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Williams v. Smith

August 10, 2009


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


Andrew Williams ("Williams"), an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against First Deputy Superintendent Joseph Smith ("Smith"), Facility Health Services Director John Perilli ("Perilli"), Nurse Administrator Kimberly Capuano ("Capuano"), Physician Assistant Phillip Williams ("P.A. Williams"), Grievance Director Thomas Eagan ("Eagan"), Sergeants John MacNamara ("MacNamara") and Robert Krusen ("Krusen"), and Corrections Officers John Clark ("Clark"), Enrique Maldonado ("Maldonado"), and Melvin Goffe ("Goffe") (collectively, "Defendants")*fn1 for their deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. Williams had an arthritic right knee and he injured his back in 1996. He had back surgery in 1997. This lawsuit complains that the defendants failed to accommodate these ailments following that surgery, in particular by denying him access to daily morning showers to relieve his back pain and requiring him to climb stairs despite his knee condition. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, summary judgment is granted in part.


Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. While an inmate, Williams fell down a flight of stairs in 1996 and hurt his back, suffering multiple disc herniations. In December 1997, Williams underwent surgery for these injuries. After he returned to Sing Sing later that month, he continued to suffer from degenerative disc disease in his spine and a bulging disc and herniation in his back. In addition, he suffered from arthritis in his right knee.

Soon after Williams returned to Sing Sing following surgery, Sing Sing began referring him to outside specialists and physical therapists regularly, often multiple times per month. Between his 1997 surgery and the filing of this summary judgment motion, he had over 100 medical consultations. He was regularly given pain and anti-inflammatory medication, was provided with a back brace, and was issued medical passes that were supposed to allow him to be moved to the flats,*fn2 to take a daily shower, to use the elevator, to sleep on a firm bed, and to be served dinner in his cell on a "feed-up" tray.*fn3

Nonetheless, Williams experienced pain, tenderness, and decreased range of motion in his back and legs through his filing of this suit in 2002.

Daily Morning Shower

Williams complained frequently about back pain that occasionally radiated to his shoulders, buttocks, and legs. He had difficulty "bending, twisting, standing or sitting for long duration... [and] with certain movements and lifting heavy objects." Williams also complained about pain, stiffness, tightness, and spasms in his back, particularly in the morning. Outside specialists prescribed daily morning showers as heat treatment to alleviate these symptoms.

Inmates at Sing Sing are generally entitled to shower three evenings per week. Beginning in 1999, Williams was issued a medical pass for a daily morning shower. Despite his possession of that pass, Williams asserts that on occasion certain defendants refused to honor his right to a daily morning shower, and instead allowed him to shower only three evenings per week.

a. Goffe, Maldonado, MacNamara, Krusen and Smith

Williams presented a valid pass for his daily morning showers to officers Goffe and Maldonado for the first time on April 30, 1999.*fn4 Despite this pass, Goffe and Maldonado refused to permit a morning shower, asserting their understanding that administrative and safety considerations, as well as the housing block operating policy, did not allow inmates to take morning showers unless they were in keeplock (i.e., confined to their cells) or were inmate porters. Goffe and Maldonado consulted their superiors Krusen and MacNamara in making this determination. After this incident, officers repeatedly refused to honor his shower pass. In September 1999, Williams filed a grievance about the denial of his morning showers, which Smith asserts he rejected in reliance on "the medical department's conclusion that plaintiff did not need morning showers." He wrote on the denial that "although [Williams's] pass says AM showers, block policy dictates otherwise," and "staff can find no reason for AM shower."

b. Capuano and Eagan

When Williams's September 1999 grievance was denied, he appealed to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") in Albany. CORC asked Nurse Capuano for information regarding the underlying events. According to Capuano, she spoke with Dr. Perilli about Williams's case and then relayed to CORC that Williams did not need daily morning showers. Relying on evidence showing that Capuano spoke to Dr. Perilli on December 23, 1999, eight days after CORC had already denied Williams's grievance on December 15, and on evidence that Dr. Perilli did not withdraw the authorization for Williams to have a daily shower until the following year, Williams claims that Capuano never spoke to Dr. Perilli about this appeal, and instead changed Williams's treatment plan herself.

As Director of the Inmate Grievance Program for the New York State Department of Correctional Services, Eagan was responsible for the administrative function of the inmate grievance program. Although was not a voting member of CORC, he signed the December 15, 1999 CORC decision. Williams claims that Eagan was aware of Capuano's alleged misrepresentation and did not intervene. Williams does not explain how Eagan learned of Capuano's alleged misrepresentation.

c. P.A. Williams

On July 31, 2000, an outside specialist wrote in Williams's

medical chart "Daily shower X 3 mos (for lumbar pain) -- AM." Williams claims that when P.A. Williams reviewed this instruction, he crossed out "AM" and wrote "not indicated, has daily shower written 6/27 X 3 mos." P.A. Williams does not remember reviewing this entry for "AM" showers, and neither admits nor denies that the handwritten annotation was his. He adds that if he altered the prescription for a pass, he did so because it called for a morning shower, and the medical pass form did not permit the designation of a time for showers. Although he authorized thousands of daily shower passes, as a general practice, he authorized passes for a certain time of day "extremely rarely" because "facility, security and administrative policies weighed against" doing so.

d. Dr. Perilli

Dr. Perilli began serving as Facility Health Services

Director in December 1999. Williams had a daily morning shower pass at that time and Dr. Perilli renewed it. On October 16, 2000, however, Dr. Perilli reviewed Williams's medical chart and wrote in it "no need for daily shower based on his medical diagnosis." At a November 16, 2000 consultation, Dr. Perilli refused to renew Williams's pass for daily morning showers. Dr. Perilli noted in Williams's medical file on that date, "discussion held about shower pass -- [patient] has chronic back problem. I will recommend shower per block, but not daily showers."

Williams claims that Dr. Perilli denied his request for daily shower passes at the November 16 meeting for non-medical reasons. Williams says that he told Dr. Perilli at the meeting that he had filed grievances in September 1999 about the security staff not allowing him to take daily morning showers. In response, Dr. Perilli said "you file[d] grievance[s], oh I don't know about this," shook his head, and rescinded Williams's shower pass. Williams also claims that Dr. Perilli told him at this meeting that he would no longer issue daily morning shower passes because the security staff did not want to honor them, and the administration wanted Dr. Perilli to reduce the number of medical passes issued.

On November 20, Dr. Perilli wrote in Williams's medical file I have reviewed ortho consultation 11-14-00 recommendation for shower. Any outside consultant recommendations are always subject to provider review DOC policies. As this is a chronic condition, there is no specific indicator for a daily shower (i.e., acute sprain, colostomies, etc.), but I will give shower per block [policy].

Subsequently, a number of outside specialists and physical therapists recommended daily morning showers, but Dr. Perilli repeatedly declined to issue Williams a pass for such showers, asserting it was not medically necessary.

e. Williams's Assertions of Pain Related to Deprivation of Daily Morning Showers

On November 11, 1999, Williams reported to a physical therapist that his back pain was an eight out of ten in intensity, and that this pain was relieved by hot showers. At a physical therapy appointment on April 5, 2000, he reported that showers relaxed his back, and at an appointment eight days later, the physical therapist noted that Williams's back was responding to heat and stretching. Williams asserts that he reported to an outside orthopedic specialist on November 14, 2000 ...

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