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Shenk v. Cattaraugus County

September 25, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hugh B. Scott United States Magistrate Judge

Hon. Hugh B. Scott


Decision & Order

Before the Court is Defendants'motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 20).*fn1


On March 15, 2005, Plaintiffs Jay Shenk and Melissa Shenk commenced this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Plaintiff Jay Shenk's ("Shenk") constitutional rights were violated while he was a pre-trial detainee temporarily held in a lock-up cell without his medications, and suffered an anxiety attack. (Docket No. 1.) Defendants to this action include Cattaraugus County; Ernest Dustman, in his official capacity as Cattaraugus County Sheriff; Jamie Babb, Deputy Gonska, John Doe # 1 and John Doe # 2, in their individual and official capacity as Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department employees.

More specifically, Shenk claims that the defendants violated his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by taking away his medications before placing Shenk in a holding cell and failing to make the medications available to Shenk when he indicated to the Sheriff's Deputies that he needed them. It appears undisputed that on or about December 15, 2003, after appearing in a child support proceeding held in the Cattaraugus County Courthouse in Olean, New York, Shenk was taken into custody bythe Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department and placed in a holding cell located in the Courthouse, awaiting transportation to the Cattaraugus County Jail in Little Valley, New York. (Compl. ¶¶ 16, 18.)Shenk claims he informed the defendants that he had a medical condition and carried some medications which needed to be made available to him. (Compl. ¶ 17.)Shenk asserts that defendants Gonska and John Doe # 1 removed the medications from Shenk before placing him in the holding cell. (Compl. ¶ 18.)About 20 minutes later, Shenk was removed from the cell, given back his medications and taken to a police cruiser which, due to Shenk's large size, was determined to be unsuitable to transport him.*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 21; Shenk 50-H Depo.*fn3 p. 28.)While alternate transportation was being arranged, Shenk was returned to the holding cell and his medications were removed again. (Compl. ¶ 22; Shenk 50-H Depo. p. 28.) Shenk alleges that, at this time, he began to experience physical pain, suffering, anxiety, increased heart palpitations, pain in his arms and hands, and emotional distress. (Compl. ¶ 26.) He asserts that he requested to get his medications back from the defendants several times over a period of 15-30 minutes, fearing that his physical symptoms could cause fatal effects, but was denied access to them. (Compl. ¶¶ 27, 28; Shenk 50-H Depo. pp. 30-32.) Subsequently, in an effort to get further attention from the defendants, Shenk thrust his fist and forearm through a wire-reinforced glass window in the cell door, lacerating his right hand, wrist and arm. (Compl. ¶ 31; Shenk 50-H Depo. p. 34; Shenk Depo.*fn4 pp. 74-74.) Shenk alleges that his injury is a result of the defendants' deliberate indifference to his repeated requests for his medications and to his apparent physical and emotional distress. (Compl. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff Melissa Shenk claims that, as a consequence of this injury, she has been deprived of her husband's services, companionship and support. (Compl. ¶ 45.)

The defendants seek summary judgment, asserting that the defendants were not deliberately indifferent to Shenk's medical needs and were appropriately following corrections policies which require that all medications be removed from an individual to prevent an intentional or accidental overdose or misuse of the medications. (Docket No. 20, Defs.'Memo. at 5) Further, the defendants argue that the county policy followed by the individual defendants -- viz., removal of all personal effects of a detainee, including all medications, before placing the individual in a cell -- was in conformance with state mandates. Id. Lastly, the defendants contend that the failure to give Shenk his medication was not a proximate cause of Shenk's injury, which was rather a result of Shenk's own actions in punching the glass. Id.


Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no issues of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Trans Port, Inc. v. Starter Sportswear, Inc., 964 F.2d 186, 188 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party and grant summary judgment only if no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party. See Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991); Howley v. Town of Stratford, 217 F.3d 141 (2nd Cir. 2000). However, the non-moving party must, "demonstrate to the court the existence of a genuine issue of material fact." Lendino v. Trans Union Credit Information, Co., 970 F.2d 1110, 1112 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). A fact is material: when its resolution would "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law" and a dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party."

General Electric Company v. New York State Department of Labor, 936 F.2d 1448, 1452 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "The non-moving party must come forward with enough evidence to support a jury verdict . . . and the . . . motion will not be defeated merely . . . on the basis of conjecture or surmise." Trans Sport, 964 F.2d at 188 (citing Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d at 982). If undisputed material facts are properly placed before the court by the moving party, those facts will be deemed admitted, unless they are properly controverted by the non-moving party." Glazer v. Formica Corp., 964 F.2d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Dusanenko v. Maloney, 726 F.2d 82 (2d Cir. 1984). The Court's responsibility in addressing a summary judgment motion is identifying factual issues, not resolving them. See Burger King Corp. v. Horn & Hardart Co., 893 F.2d 525, 528 (2d Cir. 1990). However, summary judgment is appropriate "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Nippon Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Skyway Freight Systems, Inc., 235 F.3d 53 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Deliberate Indifference Claim Against the Defendants in Their Individual Capacities

The Eight Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments generally applies in the context of a convicted prisoner. Where, as here, the plaintiff was a pre-trial detainee, and not a person who had been convicted, his rights are protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 854, 856 (2d Cir. 1996) (with respect to receiving medical treatment, "an unconvicted detainee's rights are at least as great as those of a convicted prisoner"). However, the courts in the Second Circuit are split on the constitutional basis for analyzing a claim for deprivation of medical treatment to an arrestee by the law enforcement agency. SeeQuint v. Donaj, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37698, at *16-17 (D.Conn. Jan. 20, 2006) (noting the split); Freece v. Young, 756 F.Supp. 699, 701 (W.D.N.Y.1991) (Fisher, Mag. J.). Some courts have applied the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a standard similar to the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard. See Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Weyant, 101 F.3d at 856); Mowry v. Noone, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28225, at *12-13 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, ...

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