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Joseph Striplin v. Doctor John W. Alves

November 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge



Joseph Striplin ("Plaintiff"), a prison inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") has filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights by denying him appropriate medical care. Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [#14]. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted and this action is dismissed.


At all relevant times Plaintiff was housed at Elmira Correctional Facility ("Elmira"), where Defendants were employed as medical staff. More specifically, John Alves, M.D. ("Alves") was employed as a physician, Jill Northrup, NP ("Northrup") was employed as a nurse practitioner, and G. Bennett ("Bennett") and Rebecca DiNardo ("DiNardo") were employed as nurses. On January 4, 2007, Plaintiff attempted to commit suicide by taking fifty-five Flexeril pills.*fn1 See, Northrup Decl., Ex. A. Plaintiff was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell, with two lumps on the right side of his forehead, and scrapes on his elbows, which he apparently sustained by falling to the floor. Unaware that Plaintiff had taken Flexeril, and suspecting that he had overdosed on narcotics, medical staff injected him twice in the arm with Narcan, a medication which reverses the narcotic high and increases consciousness in the patient. Alves Decl. at ¶ 7.*fn2 Following the Narcan injections, Plaintiff became more alert and oriented, and was able to provide his Department Identification Number ("DIN").

Two days later, on January 6, 2007, Plaintiff told a nurse that he had attempted to kill himself by taking 55 Flexeril pills. Plaintiff denied any suicidal ideation at that time. Northrup Decl. Ex. A. The nurse notified a doctor and the facility mental health staff. There is no indication in the medical record that Plaintiff complained of pain or paralysis in his arm on January 6th.*fn3

On January 8, 2007, apparently around 6:30 am, while Bennett was on sick-call rounds, Plaintiff told her that he had tried to kill himself on January 4th by taking 55 Flexeril pills. Northrup Decl., Ex. A. Plaintiff further told Bennett that he was unable to move his right arm. Id. Bennett recorded Plaintiff's complaints and made a mental health referral, based on the claimed suicide attempt. Id. Later that day, at approximately 8:00 pm, Plaintiff told DiNardo that he was having "severe arm pain." Northrup Decl., Ex. A. DiNardo had Plaintiff taken to the infirmary, where she observed that he was neither grimacing nor sweating. Id. In addition, Plaintiff denied having any pain at that time. Id. DiNardo took the radial and brachial pulse in Plaintiff's right arm. Plaintiff told DiNardo that his right arm was "dead," but DiNardo observed that Plaintiff moved the arm "when no one is looking at him." Id. DiNardo nevertheless scheduled Plaintiff for a follow-up with a nurse practitioner or doctor. Id.

On January 11, 2007, Plaintiff complained to Bennett that he was having "terrible arm pain." Northrup Decl., Ex. A. It appears that Plaintiff indicated that he was unable to move his arm or make a muscle or fist, but Bennett recorded that he was "witnessed moving [his] arm." Id. Bennett apparently consulted with Northrup, who indicated that she did not need to see Plaintiff, since there was no "medical documentation of any physical issue." Id.

On January 12, 2007, at approximately 5:30 pm, Elmira medical staff were notified that Plaintiff "fell out." Northrup Decl., Ex. A.*fn4 Plaintiff was unconscious, unresponsive, and sweating profusely. Id. Staff attempted to revive Plaintiff with an ammonia capsule, which prompted him to open his eyes, but he remained "non-verbal." Id. Medical staff then had Plaintiff transferred by ambulance to an outside hospital, Arnot Ogden Medical Center ("Arnot Ogden"). Id. The following day, Arnot Ogen staff notified the Elmira medical staff that Plaintiff's right arm was "flaccid" and that he was awaiting an MRI. There is no indication, though, that the Arnot Ogden staff explained why Plaintiff had been unconscious or unresponsive. Id. Subsequently, Arnot Ogden notified staff at Elmira that they had performed MRI and EMG testing on Plaintiff, for "[right] arm flaccidity and syncopy." Id.

Plaintiff was subsequently diagnosed and treated as having "severe proximal brachial plexus injury."*fn5 Northrup Decl., Ex. A. On February 5, 2007, Plaintiff was evaluated at St. Joseph's Hospital, and the evaluation report indicates, in pertinent part, "There is a very nebulous history in terms of what actually occurred to his right upper extremity to produce this profound injury. He [Plaintiff] reports that he was in Arnot Ogden medical Center for two weeks where they had him on Percocet which was working to relieve his symptoms, however, he now reports that his pain is increasing in intensity without improvement with percocet." Id. The same report further stated: "Patient with profound brachial plexus injury either at the cord or root level. Cannot imagine a root injury without high impact injury." Id.

On or about January 28, 2010, Plaintiff commenced this action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, against Alves, Northrup, Bennett, and other "persons known and unknown who hire them for correctional service." (Docket No. [#2]).*fn6 The complaint alleged that the defendants violated Plaintiff's 8th Amendment rights, and that his "arm, chest, thigh and leg [were] permanently injured by the defendants," who "denied and refused [him] all physical aid and medication or aid to his injuries for approximately three (3) days." Id. The complaint indicated that after he took "50 or 55" flexeril pills, Elmira medical staff "sadistically left him in his cell for three days," which resulted in his arm being paralyzed. Plaintiff further alleged that he was "set upon by a sadistic [unnamed] nurse" while he was unconscious. Id. Plaintiff indicated that he had passed out due to pain from his arm, and that his injury, which Arnot Ogden staff diagnosed as "brachial plexus injury," was caused by the injections of Narcan with a hypodermic needle, and that Defendants were attempting to cover up the fact that they had "stabb[ed] a nerve in the arm or neck." Id.

On August 3, 2010, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [#8], again, naming Alves, Northrup, and Bennett as defendants, as well as "Jane Doe, nurse." The Amended Complaint names Defendants in their individual and official capacities and seeks money damages. The Amended Complaint reiterates the prior allegations, and specifically alleges that Plaintiff's arm paralysis was caused by the injections of Narcan. The Amended Complaint further contends that Plaintiff was "denied medical treatment" after he began complaining about his arm, and that it was incorrect to inject him with Narcan, since he had not taken heroin. The Amended Complaint purports to state claims under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. However, the Court liberally construes the pro se pleading to raise the strongest argument that it suggests, which is an Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference claim.

On October 19, 2010, DOCCS advised the Court's Pro Se Clerk's Office that the name of the John Doe Nurse was Rebecca DiNardo. At that time, pursuant to an earlier Order of this Court, the Amended Complaint was deemed amended to include DiNardo as a defendant. See, Order [#9] at p. 2.

On January 21, 2011, Defendants filed the subject motion for summary judgment [#14].*fn7 In support of the application, Alves, Northrup, and DiNardo have submitted affidavits, along with Plaintiff's Ambulatory Health Record covering the relevant period. Alves indicates, in pertinent part, the following facts: 1) it was medically appropriate to inject Plaintiff with Narcan; 2) Narcan is injected on the outside of the arm and "would not cause the brachial plexus injury located in Plaintiff's armpit area"; 3) Alves' involvement with Plaintiff's medical care was limited to ordering blood work on January 4, 2007, and to approving a mental health referral; 4) Alves was not aware of Plaintiff's arm injury until after January 12, 2007, when Plaintiff was sent to Arnot Ogden. Alves Aff. [#17]. Northrup indicates that on January 11, 2007, when she advised Bennett not to treat Plaintiff's arm, she had no indication that he had an arm injury, since there was no documentation of such an injury and Plaintiff allegedly was able to move his arm, and she did not believe that he had "a medical injury." Northrup Aff. [#18]. DiNardo's affidavit indicates that on January 6, 2007, Plaintiff told her that he had attempted suicide, and she referred him for ...

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