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Arcelio Sepulveda v. Joann Harris; Karen Philips; William

July 11, 2011

ARCELIO SEPULVEDA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOANN HARRIS; KAREN PHILIPS; WILLIAM F. HULIHAN; VENKATA MANNAVA, MEDICAL DOCTOR, MID-STATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; SUBBARAO RAMINENI, MEDICAL DOCTOR, MID-STATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; AND LESTER WRIGHT, MEDICAL DOCTOR, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff pro se, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), and 1986, alleging that defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment because they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. See Dkt. No. 1. Moreover, plaintiff alleges that defendants conspired to deprive him of his Eighth Amendment rights and cause him pain. See id.

Currently before the Court are plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Lowe's June 13, 2011 Report-Recommendation, in which he recommended that this Court grant defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismiss plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. See Dkt. Nos. 78, 79.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's allegations

Plaintiff is currently confined at Mid-State Correctional Facility ("Mid-State"), where the events giving rise to this action occurred. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 2-3, 16-17. Plaintiff claims that he has been prescribed a litany of medications since 1992 for "serious medical conditions." See id. at ¶¶ 12, 14. Between 2002 and 2007, plaintiff continued to take prescription medications while incarcerated at several DOCS correctional facilities throughout New York. See id. at ¶¶ 12-15. In 2007, plaintiff was transferred to Mid-State. See id. at ¶ 16. Beginning on July 7, 2007, two prescription medications -- Tylenol No. 3 and Baclofen -- were withheld from plaintiff. See id. On February 27, 2009, two additional prescription medications -- Neurontin and Ultram -- were discontinued and replaced with Ibuprofen. See id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that he needs these four medications to address "chronic pain" and related ailments. See id. at ¶¶ 25, 34.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants Harris, Ramineni, and Mannava failed to provide adequate medical treatment when they discontinued his prescription medications. See id. at ¶¶ 4, 8-9. Plaintiff claims that defendants Philips, Hulihan, and Wright were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs because, although aware of his ongoing suffering caused by the lack of proper prescription medications, they failed to investigate and remedy the situation. See id. at ¶¶ 31-32. Finally, plaintiff alleges that all defendants conspired to make him suffer "excruciating pain" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. See id. at ¶ 11. Defendant asserts that it was reasonable to discontinue plaintiff's prescription narcotic medication because plaintiff tested positive for illicit opiates during a random drug test in February of 2009. See Dkt. No. 59-1 at 1, 3.

B. Magistrate Judge Lowe's June 13, 2011 Report-Recommendation

In a June 13, 2011 Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Lowe recommended that the Court grant defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. No. 78 at 6-12. First, Magistrate Judge Lowe recommended that the Court find that plaintiff has plausibly pled that he suffers from a serious medical condition; and, therefore, satisfied the objective prong of an Eighth Amendment violation. See id. at 6-8. Specifically, Magistrate Judge Lowe noted that plaintiff has been continuously prescribed pain medication since 1992 to treat "chronic pain." See id. at 7-8. Moreover, Magistrate Judge Lowe noted that plaintiff "has reportedly been diagnosed with numerous painful medical conditions including arthritis, bulging discs in his neck and back, muscle spasms, degenerative osteoarthritis, arthropathy in his right shoulder, lumbar facet syndrome, a pinched nerve and sciatica in his right leg, a narrowing of the spinal canal, and bone spurs." See id. at 7 (citing Dkt. No. 1-1, Ex. G-3).

Next, Magistrate Judge Lowe recommended that the Court find that plaintiff's allegations fail to meet the subjective prong of an Eighth Amendment violation, i.e., plaintiff's allegations fail to indicate that defendants consciously and intentionally ignored plaintiff's serious medical conditions. See id. at 9-10. He noted that plaintiff was taken off his prescription medication when he failed a random drug screening, but was provided with non-prescription medication when this occurred. These medications included Ibuprofen (600 mg), Motrin, Zantac, "non-aspirin," Ben-Gay, and a TENS unit.*fn1 As such, Magistrate Judge Lowe found that "[p]laintiff's Eighth Amendment claim thus amounts to mere disagreement with health care providers as to the most appropriate and effective treatment for his conditions. Such allegations do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation." See id. at 10 (citations omitted).

Finally, Magistrate Judge Lowe found that plaintiff's conspiracy claim, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), fails because such a claim must be premised on an underlying constitutional violation. See id. at 11 (citations omitted). Similarly, Magistrate Judge Lowe recommended dismissing plaintiff's conspiracy claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986 because such a claim "must be predicated on a valid § 1985 claim[.]" See id. (citation omitted).

C. Plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation

First, although plaintiff agrees "that a prisoner's disagreement with correctional officials regarding medical treatment does not violate the constitution," he argues that this principle "does not apply in the instant matter." See Dkt. No. 79 at 2. Plaintiff admits that he failed a random drug test on February 29, 2009, and admits that "under normal circumstances" this "is a reasonable reason" to withhold these medications, but claims that his situation is not a "normal circumstance[ ], in that he has numerous storied and documented s[e]rious medical conditions as is evident on the record." See id. at 2-3. As such, plaintiff claims that, because defendants knew of his serious medical condition, which causes him continuous pain and will continue to degenerate without the appropriate medication, ...


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