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Bumpus v. Canfield

July 20, 2007

JAMES BUMPUS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WESLEY K. CANFIELD, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff James Bumpus, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleges that defendants, all of whom at all relevant times were officials or employees of DOCS, have violated his constitutional rights in connection with plaintiff's medical care and treatment while he was confined at the Elmira Correctional Facility ("Elmira") from 2004 to 2005. Defendants have moved for summary judgment.

Most of plaintiff's claims arise out of the treatment plaintiff received for a host of medical conditions including hypertension, renal failure of the right kidney, hepatitis C, renal cell cancer, recurrent urinary tract infections, and left heart dysfunction, from about May 2004 to August 2005. Plaintiff alleges that defendants Wesley Canfield, M.D., Correctional Officers ("C.O.") Michael Riddle, and Richard Scott, and Nurse Marijon Hopkins violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution by acting with deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

Plaintiff also asserts claims against Correctional Sergeant Ballachino and C.O. Gary Materne. Plaintiff alleges that Ballachino retaliated against him for writing letters to DOCS officials, and for filing grievances, complaining about various matters. Plaintiff alleges that Materne deliberately denied him access to the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC").

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) provides that a moving party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court's role in determining a motion for summary judgment is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must draw inferences from underlying facts "in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)).

Once the moving party satisfies his initial burden under Rule 56(c) of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). Otherwise stated, "a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but ... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A genuine issue of material fact exists only if the record, taken as a whole, could lead a reasonable trier of fact to find in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

Where the party opposing summary judgment is proceeding pro se, the Court must "read the pleadings ... liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Corcoran v. New York Power Auth., 202 F.3d 530, 536 (2d Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, "proceeding pro se does not otherwise relieve [opposing party] from the usual requirements of summary judgment." Fitzpatrick v. N.Y. Cornell Hosp., No. 00-Civ.-8594, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25166, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2003); see also Stinson v. Sheriff's Dep't of Sullivan County, 499 F.Supp. 259, 262 (S.D.N.Y. 1980) (holding that the liberal standard accorded to pro se pleadings "is not without limits, and all normal rules of pleading are not absolutely suspended").

II. Eighth Amendment Claims: General Principles

To show that prison medical treatment was so inadequate as to amount to "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, plaintiff must prove that defendant's actions or omissions amounted to "deliberate indifference to a serious medical need." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). To establish such a claim, then, the prisoner must prove (1) the existence of a serious medical need and (2) defendants' deliberate indifference to that need.

The Second Circuit has stated that a medical need is "serious" for constitutional purposes if it presents "'a condition of urgency' that may result in 'degeneration' or 'extreme pain.'" Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1154 (1995)). Among the relevant factors for determining whether a serious medical need exists are "[t]he existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Chance, 143 F.3d at 702 (quoting McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059-60 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997)).

"[W]here the prisoner is receiving appropriate on-going treatment for his condition, but ... brings a ... denial of medical care claim based on a temporary delay or interruption in treatment," the Second Circuit has explained that the "serious medical need inquiry can properly take into account the severity of the temporary deprivation alleged by the prisoner." Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 186 (2d Cir. 2003) (footnote omitted). The court in Smith added that "it's the particular risk of harm faced by a prisoner due to the challenged deprivation of care, rather than the severity of the prisoner's underlying medical condition, considered in the abstract, that is relevant for Eighth Amendment purposes." Id. Nevertheless, the court added, significant "risks may be absent ... where the alleged lapses in treatment are minor and inconsequential," id., and that "in most cases, the actual medical consequences that flow from the alleged denial of care will be highly relevant to the question of whether the denial of treatment subjected the prisoner to a significant risk of serious harm." Id. at 187.

The "deliberate indifference" component, as explained by the Supreme Court, includes both an objective and subjective element. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-299 (1991). With respect to the objective aspect, the court must ask whether there has been a sufficiently serious deprivation of the prisoner's constitutional rights. Id. "[O]nly those deprivations denying 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities' are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation." Id. at 298 (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). Thus, Eighth Amendment protection is limited to "a condition of urgency that may result in degeneration or extreme pain." Chance, 143 F.3d at 702.

With respect to the subjective aspect, the court must consider whether the deprivation was brought about by defendants in wanton disregard of those rights. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298-99. To establish indifference of a constitutional magnitude, plaintiff must prove that the defendants had a culpable state of mind and intended wantonly to inflict pain. See id. at 299; DesRosier v. Moran, 949 F.2d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 1991); Ross v. Kelly, 784 F. Supp. 35, 44 (W.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 970 F.2d 896 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1040 (1992).

The Court in Estelle also cautioned that mere negligence is not actionable. "A [prisoner's] complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eight Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. Rather, the plaintiff must allege conduct that is "repugnant to the conscience of mankind," id. at 102, or "incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," id. at 105-06. It is clear, then, that allegations of malpractice alone do not state a constitutional claim. Id. at 106 n. 14; Chance, 143 F.3d at 703-04; Ross, 784 F. Supp. at 44.

Likewise, an inmate's "mere disagreement over the proper treatment does not create a constitutional claim. So long as the treatment given is adequate, the fact that a prisoner might prefer a different treatment does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation." Chance, 143 F.3d at 703; see also Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1977) ("The courts will not intervene upon allegations of mere negligence, mistake or difference of opinion").

Finally, as with all claims under § 1983, the plaintiff must establish the defendant's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation. Johnson v. Newburgh Enlarged Sch. Dist., 239 F.3d 246, 254 (2d Cir. 2001); Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2001). A supervisory official's personal involvement may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation; (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom; (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts; or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate ...


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