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Burton v. Lynch

October 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sand, J.


Plaintiff Tony Burton, committed to the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants, each of whom is or was at the relevant time a DOCS employee, violated his federal constitutional rights. Before this Court is Defendants Girod Cordell, Superintendent William J. Connoly, and Dr. John Supple's ("Defendants") motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim.*fn1 For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion is granted as to Defendants Girod Cordell and Superintendent William J. Connolly, and denied in part as to Defendant Dr. John Supple.

I. Background*fn2

Plaintiff alleges that, while incarcerated at Fishkill Correctional Facility ("Fishkill"), on January 13, 2006 at approximately 6:45 am, he was praying before eating his breakfast in the Fishkill mess hall. (Compl. ¶ 7.) While praying, he failed to hear Officer Harcher order all inmates in the mess hall to move to their correct seats, and he then changed seats when he heard the Officer ask him a second time after his prayer. (Compl. ¶ 7.) After his meal, Correctional Officer Lynch ordered him to turn around, and then to accompany him to an unsupervised office in the back of the mess hall. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

Once in the office, Officer Lynch accused him of having heard Officer Harcher's first order to change seats, but Plaintiff protested that he had not. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Officer Lynch told Plaintiff that he would be sent to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), and then ordered Plaintiff to place his hands on the wall and began kicking Plaintiff's legs and ankles. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Officer Lynch "pulled the pin from his radio/walkie talkie" and was joined in the office by Officer Kennedy and three other unknown officers. (Compl. ¶ 7.) The officers began punching his face, body, back, and arms, and Plaintiff was then handcuffed behind his back. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Officer Kenendy then slammed the left side of his face into the wall and proceeded to put him in a "full choke hold," which caused him to not be able to breathe. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Officer Kennedy then released him from the choke hold when another officer told him to stop because Plaintiff was passing out from lack of air. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff was then "dragged" to SHU, where a Correctional Sergeant took photos of his injuries, and all of his requests for medical assistance were "denied and or not documented to ensure that there was no record . . . [and] to cover-up" the assault by the officers. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

Plaintiff then made numerous requests to see a doctor and/or informed Fishkill employees of his continued denial of medical care over the next several weeks, to no avail.*fn3 (Compl. ¶¶ 8-24.) On February 9, 2006, Plaintiff was seen by a nurse "for the first time" due to the fact he claimed he had a rash. (Compl. ¶ 24.) He was given hydrocortisone cream, but the nurse refused to examine his injuries from the beating because he had not requested attention for those injuries in writing. (Compl. ¶ 24.) On February 10 and 14, 2006, Plaintiff saw another nurse*fn4 who told him she had made a doctor's appointment for him. (Compl. ¶ 25.) On February 12, 2006, he spoke to his mother, who informed him that "someone from the Albany Inspector General's Office" told her that Plaintiff had been seen by a doctor twice since being placed in SHU. (Compl. ¶ 26.)

On February 14, 2006 at approximately 10 am, Plaintiff alleges he was taken to see Dr. Supple. (Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff told Dr. Supple that his right ankle was swollen, and showed Dr. Supple the difference between his two ankles. (Compl. ¶ 29.) He then told Dr. Supple of the beating and denial of medical care. (Compl. ¶ 29.) Dr. Supple replied that Plaintiff had "sprung" his ankle, and asked what else was bothering him. (Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff told Dr. Supple that he could not straighten his left arm without receiving a lot of pain from his elbow, and Dr. Supple responded that there was nothing wrong with it "without touching it or ex-rays." (Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff then asked Dr. Supple to take x-rays of his ankle and elbow, but Dr. Supple agreed only to take an x-ray of his ankle. (Compl. ¶ 29.) After the x-ray was taken, Plaintiff asked Dr. Supple if he was going to examine his "right lower back." (Compl. ¶ 29.) Dr. Supple refused and gave Plaintiff a "hand full of Motrins" for his pain. (Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff protested that he was allergic to Motrin, and Dr. Supple replied, "that's your problem," and left. (Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Supple deliberately and maliciously prescribed him Motrin in retaliation for a previous grievance Plaintiff had filed against Dr. Supple. (Compl. at 10). On February 15, 2006, Plaintiff lodged a complaint about Dr. Supple's care with Mr. Smith from mental health care, who said he would call Dr. Supple's supervisor. (Compl. ¶ 30.) This complaint led to Correctional Officer Kitson retrieving all the Motrins from Plaintiff's cell an hour later, after Plaintiff's medical records had been consulted. (Compl. ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff filed two grievances related to the alleged facts outlined above with the Fishkill Inmate Grievance Program.*fn5 (Compl. ¶¶ 31-38; Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A.) On February 12, 2006, Plaintiff filed a grievance, number 27560-06, relating to the alleged beating of January 13, 2006.*fn6 (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A at 1.) On February 16, 2006, Plaintiff filed a second grievance, number 27585-06, pertaining to his visit with Dr. Supple and the dispensation of Motrin.*fn7 (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss. Ex. A at 7.)

The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee heard the grievance relating to the alleged beating, and Plaintiff appealed to Superintendent William J. Connolly, who rendered a decision on March 1, 2006. (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A at 3.) Plaintiff then appealed to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), which rendered a decision on March 29, 2006 finding that there was "no evidence to substantiate any malfeasance" after investigating the matter. (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A at 4; Compl. ¶¶ 35-36.)

On February 28, 2006, the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee heard Plaintiff's second grievance, relating to Plaintiff's visit with Dr. Supple. Plaintiff appealed to the Superintendent, who denied the grievance but noted that that "Dr. Supple . . . stated that he did not notice the front cover sticker" on Plaintiff's medical records indicating his Motrin allergy. (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A at 12.) Plaintiff then appealed to CORC, which rendered a decision on March 31, 2006. CORC found that there was "no evidence of malice by the physician," but noted that the "physician has acknowledged the error [in prescribing Motrin] and notes that [Plaintiff] failed to bring such an allergy to the physician['s] attention at that time." (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A at 14.)

Plaintiff was "transferred to Southport Correctional Facility [("Southport")] shortly after the incident[s]" described in the Complaint. (Compl. ¶ 1.) While Plaintiff has not provided the exact date of his transfer, by February 28, 2006, the Fishkill Inmate Grievance Program Supervisor noted that Plaintiff resided at Southport. (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A 11.) On August 8, 2006, Plaintiff underwent surgery on his left arm at Wyoming County Community Hospital, receiving a procedure referred to in his medical records as a left "ulnar nerve release" to treat "a mild to moderate (L) carpal tunnel syndrome and a slight cubital tunnel syndrome (L) arm." (Pl's. Mem. Opp'n Def's. Mot. DismissEx. B 1, 6.) At the time of filing the Complaint and opposing the instant motion, Plaintiff resided at Great Meadow Correctional Facility.

Plaintiff brought a Complaint against Defendants on September 17, 2008.*fn8

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. He alleges that Defendants Girod Cordell and Dr. Supple "failed to provide adequate medical care . . . [and denied] access to pain medication or relief from pain for over 30 days," constituting deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Compl. at 10.) He also alleges that Dr. Supple retaliated against him for filing a previous grievance in violation of the First Amendment. (Compl. at 10.) He alleges that Defendant Connolly "filed false responses to cover up the deliberate unprofessional conduct of his staff, refused to correct and or to stop the continued denial of access to medical care, breaching his duty to protect all inmates within his care, and allow[ed] Vigilante Gang Assaults to continue without any proper investigation" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Compl. at 10-11.)

Plaintiff seeks one hundred million dollars in damages from each Defendant. (Compl. at 10-11.) Plaintiff also seeks an additional one hundred thousand dollars in punitive damages from Defendant Girod Cordell, and one million dollars in punitive damages from both Defendant Dr. Supple and Defendant Connolly. (Compl. at 10-11.) Lastly, Plaintiff seeks two injunctions: (1) "ordering Fishkill Correctional Facility and all agents thereof not to bring inmates into unauthorized areas for alleged pat frisk and or to beat them, and if [there] is a question [as] to the conduct of any inmate, [to] use the disciplinary procedure and not take the law into [their] own hands," and (2) ordering that "all defendants be fired from the New York State Department of Correctional Services and never be allowed to hold any civil servant job within New York State." (Compl. at 10.)

II. Discussion

On a motion to dismiss, a court reviewing a complaint will consider all material factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lee v. Bankers Trust Co., 166 F.3d 540, 543 (2d Cir. 1999). "To survive dismissal, the plaintiff must provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." ATSI Commc'ns Inc. v. The Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 93 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation omitted). Ultimately, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). "[A] simple declaration that defendant's conduct violated the ultimate legal standard at issue . . . does not suffice." Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687, 692 (2d Cir. 2001).

When reviewing a pro se complaint for failure to state a claim, a court is obligated to employ less rigorous standards than if the complaint was drafted by counsel. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) ("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.") (internal quotations and citations omitted). But nonetheless, a pro se plaintiff must still "identif[y] the particular events giving rise to her claim" so as to give defendants "fair notice of her claim and the grounds upon which it rests." Boykin v. KeyCorp., 521 F.3d 202, 214-15 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

In reviewing a complaint, a court is not limited to the four corners of the complaint; a court may also consider "documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, . . . matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or . . . documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit." Brass v. American Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993). This includes the "full text of documents partially quoted in [the] complaint." Faulkner v. Beer, 463 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing San Leandro Emergency Med. Group Profit Sharing Plan v. Philip Morris Cos., 75 F.3d 801, 808-09 (2d Cir. 1996)).*fn9

A. Injunctive Relief

Plaintiff seeks two injunctions against Fishkill and its employees.*fn10 "It is settled in this Circuit that a transfer from a prison facility moots an action for injunctive relief against the transferring facility." Prins v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 504, 506 (2d Cir. 1996); see also Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272 (2d Cir. 2006) ("In this circuit, an inmate's transfer from a prison facility generally moots claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against officials of that facility."); Verley v. Wright, No. 02 Civ. 1182 (PKC), 2007 WL 2822199, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2007) ("To the extent that plaintiff seeks ...

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