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Brown v. White

February 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew T. Baxter, United States Magistrate Judge


This matter has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rules N.D.N.Y. 72.3(c), by the Honorable Gary L. Sharpe, United States District Judge.

In this amended civil rights complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant denied him adequate medical care, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, from October 11, 2007 until January 15, 2008, while plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of the Franklin Correctional Facility ("Franklin"). (Dkt. No. 10). The defendant also construes the amended complaint as alleging that she retaliated against the plaintiff for demanding necessary medical care by lodging an unfounded misbehavior report against him. Plaintiff seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Presently before this court is the motion for summary judgment, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56, filed by the sole defendant, J. (Jerre) White, a nurse at Franklin.

(Dkt. No. 44). Plaintiff filed an unsworn response which did not include a memorandum of law, affidavit, or response to the defendant's statement of material facts, as required by Local Rule 7.1(a). (Dkt. No. 48). For the following reasons, this court recommends that the defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted and the complaint dismissed in its entirety.


I. Facts

Plaintiff alleges that on February 27, 2007, he suffered head and lower back injuries due to a "slip and fall" at the Riker's Island Correctional Facility (Riker's Island). Plaintiff states that he received medical treatment from, inter alia, a neurologist at Bellevue Hospital. Plaintiff was eventually transferred to Franklin on September 7, 2007 and initiated several sick-call visits to seek further treatment for the injuries purportedly resulting from the prior accident. (Amended Complaint (AC), Dkt. No. 10 at 7; Supplemental Ex. to AC, Dkt. No. 12 at 1).

The Declaration of Nancy Armstrong*fn1 filed in support of the defendant's motion for summary judgment and related medical records (Ex. B, Dkt. No. 44-5) establish that the plaintiff was examined by the medical staff at Franklin upon his arrival on September 7, 2007, and by sick-call nurses on September 17, October 7, and October 9, 2007.*fn2 (Dkt. No. 44-12 & Ex. B, Dkt. No. 44-5). The report of plaintiff's initial medical screening at Franklin indicates that he claimed to have "left back problems" resulting from a fall in February 2007; but the medical records at Franklin did not include prior documentation of the Riker's Island accident. (Armstrong Decl. ¶ 3; Ex. B at 27). On September 17, 2007, the medical staff scheduled an appointment for the plaintiff with a doctor to address his medical complaints, provided ibuprofen and an analgesic balm, and instructed the plaintiff to use moist heat to address his lower back pain. (Armstrong Declaration, ¶¶ 8,9; Ex. B at 27).*fn3

On October 9, 2007, plaintiff again complained of pain in his back and elsewhere. (Armstrong Declaration, ¶ 11; Ex. B at 26). An examination by a nurse of his back was negative, although the plaintiff was having slight difficulty bending at the waist. Id. The plaintiff refused Ibuprofen and stated that he would "take all of" whatever medication the nurse would give him. (Armstrong Decl. ¶ 13). Because the nurse was concerned that plaintiff would not take the medication as prescribed, and because he still had a doctor's appointment scheduled, she did not issue plaintiff the Ibuprofen. (Armstrong Decl. ¶¶ 14-16; Ex. B at 26).

On the morning of October 11, 2007, plaintiff sought emergency medical attention because of "serious pain" in his head and lower back and was seen by defendant, nurse Jerre White.*fn4 According to plaintiff's amended complaint and his deposition (Def. Ex. F., Dkt. No. 44-9 at 22, 23, 32), Nurse White refused to examine or assist him, accused him of lying about his medical condition, and caused him to be "locked up" by issuing a misbehavior report. The amended complaint suggests that Nurse White had made a prior threat to take action against the plaintiff if he came to sick call again.

In her sworn declaration, Nurse White states that, when the plaintiff appeared at Franklin's urgent care center on October 11th, she completed a "full exam" of the patient, and found that his vital signs were normal and that he was not in any kind of distress. (White Decl. ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 44-11). She states that plaintiff's complaint was "chronic, but not acute," that he was issued over-the-counter pain medication, and was scheduled to see a doctor. Plaintiff's medical records corroborate that Nurse White examined the plaintiff and recorded his vital signs. (Ex. B at 25). Nurse White's contemporaneous progress notes also indicate that the plaintiff was referred for a psychiatric interview, and the social worker concluded he was fine, but manipulative. (Ex. B at 25; Armstrong Decl. ¶ 22).

Nurse White concluded, based on her examination of the plaintiff and review of his prior medical records, that his complaint was not an emergency and should have been addressed in a regular nursing call. She issued a misbehavior report accusing plaintiff of falsely claiming an emergency and interfering with her regular duties. Nurse White averred that she issued the misbehavior report, not because the plaintiff was complaining of medical problems, but because he was deliberately abusing the facility's emergency sick call policy. (White Declaration ¶¶ 5-9; Ex. B at 25).

Nurse White stated that she did not treat the plaintiff at any time before or after October 11th, implicitly denying the suggestion in the plaintiff's amended complaint that she had previously threatened him with retaliation if he made further sick call visits. There is no indication in the plaintiff's medical records that he ever had a confrontation with any of the medical staff at Franklin. (Ex. C, Dkt. No. 44-6 at 20; Ex. B, Dkt. No. 44-5 at 21-30).*fn5

The Declaration of Carolyn St. Denis*fn6 (Dkt. No. 44-13) and the disciplinary records from Franklin (Ex. G, Dkt. No. 44-10) confirm that Nurse White's October 11, 2007 inmate misbehavior report resulted in the plaintiff being confined in his regular room, but only until the next morning. A disciplinary hearing on October 16, 2007 resulted in a guilty disposition and imposition of certain sanctions on the plaintiff that were never implemented.*fn7 On October 18, 2007, the Superintendent of Franklin granted plaintiff's appeal, reversed the guilty finding, and vacated the sanctions. (Ex. G at 5).

At some point in this process, the plaintiff apparently showed the staff personal copies of his medical records (which apparently were not in the files of the medical staff at Franklin), corroborating his prior accident in February 27, 2007, and some of the subsequent medical treatment at other institutions. (Ex. G, Dkt. No. 44-10 at 5; Ex. C, Dkt. No. 44-6 at 21-22). These documents appear in the defendant's exhibit containing plaintiff's grievance documents. (Ex. C at 20-22). In response to plaintiff's grievance, Nurse Armstrong wrote a memorandum, indicating that there was "no documentation of [plaintiff's] previous injuries in his chart." (Ex. C at 20).

Although Nurse White's misbehavior report against the plaintiff was dismissed within one week, plaintiff's amended complaint suggests that he was deterred from seeking further medical treatment for months because of fear of retaliation from Nurse White or perhaps others on the medical staff.*fn8 The plaintiff was scheduled to see a doctor on December 15, 2007, but the appointment was postponed because he was in the special housing unit (SHU) at that time, for reasons unrelated to the merits of this action.

On December 15th, a nurse in the special housing unit at Franklin saw the plaintiff, who complained of headaches. The plaintiff said at that time that, unless the nurse could give him Percocet, she had nothing to offer him. On January 15, 2008, plaintiff, complaining of headaches and low back pain, was examined by a doctor who prescribed Naproxen 500 mg for his discomfort and ordered x-rays. (Armstrong Decl. ¶¶ 23-26; Ex. B at 22-23). Plaintiff was transferred to Coxsackie in February 2008; his outgoing medical examination report from Franklin noted "chronic back pain," but "no acute health care issues," and reflected a continuing prescription for Naprosyn 500 mg.*fn9 (Ex. B at 21).

As reflected in the attachments to the amended complaint and Exhibit C to the summary judgment motion, plaintiff filed a grievance at Franklin, complaining about denial of appropriate medical attention and alleged threats by the medical staff to deter him from seeking further treatment. The grievance was denied by the Superintendent of the institution, and then appealed by the plaintiff. The decision of the Superintendent was upheld by the Central Office Review Committee (CORC) of the Department of Corrections.

II. Summary Judgment

The amended complaint alleges that defendant White showed deliberate indifference to plaintiff's medical needs by refusing to treat him during his visit to the urgent care center at Franklin on October 11, 2007. He also accuses Nurse White of issuing an unfounded inmate misbehavior report on the same day, which purportedly deterred him from seeking needed medical care for several months thereafter.

Defendant White has moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment cause of action, arguing that there are no material facts in dispute to support the claim that (1) the plaintiff had a serious medical need that was not met or (2) that defendant was deliberately indifferent to any such medical need.

The defendant construes the amended complaint as alleging that the inmate misbehavior report filed by Nurse White constituted retaliation for the exercise of his purported First Amendment right to demand necessary medical attention.*fn10 In support of the summary judgment motion, the defendant argues (1) even if the misbehavior report was unfounded, the defendant received procedural due process in the adjudication of the report; (2) it is doubtful that the First Amendment encompasses a right to demand medical care in a prison; and (3) the misbehavior report did not constitute an "adverse action" which would deter a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness in seeking necessary medical attention.

Finally the defendant argues that the amended complaint should be dismissed on qualified immunity grounds because (1) even if his claims are accepted as true, plaintiff has failed to establish that the defendant violated his constitutional rights and (2) it was objectively reasonable for the defendant to believe that her conduct did not violate plaintiff's federally protected rights.

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment may be granted when the moving party carries its burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Ambiguities or inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion. Id. However, when the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must do more than "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

In meeting its burden, the party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the portions of "'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may show that he is entitled to summary judgment by either (1) pointing to evidence that negates the non-movant's claims or (2) identifying those portions of the non-movant's evidence that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323). The second method requires the movant to identify evidentiary insufficiency, not merely to deny the opponent's pleadings. Id.

If the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party must move forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude summary judgment." Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 674 F. Supp. 1048, 1052 (S.D.N.Y. 1987) (citation omitted). A dispute about a genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that "a reasonable [fact finder] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, all factual inferences must be drawn in favor of the ...

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