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Hill v. Nieves

March 31, 2008

KEVION HILL, AN INFANT BY HIS MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN MARGIE HILL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GEORGE NIEVES, INDIVIDUALLY, AS A COUNSELOR WITH THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES AT THE PYRAMID RECEPTION CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Infant plaintiff Kevion Hill ("Hill") and his mother and natural guardian Margie Hill bring suit against the City of New York as well as ten city and state employees, alleging that the defendants violated Hill's federal constitutional and state-law rights in connection with an injury he suffered while in the custody of the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice. Defendants have moved to dismiss or for summary judgment in three separate motions, and plaintiffs have not opposed the motion. For the following reasons, the motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

The facts that follow are undisputed --- principally because plaintiff failed to make any submission in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment. By order of the New York City Family Court, Hill was placed with the Office of Children and Family Services on June 29, 2005 and was sent to the Spofford Bridges Detention Center ("Spofford"), a detention facility operated by the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice. On July 8, while at Spofford, Hill was playing basketball with three other juveniles. One of them hit Hill twice with his fist on the right side of his jaw, and then on the chin. According to Hill, he was "very dizzy" but not unconscious after he was struck. He was able to talk. He was bleeding inside his mouth.

Spofford staff immediately took Hill to see the nurse, who examined Hill's mouth and "said that it was a wisdom tooth or something growing in," according to Hill. Hill recalls informing the nurse that he felt like his jaw was broken. Hill was also examined by Dr. Philomena Ude, a facility physician. Dr. Ude found that Hill suffered from pain on his right lower jaw, that there was no swelling, and there was no limitation of jaw movement. She concluded that there was no indication of a fracture at that time. Ice was administered, and Hill was given Motrin to treat his pain.

Following his visit with the nurse and physician, Hill was escorted to meet with Ms. Johnson, one of the administrators on duty at the time. Hill filled out a written report about the incident on the basketball court, and told Ms. Johnson and other administrators on duty that he "felt that something was wrong with my jaw, that my jaw may be broke." Hill was moved to the segregated housing unit at his own request following the incident. He began to notice swelling in his jaw two to three hours after he was struck.

In the days following the incident, Hill visited Spofford's medical unit "several times," and was given Motrin and antibiotics to treat his jaw. At the direction of Dr. Ude, Hill was given broth and crackers to eat. No x-ray was performed while Hill was at Spofford. On July 10, Hill reported that his jaw was swollen, that he could not sleep on his jaw, and that he needed an x-ray. Physician's assistant Jean-Baptiste Richards evaluated Hill that day, and reported that he suffered from swelling and tenderness of the lower jaw. Richards concluded that Hill's jaw had been fractured; he therefore consulted the facility physician on call at the time. The facility physician determined that Hill's swelling was due to an infection rather than a fracture. The physician deferred an x-ray examination and prescribed hot-water soaks, Motrin, and an antibiotic for Hill. Hill spoke with his mother the same day, and told her that he thought his jaw was broken.

On July 11, Hill was again evaluated by the facility physician, who did not observe any evidence of jaw fracture or dislocation. Rather, the physician found minimal swelling and abrasions over Hill's wisdom tooth. The physician added a daily saline rinse to Hill's regimen, and ordered that he resume a regular diet because he had been observed eating regular food without any discomfort.

On July 13, five days after Hill was hit, he was transferred to the Pyramid Detention Center ("Pyramid"), where he was to begin a fourteen-day program in advance of entering an Office of Children and Family Services facility. Pursuant to Pyramid's general practices, Hill was interviewed by a nurse, defendant Patricia Armstrong,*fn1 during his first night there. Hill told Armstrong about the incident at Spofford, and Armstrong felt his jaw and examined his mouth. Hill did not evidence any difficulty in speaking. He did not tell Armstrong that he was having difficulty sleeping on his jaw, or that he felt he needed an x-ray. Armstrong was not informed by Hill or anyone else that Hill had requested an x-ray in writing while he was at Spofford, nor was she aware that anyone at Spofford had suggested Hill might need an x-ray. She gave Hill the same medication he had been receiving at Spofford.

Shortly after Armstrong completed her examination, facility physician Dr. Horn arrived at Pyramid and examined Hill. Dr. Horn's assessment of Hill was that there was no sign of "crepitus" or fracture, and that Hill could wait until Monday, July 18 to go for an x-ray because a substantial amount of time had passed since the incident occurred, and because if Hill waited until Monday, he could be seen by a dental specialist for any necessary further treatment. Dr. Horn told Hill that he would soon be sent for an x-ray. In addition to Armstrong and Dr. Horn, several other Pyramid staff members examined Hill. According to Hill, he was treated "good" by Pyramid staff, and was given a "special diet" of soup, milk shakes, yogurt, applesauce, and Ensure during his stay at the facility.

Following their interviews with the nurse, youths admitted to Pyramid are generally assigned to a particular group of seven or eight arriving youths, called "cohorts" and each designated with a particular color. Each cohort is in turn assigned to a Pyramid staff member who serves as the cohort's "Youth Counselor." The Youth Counselor usually meets with the cohort on the next business day after the youths' arrival at Pyramid, at which time the Counselor interviews the cohort members to elicit certain information about their background, complete intake and family contact forms, and answer any questions or concerns the youths might have. Rather than being immediately assigned to a cohort, however, Hill was assigned to a temporary unit and was assigned to the Red Cohort two days later, on July

15. Because July 15 was a Friday, Hill was not scheduled to meet with his cohort leader, Nieves George,*fn2 until Monday, July 18. On that day, however, Hill was transported out of Pyramid to an outside hospital. Hill and Nieves did not meet on or before July 18.

On July 18, five days after Hill's arrival at Pyramid, Armstrong contacted defendant Gregory Jones,*fn3 a Pyramid youth counselor and the administrator on duty that day, to inform him of Hill's condition and to arrange Hill's transportation to an outside hospital. Jones interviewed Hill about his condition, and Hill informed Jones that he had injured his jaw during an incident at Spofford on July 8. Jones called the central state office to advise them that Hill would be transported to an outside hospital, and then called Hill's mother to advise her of her son's condition. Hill testified that Jones was a "very nice guy" and "was very helpful to me."

Hill was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was sent for x-rays and then to the dental department. The x-rays revealed a fractured right mandible. He was told to return the following day and when he did, his jaw was wired shut. He then returned to Pyramid, where he resumed his diet of soft foods and was weighed every four to five days to ensure that his weight remained consistent. Hill did not file any medical ...


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