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Sweeper v. Tavera

September 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., United States District Judge


This action arises out of allegations brought by Plaintiff Bruce Sweeper ("Sweeper" or "Plaintiff"), who is pro se, a fact which I carefully considered before writing this opinion. He alleges he was injured in a motor vehicle accident while riding a bus owned and operated by the Department of Corrections ("DOC"). Broadly construed, Sweeper's complaint alleges deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as medical malpractice under New York law. Defendants Correction Officer David Taveras (sued here as "Correction Officer D. Tavera # 13452"), Correction Officer John Doe, Dr. Claude Pernier and Dr. Lester Lieberman ("Defendants")*fn1 move to dismiss Sweeper's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.


At all times relevant to this case, Sweeper was incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center ("MDC") as a pretrial detainee. On approximately October 7, 2006,*fn3 at approximately 1:43 p.m., while driving along Delancey Street and Norfolk Street, the DOC bus in which Sweeper was being transported collided with the back of a gray car bearing Connecticut license plates. At the time, Plaintiff was seated in a "small cage behind the driver with no seat belt." On impact, Sweeper hit the front, side and back of the "cage" in which he was seated, and sustained injuries to his head, back and knee. Three of the other twelve passengers in the bus also were injured.

Sweeper alleges that he was left unattended on the bus without medical attention for approximately six hours and that the bus driver prevented anyone, including ambulance technicians, from entering the bus. Sweeper did not see a doctor until approximately 9:00 p.m. that evening. Sometime after receiving medical attention, Dr. Pernier prescribed a pain killer for Sweeper, but did not order an MRI or any other testing to evaluate Sweeper's swollen knee or his alleged inability to walk. Sweeper likewise alleges that Dr. Lieberman failed to provide an MRI to diagnose his back problem following the accident and that Dr. Lieberman "incorrectly reversed the issuance" of a cane that had been provided to Sweeper by a physician's assistant.

On approximately October 5, 2007, Plaintiff, then represented by counsel, filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court, New York County against the City of New York and Officer Taveras alleging personal injuries arising from the same bus accident that gives rise to the instant case. Sweeper's state court case was settled pursuant to a Release Agreement on July 12, 2008 in which Sweeper accepted a settlement award of $3,500 in exchange for his release of his existing and future claims against the state-court defendants and their "heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns." Subsequently, on July 16, 2008, the state-court action was dismissed with prejudice pursuant to a stipulation of discontinuance. Sweeper's complaint in the instant action was filed by the Pro Se Office of this Court on that same day.*fn4


The Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) and, more recently, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), articulated the standards that apply to Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court must accept all factual allegations as true, but this requirement does not apply to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. The court's determination of whether a complaint states a "plausible claim for relief" is a "context-specific inquiry" that requires application of "judicial experience and common sense." Id. Unless a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations have "nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the plaintiff's] complaint must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 570.

"A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal citations omitted)). Courts must interpret pro se pleadings "'to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir.1996)). Although they should be generously construed, pro se pleading "must still abide by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Jones v. Consumer Info. Dispute Resolution, 2007 WL 2398811, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. 2007)(citing McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993)).


A. Res Judicata

Defendants argue that Sweeper's claims are precluded by the doctrine of res judicata as a result of the prior settlement of his personal injury claims in the New York state court action that arose from the same accident that is at issue here. The doctrine of res judicata provides that "a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Monahan v. New York City Dep't of Corrections, 214 F.3d 275, 284-85 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980)). Thus, to prove entitlement to the affirmative defense of res judicata, a party must establish three elements: (1) the previous action involved an adjudication on the merits; (2) the previous action involved the same parties or those in privity with them; and (3) the claims asserted in the subsequent action were, or could have been, raised in the previous action. Allen, 449 U.S. at 94; Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A. v. Celotex Corp., 56 F.3d 343, 345-46 (2d Cir. 1995). Congress has specifically required that federal courts give preclusive effect to state-court judgments when the courts of the state in which the judgment was rendered would do so. See 28 U.S.C. § 1738 ("[J]udicial proceedings [of any court of any State] shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States and its Territories and Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State . . . ."). This general principle applies equally to claims brought in federal court pursuant to § 1983. See Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 84 (1984). Accordingly, the preclusive effect of Sweeper's settlement agreement and stipulation of dismissal in the New York Supreme Court will be governed by New York law.

In this case, Sweeper advances two principal arguments in opposition to the application of res judicata to bar his claims: first, that this action does not involve the same claims because the state-court action did not allege deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of ยง 1983, and second, ...

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