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Lombardo v. Holanchock

June 25, 2008

SCOTT LOMBARDO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOWARD HOLANCHOCK, DR. CHANDRASEKHARA, FRANK BRUSINSKI, DR. SHEYAS BAXI, DR. SADORRA, LYNBURGH BURTON, ZELMA ARMSTRONG, JOHN DOE, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION & ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Scott Lombardo brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights by staff members at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center ("Mid-Hudson"), to which Lombardo was civilly committed and where he currently resides. Defendants have moved to dismiss, claiming principally that Lombardo has failed to allege any violation of his constitutionally protected rights. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the complaint and are assumed to be true, as they must be on a motion to dismiss.*fn1

Lombardo is a patient-resident at "Mid-Hudson," a secure New York State facility that provides comprehensive evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation, pursuant to court order, for offenders who have been found not guilty by reason of mental defect or incompetent to stand trial.*fn2 He was civilly committed to Mid-Hudson after he pleaded insanity "for a crime that he committed."*fn3

On August 15, 2006, Lombardo attended a Gold Card Bingo game, which is restricted to patients with "Gold Card" status.

He sat next to patient Rebecca B. About an hour into the game, Rebecca B. "announced that she was going to the bathroom" and did not return. Later that evening, Lombardo was informed by defendant Dr. Sadorra that Rebecca B. claimed Lombardo "rubbed her leg and made obscene comments to her such as[] he wanted to have sex with her."

The following day, Lombardo met with his treatment team, which included defendants Dr. Sheyas Baxi and Dr. Chandrasekhara, to discuss Rebecca B.'s allegations. Lombardo denied any wrongdoing. His treatment team suspended his Gold Card status and prohibited him from attending co-ed activities pending an investigation. On August 17, Lombardo was interviewed by a member of the institution's risk management team, to whom he provided a list of witnesses to testify on his behalf concerning Rebecca B.'s allegations.

On August 18, Lombardo was prohibited from attending Jewish services by Baxi, who explained that the services were co-ed and therefore off limits to Lombardo. Later that afternoon, Lombardo met with members of the Mental Hygiene Legal Services team, who told him that they would work on gaining him access to Jewish services. His Gold Card status was restored on October 31, but the restrictions on his attendance at co-ed activities remained in place. On November 22, Lombardo's treatment team informed him that he would slowly be phased back into co-ed activities. That day, he was permitted to attend a pizza party.

On December 7, Lombardo attended a Behavior Change Group, facilitated by defendant Zelma Armstrong. At that meeting, Lombardo spoke of recent problems he was having with his girlfriend. He also revealed that his girlfriend had been bringing him caffeinated coffee, which is contraband at Mid-Hudson. Armstrong told Lombardo that she was required to report his admission to the treatment team.

The following day, Lombardo's treatment team, including defendant Frank Brusinski, informed Lombardo that his girlfriend would no longer be permitted to visit him because she had "introduced contraband to the facility." The team also searched Lombardo's room and found $34.10 in change. Six dollars of this was placed in Lombardo's personal account; the remainder was placed into the patients' general fund.

On December 26, a box of Christmas cookies was delivered to Lombardo's ward. Throughout the morning, Lombardo observed Mid-Hudson staff members eating the cookies. Believing that the cookies were reserved for patients only, Lombardo reported the staff members' behavior to two members of the ward's staff. At 10 p.m. that evening, Lombardo was awakened by Mid-Hudson staff who informed him that his room was to be searched because the staff had received information that Lombardo was in possession of contraband matches. This search --- or "shake down" -- was approved by Sadorra and supervised by defendant Lynburgh Burton. During the search, which lasted forty-five minutes, Mid-Hudson staff recovered sugar packets, ziplock bags, shoe laces, and two sexually provocative pictures. No matches were recovered. The following day, Lombardo met with his treatment team. He was placed on inappropriate sexual behavior alert by Baxi, which resulted in his segregation from the general population for approximately one week.

Lombardo was again required to meet with his treatment team on January 25, 2007, after he sent a birthday card to a female patient. Baxi informed Lombardo that he was not permitted to communicate with any female patients, except during religious services. Lombardo asked Baxi whether she "wanted him to be a homosexual." As a result, he was given an "X," which resulted in four weeks' additional suspension of his Gold Card status.

Lombardo regained his Gold Card status on March 2. On March 9, his treatment team informed him that he had been accused by a patient of pinching his buttocks in the shower. As a result, Lombardo was transferred to a different ward, where he was assigned a new treatment team. Only three days after his transfer, the new treatment team informed Lombardo that "there [we]re already rumors that plaintiff made passes at patients in the shower room." Accordingly, Sadorra restricted Lombardo to solitary showers.

On or before March 16, Lombardo attempted to send $600 in paper money through the mail. Paper money is contraband in the hospital, and it is unclear how Lombardo acquired it. Lombardo wrapped the money in a manila envelope and sealed it, and then gave the envelope to the ward social worker, along with money to pay the cost of postage. On March 16, Lombardo was told by a Mid-Hudson staff member that the envelope had been opened. The staff member did not provide any details, however, as to who had opened the envelope or why. It was only later, on August 7, 2007, that Lombardo learned that social worker Mildred Smith had opened the envelope. Chandrasekhara later informed Lombardo that he was to be placed on "mail restriction," meaning that all of his outgoing mail --- including his legal mail --- would be observed as it was being placed into the envelope. Three days later, Chandrasekhara informed Lombardo that he had also been placed on "phone restriction," meaning that all of his outgoing telephone calls --- including his legal calls --- would be monitored from his end. Lombardo objected, contending that certain calls should be excluded from surveillance by Mid-Hudson staff because they were "legal calls." He produced a list of such calls and provided it to his treatment team, which approved only part of the list. The team excluded calls to obviously non-legal telephone numbers, such as the New York State Office of Mental Health. The team also honored a request from Mental Hygiene Legal Services not to scrutinize any of Lombardo's legal mail upon receipt.

Lombardo met with his treatment team on April 12. Dr. Phelan, the chief of Lombardo's unit, informed Lombardo that he would be taken off telephone restrictions if he divulged the source of the $600 found in his outgoing mail. The complaint provides no account of Lombardo's response to Phelan's request. Nonetheless, Lombardo was taken off telephone restrictions on April 24. He remained on mail restrictions.

On May 1, Lombardo's treatment team told him that the $600 discovered in his outgoing mail would be credited in its entirety to his account if he divulged a legitimate source of the money. If he could not provide a legitimate explanation, the money would be placed into the patients' general fund. It is not clear from the complaint whether Lombardo ever proffered an explanation to the treatment team. Nonetheless, by letter dated June 6, defendant Howard Holanchok informed Lombardo that ...


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