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Felix-Torres v. Graham

October 23, 2009

NORBERTO JAVIER FELIX-TORRES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HAROLD GRAHAM, SUPERINTENDENT, AUBURN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; JOSEPH BELLNIER, SUPERINTENDENT OF SECURITY, AUBURN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; DAWSON BROWN, DEPUTY OF ADMINISTRATION, AUBURN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; AND NANCY RYERSON, NURSE ADMINISTRATOR, AUBURN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, 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 filed by Norberto Javier Felix-Torees ("Plaintiff") against four employees of Auburn Correctional Facility ("Defendants") are (1) Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 45), (2) United States Magistrate Judge David R. Homer's Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part (Dkt. No. 52), and (3) Defendants' Objections to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 53). Plaintiff did not submit any objections to the Report-Recommendation. For the following reasons, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted as modified; Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part; and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed except for his claims against Defendant Bellnier.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 11, 2006, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action. (Dkt. No. 1.) Construed with the utmost liberality, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges civil rights violations under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id.) More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants (1) were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, and (2) failed to follow New York State Department of Correctional Services' ("DOCS'") procedures with respect to double-celling and bunk placements. (Id.)

On January 26, 2009, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Plaintiff has failed to establish an Eight Amendment claim for deliberate indifference, (2) all Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, (3) Plaintiff has failed to establish that Defendants Graham, Brown and Ryerson were personally involved in the constitutional violations alleged, and (4) Plaintiff's negligence claim is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Dkt. No. 45, Part 15.)

On May 4, 2009, after being granted two extensions of time by the Court to do so, Plaintiff submitted his response in opposition to Defendants' motion. (Dkt. No. 48.) In his response, Plaintiff argues that (1) Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, (2) repeated acts of negligence are actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (3) Defendants violated DOCS' policy and procedure regarding bunk placements, and (4) Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 48, Part 2.)

On August 14, 2009, Magistrate Judge Homer issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Graham and Brown be dismissed for lack of personal involvement. (Dkt. No. 52 at 8-11.) Magistrate Judge Homer further recommended that the claims against Defendants Ryerson and Bellnier not be dismissed because, based on the current record, genuine issue of material fact exist regarding whether they were personally involved in the constitutional violation alleged. (Id. at 10, 14-16.) Familiarity with the specific grounds of Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order.

On August 26, 2009, Defendants timely filed their Objections to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 53.) Generally, in their Objections, Defendants challenge Magistrate Judge Homer's recommendation that Defendants' motion be denied with regard to Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Ryerson and Bellnier. (Dkt. No. 53 at 4-10.)

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review of Magistrate Judge Homer's 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).*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

Magistrate Judge Homer correctly recited the legal standard governing a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 52, at 5-6.) As a result, these standards are incorporated by reference in this Decision and Order.

III. ANALYSIS

As indicated above in Part I of this Decision and Order, in his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Homer concluded, inter alia, that, based on the current record, genuine issues of material fact exist as to (1) whether Defendant Ryerson was personally involved in the constitutional violation alleged (through, with deliberate indifference, failing to ensure a lower bunk assignment for Plaintiff), and (2) whether Defendant Bellnier was personally involved in the constitutional violation alleged (through, with deliberate indifference, neglecting to approve Plaintiff's lower bunk assignment). (Id. at 10, 11-16.)

In their Objections, Defendants challenge both of these conclusions. (Dkt. No. 53, at 4-10.) For example, they argue that (1) based on Plaintiff's own admission during his deposition, Defendant Ryerson was not personally involved in the constitutional violation alleged after Plaintiff fell from his bunk on December 2, 2005, and (2) it was not possible for Defendant Bellnier to remedy a wrong arising out of a single incident of which he had no advanced notice. (Id.)

These Objections constitute specific challenges to those portions of the Report-Recommendation recommending the denial of Defendants' motion for summary judgment with regard to Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Bellnier and Ryerson. As a result, the Court reviews these portions of the Report-Recommendation de novo, and reviews the remaining portions of the Report-Recommendation for clear error, for the reasons stated above in Part II.A. of this Decision and Order.

A. Plaintiff's Claim Against Defendant Ryerson

The specific grounds in support of Magistrate Judge Homer's recommendation that the Court deny Defendants' motion with regard to Defendant Ryerson are as follows: (1) "a question of fact [exists regarding] whether Ryerson had personal knowledge of Felix-Torres' medical condition and tendency to suffer seizures and falls"; (2) a question of fact exists regarding whether Ryerson's duties involved "insur[ing] lower bunk assignments for [prisoners who demonstrate a medical need for such assignments]"; and (3) a question of fact exists regarding whether, by disregarding Plaintiff's reported medical need for a bottom bunk, Ryerson was deliberately indifferent to that medical need. (Dkt. No. 52, at 10, 13-14.)

In support of the first referenced question of fact, Magistrate Judge Homer relies on Plaintiff's sworn assertion (in an affidavit submitted in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment) that, during his initial stay in the infirmary (when the medical staff monitored his condition and medication), he spoke with Ryerson about the seriousness of his diabetes and his need for a lower bunk order. (Id. at 10, 13 [citing Felix-Torres Affirm, at ¶ 24, attached at Dkt. No. 48, Part 3, at 5].)*fn3 In support of the second referenced question of fact, Magistrate Judge Homer relies on Ryerson's duties as the Auburn C.F. Nurse Administrator. (Id. at 10.) Finally, in support of the third referenced question of fact, Magistrate Judge Homer relies, again, on Plaintiff's sworn assertion (in an affidavit) that, during his initial stay in the infirmary (when the medical staff monitored his ...


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