn4 Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, defendants moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all claims.*fn5 For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts are drawn from the parties' depositions, affidavits, exhibits, and Local Rule 56.1 statements. Disputes are noted.

Plaintiff Sayers is a New York resident and paraplegic*fn6 who has been confined to a wheelchair since 2000.*fn7 Defendant City is a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York. Defendants Ferro and Nieves are correction officers for the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC").

On May 21, 2004, plaintiff was arrested on charges of assault. He was incarcerated at the New York City Police Department 120th Precinct until his arraignment on May 23, 2004. After his arraignment, plaintiff was remanded to the DOC's custody as a pre-trial detainee. On May 23, 2004, plaintiff, confined to a manual wheelchair, was transferred to the custody of defendants Ferro and Nieves for transportation from the Staten Island Courthouse to the Riker's Island detention facility. Plaintiff, who was handcuffed, was pushed in his wheelchair into a DOC handicapped accessible van by the use of a ramp. A non-disabled prisoner was also transported with plaintiff in the DOC van. One officer pushed plaintiff into the van and positioned plaintiff's wheelchair on the right side of the vehicle.*fn8 Plaintiff's Exh. 3, Sayers Dep., p. 50. The wheelchair was placed over two metal anchors in the floor of the van. Straps were attached to these anchors. Plaintiff states that correction officers Ferro and Nieves put the straps through the back wheels of the wheelchair and crossed them over his waist "like a seatbelt." The officers "clicked" the straps into place in the metal anchors on the floor of the van. Plaintiff told defendant officers he could fall if they did not also strap his front wheels down. The officers stated that "this is our procedure, that "this is how we have to do it," and locked the wheels of his wheelchair. They did not strap down the two front two wheels.*fn9

Around 2:00 pm, while approaching the Verrazano Bridge towards Manhattan at a moderate speed, plaintiff's wheelchair tipped backwards. Plaintiff hit his head on the window of the van and landed on part of his back. Plaintiff felt pain on his right side. He called for help and told the prisoner riding with him in the van "to let the guy know that I needed medical attention." Plaintiff's Exh. 3, Sayers Dep., p. 72. The prisoner informed the officers that plaintiff was hurt. Officer Nieves testified that he heard a loud crash in the back of the van and heard plaintiff screaming. After plaintiff fell, the officers stopped the van at Hicks Street in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn House of Detention. Nieves noted that "[i]t took awhile [to stop] because of traffic. There was a lot of traffic at that time." Plaintiff's Exh. 4, Nieves Dep., p. 85. The officers opened the door of the van and attempted to return plaintiff to an upright position, but they were unable to do so. Upon instructions from a dispatcher, they then transported plaintiff to Manhattan House at 125 White Street in Manhattan, in order for plaintiff to obtain medical assistance. Defendant officers used "lights and sirens" when traveling to Manhattan House. See Def. Exh. K, Ferro Dep., p. 78. A Dr. Pedestru examined plaintiff at the Manhattan House, noted that plaintiff complained of pain in his ribs, and gave him pain medication. See Def. Exh. Q, DOC Injury to Inmate Report.

At 4:00 pm, an ambulance responded to Manhattan House and transferred plaintiff to Bellevue Hospital. According to the Ambulance Call Report, plaintiff complained that his ribs and right hip hurt. X-rays taken of plaintiff revealed that plaintiff sustained a contusion on his right hip as a result of the fall.*fn10

At 9:55 pm on May 23, 2004, plaintiff was admitted to the Riker's Island jail facility. See Def. Exh. E, DOC Report on New Admission. Around three hours later, at 1:03 am on May 24, 2004, plaintiff was "medically processed" by the DOC. See id. He arrived at the DOC receiving room intake area at around 2:10 am and was admitted to the health facility. According to plaintiff's Correctional Health medical records, plaintiff reported that his right side hurt "after a minor fall." Parties dispute whether DOC records show that plaintiff had other injuries.*fn11 Plaintiff states that when he complained of pain in his right hip, the doctor said there was little he could do.

Plaintiff was incarcerated on Riker's Island for six days, from May 23, 2004 to May 29, 2004. Bail was posted on May 28, 2004, and plaintiff was released on May 29, 2004. His girlfriend drove him home in her aunt's truck, which is not handicapped accessible. On June 10, 2004, plaintiff was treated at the emergency room at Staten Island University, where he was diagnosed with a fracture of his inferior pubic ramus. Plaintiff states that this injury caused plaintiff pain for nearly a year and worsened arthritis related to plaintiff's paraplegia.



This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367, supplemental jurisdiction exists over plaintiff's state law claims.

Summary Judgment Standard

A court must grant a motion for summary judgment if the movant shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and that "the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c). Summary judgment is appropriate "[w]hen the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A fact is material when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id.

The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Apex Oil Co. v. DiMauro, 822 F.2d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 1987). In order to defeat such a motion, the non-moving party must raise a genuine issue of material fact. The non-moving party may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation. Twin Labs., Inc. v. Weider Health & Fitness, 900 F.2d 566, 568 (2d Cir. 1990). In deciding such a motion the trial court must determine whether "after resolving all ambiguities and drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, a rational juror could find in favor of that party." Pinto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 221 F.3d 394, 398 (2d Cir. 2000).

Federal Claims against Defendants Ferro and Nieves Qualified Immunity

Defendants argue that summary judgment on claims against the individual defendants Ferro and Nieves is appropriate because Ferro and Nieves are entitled to qualified immunity.

"Where the defendant seeks qualified immunity, a ruling on that issue should be made early in the proceedings so that the costs and expenses of trial are avoided where the defense is dispositive." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). The doctrine of qualified immunity provides "immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. at 200 (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). Because qualified immunity is "an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation," id., qualified ...

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