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Guarneri v. Hazzard

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge


In this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff claims that defendants violated his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights while plaintiff was incarcerated at the Schoharie County Jail. In the second amended complaint, plaintiff asserts that defendants violated: (1) the Eighth Amendment for failing to provide plaintiff with adequate medical care; (2) the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") for denying plaintiff the right to practice his chosen religion; (3) the Fourteenth Amendment for denying plaintiff Equal Protection on account of his religious beliefs; and (4) the First Amendment for denying plaintiff access to the courts. Defendants move for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiff's second amended complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.


The facts in this case, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed.*fn1 The Schoharie County Sheriff's Department ("SCSD") operates the Schoharie County Jail Facility ("SCJ") in Schoharie County, New York. At the relevant time period, James Hazzard ("Lt. Hazzard") was employed as a lieutenant in the SCSD. In 2006, Lt. Hazzard was the Chief Administrative Officer for the SCJ and was responsible for reviewing inmate grievances. Allen Nelson ("Nelson") was employed by the SCSD as a Corrections Officer and acted as the SCJ Inmate Grievance Coordinator with responsibilities that included receiving, investigation and making determinations on inmate grievances.*fn2 Paul Marsh ("Marsh") was employed as a Corrections Officer at SCJ. However, Officer Marsh was injured on November 5, 2005 and, as of December 2008, had not returned to work. James Grippin ("Grippin") was employed as a Corrections Officer at SCJ from February 2003 through August 2006. Donald Mace ("Mace") was employed as a Corrections Officer at SCJ and was employed in that capacity for 19 years. Dr. Weitz ("Weitz") is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology and licensed to practice medicine in the State of New York. Dr. Weitz began working at SCJ in January 2004. Defendant Weitz has submitted a twenty page affidavit which details his contacts with plaintiff and comments on all of plaintiff's visits for sick call.*fn3 Defendant Weitz's affidavit chronologically details all of the dates and states whether plaintiff was seen by other medical personnel or treated by defendant Weitz.

Plaintiff has been arrested over 70 times in the past 20 years and has spent most of his adult life in and out of correctional facilities on various charges and convictions. Since 2000, plaintiff has been housed at SCJ on 16 separate occasions.*fn4 Plaintiff claims that he suffers from herniated discs in his neck and lower back, torn ligaments in his knee, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), bi-polar disorder and depression.

Plaintiff's Incarceration from 2004 until 2005

Plaintiff was incarcerated at SCJ from January 2004 until January 2005. On January 29, 2004, plaintiff was evaluated by a social worker at SCJ. Plaintiff denied suicidal and homicidal ideation and was found not to be an "imminent risk" to himself or others. On February 27, 2004, a nurse practitioner examined plaintiff and prescribed Flexeril for his back pain.*fn5 At plaintiff's request, the nurse agreed to discuss plaintiff's mental health complaints with Dr. Weitz. On March 2, 2004, Dr.Weitz evaluated plaintiff's mental health condition and consulted with Kelly Farnum, N.P., at Schoharie County Mental Health Clinic.*fn6 Dr. Weitz and Nurse Farnum discussed plaintiff's medical condition and agreed that Dr. Weitz would prescribe Prozac and Depakote.*fn7 On March 23, 2004, plaintiff was seen Nurse Farnum upon Dr. Weitz's request. Nurse Farnum noted that plaintiff was cooperative, his thoughts were organized and goal directed and plaintiff denied any suicidal or homicidal tendencies. Nurse Farnum noted that plaintiff's impulse was "intact during interview" but that his insight and judgment were "poor" and his intelligence was, "below average". Nurse Farnum suggested that plaintiff continue with his current medication.

In April 2004, the medical staff at SCJ noted that plaintiff requested a transfer to "Mercy" or another "psychiatric hospital". The staff denied this request concluding that plaintiff had "adequate care" and that he was "manipulating for psychiatric hospitalization". In May 2004, plaintiff demanded to be seen by a psychiatrist. The medical staff discussed plaintiff's request with Dr. Weitz and an appointment was made for plaintiff to see Dr. Warren Becker at Schoharie County Mental Health Clinic.

On May 18, 2004, plaintiff was treated by a nurse practitioner after complaining that he hurt his right knee playing basketball. The nurse noted that plaintiff's range of motion was intact but his patella was tender. The nurse diagnosed plaintiff with a right knee strain and prescribed Bextra.*fn8

On June 15, 2004, Nurse Practitioner Nancy McDonald at SCJ noted that plaintiff was refusing to take his medication including Bextra, Wellbutrin, Flexeril, Depakote and Amoxicillin.*fn9 Plaintiff reported that he did not take his medications because they "masked the problems".

On June 25, 2004, plaintiff was taken to Bassett Hospital with a prescription from Dr. Weitz for x-rays of his cervical spine, thoracic spine and lumbar spine. The x-rays revealed mild degenerative changes in the lumbar spine. Plaintiff was advised to avoid playing basketball and other outdoor recreation.

On July 28, 2004, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Warren Becker, a psychiatrist at Schoharie County Mental Health Clinic.*fn10 Dr. Becker found that plaintiff did not display any psychiatric disorder that required medication but noted that the medication would make him "feel calmer". Dr. Becker found plaintiff to be polite and cooperative and did not conclude that he was suffering from PTSD.

On August 24, 2004, plaintiff requested a knee brace so that he could play basketball.

Plaintiff was seen by a nurse practitioner on August 30, 2004 and complained that he "went to jump up and when he came down, the right knee buckled". Plaintiff was diagnosed with a right knee strain. The nurse practitioner told plaintiff to avoid basketball and ordered a knee brace. On September 27, 2004, plaintiff requested a different knee brace claiming that the neoprene knee brace he was wearing did not allow for the proper lateral movement of his knee. Nurse McDonald advised plaintiff that his brace was sufficient but stated she would discuss the issue with Dr. Weitz. Dr. Weitz stated that plaintiff needed an orthopedic evaluation to determine his need for a brace. Plaintiff was advised that an appointment would be made for a consultation.

On November 4, 2004, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Shep Friedman, an orthopedist at Bassett Hospital. Dr. Friedman diagnosed plaintiff with a chronic anterior cruciate ligament ("ACL") tear. Dr. Friedman suggested exercise and possible surgery. Dr. Friedman indicated that a brace was medically necessary and that he would speak with someone at the jail to discuss a more supportive brace that would meet jail guidelines. The medical staff told plaintiff that if the facility paid for the brace, it would become facility property when he was transferred. Sgt. Newman and Sgt. Santoro gave Nurse McDonald permission to purchase the brace.*fn11

In December 2004, plaintiff refused to wear a neoprene knee brace. In January 2005, Dr. Friedman re-examined plaintiff and found a normal gait and normal range of motion with some tenderness in the right knee. Dr. Friedman diagnosed plaintiff with a chronic ACL tear and noted that the jail would not permit plaintiff to use a brace with metal stays outside of his cell. Dr. Friedman suggested surgical intervention or conservative measures including physical therapy.

Plaintiff's Incarceration in 2006

Plaintiff was incarcerated at SCJ in June 2006 and remained there until August 24, 2006 for a parole violation.*fn12 During the three months that he was incarcerated at SCJ in 2006, plaintiff filed 102 separate inmate requests and approximately 12 medical requests.

In June 2006, upon plaintiff's arrival at SCJ, Sgt. Newman noted that plaintiff had an "old black knee brace in his personal property. Issued a new blue knee brace - must be returned upon release".

Plaintiff's Medical Treatment - 2006

On June 9, 2006, plaintiff completed a medical request form complaining of dizziness and insomnia. The same day, plaintiff was prescribed Prozac. On June 10, 2006, plaintiff completed another medical request complaining of pain in his right leg. Plaintiff was seen by a member of the medical staff and prescribed 800 mg of Motrin.

On June 15, 2006, Dr. Weitz examined plaintiff and noted a history of low back pain and degenerative disc disease of his lower spine. Upon examination, Dr. Weitz found that plaintiff could walk without limping, had no motor sensory loss and no symptoms with straight leg raises. Dr. Weitz diagnosed plaintiff with low back pain and prescribed Flexeril. On the same day, plaintiff completed a medical request asking for medication called "trigosamine", a consultation with a neurosurgeon, a back brace and back surgery. Plaintiff also refused to see Dr. Weitz. Plaintiff was seen by Melissa Becker, a nurse practitioner, who noted that plaintiff's request was for an herbal remedy that was not FDA regulated. Nurse Becker noted, "I am not ordering unnecessary testing. I am trained medically to make judgment decisions."

On June 16, 2006, plaintiff submitted a grievance claiming that he was denied a back brace and adequate x-rays for herniated discs. On June 21, 2006, after an investigation, Officer Nelson concludedthat plaintiff was unwilling to follow the course of action recommended by the medical staff and refused to take prescribed medication and Motrin. Therefore, Officer Nelson responded to the grievance stating, "I have no choice but to deny this grievance". Plaintiff appealed the decision to Lt. Hazzard who found that, "[y]ou again are refusing any course of action by medical. They have a plan set up which they discuss with you and you refuse to abide by it. Grievance denied". Plaintiff appealed Lt. Hazzard's decision to the Citizens Policy and Complaint Review Council ("CPCRC") and on August 10, 2006, CPCRC issued a decision denying plaintiff's grievance.

On June 18, 2006, plaintiff complained of severe pain in his lower back. Plaintiff was treated on June 19, 2006 and advised to continue with his medications. On July 19, 2006, plaintiff requested a hinged knee brace. On July 20, 2006, plaintiff's medications were increased.

On July 21, 2006, at approximately 2:00 a.m., plaintiff allegedly sustained a knee injury when his knee, "gave out" while he was in the medical holding cell.*fn13 Officer Nelson claims that he went to plaintiff's cell at approximately 3:00 a.m. and that plaintiff demanded to be taken to the emergency room immediately and refused to wear his knee brace. Officer Nelson claims that at approximately 3:12 a.m., he spoke with Dr. Weitz by telephone who directed Officer Nelson to put the brace on plaintiff's knee for the rest of the evening. Dr. Weitz further advised Officer

Nelson that the medical staff would examine plaintiff the next morning at the facility. Plaintiff claims that he did not put his brace on because his knee "swelled up".

Later the same day, plaintiff was seen by Nurse Becker who noted that plaintiff's knee was tender to the touch with minimal swelling. Nurse Becker convinced plaintiff to use the brace but plaintiff insisted that he be taken to the emergency room to be fitted for a metal brace.*fn14 The nurse recommended that plaintiff be evaluated and "scanned".

On July 21, 2006, at approximately 1:45 p.m., plaintiff was seen in the Bassett Hospital Emergency Room. Plaintiff claims he was in "severe" pain. The doctors in the emergency room prescribed Tylenol, wrapped the knee in an ace bandage and advised plaintiff to rest. The doctors also suggested that plaintiff follow with Dr. Friedman. Plaintiff claims he was able to walk out of the hospital because he was "injected" with pain medication. Plaintiff testified that within an hour or two, he was "feeling no pain". On July 21, 2006, upon plaintiff's return from the hospital, plaintiff was involved in an incident with the SCJ correctional staff. Plaintiff admitted to engaging in a verbal exchange with the staff and also admitted that he kicked one of the Corrections Officers.*fn15

On July 24, 2006, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Friedman at Bassett Hospital. Dr. Friedman diagnosed plaintiff with a chronic anterior cruciate ligament tear with some arthritic change and limited range of motion. Dr. Friedman noted that plaintiff was fitted for a "Genu ACL brace" which plaintiff was "comfortable with".

From July 24, 2006 through August 24, 2006, plaintiff was permitted to wear the hinged knee brace. On August 24, 2006, Officer Mace escorted plaintiff to the Elmira Correctional Facility ("ECF") and upon arrival, advised ECF staff that the brace needed to be returned to SCJ. The ECF staff removed the brace from plaintiff, outside of Officer Mace's presence. Officer Mace returned the brace to the SCJ.

Plaintiff's Request for a Catholic Priest

On June 9, 2006, plaintiff submitted an Inmate Request seeking "religious assistance" from a Catholic priest. Plaintiff received a response from Cpl. Rodriguez-Stanley which stated, "I contacted our jail Chaplain Rev. Ferenczy, and he will try to reach the local Catholic priest to see when he could come out and see you". According to Lt. Hazzard, the SCJ staff, including the facility Chaplain, Reverend Paul Ferenczy, made efforts to obtain the services of a Catholic priest. Plaintiff testified that he previously met with Rev. Ferenczy. On June 26, 2006, plaintiff filed a grievance claiming that he was being denied his, "First Amendment of not having his Catholic religion for 'no' reason at all". Plaintiff claimed that SCJ was deliberately violating the

"Religious Freedom Restoration Act". Plaintiff sought to have "Catholic servicers [sic]". Lt. Hazzard explained to plaintiff that ongoing efforts were being made to obtain the services of a Catholic priest. According to Lt. Hazzard, plaintiff accepted that explanation. On June 29, 2006, plaintiff's request for rosary beads was granted. In August 2006, Lt. Hazzard denied plaintiff's grievance noting that, "[e]very attempt was made to get [] Catholic priest into facility, our own Chaplain had been trying to assist us. Inmate was sent back to state on August 24, 2007".*fn16

Plaintiff's Access to Courts

Plaintiff testified that while incarcerated at SCJ, he filed four lawsuits. Moreover, his requests for addresses, supplies and a notary were routinely granted. On June 13, 2006, plaintiff submitted an Inmate Request seeking, "[l]egal reference material called Chapter on Parole and on Article 78 from the Jailhouse Lawyer Manual New Edition". On June 15, 2006, plaintiff filed a second Inmate Request with respect to the materials. On June 16, 2006, plaintiff was advised that the Jailhouse Lawyer Manual, "is not required library material set forth in minimum standards as outline by Commission of Corrections". On June 16, 2006, plaintiff filed two grievances with regard to this issue. Plaintiff sought to have all forms and chapters referenced in his prior request provided immediately and sought copies from the Jailhouse Lawyer Manual on Article 78 and parole and all legal forms from that book, "when requested in the future". Officer Nelson claims that Cpl. Wood investigated the issues and prepared a report. After reviewing the report, Officer Nelson concluded that SCJ was not required to maintain the requested information. On June 21, 2006, Officer Nelson issued a decision stating that, "[a]ll legal reference materials required by NYSCOC minimum standards are available for your review in the facility library and case law copies are available, as you well know, by request. Grievance Denied". Lt. Hazzard reviewed Officer Nelson's decisions and upheld the denial. In July 2006, plaintiff made at least three requests for extended library time and all requests were granted. Plaintiff appealed the determination to the CPCRC and on August 10, 2006, the CPCRC denied plaintiff's grievance.

Prior Litigation

On May 11, 2005, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in an action entitled Joseph Paul Guarneri v. John Bates, Jr., Lt. Hazzard, Mr. Santoro, Mr. Newman, Roland Hirot, Mr. Gordon, Paul Marsh, Jr., Schoharie County Jail Medical Department, Dr. Weitz, Nancy McDonald, State Commission of Correction, Frederick C. Lamy, Frank T. Sullivan and Eliot Spitzer, 05-CV-444 (GLS/DRH) (Dkt. No. 5) ("Guarneri I").*fn17 That action involved plaintiff's medical treatment while he was incarcerated at SCJ from January 2004 until January 2005. Plaintiff alleged that the defendants violated his right to medical care under the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that during the course of his arrest on January 5, 2004, he sustained from a rotator cuff tear in his shoulder that caused him severe pain. Plaintiff claimed that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs with regard to the shoulder injury. Further, plaintiff alleged that he suffered from knee injuries and that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his needs as they refused to allow plaintiff to wear his hinged knee brace outside his cell.

On May 31, 2007, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff's complaint. See Guarneri v. Bates, 05-CV-444, (Dkt. No. 72). The matter was referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge David R. Homer for a Report and Recommendation. In his report, Magistrate Judge Homer provided a factual "Background" that included a discussion of plaintiff's medical treatment from August 2004 through January 2005. Magistrate Judge Homer found that plaintiff's shoulder injury may constitute a serious medical need, however, plaintiff failed to establish that the defendants were deliberately indifferent. (Dkt. No. 86). Moreover, Magistrate Judge Homer found that plaintiff failed to offer evidence that his knee injury was serious or that the defendants were deliberately indifferent. Accordingly Magistrate Judge Homer recommended that the Court grant the defendants' motions for summary judgment and dismissal of all claims. (Dkt. No. 86).

On March 10, 2008, District Judge Gary L. Sharpe issued a Memorandum-Decision and Order accepting and adopting Magistrate Judge Homer's Report and Recommendation in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 88).


On August 14, 2006, plaintiff filed a complaint in this action.*fn18 On February 7, 2007, plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. Specifically, plaintiff alleges two causes of action under the First Amendment: (1) denial of meaningful access to courts; and (2) denial of religious freedom. Plaintiff also asserts causes of action with regard to his religious freedom pursuant to the RFRA and the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants violated the Eighth Amendment claiming that: (1) defendants did not allow him to keep his hinged knee brace upon arrival at ECF; (2) defendants delayed in providing adequate emergency treatment in July 2006; (3) plaintiff received inadequate emergency care in 2000 and 2003 for herniated discs; and (4) defendants denied plaintiff proper medical care by refusing to provide a back brace.

On June 13, 2007, defendant Weitz filed a motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) seeking dismissal of plaintiff's complaint arguing that: (1) he was not personally involved in the deprivation of plaintiff's knee brace and in plaintiff's medical care; (2) the complaint failed to state a cause of action; (3) the complaint was barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel; and (4) the claims relating to plaintiff's back were barred by the statute of limitations. (Dkt. No. 19). The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Homer for a Report and Recommendation. On February 6, 2008, Magistrate Judge Homer concluded that plaintiff failed to allege how Dr. Weitz was involved in the deprivation of his knee brace upon his arrival at ECF and recommended granting Weitz's motion for summary judgment based upon lack of personal involvement with the confiscation of the knee brace. However, Magistrate Judge Homer also found that plaintiff sufficiently alleged that Dr. Weitz was personally involved in his medical care for mental health issues and back and neck injuries sustained in 2003.

Magistrate Judge Homer also found that plaintiff sufficiently alleged an Eighth Amendment violation with respect to his knee injury, mental health and 2003 back injury and recommended denial of Weitz's motion on that ground.*fn19 However, plaintiff's claims relating to medical indifference occurring in 2000 were "clearly outside the three-year [statute of limitations] period". With regard to Weitz's res judicata argument, Magistrate Judge Homer concluded that there had not been a final determination in the pending federal case (09-CV-444) against Dr. Weitz and therefore, that aspect of the motion should be denied without prejudice. On February 27, 2008, this Court adopted Magistrate Judge Homer's Report and Recommendation in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 55).

Presently before the Court are two motions for summary judgment. Defendant Weitz moves for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiff's complaint arguing that: (1) plaintiff's claims are precluded under the doctrine of res judicata and collateral estoppel; (2) plaintiff cannot establish that defendant was deliberately indifferent to any serious medical condition relating to plaintiff's knee, back or mental health treatment; (3) plaintiff cannot demonstrate defendant's personal involvement in medical decisions concerning plaintiff's emergency medical treatment in 2003 for herniated discs; (4) plaintiff's claim of mistreatment of a back injury in 2003 is precluded by the statute of limitations; and (5) Dr. Weitz is entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 70). Defendants Hazzard, Marsh, Grippin, Mace, Howland, Cronk and the County of Schoharie move for summary judgment arguing: (1) plaintiff did not suffer from a serious medical need with respect to his knee, back and mental health and even assuming plaintiff suffered from serious medical need(s), defendants were not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's condition(s); (2) plaintiff was not denied the ability to freely exercise his religious beliefs; (3) plaintiff was not denied ...

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