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James Beaman v. Superintendent David M. Unger

October 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


Plaintiff, James Beaman, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleges that his constitutional rights were violated in certain respects in 2009 and 2010, while plaintiff was confined at Wyoming Correctional Facility. Defendants, all of whom at all relevant times were employed by DOCS at Wyoming, have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


According to the complaint, the factual allegations of which are accepted as true for purposes of defendants' motion, on December 21, 2009, plaintiff slipped and fell on an icy walkway while he was on his way to the mess hall at Wyoming. He alleges that as a result of the fall, he suffered injuries to his right hand, wrist and elbow. Complaint at 5-A-1.

Plaintiff alleges that immediately after his fall, he was seen by a nurse at Wyoming, who gave him ibuprofen and told plaintiff that he "would heal up just fine." Id. The next day, plaintiff was seen by a different nurse, who gave him more ibuprofen and advised him to "ride out the pain." Id.

Plaintiff continued to suffer severe pain, however, and about six weeks after his fall, he was seen by Dr. Habib Shiekh. Dr. Shiekh scheduled an x-ray exam.

Plaintiff was given an x-ray, and about three weeks later, he went back to see Dr. Shiekh to learn of the results. Dr. Shiekh informed plaintiff that "nothing was broken or fractured," but plaintiff--who in the meantime had filed a grievance over his dissatisfaction with his medical care--insisted that "something was certainly wrong with his wrist and finger ... ." Id. at 5-A-2.

About a week later, plaintiff was scheduled (by whom is not clear from the complaint) to see an outside specialist. At his meeting with the specialist, the specialist informed plaintiff that the x-rays revealed fractures in plaintiff's wrist and finger. Because of the delay in the correct diagnosis and treatment, surgery was required to correct plaintiff's wrist injury, but the specialist told plaintiff that nothing could be done about his finger, which remains permanently bent and disfigured. Id.

Plaintiff did undergo surgery at an outside hospital to remove some bone fragments and reset his wrist bone. The surgery was generally successful, and plaintiff went through sixteen sessions of occupational therapy afterwards, but he claims that he continues to suffer chronic pain in his wrist. Id.

Based on these allegations, plaintiff has sued Dr. Shiekh, the two nurses who saw him after his injury (identified in the complaint as "John Doe" and "Jane Doe"), and David M. Unger, the superintendent of Wyoming. He alleges that defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for his injuries.


I. Eighth Amendment Claims: General Principles

To show that prison medical treatment was so inadequate as to amount to "cruel or unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, plaintiff must prove that defendants' actions or omissions amounted to "deliberate indifference to a serious medical need." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A medical need is "serious" for constitutional purposes if it presents "'a condition of urgency' that may result in 'degeneration' or 'extreme pain.'" Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir.1994). See also Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 136-137 (2d Cir. 2000) ("A serious medical condition exists where 'the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'") (quoting Chance, 143 F.3d at 702). Among the relevant factors for determining whether a serious medical need exists are "[t]he existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Chance, 143 F.3d at 702 (internal quotation marks omitted).

As to the "deliberate indifference" component, the Supreme Court explained in Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991), that this standard includes both an objective and a subjective component. With respect to the objective aspect, the court must ask whether there has been a sufficiently serious deprivation of the prisoner's constitutional rights. With respect to the subjective element, the court must consider whether the deprivation was brought about by defendants in wanton disregard of those rights. Id. To establish deliberate indifference, therefore, plaintiff must prove that the defendants had a culpable state of mind and ...

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