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Kornegay v. State

January 7, 2010

LEON KORNEGAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE STATE OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Leon Kornegay, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated in a number of respects by defendants, all of whom were at all relevant times officials or employees of DOCS.

The amended complaint names six individual defendants (one of whom is identified only as "Sgt. C"), as well as "John Doe etc.," "any supervisory personnel," the State of New York, the County of Chemung, Elmira Correctional Facility, and the New York State Department of Health. Four of the defendants--Correction Officer ("C.O.") Patrick Bryan, C.O. John Dandrea, DOCS Commissioner Glenn Goord, and Deputy Commissioner/Chief Medical Officer Lester Wright--have been served and have appeared in this action.*fn1 Those four defendants ("moving defendants") have moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

DISCUSSION

I. Goord and Wright

Defendants Goord and Wright move for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate their personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violations. A plaintiff asserting a § 1983 claim against a supervisory official in his individual capacity must allege that the supervisor was personally involved in the violation of his constitutional rights. Johnson v. Newburgh Enlarged Sch. Dist., 239 F.3d 246, 254 (2d Cir. 2001); Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2001). That requirement may be satisfied by alleging facts showing that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation; (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom; (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts; or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberated indifference to others' rights by failing to act on information indicated that constitutional acts were occurring. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995); Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-24 (2d Cir. 1986).

In the case at bar, plaintiff's claims arise out of two separate incidents in which he alleges that he was subject to excessive force by defendants Bryan and Dandrea: a March 7, 2005 incident involving C.O. Bryan, and a November 4, 2005 incident involving C.O. Dandrea.

The amended complaint sets forth virtually no factual allegations about either Goord or Wright. At his deposition in this case, plaintiff testified that he wrote letters to Goord about some of the matters involved in this case, and plaintiff was apparently not satisfied with the responses that he received. Plaintiff testified, "I don't know if [Goord] himself read [plaintiff's letters] or his secretary [read them], but I wrote complaints to him." Dkt. #51-4 at 148. Plaintiff indicated that he received some responses to his letters signed by DOCS officials from Goord's office, but that he had gotten no responses from Goord himself. Id. at 152.

When asked whether plaintiff was "suing [Goord] as the biggest or highest level supervisor in" DOCS, plaintiff responded, "Yes ... ." He added that he believed that "[c]ertain 1983 cases were dismissed for ... failure of the plaintiff to include any supervisory personnel in the body of the complaint itself. So I included him." Id. at 153.

Plaintiff stated that he had written letters to Wright as well. Plaintiff indicated that those letters concerned some difficulties that plaintiff was having in obtaining some of his own medical records, but he did not state that Wright himself ever responded to plaintiff's letters, or that Wright had done anything directly related to plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff apparently named Wright as a defendant because of plaintiff's belief that Wright "was the overall health commissioner of the whole State of New York ... ." Id.

Those allegations are not enough to establish Goord's or Wright's personal involvement in any of the alleged constitutional deprivations here. For one thing, it is clear that defendants' supervisory positions alone are not enough to render them liable for damages in a § 1983 action. See Allah v. Poole, 506 F.Supp.2d 174, 193 (W.D.N.Y. 2007) (defendants' "supervisory status alone is not enough to establish their personal involvement, since the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 cases") (citing Al-Jundi v. Estate of Rockefeller, 885 F.2d 1060, 1065 (2d Cir. 1989)). See also Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 874 (2d Cir. 1995) ("The bare fact that [the defendant] occupies a high position in the New York prison hierarchy is insufficient to sustain [plaintiff's] claim").

Nor can Goord or Wright be held liable simply because plaintiff wrote letters or sent complaints to them. "The general rule is that if an official receives a letter from an inmate and passes it on to a subordinate for response or investigation, the official will not be deemed personally involved with respect to the subject matter of the letter." Rivera v. Fischer, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2009 WL 2981876, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) (citing Sealey v. Giltner, 116 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1997)). Since plaintiff has shown no more than that, his claims against Goord and Wright must be dismissed.

II. Bryan

Defendant Bryan also contends that plaintiff has failed to present evidence demonstrating his personal involvement in the alleged violations. The gist of Bryan's argument is that by plaintiff's own admission, he does not know whether Bryan or some other C.O. ...


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