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Wegman v. Grimmke

September 27, 2007

ROBERT L. WEGMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN GRIMMKE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 alleging that Defendants violated his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendants have filed separate Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 192, 193, 201). For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff has filed a Motion to Preclude Summary Judgment (Docket No. 206) and a Motion for a Determination under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) (Docket No. 232). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motions are denied.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on March 26, 2003. (Docket No. 1). On May 28, 2004, This Court permitted Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint. (Amended Complaint at Docket No. 95). On September 30, 2004, this Court issued a Decision and Order granting summary judgment to Defendants Fowler and Hopkins, and denying summary judgment as to Defendant Canfield. (Docket No. 139). On March 10, 2005, this Court issued a Decision and Order granting dismissal to Defendants Reynolds, Guinane, Bradford County, Brown, DeLauro, Robert Packer Hospital, Homan, Gillott, Bradley, and Noone. (Docket No. 163).

Defendant Ira Davenport Memorial Hospital filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on February 27, 2006.*fn1 (Docket No. 192). Defendants Curt Eaton, Cheng Yin, John A. Gibson, and John Grimmke filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on February 28, 2006.*fn2 (Docket No. 193). Defendants Steuben County, the Steuben County Jail, Jeanna Berry, Gerald McComber, Karen Mead, Kirk Sager, Chris Lian, and Keith Barrett filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 7, 2006.*fn3 (Docket No. 201).

Plaintiff filed a Motion to Preclude Summary Judgment on April 5, 2006.*fn4 (Docket No. 206). Plaintiff filed a Motion for a Determination under Rule 54(b) on October 3, 2006.*fn5 (Docket No. 232).

B. Facts

Plaintiff was arrested on May 13, 2000, following an incident where he held three individuals at gunpoint for an extended period of time. See People v. Wegman, 2 A.D.3d 1333 (4th Dept. 2003). The three individuals overcame Plaintiff by beating him with fireplace tools and a shillelagh. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶¶ 30-32). Following his arrest, Plaintiff was transported by helicopter to the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶ 33). Plaintiff was diagnosed with facial bone fractures, and was released two days later to the custody of the New York State Police. (Complaint, Exhibits A-12, A-13). Plaintiff alleges that various Defendants conspired to arrange his early discharge from the hospital despite his serious medical needs. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶ 39). Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Howard Dash, a reconstructive surgeon at the Robert Packer Hospital, intended to perform facial reconstructive surgery on Plaintiff had he not been prematurely discharged from the hospital. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶ 39).

After he was discharged from the Hospital, Plaintiff was briefly housed at the Bradford County Jail in Pennsylvania, and eventually moved to the Steuben County Jail in New York. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶¶ 44-55).

While at the Steuben County Jail, Plaintiff was taken to the Ira Davenport Hospital on June 2, 2000, where he was examined by Dr. Mohammad Mirza. (Complaint, Exhibit C-1). Dr. Mirza confirmed that Plaintiff had suffered facial fractures, and indicated that Plaintiff should follow up with a maxillary surgeon for his face. (Complaint, Exhibits C-1, C-3). Shortly thereafter, on June 5, 2000, Plaintiff again saw Dr. Dash at the Robert Packer Hospital. (Complaint, Exhibit C-4). Dr. Dash recommended a surgical procedure to repair Plaintiff's facial fractures. (Complaint, Exhibit C-4).

Plaintiff alleges that the Steuben County Defendants (Steuben County, the Steuben County Jail, Jeanna Berry, Gerald McComber, Karen Mead, Kirk Sager, Chris Lian, and Keith Barrett) exhibited a deliberate indifference to his medical needs and subjected him to extreme pain by refusing to provide the necessary pain medications and facial reconstructive surgery. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶ 64).*fn6

On September 26, 2000-in an incident unrelated to his facial injuries-Plaintiff fell and injured his ankle while exiting a jail transport van at the Ira Davenport Memorial Hospital. (Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts, Docket No. 192-2, ¶ 4). Multiple X-rays of Plaintiff's ankle did not indicate a fracture. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶ 67; Beeman Affidavit, Docket No. 192-10, Exhibit E). On December 23, 2000, x-rays of Plaintiff's ankle revealed a healing fracture of the distal fibula. (Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts, Docket No. 210, ¶ 8). Plaintiff has filed an Eighth Amendment claim against the Ira Davenport Memorial Hospital and the Steuben County Defendants alleging that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs in treating his ankle injury. (Amended Complaint, Docket No. 95, ¶ 74).

Plaintiff lastly alleges that Dr. John Gibson failed to treat Plaintiff's dental problems, which caused him to suffer severe pain. (Plaintiff's Mem., Docket No. 212, pp. 14-16). Dr. Gibson became aware of Plaintiff's dental problems at an initial examination on August 26, 2002. (Plaintiff's Affirmation, Docket No. 209, p. 6; Defendant's Mem., Docket No. 196, p. 16). Dr. Gibson did not see or treat Plaintiff until a second appointment nearly a year later on August 4, 2003. (Plaintiff's Statement of Facts, Docket No. 209, p. 6). Plaintiff alleges that this delay shows a deliberate indifference to his medical needs. (Plaintiff's Mem., Docket No. 212, pp. 14-16).

III. DISCUSSION

Cognizant of the distinct disadvantage that pro se litigants face, federal courts routinely read their submissions liberally, and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed. 2d 652 (1972); Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994). Since Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, this Court has considered his submissions and arguments accordingly.

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted where 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 judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A "genuine issue" exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Ford v. Reynolds, 316 F.3d 351, 354 (2d Cir. 2003). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In a case where the non-moving party bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant may satisfy its burden by pointing to the absence of evidence supporting an essential element of the non-moving party's claim. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

At this stage, the function of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.Thus, summary judgment is not appropriate if "there is any evidence in the record that could reasonably support a jury's verdict for the non-moving party." Ford, 316 F.3d at 354.

When deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence "in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Addickes v. S.H. Kress and Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct.1598, 1609, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). However, the party against whom summary judgment is sought "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991).

B. Denial of Medical Treatment Claims

Civil liability is imposed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only upon persons who, acting under color of state law, deprive an individual of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983.On its own, § 1983 does not provide a source of substantive rights, but rather, a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere in the federal statutes and Constitution. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94,109 S.Ct. 1865, 1870, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2695, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979)). Accordingly, as a threshold matter in reviewing claims brought pursuant to § 1983, it is necessary to precisely identify the constitutional violations alleged. See Baker, 443 U.S. at 140. Here, Plaintiff's denial of medical treatment claim is grounded in the Eighth Amendment.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, and "prohibits the infliction of 'cruel and unusual punishments' on those convicted of crimes." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297, 11 S.Ct. 2321, 2323, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991); U.S. Const. amend. VIII. As such, prison conditions and the treatment prisoners receive while incarcerated are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment. See DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Svcs., 489 U.S. 189, 199-200, 109 S.Ct. 998, 1005-1006, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989). In addition, the Supreme Court has recognized that a prisoner's claim that he was intentionally denied medical treatment is cognizable under the Eighth Amendment and § 1983:

We therefore conclude that deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain proscribed by the Eighth Amendment. This is true whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed. Regardless of how evidenced, deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury states a cause of action under § 1983. . . .

In order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. It is only such indifference that can offend evolving standards of decency in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291, 292, 50 L.Ed.2d 25 (1976) (quotations and citations omitted).

"A claim of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment has two components -- one subjective, focusing on the defendant's motive for his conduct, and the other objective, focusing on the conduct's effect." Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 20 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7-8, 112 S.Ct. 995, 999, 117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992); Blyden v. Mancusi, 186 F.3d 252, 262 (2d Cir. 1999)). With respect to a claim of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, a prisoner must show that he suffered from a "sufficiently serious" medical condition, see Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998), and that the defendants acted with a "sufficiently culpable state of mind," Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994).

The subjective component "requires a showing that the defendant "had the necessary level of culpability, shown by actions characterized by 'wantonness' in light of the particular circumstances surrounding the challenged conduct." Sims, 230 F.3d at 21 (citations omitted). The objective component is "contextual and responsive to contemporary standards of decency." Id. (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8).

"An official acts with the requisite deliberate indifference when he 'knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must be both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.'"

Brown v. Picarelli, No. 96 Civ. 1222, 2003 WL 1906180, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 15, 2003) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837, 114 ...


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