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Green v. Herbert

January 5, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


Plaintiff, Clarence Green, appearing pro se, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), asserts various constitutional claims against thirty-nine defendants. Plaintiff's claims arise out of an alleged assault against him by several correction officers, and several other events more or less related to that alleged assault, all of which occurred during 2001, while plaintiff was confined at Attica Correctional Facility.

All of the defendants, with the exception of defendants Kazmierczak, Lewalski, Porter and Welch (the officers alleged to have been directly involved in the assault), have moved for summary judgment dismissing the claims against them. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted, in part; some of the claims against some of the defendants are dismissed.


I. Eighth Amendment Medical Claims

Plaintiff asserts claims against a number of defendants based on his allegation that he was denied proper medical care for the injuries that he sustained during the May 14, 2001 assault. Plaintiff alleges that the treatment he received following that assault was so inadequate as to violate the proscription of "cruel or unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

To establish this claim, plaintiff must prove that defendants' acts or omissions amounted to "deliberate indifference to a serious medical need." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A medical need is "serious" for constitutional purposes if it presents "'a condition of urgency' that may result in 'degeneration' or 'extreme pain.'" Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1154 (1995)). See also Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 136-137 (2d Cir. 2000) ("A serious medical condition exists where 'the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'") (quoting Chance, 143 F.3d at 702).

The Supreme Court has explained that the "deliberate indifference" component includes both an objective and a subjective prong. See Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991). With respect to the objective aspect, the court must ask whether there has been a sufficiently serious deprivation of the prisoner's constitutional rights. With respect to the subjective element, the court must consider whether the deprivation was brought about by the defendant in wanton disregard of those rights. Id. To establish deliberate indifference, then, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a culpable state of mind and intended wantonly to inflict pain. See id. at 299; Anderson v. Burge, 539 F.Supp.2d 684, 687 (W.D.N.Y. 2008).

The Court in Estelle also cautioned that mere negligence is not actionable. A prisoner's complaint that a medical professional "has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. Rather, the plaintiff must allege conduct that is "repugnant to the conscience of mankind," id. at 102, or "incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," id. at 105-06. It is clear, then, that allegations of negligence alone do not state a constitutional claim. Id. at 106 n.14; Chance, 143 F.3d at 703-04.

Applying these standards to the case at bar, I find that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the existence of any genuine issues of material fact, and that the moving defendants are entitled to summary judgment. Plaintiff's own allegations, as well as plaintiff's medical records, show that he received treatment for his injuries. The nature or extent of that treatment may not have been entirely satisfactory to plaintiff, and he may have disagreed with the decisions and judgments of the medical professionals who rendered that care, but plaintiff has not shown that any of the defendants acted with a culpable state of mind or that they ignored any serious medical need. See Loving v. Selsky, No. 07-CV-6393, 2009 WL 87452, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 12, 2009); Evan v. Manos, 336 F.Supp.2d 255, 263 (W.D.N.Y. 2004).*fn1

At most, then, plaintiff has shown only a difference of opinion between him and defendants over the treatment that he should have been given. That does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment claim. See Chance, 143 F.3d at 703 (an inmate's "mere disagreement over the proper treatment does not create a constitutional claim. So long as the treatment given is adequate, the fact that a prisoner might prefer a different treatment does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation"); Goodson v. Willard Drug Treatment Campus, 615 F.Supp.2d 100, 101-02 (W.D.N.Y. 2009).

II. Due Process Claims

Following the May 14, 2001 incident, plaintiff was issued a misbehavior report charging him with certain violations. A Tier III hearing was held before defendant Kennedy, who found plaintiff guilty on all charges, and imposed a punishment of 425 days of confinement in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). Plaintiff states that Kennedy's determination was reversed on administrative review in August 2001, and that plaintiff was released from SHU after 108 days of confinement. Complaint ¶¶ 30-31. Plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were violated in a number of respects in connection with the disciplinary proceedings and hearing.

The entire basis for defendants' motion as to this claim is their assertion that plaintiff spent only two months in SHU before his penalty was overturned. See Def. Mem. of Law (Dkt. #98-4) at 4. Defendants apparently base that assertion on plaintiff's statements that the hearing was concluded on June 13, 2001, ...

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