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Nathaniel Sims v. Dr. Gorman

February 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Nathaniel Sims ("Sims" or "Plaintiff"), a New York State prison inmate who is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, complaining of a violation of his civil rights at the hands of prison officials and seeking recovery of compensatory and punitive damages. Sims contends that by their actions, defendants subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and violated his substantive right to due process. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that both Plaintiff's claims are subject to dismissal on the merits as a matter of law.

II. Background

At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Sims was an inmate of the New York State Department of Correction and Community Services ("NYSDOCCS"),*fn1 housed at Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende") from August 28, 2009, until September 2, 2010. Because of his diagnoses of bipolar disorder and anti-social personality disorder, Sims received psychiatric care from the Mental Health Unit ("MHU") at Wende. Defendants Kevin Gorman, M.D. ("Dr. Gorman"); MHU Chief Rasheen Powell, ("Powell"); social worker Margaret Stirk, L.M.S.W. ("Stirk"); and therapist Kendra Washington ("Washington"), were, at all relevant times, employed by NYSDOCCS at Wende's MHU. They are collectively referred to hereinafter as "the MHU Defendants". Defendant Captain Martin Kearney ("Capt. Kearney") was, at all relevant times, a supervising corrections officer at Wende.

On August 28, 2009, at 8:41 a.m., Dr. Gorman observed in his treatment notes that Plaintiff has been placed in the Residential Crisis Treatment Program ("RCTP") because he was "threatening self harm by cutting up or hanging up if he had to remain in SHU [("special housing unit")]." (000004).*fn2 Dr. Gorman remarks that Plaintiff ate dinner the previous day and had not harmed himself in RCTP, but was still refusing his medications. Id. Apparently, Plaintiff had been released from RCTP on August 27, 2009, but had been "readmitted rapidly as he threatened self harm . . . ." Id.

With regard to Plaintiff's "SUICIDE RISK ASSESSMENT," Dr. Gorman noted that Plaintiff was "no longer agitated, [was] eating but refusing medication. He is not actively suicidal today [August 28th] . . . He is released from RCTP." (000004) (capitals in original). At about 11:30 a.m. on August 28, 2009, the nursing progress report notes as follows: "Quiet, behavior has been uneventful, seen by treatment team, presents angry and states he has suicidal ideations, released from RCTP to SHU, no distress noted. 12 p.m. [Plaintiff discharged] from RCTP per Margaret Stark [sic]." (000007).

After his discharge from RCTP and prior to his admission to the SHU, Plaintiff was placed in a holding cell where he was examined by a psychologist, James A. Nesser, Ph. D. ("Dr. Nesser"). Dr. Nesser, who is not a defendant in this action, opined that it was "likely that [Sims's] statements regarding self-harm are instrumental [sic] to avoid being transferred to the SHU."

(000008). Plaintiff declined to describe his suicide plans to Dr. Nesser, but "indicated that he did have a plan." (000008). Noting that Plaintiff was classified as "MHL 1S [sic], has a life sentence"; had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder as well as Anti-Social Personality Disorder; and had a history of three or more suicide attempts, Dr. Nesser concluded that Plaintiff "posed a significant threat of self-harm based on his level of distress, diagnoses, self-harm history, and his sentence." Id. When Dr. Nesser communicated this information to the administrative staff, he was informed that Powell, the MHU Chief had ordered Plaintiff not to be returned to RCTP based upon threats of self-harm alone. Dr. Nesser adhered to his recommendation that Plaintiff should be transferred to RCTP "due to the risk of self-harm." Id.

Plaintiff was admitted to SHU and later that day fashioned a noose and hung himself from the cell bars at about 1:45 p.m. The following misbehavior report was filed in connection with the incident:

[Plaintiff] removed his underware [sic] and began to rip them up. Sgt. Kintzel told him to give up the underware [sic] but the inmate refused. The Sgt. then ordered me to remain in front of the cell while he left the company. Simms [sic[ then proceeded to tie the strips of cloth into a noose and attach it to the cell door bars. I immediately signaled CO Mack that Simms [sic] was attempting to hang-up. An extraction team (assembled earlier) came down the company, cell 5 was opened, the noose was cut with scissors, the inmate was removed from the cell. The inmate was placed on a stretcher, handcuffed and taken to the RMU [("Regional Medical Unit")].

(000005). After that incident, Sims was placed in MHU for observation.

The treatment notes from later that day (August 29th) indicate that Sims "[was] [q]uiet, lying in bed, refused to talk, using hand gestures, offers no complaint, no distress noted."(000006). At 6 p.m., the treatment notes indicate that Sims "continues in deso. [sic] calm & quiet. Lying on bunk much of the shift. Pleasant on approach. Cooperative with p.m. meds. No lethality voiced[;] will continue to assess." Id.

On September 2, 2009, Plaintiff was discharged from MHU and transferred to SHU.*fn3 Capt. Kearney issued a "deprivation order" which stated that pursuant to 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 305.2, Sims was being deprived of . . . all in cell property except 1 MHU gown, 1 MHU matt [sic], 1 pair shower shoes because it is determined that a threat to the safety or security of staff, inmates or State property exists and for the fallowing specific reason(s): You continue to manipulate staff by threatening, feigning, and actually committing acts of self harm.

(000031). Plaintiff asserts that he was constantly cold and became ill with flu-like symptoms "due to [the] icy cold condition" in the stripped cell. Plaintiff's Rebuttal ("Pl. Reb.") at 7.

The following day, September 3, 2009, the deprivation order was modified: Plaintiff was given a toothbrush, undergarments, pen, paper, and two envelopes. (000031). On September 4, 2009, he was given a set of "greens" (pants and shirt), a mattress, two sheets, a pillow and pillowcase, and a blanket. ...

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