UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
May 6, 2009
KEVIN SHEILS, PLAINTIFF,
JOHN BUSSE, SERGEANT; W. HATCH, CORRECTIONS OFFICER; T. GRIFFIN, CORRECTIONS OFFICER; AND M. SEARS, CORRECTIONS OFFICER, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge
DECISION and ORDER
Currently before the Court in this pro se prisoner civil rights action are (1) Defendants' third motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 67), (2) United States Magistrate Judge David R. Homer's Report-Recommendation that Defendants' motion be granted (Dkt. No. 83), and (3) Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 8.) For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and Defendants' motion is granted.
On June 22, 2006, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action asserting claims against five employees of the New York State Department of Correctional Services stationed at Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("Defendants"), arising out of certain incidents that occurred on August 6, 2004.*fn1 (Dkt. No. 1.) Generally, in his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments were violated when Defendants used excessive force against him, retaliated against him for engaging in constitutionally protected activity, failed to protect him from assault, and demonstrated deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.
On September 6, 2006, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. (Dkt. No. 28.) On July 31, 2007, Defendants filed a second motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety, based on res judicata and/or collateral estoppel. (Dkt. No. 46.)*fn2 On January 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed his opposition to Defendants' motions. (Dkt. No. 62.) On January 28, 2008, Magistrate Judge Homer filed a Report-Recommendation, recommending that Defendants' motions be granted. (Dkt. No. 62.) On February 11, 2008, Plaintiff filed his Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 64.) On March 31, 2008, Senior United States District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., issued a Memorandum Decision and Order adopting the Report-Recommendation in part. (Dkt. No. 65.) Specifically, Judge Scullin dismissed Plaintiff's excessive force claim, but did not dismiss Plaintiff's remaining claims of retaliation, failure to protect, and deliberate indifference to medical needs. (Dkt. No. 65.)
On July 2, 2008, Defendants filed (with the Court's permission) a third motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all remaining claims against them because Plaintiff (1) failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing this action, and (2) failed to adduce admissible record evidence establishing any of his claims against Defendants. (Dkt. No. 67.) On February 13, 2009, after being granted several deadline extensions by the Court, Plaintiff filed his opposition to Defendants' third motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 80.)
On February 27, 2009, Magistrate Judge Homer issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' third motion for summary judgment be granted in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 83.) On March 31, 2009, Plaintiff submitted his Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 87.) Familiarity with the grounds of Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order.
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Standard of Review on Objection from Report-Recommendation
When specific objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court makes a "de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).*fn3
When only general objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court reviews the report-recommendation for clear error or manifest injustice. See Brown v. Peters, 95-CV-1641, 1997 WL 599355, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1997) (Pooler, J.) [collecting cases], aff'd without opinion, 175 F.3d 1007 (2d Cir. 1999).*fn4 Similarly, when a party makes no objection to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court reviews that portion for clear error or manifest injustice. See Batista v. Walker, 94-CV-2826, 1995 WL 453299, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 31, 1995) (Sotomayor, J.) [citations omitted]; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition [citations omitted]. After conducing the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
B. Standard Governing Motion for Summary Judgment
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, summary judgment is warranted if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In addition, "[the moving party] bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the . . . [record] which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of any genuine issue of material fact." Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). However, when the moving party has met this initial responsibility, the nonmoving party must come forward with "specific facts showing a genuine issue [of material fact] for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).
A dispute of fact is "genuine" if "the [record] evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. As a result, "[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture and speculation . . . are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact." Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998) [citation omitted]; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). As the Supreme Court has famously explained, "[The nonmoving party] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." [citations omitted]. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986).
As for the materiality requirement, a dispute of fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id. [citation omitted].
Implied in the above-stated burden-shifting standard is the fact that, where a nonmoving party fails to adequately respond to a motion for summary judgment, a district court has no duty to perform an independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute--even if that nonmoving party is proceeding pro se.*fn5 (This is because the Court extends special solicitude to the pro se litigant, in part by ensuring that he or she has received notice of the consequences of failing to properly respond to the motion for summary judgment.)*fn6 As has often been recognized by both the Supreme Court and Second Circuit, even pro se litigants must obey a district court's procedural rules.*fn7 For this reason, this Court has often enforced Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) by deeming facts set forth in a moving party's statement to have been admitted where the nonmoving party has failed to properly respond to that statement*fn8 --even where the nonmoving party was proceeding pro se in a civil rights case.*fn9
After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation, and Plaintiff's Objection thereto, the Court rejects each of Plaintiff's objections, and agrees with each of the conclusions stated in the Report-Recommendation. (See Dkt. No. 83.) Magistrate Judge Homer employed the proper legal standards, accurately recited the undisputed material facts,*fn10 and reasonably applied the law to those facts. (Id.) As a result, the Court accepts and adopts the Report-Recommendation for the reasons stated therein. The Court would add only four observations.
First, in his Objection to the Report-Recommendation, Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that Magistrate Judge Homer took approximately "five months" to review Plaintiff's papers in opposition to Defendants' first and second motions for summary judgment (which the Clerk filed on January 23, 2008), but took only two weeks to review Plaintiff's papers in opposition to Defendants' third motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 87, at 3-4.) Plaintiff's obvious implication is that Magistrate Judge Homer issued his most recent Report-Recommendation without properly considering Plaintiff's opposition papers. As an initial matter, Plaintiff is mistaken that Magistrate Judge Homer took approximately "five months" to review Plaintiff's papers in opposition to Defendants' first and second motions for summary judgment; to the contrary, Magistrate Judge Homer took approximately five days to do so. (Compare Dkt. No. 62 with Dkt. No. 63.) In any event, Plaintiff can hardly be heard to complain about the celerity with which the wheels of justice sometimes turn. The Court notes that Plaintiff points to no page, in the approximately three hundred fourteen (314) pages that constitute his papers in opposition to Defendants' third motion for summary judgment, that cure any of the evidentiary deficiencies identified by Magistrate Judge Homer in his Report-Recommendation.*fn11
Second, in his Objection to the Report-Recommendation, Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that the seven grievances that he filed in or around the use of force incident "are clearly compa[tible] with failure to properly treat, failure to protect and retaliation" despite the fact that these grievances never specifically mention Plaintiff's First and Eighth Amendment claims. (Dkt. No. 87, at 7-8.) As a result, Plaintiff argues that these grievances sufficiently satisfy his exhaustion requirement with regard to his claims alleging retaliation, failure to protect and deliberate indifference to medical needs. (Id. at 8-9.) The Court does not agree with Plaintiff, for the reasons stated by Magistrate Judge Homer in his Report-Recommendation. In addition, even if Plaintiff had properly exhausted his claims, he is not able to succeed on the merits of those claims, for the reasons stated by Magistrate Judge Homer.
Third, in his Objection to the Report-Recommendation, Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated because (1) the Defendants who transferred him "from one CNYPC OBS unit to [their] six-man CNYPC OBS Unit" did not know why Plaintiff was being transferred, and (2) "none of the Defendants had any prior training to recognize those with mental disorders." (Id. at 15.) The Court disagrees. As Magistrate Judge Homer properly found, to succeed on an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, a prisoner must allege and prove deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991). With regard to Plaintiff's first argument (i.e., his argument that the Defendants who transferred him "from one CNYPC OBS unit to [their] six-man CNYPC OBS Unit" did not know why Plaintiff was being transferred), it should be noted that none of the Defendants who transferred Plaintiff were medical care providers.*fn12 In any event, as Magistrate Judge Homer concluded, the care provided to Plaintiff was adequate and appropriate given the minor injuries that he sustained. With regard to Plaintiff's second argument (i.e., his argument "none of the Defendants had any prior training to recognize those with mental disorders"), that argument is unsupported by the admissible record evidence. Again, the care provided was adequate.
Finally, in his Objection to the Report-Recommendation, Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that a party may make out an excessive force claim despite suffering only minor injuries, when that party suffers emotional harm. (Dkt. No. 87, at 16-17.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff that, in certain circumstances, it might be possible for a party to make out an excessive force claim despite suffering only minor injuries.*fn13 However, setting aside the question whether those circumstances are present here based on the current record, Plaintiff's excessive force claim has already been dismissed. Moreover, in the context of his medical treatment claim, an argument that a party may make out an excessive force claim despite suffering only minor injuries is of no avail. This is because such an argument does not address either prong of the legal standard governing claims of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.
For all of these reasons, as well as for the reasons set forth in Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
ACCORDINGLY, it is
ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 83) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendants' third motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 67) is GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly and close the file.