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Spavone v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Correctional Services

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


May 28, 2010

STEVEN SPAVONE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
N.Y.S. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, JIM HILLREGAL, JOHN BENDLIN, AND STEVE MADISON, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Steven Spavone ("plaintiff"), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, alleges that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Woodbourne Correctional Facility ("Woodbourne"), which constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that he was exposed to friable asbestos while performing demolition and removal work in an area of Woodbourne. On February 3, 2010, plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), Jim Hillregal, a Plant Supervisor at Woodbourne, John Bendlin, a Maintenance Supervisor at Woodbourne, and Steve Madison, a Maintenance General Mechanic at Woodbourne. Plaintiff claims that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. On April 12, defendant DOCS filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The motion became fully submitted on May 7.

DOCS argues that it is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Eleventh Amendment states: "The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend. XI; Gollomp v. Spitzer, 568 F.3d 355, 361 (2d Cir. 2009). "[A]s a general rule, state governments may not be sued in federal court unless they have waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity, or unless Congress has abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity when acting pursuant to its authority under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment." Gollomp, 568 F.3d at 366 (citation omitted). "The immunity recognized by the Eleventh Amendment extends beyond the states themselves to state agents and state instrumentalities that are, effectively, arms of a state." Id. (citation omitted); see also Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984).

Plaintiff's claim against DOCS for damages is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Although the complaint names DOCS as a defendant, the real party in interest is the State of New York. See Santiago v. New York State Dept. of Corr. Servs., 945 F.2d 25, 28 n.1 (2d Cir. 1991). New York State has not waived its sovereign immunity. Nor has Congress, through § 1983, abrogated the state's immunity. See id. at 30. Consequently, plaintiff's claim against DOCS is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Davis v. New York, 316 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2002) (dismissing damages claim against DOCS based on sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment).

Plaintiff argues that DOCS is not entitled to sovereign immunity based on the Supreme Court's decision in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Monell, however, applies only to local municipalities and does not abrogate sovereign immunity for states or state instrumentalities. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 690 n.54. Plaintiff's argument is thus without merit.

20100528

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