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Williams v. Perlman

February 5, 2009

TIMOTHY WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH PERLMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David E. Peebles U.S. Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Plaintiff Timothy Williams, a former New York State prison inmate who is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various defendants alleging that while incarcerated he was subjected to constitutional deprivations as well as violations of federal law. In his complaint the plaintiff, who suffers from both physical and mental impairments, asserts an array of claims related to defendants' treatment of him, including their failure to provide him with proper footwear and orthopedic inserts and forcing him to perform manual labor despite his ankle and foot condition; the issuance of a misbehavior report, allegedly in retaliation for exercising his constitutional right to file grievances; and treatment received generally at the facility, including in the mental health unit. In his complaint, inter alia, plaintiff seeks recovery of compensatory damages in the amount of $765,000.

Following the close of discovery, defendants have moved seeking the entry of judgment on the pleadings dismissing plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. Defendants' motion is predicated upon several grounds, including their alleged entitlement to qualified immunity from suit. Having carefully considered plaintiff's allegations in the light of arguments raised in defendants' motion, which plaintiff has not opposed, I find that with one exception, he has failed to set forth a cognizable civil rights claim, and therefore recommend that defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted and all of plaintiff's claims except his retaliation cause of action against defendant Brodt be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff, a veteran of the United States Military Service, suffers from a foot, ankle and arch condition of an undisclosed nature; degenerative disc disease; and manic depression, or bipolar disorder. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 14, 16-17, 28, 39. At the times relevant to his claims in this action, Williams was a prison inmate entrusted to the custody of the New York Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), and was designated to the Mid-State Correctional Facility ("Mid-State"), located in Marcy, New York. Id. ¶¶ 2-3, 25.

Among the claims asserted by the plaintiff are those related to the alleged failure of prison officials to provide him with proper footwear with orthopedic inserts while at Mid-State. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 28-38. Plaintiff also maintains that he was forced by prison officials, including defendant Zagby, a corrections officer, to perform manual labor despite experiencing pain caused by his foot and ankle condition. Id. ¶¶ 36, 43.

Plaintiff's efforts at Mid-State to secure proper footwear commenced shortly after his transfer in December of 2005 into the facility from the Oneida Correctional Facility. See Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 25. Following that transfer, in response to his complaints that he had not been provided footwear, plaintiff was told by prison officials to have his feet measured by the state shop. Id ¶ 26. On December 30, 2005 plaintiff met with Ms. Renninger, the state shop supervisor, who measured plaintiff's feet and recorded his left foot as size 13.5 AA and his right foot as size 13 AA. Id. ¶ 26 and Exh. 9. Since footwear in those sizes was not readily available, plaintiff was temporarily provided with size 14EE boots which, not surprisingly, did not fit quite properly. Id. ¶¶ 26-27 and Exh. 10. As a result, plaintiff was required to choose between walking in slightly oversized boots or barefoot, and was unable to participate in certain prison programs and activities, including sports and recreation. Id. ¶¶ 27-30.

In addition to receiving boots that did not fit, plaintiff additionally requested but was denied new orthopedic inserts for his shoes. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 29 and Exh. 10. Plaintiff's need for orthopedic inserts was the result of his having undergone left lateral ankle stabilization surgery in January of 1996, requiring such devices to alleviate his foot, ankle and arch pain. Id. Exh. 12. While plaintiff apparently was fitted with orthopedic inserts, they were ineffective when used in conjunction with his size 14EE boots. Id. Exh.10.

Plaintiff alleges that both defendant Kenneth Perlman, as the superintendent at Mid-State, and defendant Brodt, a nurse at the facility, were aware of his foot, ankle and arch conditions and the failure of prison officials to provide him with proper footwear. See, e.g. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 35. Plaintiff wrote to Superintendent Perlman concerning the issue on January 5, 2006; in response, defendant Perlman wrote to the plaintiff advising that he would look into the matter. Id. ¶ 33 and Exhs. 10, 11. A memorandum was issued on January 10, 2006 from Rosemary Reed, the Head Account Clerk at Mid-State, advising plaintiff that in response to his letter to the superintendent an investigation had been conducted, and a decision was made to issue him a pair of special order boots, and the order for those boots was then being processed. Id. Exh. 11.

On May 18, 2006, not having received either the special order boots or having been fitted for boots and sneakers with custom orthopedics for his feet, plaintiff again wrote to Superintendent Perlman complaining of the matter. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) Exh. 10. That letter was augmented by correspondence dated March 23, 2006, from one of plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Frank Caruso, to Deputy DOCS Commissioner Dr. Lester N. Wright, describing the surgery performed on plaintiff's ankle in January, 1996 and emphasizing the necessity for custom orthopedic devices in order to avoid aggravation of plaintiff's ankle and foot condition.*fn2 Id. Exh. 12.

Nurse Brodt encountered the plaintiff on April 13, 2006, when he reported to sick call complaining of left ankle pain caused by a fall the previous day. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 41 and Exh. 13. Plaintiff described the incident as having occurred while he was leaving the second floor of his housing unit, at which time while descending the stairs his ankle "gave way and his arches stretched, straining his lower back." Id. ¶ 40. According to plaintiff, defendant Brodt responded by warning Williams that if he "[kept] on coming to sick call about the same foot problems, [she] would write [him] up for 'misuse of the sick call process.'" Id. ¶ 35.

Plaintiff was in fact subsequently issued an inmate misbehavior report, dated April 13, 2006, prepared by Nurse Brodt and accusing him of failing to report an injury promptly (Disciplinary Rule 118.23), creating a disturbance with loud talking in the hallway (Disciplinary Rule 104.13), making threats (Disciplinary Rule 102.10), and providing misleading information (Disciplinary Rule 107.20). Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 45 and Exh. 13. In the misbehavior report, defendant Brodt noted that while plaintiff reported to sick call on the morning of April 13, 2006, complaining of ankle pain, Williams failed to report the injury to appropriate corrections officials. Id.

A disciplinary hearing was subsequently held on April 16, 2006 to address the misbehavior report. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 46 and Exh. 14.

At the hearing, plaintiff was found guilty of creating a disturbance, but exonerated on the remaining three charges set forth in the misbehavior report. Id. Though somewhat difficult to discern from the complaint and exhibits, it appears that a penalty consisting principally of thirty days of keeplock confinement in the facility's special housing unit ("SHU") was imposed, although deferred for a period of ninety days, as a result of the hearing officer's finding of guilt.*fn3 Id.

Another aspect of plaintiff's complaint concerns actions of defendant Tina Procopio, a counselor assigned to assist inmates including those who like the plaintiff had been designated to a therapeutic residential program for veterans. See Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 11, 47-51. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Procopio, who also oversees use of video conferencing facilities at Mid-State, overheard and later disclosed confidential information exchanged between the plaintiff and his attorney, and that she, acting in concert with other employees and inmates, has engaged in a campaign to force the plaintiff out of the unit. Id. ¶¶ 47-62. Plaintiff's complaints regarding Procopio were the subject of both a grievance filed on April 11, 2006, and pursued to completion through the available, internal DOCS grievance process, and a letter sent on April 17, 2006 by the plaintiff to then-DOCS Commissioner Glenn Goord. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 59-61 and Exh. 19.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff commenced this action on August 2, 2006. Dkt. No. 1. As defendants, plaintiff's complaint named Mid-State Superintendent Perlman; Mid-State Assistant Deputy Superintendent McDaniels; Senior Corrections Counselor Joslyn; Corrections Officer Zagby; J. Morgan, described as the unit chief of the Mid-State mental health unit ("MHU"); Nurse Practitioner Sergio; Social Worker Johnson; Registered Nurse Brodt; and Corrections Counselor Procopio.*fn4 In his complaint plaintiff asserts a variety of claims, including under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, as well as claiming that he was subjected to deliberate indifference and cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and unlawful retaliation, in contravention of the First Amendment. Typical of plaintiff's claims against the various individuals are assertions of "failure to train", "conspiracy", "breach of fiduciary duty", "negligent supervision", "negligent hiring" and "respondeat superior". See generally Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 85-95. The defendants remaining in the case have filed answers to plaintiff's complaint generally denying its material allegations and interposing various defenses. Dkt. Nos. 36, 45.

On March 14, 2008 defendants moved seeking the entry of judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, urging dismissal of plaintiff's complaint on a variety of bases, contending that 1) plaintiff's negligence claims are not cognizable under section 1983; 2) plaintiff's allegations, even if proven, are insufficient to sustain a claim of deliberate indifference toward plaintiff's serious medical needs; 3) plaintiff's allegations regarding conspiracy are unduly vague and fail to support a cognizable claim; 4) plaintiff's privacy claims do not arise to a level of constitutional significance; 5) plaintiff's claims under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act are legally insufficient, since no individual liability lies under those sections; 6) plaintiff's false misbehavior reports do not support a constitutional claim; 7) plaintiff's retaliation claims have been insufficiently pleaded; 8) plaintiff's cruel and unusual punishment and unconstitutional customs and policies claims are facially lacking in merit; and 9) in any event defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from suit. Defendants' motion, to which plaintiff has failed to respond, is now ripe for determination and has been referred to me for the issuance of a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(B) and Northern District of New York Local Rule 72.3(c). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Significance of Plaintiff's Failure to Respond While defendants have sought dismissal of plaintiff's complaint on a variety of grounds, plaintiff has not provided the court with the benefit of any argument as to why that motion should not be granted. As a threshold matter I first address the significance of this shortcoming, and specifically whether it automatically entitles the defendants to the dismissal which they now seek.

At the outset, it should be noted that the fact that plaintiff has failed to oppose defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings does not preclude the court from deciding the motion without the benefit of his submission. See, e.g., White v. Mitchell, No. 99-CV-8519, 2001 WL 64756, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2001). Like motions to dismiss, a motion for judgment on the pleadings tests only the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint; accordingly, while a party faced with such a motion should be given reasonable opportunity to respond to such a motion, the court is fully capable of determining the issue of legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's claims as a matter of law based on its own reading of the complaint and knowledge of the relevant case law. McCall v. Pataki, 232 F.3d 321, 322-23 (2d Cir. 2000).

Under this court's local rules, a party's failure to respond to a properly filed motion is regarded as the functional equivalent of consent to the granting of the motion; before such an unopposed motion may be granted, however, the court must first make a threshold finding that the moving party has met its burden of facially demonstrating entitlement to the relief requested. N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(b)(3); see also McCall, 232 F.3d at 322-23 (holding that plaintiff's failure to respond to a motion to dismiss in and of itself could ...


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