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Cooke v. Stern

August 2, 2010


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


This matter was referred 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. On January 4, 2010, the case was re-assigned to me, following the retirement of Magistrate Judge Gustave J. Di Bianco.

In this amended civil rights complaint ("AC"), plaintiff alleges that the two remaining defendants*fn2 were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety when they improperly assigned him to a particular work detail at Bare Hill Correctional Facility ("Bare Hill") that was not appropriate, given his physical disability. (Dkt. No. 7). Plaintiff, now released from custody, seeks substantial monetary damages. (Id.).

Presently before this court is defendants' second motion for summary judgment, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. (Dkt. No. 24). Defense counsel argues that neither name defendant was personally involved in the decision to assign plaintiff to his work program, and that plaintiff cannot establish that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety.

Plaintiff initially failed to respond to the second summary judgment motion. Upon learning of the possibility that plaintiff had not received the motion*fn3 , the court took steps to verify plaintiff's current mailing address and to serve him (perhaps for a second time) with the relevant papers. (See Text Orders dated 7/14/2010 & 7/20/2010). Only July 26, 2010, plaintiff submitted a confirmation of his new mailing address and provided some documents responsive to the summary judgment motion.

(Dkt. No. 29). On July 27, 2010, plaintiff telephoned my chambers to confirm his receipt of defendants' summary judgment motion, and to advise the court that he did not intend to file any further response. (See Text Order dated 7/27/2010).

Although this court originally gave plaintiff until August 20, 2010 to file a response to the summary judgment motion, it is ripe for decision now, given that plaintiff has indicated that he does not intend to file any further response. For the following reasons, this court recommends that the defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted and the sole remaining claim in the amended complaint dismissed in its entirety.


I. Facts*fn4

Plaintiff's right foot and some of his right leg were amputated and replaced by a prosthesis shortly before he was returned to state prison in August 2007, following a parole violation. (Pltf. Deposition ("Dep.") at at 27-28, 31-33, Dkt. No. 24-4). Plaintiff claims that, on August 18, 2007, he was assigned to work as a cook in the mess hall at Bare Hill by defendant Sharon Flanagan, who was in charge of the Program Committee. (AC, Dkt. No. 7 at 1*fn5 ; Dep. at 22-25, 46-47, 56-61). Plaintiff states that he asked the Program Committee not to be assigned to the mess hall because it was difficult for him to stand and walk on his prosthetic leg, and because he didn't want "to move around and put pressure on [that] leg . . . ." (AC at 1, 7; Dep. at 22-24). Plaintiff asked to work in the commissary or at a job outside, but the sergeant stated that neither job was available. (Dep. at 60-61). One of the female committee members then told plaintiff there was an opening for a cook in the mess hall, and "you take it or you do not take it." Plaintiff said he would take it because he knew he would not be at Bare Hill "for long." (Dep. at 61).*fn6

Defendants have submitted documentation indicating that plaintiff actually met with the Bare Hill Program Committee on August 16, 2007, not Saturday, August 18th, as plaintiff contended. (Flanagan Aff., Dkt. No. 24-3, ¶¶ 5-8, 11-13 & Ex. A; Stearns Aff., Dkt. No. 24-2, ¶¶ 13-16, 25-26 & Ex. A).*fn7 According to plaintiff, a male sergeant and two women were committee members that day. (Dep. at 24-25, 56-57). Plaintiff knew that "Ms. Flanagan was in charge of the program . . ." (Dep. at 58), and believed that she was the woman who appeared to be running the committee meeting. (Dep. at 57-59, 63-64). Plaintiff could not describe the woman at the meeting he believes was Ms. Flanagan, except to note she was " Caucasian." (Dep. at 63-64).

Defendant Flanagan was, in fact, in charge of the program committee and would normally preside at meetings to make program assignments to inmates. (Stearns Aff. ¶ 20; Flanagan Aff. ¶ 10). However, defendants submitted extensive documentation indicating that defendant Flanagan was not at work on August 16, 2007, and did not participate in the meeting that resulted in plaintiff's assignment to work in the mess hall. (Flanagan Aff. ¶¶ 5-10, 14-19, & Exs. A, B; Stearns Aff. ¶¶ 13-16, 18-24, & Exs. A, B).*fn8 The record documenting the decision of the Program Committee assigning plaintiff to the mess hall detail was dated August 16, 2007 and was signed by someone other than defendant Flanagan, who would, as the committee chair, sign such forms on days that she worked. (Flanagan Aff. ¶¶ 5-10 & Ex. A).

Defendant Stearns was the Deputy Superintendent for Program Services at Bare Hill, and supervised the Program Committee. However, he was "not a member [of that committee] and ha[d] no direct involvement in its meetings and decisions." (Stearns Aff. ¶ 9). He "was not present at the Committee meeting [on August 16th] and had nothing to do with the Committee's decision to assign Cooke to the mess hall." (Stearns Aff. ¶ 17). Plaintiff admitted as much during his deposition. (Dep. at 75, 82).*fn9

About a week before plaintiff met with the Program Committee, he had been cleared by the medical department at Bare Hill to work in the mess hall. (Stearns Aff. ¶¶ 33-35 & Ex. E). Plaintiff recalled being interviewed and examined by a nurse, but opined that it was not a thorough examination, and he disagreed with her conclusion that he was physically able to do mess hall work. (Dep. at 34-42, 48). He told her about his recent surgery and said he could not do strenuous work. (Dep. at 37, 41). Plaintiff told the nurse he was able to participate in programs, but claims that neither he, nor the nurse, specifically discussed mess hall work. (Dep. at 36, 41).

On August 18, 2007, plaintiff submitted a handwritten "Request for Reasonable Accommodation," and was instructed to re-submit his request on the proper form, which plaintiff did on August 24th. (3/4/2009 Memo. Decision and Order of Judge Sharpe, Dkt. No. 16, at 12-13; AC at 10). Plaintiff requested a change in program and facility due to the problems with his right foot and leg. (Id. at 13-14; AC at 10). The request was forwarded to the medical staff for evaluation on or before August 28, 2007.*fn10 On September 11, 2007, Dr. Connally, a facility physician, told Defendant Stearns "that Mr. Cooke's leg was infected, that Cooke was not caring for it properly and that he should be transferred to a wheel chair access facility." (Stearns Aff. ΒΆΒΆ 27-29 & Ex. C; AC at 10). On September 12th, defendant Stearns signed the "Determination" section of the form which stated that plaintiff's transfer to a wheelchair-accessible facility was being processed, and noted that the doctor had ...

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