UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
June 18, 2009
HERMAN CRUZ, PLAINTIFF,
AMBER LASHWAY, PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT, DEFENDANT.
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) Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 56), (2) United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's Report-Recommendation that Defendant's motion be granted (Dkt. No. 69), and (3) Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 70). For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted; and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
On July 17, 2006, Herman Cruz ("Plaintiff") filed his Complaint in this action. (Dkt. No. 1.) Construed with the utmost of special leniency, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, while Amber Lashway ("Defendant") was a registered nurse at Upstate Correctional Facility and then a physician's assistant at Clinton Correctional Facility, she violated Plaintiff's rights under the First and Eighth Amendments by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and retaliating against him for filing complaints (specifically, his filing two grievances against her at Clinton Correctional Facility, and a federal lawsuit against several employees at Upstate Correctional Facility). (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 7.)
On May 30, 2008, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 56.) In her motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence that would create a genuine issue of material fact with regard to his First and Eighth Amendment claims, and that Defendant is protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 56, Part 20, at 2-14.) Defendant's motion includes a detailed notice of the consequences of failing to respond to her motion. (Dkt. No. 56, Part 1.)
Despite this notice, on June 11, 2008, Plaintiff filed a response to the motion for summary judgment that fails to admit or deny Defendants' factual assertions (in her Statement of Material Facts) in matching numbered paragraphs as required by Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). (Dkt. No. 58.) Instead, Plaintiff argues, for the most part, that Defendant's motion should be denied because she failed to respond to various discovery demands. (Id.)
On June 23, 2008, Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's response. (Dkt. No. 61.) In her reply, Defendant argues that her motion should be granted because Plaintiff has failed to dispute Defendant's statements of material fact, and that (in any event) any deficiency in her discovery responses was unintentional and immaterial in nature. (Dkt. No. 61, Part 1, ¶¶ 2-5; Dkt. No. 61, Part 2, at 2-4.)
On March 13, 2009, Magistrate Judge Treece issued a Report-Recommendation on Defendant's motion. (Dkt. No. 69.) Generally, Magistrate Judge Treece found that Defendant's factual assertions were deemed "admitted" by Plaintiff pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) and that, based on those undisputed material facts, no triable issue of material fact exists with regard to Plaintiff's First and Eighth Amendment claims. (Id.) Familiarity with the particular findings of fact and conclusions of law stated Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation are assumed in this Decision and Order.
On March 26, 2009, Plaintiff filed his Objections to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 70.) Generally, in his Objections, Plaintiff argues that Magistrate Judge Treece "ignored" discovery violations committed by defense counsel, which demonstrated a "pre-disposition in his heart" regarding Defendant's motion, and which prevented Plaintiff from being able to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding his claims. (Dkt. No. 70, Part 1.)
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Standard of Review
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).*fn1
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).*fn2 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 novmoving 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.*fn3 (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.)*fn4 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.*fn5 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*fn6 --even where the nonmoving party was proceeding pro se in a civil rights case.*fn7
After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation and Plaintiff's Objections thereto, the Court rejects each of Plaintiff's Objections and agrees with each of the conclusions offered in the Report-Recommendation. Magistrate Judge Treece correctly stated the law, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. As a result, the Court accepts and adopts the party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.") [internal quotation marks and citations omitted].
Report-Recommendation in its entirety, for the reasons stated therein.
The Court would add only three points. First, the majority of Plaintiff's Objections are simply reiterations of previous arguments that were considered and rejected by Magistrate Judge Treece on October 28, 2008. (Compare Dkt. No. 70 with Dkt. No. 68.)
Second, in his Objections, Plaintiff also argues that, although he had requested that a physical examination of his ear take place during dinner (since the drainage he was experiencing in his right ear occurred while he was eating), Defendant examined him an hour before dinner, finding no such drainage. (Dkt. No. 70, Part 1, at 2.) For the sake of argument, the Court will set aside the issue of whether Plaintiff presented evidence of this fact before Magistrate Judge Treece. See, supra, note 1 of this Decision and Order. The important point is that a prisoner's disagreement with a prison nurse's medical judgment regarding when to conduct a physical examination does not represent cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.*fn8 As the Second Circuit once observed:
It must be remembered that the State is not constitutionally obligated, much as it may be desired by inmates, to construct a perfect plan for [medical] care that exceeds what the average reasonable person would expect or avail herself of in life outside the prison walls. [A] correctional facility is not a health spa, but a prison in which convicted felons are incarcerated. Common experience indicates that the great majority of prisoners would not in freedom or on parole enjoy the excellence in [medical] care which plaintiff understandably seeks . . . . We are governed by the principle that the objective is not to impose upon a state prison a model system of [medical] care beyond average needs but to provide the minimum level of [medical] care required by the Constitution. . . . The Constitution does not command that inmates be given the kind of medical attention that judges would wish to have for themselves . . . .
Dean v. Coughlin, 804 F.2d 207, 215 (2d Cir. 1986) [internal quotations and citations omitted].
Third, Plaintiff's special status as a pro se civil rights litigant does not excuse him from the obligation to comply with Local Rule 7.1(a)(3), once notified of the consequences of failing to do so (as he was in this case). See, supra, Part II.B., and notes 6 and 7, of this Decision and Order. Defendants met their threshold burden on their motion, and Plaintiff chose the perilous path of focusing on Defendant's (assertedly) deficient discovery responses, rather than responding to Defendant's statements of material fact and adducing admissible record evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact. It should be noted that, before he responded to Defendant's motion for summary judgment in this action, Plaintiff had acquired experience responding to a motion for summary judgment in a pro se prisoner civil rights action. See Cruz v. Wead, 97-CV-0846, Docket Sheet (W.D.N.Y.) (indicating that Plf. filed papers in response to motion for summary judgment on 6/20/01, 6/26/01, 6/28/01, and 7/5/01).
ACCORDINGLY, it is
ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 69) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 56) is GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED in its entirety. The clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of the Defendant.
Dated: June 18, 2009 Syracuse, New York