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Shields v. United States

July 15, 2010


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



In this pro se action under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671, et seq., defendant moves (Dkt. No. 34) for summary judgment. Plaintiff, an inmate in federal custody, claims he was injured on September 4, 2007 in the recreation yard at Federal Correctional Institution at Ray Brook ("FCI Ray Brook") when bleachers on which he was seated tipped over backwards, causing him to land on his back and hit his head on the ground. Plaintiff alleges that the accident occurred due to defendant's negligence and that he received inadequate medical care for his injuries. As set forth below, the Court finds that defendant has established as a matter of law that plaintiff was given proper medical treatment and that there is no causal connection between his fall from the bleachers and his medical condition. Plaintiff fails to raise a material question of fact; accordingly, the Court grants defendant's motion. In view of its decision, the Court does not reach the issues relating to defendant's alleged negligence in connection with the condition of the bleachers.


Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue with regard to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the Court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, determines that the movant has satisfied this burden, the burden then shifts to the non-movant to adduce evidence establishing the existence of a disputed issue of material fact requiring a trial. See id. If the non-movant fails to carry this burden, summary judgment is appropriate. See id. When deciding a summary judgment motion, a court must construe all the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences and resolve all ambiguities in that party's favor. LaSalle Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Nomura Asset Capital Corp., 424 F.3d 195, 205 (2d Cir. 2005). Further, where the non-movant is proceeding pro se, the court must read that party's papers liberally and interpret them "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir.1999) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Plaintiff asserts negligence and medical malpractice claims under the FTCA, pursuant to which the Government waived its sovereign immunity for a number of torts. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346 and 2671, et seq. The FTCA grants district courts exclusive jurisdiction over civil actions for money damages for injury to person or property "caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Liability under the FTCA is generally determined by state law; thus, New York law applies to this case. See 28 U.S.C. § 2674; Mortise v. United States, 102 F.3d 693, 696 (2d Cir. 1996). Under New York law, plaintiff must prove three elements to prevail on a negligence claim: the existence of a duty owed by defendant to plaintiff; a breach of this duty; and resulting injury to the plaintiff. See Alfaro v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 210 F.3d 111, 114 (2d Cir. 2000). If plaintiff's injury is de minimis, he is not entitled to compensation for pain and suffering. See Homen v. United States, 2002 WL 844347, *7 (S.D.N.Y. May 2, 2002); Galaz v. Sobel & Kraus, Inc., 721 N.Y.S.2d 623, 624 (1st Dep't 2001). To establish a medical malpractice claim under New York law, plaintiff must establish that defendant breached the professional standard of care in the community and that such breach proximately caused his injuries. See Arkin v. Gittleson, 32 F.3d 658, 664 (2d Cir.1994).


With respect to his medical treatment, the pertinent part of plaintiff's complaint (Dkt. No. 1) claims as follows:*fn1

9. That very soon after plaintiff and the other inmate came to rest on the bleachers by sitting, the bleachers tipped over and they both fell.

10. That plaintiff landed hard on his back and also hit his head against the ground.

11. That plaintiff had great difficulty gathering himself and once gathered, he had to sit down on the collapsed bleachers to regain his sense of awareness, to wait for the pain and dizziness to pass, and to overcome the embarrassment he suffered.

12. That throughout the night plaintiff began to suffer unremitting headaches, unremitting burning sensations, lower back pains, dizziness, and discomfort.

13. That on September 5, 2007, the morning after the fall plaintiffs pain and discomfort worsened by radiating down plaintiffs left leg, plaintiffs back also stiffened.

14. That plaintiff reported his condition to staff member "lieutenant" Mr. Holder, a correctional officer. Plaintiff also reported to Mr. Holder how the bleachers collapsed causing his condition. Mr. Holder advised plaintiff to report to the medical department.

15. That immediately after talking to Mr. Holder plaintiff reported to the prisons medical department where he reported his condition to a medical technician named Mr. Orman. Without examining plaintiff and despite taking note of plaintiffs condition, "As plaintiff reported his injures, how he sustained them and that they were worsening", Mr. Orman told plaintiff to come back and sign up for sick call the next day.

16. That on the following morning, September 6, 2007, plaintiff again went to the prisons health services department as instructed by Mr. Orman. This time plaintiff consulted with a Miss Gore who was a nurse. Plaintiff again reported his fall, dizziness, tenderness and swelling near the lower spinal area of his back, and that presently his injuries were painful and discomforting.

17. That without even performing a cursory exam nurse Gore stated to plaintiff with ridicule and derision, "There's nothing wrong with you, the best I can do for you is prescribe some Motrin". Plaintiff was prescribed Motrin and placed on convalescence (bed rest) for two weeks. However, neither convalescence nor Motrin relieved plaintiffs pain and suffering.

18. That later in the day on September 6, 2007, plaintiff advised lieutenant Holder that he was still dizzy, that he was still in pain, uncomfortable, had stiffness in lower back, and was still suffering an unremitting burning sensation from his lower back down his legs. Plaintiff was escorted to the prisons medical department where again he conferred with Mr. Orman about his condition. Plaintiff ...

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