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Joel Murray v. Dr. M. Melendez

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


September 30, 2011

JOEL MURRAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. M. MELENDEZ, CLINTON CORR. FACILITY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this pro se prisoner civil rights action filed by Joel Murray ("Plaintiff") against Dr. Maria Melendez, M.D., a psychiatrist formerly employed at Clinton Correctional Facility ("Defendant"), are (1) Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 183, 184), and (2) United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendant's motion be granted (Dkt. No. 190). For the reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted; Plaintiff's claims against Defendant are dismissed.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

On October 17, 2003, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action. (Dkt. No. 1.) On October 30, 2003, the Court issued an Order, inter alia, directing Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 5.) On November 20, 2003, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 7.) On December 8, 2003, the Court struck Plaintiff's Amended Complaint from the docket due to Plaintiff's failure to comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 and 10. (Dkt. No. 8.) On December 22, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 10.) On January 9, 2004, the Court accepted that Second Amended Complaint for filing. (Dkt. No. 11.)

Generally, construed with the utmost of liberality, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges, inter alia,*fn1 that, on or about April 1, 2002, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, Defendant violated his following constitutional rights: (1) she violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment by failing to remedy the inadequate conditions of confinement to which he was subjected by various correctional officers working in Clinton Correctional Facility's Mental Health Unit (which included having body waste thrown in his food, being made to eat with his hands, being denied meals, being refused the ability to shower, and being forced to lay on a dirty bug-infested floor), despite having been informed of those conditions by Plaintiff; and (2) she violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and/or his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, by ordering corrections officers to use excessive force against Plaintiff so that he could be administered an injection by needle without his consent. (Dkt. No. 10, at ¶¶ 9, 22, 38 [Plf.'s Second Am. Compl.].)

The Court notes that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint also raises the specter of a First Amendment free-flow-of-mail claim arising from unidentified correctional officers opening his legally privileged mail without his consent upon his discharge from the Clinton Correctional Facility's Mental Health Unit on April of 2002. (Dkt. No. 10, at ¶¶ 22, 38.) However, because Plaintiff alleges no facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant had a hand in opening that mail, or that Plaintiff even relayed this particular complaint to Defendant, the Court does not, even when it construes Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint with the utmost special liberality, construe the Second Amended Complaint as asserting a First Amendment free-flow-of-mail claim against Defendant.*fn2

B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

On January 25, 2011, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 183.) Generally, in her motion for summary judgment, Defendant asserts the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational fact finder could conclude that he exhausted his available administrative remedies with regard to his claims against Defendant, before commencing this action; (2) even if he has adduced such evidence, Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational fact finder could conclude that Defendant violated either (a) his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, or (b) his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) even if he has adduced such evidence, Defendant is protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity, based on the current record evidence. (Dkt. Nos. 183, 184.)

On April 8, 2011, after having been granted an extension of time in which to do so, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's motion. (Dkt. Nos. 187, 188.) Generally, construed with the utmost of special liberality, Plaintiff's response asserts the following two arguments: (1) a genuine issue of material fact exists on Plaintiff's conditions-of-confinement claim under the Eighth Amendment, because he has adduced admissible record evidence from which a rational fact finder could find that Defendant both [a] "authorized" and "condoned" corrections officers to subject him to inadequate conditions of confinement, and [b] failed to remedy these conditions after Plaintiff complained of them "on numerous occasions"; and (2) a genuine issue of material fact exists on Plaintiff's cruel-and-unusual punishment claim under the Eighth Amendment, and his due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, because he has adduced admissible record evidence from which a rational fact finder could find that Defendant "ordered, directed, and supervised" corrections officers, on two occasions, to use physical force against Plaintiff through forcibly injecting him with anti-psychotic medications (when less-restrictive courses of action were available), in order to "cover up" the agitation that Plaintiff had experienced due to his inadequate conditions of confinement. (Id.)

C. Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation

On September 13, 2011, Magistrate Judge Treece issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendant's motion be granted and that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint be dismissed for failing to state a claim against Defendant Melendez. (Dkt. No. 190.) Familiarity with the grounds of Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. (Id.)

As of the date of this Decision and Order, no party has filed an objection to the Report-Recommendation and the deadline by which to do so has expired.*fn3

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review

When a specific objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to a de novo review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). To be "specific," the objection must, with particularity, "identify [1] the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations, or report to which it has an objection and [2] the basis for the objection." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 72.1(c).*fn4 When performing such a de novo review, "[t]he judge may . . . receive further evidence. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider evidentiary material that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance.*fn5

When only a general objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2),(3); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition.*fn6 Similarly, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review.*fn7 Finally, when no objection is made to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition. When performing such a "clear error" review, "the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Id.*fn8

After conducing the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

B. Legal Standard Governing a Motion for Summary Judgment

Magistrate Judge Treece correctly recited the legal standard governing motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 190, at 4-6.) As a result, this standard is incorporated by reference in this Decision and Order.

III. ANALYSIS

Because no objection was filed to Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation, the Court need review the Report-Recommendation for only clear error. After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation, and Plaintiff's Objection thereto, the Court concludes that Magistrate Judge Treece's thorough Report-Recommendation is correct in all respects. (Dkt. No. 190.) Magistrate Judge Treece employed the proper standards, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. (Id.) As a result, the Court adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety for the reasons stated therein.

The Court would add only four points. First, Magistrate Judge Treece's thorough Report-Recommendation would survive even de novo review.

Second, of the factual assertions contained in the 46 paragraphs of Defendant's Rule 7.1 Statement (each of which is supported by one or more accurate record citations), Plaintiff expressly admits all of the factual assertions contained in 26 of those paragraphs.*fn9 Of the factual assertions contained in the remaining 20 paragraphs, Plaintiff effectively admits (under Local Rule 7.1[a][3]) the factual assertions contained in 19 of those paragraphs. This is because, in support of those denials, he fails to (1) cite any record evidence,*fn10 (2) cite admissible record evidence,*fn11 or (3) cite admissible record evidence that actually supports his denial of the fact(s) asserted by Defendant.*fn12 This leaves only one paragraph in which Plaintiff effectively denies facts asserted by Defendant. (Dkt. No. 187, Attach. 1, at ¶ 45.) The problem is that this factual dispute is immaterial to any argument other than an argument that Defendant lacked personal involvement in the allegedly unconstitutional decision to forcibly medicate Plaintiff; and Defendant makes no such argument. Rather, she argues merely that she lacked personal involvement in the unconstitutional conditions of confinement that Plaintiff allegedly experienced. (Dkt. No. 183, Attach. 7, at 9 [attaching page "7' of Def.'s Memo. of Law].) For these additional reasons, Plaintiff has failed to create a genuine issue of material of fact on Defendant's motion.*fn13

Third, when stripped of their conclusory allegations of malice and a "cover up," Plaintiff's claims against Defendant are, in essence, claims that she acted carelessly in her supervision of correctional staff with regard to the conditions in Plaintiff's cell and the administration of his medications. Even assuming the record contained evidence from which a rational fact finder could find such negligence, negligence is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn14

Fourth and finally, while Magistrate Judge Treece did not render a finding on Defendant's alternative defense of qualified immunity (due to the fact that Plaintiff had not established a violation of his constitutional rights), the Court finds that, even if Plaintiff had established a violation of his constitutional rights, the Court would find and does find, as an alternative ground for granting Defendant's motion, that she is protected from liability as a matter of law, on each of Plaintiff's claims, by the doctrine of qualified immunity. The Court makes this finding for the alternative reason stated by Defendant on page 11 of her memorandum of law.*fn15

ACCORDINGLY, it is

ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 190) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 183) is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 10) is DISMISSED in its entirety. The clerk is directed to enter judgment and close this case.

The Court hereby certifies, for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that any appeal taken from this Decision and Order would not be taken in good faith.


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