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Tafari v. Weinstock

August 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hugh B. Scott United States Magistrate Judge Western District of New York

Hon. Hugh B. Scott

Decision & Order

Before the Court are the following motions: the plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief (Docket No. 45), the defendants' motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 57) and the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration (Docket No. 73).*fn1


The plaintiff, Ras-Injah Tafari ("Tafari"), commenced this action alleging a variety of claims against 28 defendants. (Docket No. 1). District Judge Charles J. Siragusa dismissed all of the claims, with the exception of the plaintiff's claim asserting deliberate indifference with respect to his medical care against five defendants: Dr. Daniel Weinstock ("Weinstock"), Marchall Trabout ("Trabout"), Deborah French ("French"), Jean Yost ("Yost") and John Jastrzab ("Jastrzab"). (Docket No. 5). With respect to his medical treatment claims, the plaintiff asserts that the defendants failed to continue certain treatments he was receiving when he transferred from the Eastern Correctional Facility ("Eastern") to the Five Points Correctional Facility ("Five Points"). The plaintiff claims that the defendants failed to provide him with the following: (1) "a therapeutic diet (vegetarian meals);" (2) a large elastic back brace and double mattresses; (3) a hard brace for his left thumb; (4) Goretex boots with top and bottom thermal underwear; (5) daily showers, cotton mattresses and a jock strap; (5) flexeril for back pain; (6) tramadol fro shoulder and thumb pain; (7) Head & Shoulders shampoo and various vitamins. (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 14-16). Tafari asserts that on May 23, 2006, Jastrzab told him that the medical items he was bringing in with him from Eastern were not allowed in the SHU at Five Points. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 22) . Tafari asserts that he met with Dr. Weinstock on May 23, 2006, and that Dr. Weinstock discontinued the above referenced items. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 24). The plaintiff states that Dr. Weinstock advised him that Dr. Weinstock did not believe that Tafari needed "these treatments any longer now that [he] was in Five Points. I will order you a different pain medication to help with your pain." (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 26). Tafari asserts that he filed complaints relating to the denial of these items, and that on October 12, 2006, Trabout denied his complaint. The plaintiff alleges the skin problems in his groin, the arthritis in his thumb, and his back pain worsened because of the denial of these items. (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 30-34). With respect to defendant French, the plaintiff asserts that on October 23, 2006, French measured Tafari's feet to be a size 101/2 , when he, in fact, wears only a size 81/2 or 9 in shoes and sneakers, but 91/2 in boots. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 35). Tafari claims that he was forced to wear sneakers which were too long, and too tight due to French's alleged "lie" about his foot size. (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 35-37). The plaintiff also asserts that Dr. Weinstock failed to promptly arrange for Tafari to have surgery on his shoulder relating to a broken surgical screw. (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 43-46).

The defendants assert that summary judgment is warranted as to each of the defendants. The plaintiff has responded to the motion by providing voluminous medical records going back more than 20 years.*fn2

Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no issues of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Trans Port, Inc. v. Starter Sportswear, Inc., 964 F.2d 186, 188 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party and grant summary judgment only if no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party. See Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991); Howley v. Town of Stratford, 217 F.3d 141 (2nd Cir. 2000). However, the non-moving party must, "demonstrate to the court the existence of a genuine issue of material fact." Lendino v. Trans Union Credit Information, Co., 970 F.2d 1110, 1112 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). A fact is material: when its resolution would "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law" and a dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party."

General Electric Company v. New York State Department of Labor, 936 F.2d 1448, 1452 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "The non-moving party must come forward with enough evidence to support a jury verdict . . . and the . . . motion will not be defeated merely . . . on the basis of conjecture or surmise." Trans Sport, 964 F.2d at 188 (citing Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d at 982). If undisputed material facts are properly placed before the court by the moving party, those facts will be deemed admitted, unless they are properly controverted by the non-moving party." Glazer v. Formica Corp., 964 F.2d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Dusanenko v. Maloney, 726 F.2d 82 (2d Cir. 1984). The Court's responsibility in addressing a summary judgment motion is identifying factual issues, not resolving them. See Burger King Corp. v. Horn & Hardart Co., 893 F.2d 525, 528 (2d Cir. 1990). However, summary judgment is appropriate "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Nippon Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Skyway Freight Systems, Inc., 235 F.3d 53 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Eighth Amendment Claims

The Eighth Amendment outlaws "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. "This includes punishments that 'involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.' " Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir.1998) (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976)). See also Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 144 (2d. Cir. 2003). While "society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified access to health care," Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992), an inmate can nevertheless prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim arising out of medical care by showing that a prison official acted with "deliberate indifference" to the inmate's serious medical needs. Hathaway v. Coughlin, ("Hathaway I"), 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir.1994) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)).

This standard incorporates both objective and subjective elements. The objective "medical need" element measures the severity of the alleged deprivation, while the subjective "deliberate indifference" element ensures that the defendant prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 183 -184 (2d. Cir. 2003). To prevail on a constitutional claim of deliberate medical indifference, a plaintiff must prove that he suffered from an objectively serious medical condition, which the defendants knew of and deliberately disregarded. Green v. Senkowski, 2004 WL 1292786, *1 (2nd Cir. 2004) citing Chance, 143 F.3d at 702 (collecting cases). A serious medical condition is one that may result in death, degeneration, or "chronic and substantial pain." Id.; see Hathaway I, 37 F.3d at 66. This standard contemplates a "condition of urgency, one that may produce death, degeneration, or extreme pain." Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 607 (2d Cir.1990) (Pratt, J., dissenting)). A serious medical need arises where "the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Chance, 143 F.3d at 702. To satisfy the subjective prong of the test, prison officials must have acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, i.e., deliberate indifference. Plaintiff must therefore show that prison officials intentionally denied, delayed access to, or intentionally interfered with prescribed treatment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05. See also Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)("[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference."). "[T]he subjective element of deliberate indifference 'entails something more than mere negligence ... [but] something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result." ' Hathaway II, 99 F.3d at 553 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835). Accordingly, subjective recklessness can satisfy the deliberate indifference standard only where "the official has actual knowledge that the prisoner faced a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847. However, "[m]edical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106.

Also, it is well-established that a prisoner is not entitled to receive the medical treatment of his choice. So long as the treatment given is adequate, the fact that a prisoner might prefer a different treatment or a different doctor does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation. Dean v. Coughlin, 804 F.2d 207, 215 (2d Cir.1986) (The essential test is one of medical necessity and not one simply of desirability). A difference of opinion between a prisoner-patient and prison medical authorities regarding treatment does not give rise to a § 1983 claim. Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 703 (2d Cir.1998); Dean v. Coughlin, 804 F.2d 207, 215 (2d Cir.1986); Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir.1981). The Constitution does not require that an inmate receive a particular course of treatment, or that an inmate see a requested specialist. Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1239 (8th Cir.1997), Davis v. Hall, 992 F.2d 151, 153 (8th Cir.1993).

Similarly, a showing of nothing more than a difference of medical opinion as to the need to pursue one course of treatment over another is insufficient, as a matter of law, to establish deliberate indifference. Chance v.Armstrong, 143 F.3d. 698 (2d. Cir. 1998); Johnson v. Snow, 2008 WL 2224949 (N.D.N.Y., 2008); Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir.1989); Sires v. Berman, 834 F.2d 9, 13 (1st Cir.1987) ("Where the dispute concerns not the absence of help, but the choice of a certain course of treatment, ...

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