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Nicholas v. Warden S. Khahaifa

May 31, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott



Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing this action (Docket No. 37*fn1 ). Responses to this motion were due by April 3, 2012, and any reply was due by April 16, 2012 (Docket No. 47). After denying (Docket No. 53) plaintiff's motions (Docket No. 47) for appointment of counsel and to stay the defense summary judgment motion (Docket No. 50), responses were due by May 14, 2012, and replies by May 25, 2012 (id.). The parties consented to proceed before the undersigned as Magistrate Judge on August 15, 2011 (Docket No. 30).

Plaintiff filed a renewed motion to stay the defense motion (Docket No. 57); that motion is denied.


Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, commenced this action alleging that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical condition while he was incarcerated at the Orleans Correctional Facility ("Orleans") in 2009 (Docket No. 14, Am. Compl.; Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶¶ 1, 3). The Amended Complaint alleges claims against Superintendent S. Khuhaifa, Dr. Winston Douglas and Dr. Dwight Lewis, inmate grievance supervisor Fitts, Sergeant Austin, and corrections officer Wilson (Docket No. 14, Am. Compl.). He claims that Drs. Douglas and Lewis exhibited deliberate indifference to plaintiff's right shoulder from February 2009 to June 2010 by failing to treat his shoulder and depriving plaintiff of pain medication. He alleges that the original injury arose from a prison assault while he was at Fishkill Correctional Facility, but he alleges here only claims arising in this District surrounding the treatment he received (or did not receive) while at Orleans (id. ¶¶ 16-17). Since plaintiff did not receive what he believed to be adequate pain medication, he substituted illegal marijuana to self-medicate his pain and was disciplined for marijuana possession (id. ¶ 20). Plaintiff moved for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Docket Nos. 2, 5) and leave was granted (Docket No. 7).

Defense Motion for Summary Judgment

According to defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts (Docket No. 39), plaintiff alleges that defendants were deliberately indifferent to the condition of his right shoulder, alleging that Superintendent Khahaifa instituted a policy which forbade prescribing narcotics to inmates (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 3; see also Docket No. 14, Am. Compl. ¶ 21). Superintendent Khahaifa states that, because medical decisions are delegated to medical personnel, he disclaims any influence over that decision making and denies that a no anti-narcotic policy exists at Orleans (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 4; Docket No. 42, Khahaifa Decl. ¶ 6). Narcotic pain medication is prescribed on a case-by-case basis as needed by an inmate patient (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 5). Khahaifa received five letters and numerous grievances from plaintiff regarding his medical treatment which he forwarded to appropriate office or, with the grievances, he considered the appeal and affirmed denial of relief, with these appealed grievances then appealed to Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") Albany central office (id. ¶ 9; Docket No. 42, Khahaifa Decl. 12).

Defendant Fitts was employed as an inmate grievance resolution program supervisor at Orleans (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 11; Docket No. 41, Fitts Decl. ¶ 1). Plaintiff claims that Fitts circumvented the grievance process (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 12), but Fitts claims that all grievances were filed and processed pursuant to DOCCS directives (id. ¶ 13).

Defendant Austin was a sergeant at Orleans during this time and plaintiff alleges that he mislead and misinformed unnamed DOCCS officials in Albany by incorrectly telling them that he saw plaintiff lift weights (id. ¶¶ 17-18). Austin denies contacting Albany about plaintiff and he disclaims ever seeing plaintiff exercise (id. ¶¶ 22, 23).

Defendant Wilson is a corrections officer at Orleans (id. ¶ 25) and plaintiff claims that Wilson interfered with plaintiff's medical care by collaborating with nursing staff and Sergeant Austin in misinforming Albany officials about plaintiff's ability to lift weights (id. ¶ 26). When Wilson was questioned by medical staff about plaintiff, Wilson told them that he saw plaintiff lift weights daily (id. ¶¶ 27-28). A member of medical staff then went to the gym but missed plaintiff because he finished there (id. ¶ 29). Wilson never contacted Albany about plaintiff; had such contact been made, it would have been memorialized in a memorandum (id. ¶ 31).

Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Douglas, Facility Health Services Director at Orleans, refused to prescribe narcotics to plaintiff and instead chose to treat plaintiff's shoulder differently (id. ¶ 35). Dr. Douglas was plaintiff's primary physician at Orleans (see Docket No. 43, Dr. Lewis Decl. ¶ 4). Dr. Douglas explains that plaintiff made repeated demands for Percocet and other narcotics that were not medically necessary and plaintiff was not compliant with medical instructions (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 39; see id. ¶¶ 36-38, 40-41; Docket No. 48, Dr. Douglas Decl. ¶¶ 17, 18, 15, 20). Knowing plaintiff's history of drug abuse and his medical condition, Dr. Douglas changed plaintiff's medication (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 40; Docket No. 48, Dr. Douglas Decl. ¶ 20). Plaintiff was prescribed a sling and physical therapy as treatment for his shoulder (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 43), but plaintiff did not regularly wear the sling or attend physical therapy sessions, seeking instead imaging of the shoulder (id. ¶¶ 44, 42). Plaintiff also lifted weights (id. ¶ 45; Docket No. 48, Dr. Douglas Decl. ¶¶ 12-13), despite being told by medical staff to refrain from lifting weights (Docket No. 48, Dr. Douglas Decl. ¶ 12). On plaintiff's almost daily sick calls, medical staff noted plaintiff's "bulky well defined deltoids and bicep muscles, which are signs indicative of continued exercise" (id.). Defendants point to plaintiff's failed November 2008 surgery by outside surgeon Dr. Stegamann at Erie County Medical Center as the cause for plaintiff's rotator cuff damage (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 46; Docket No. 48, Dr. Douglas Decl. ¶ 24, Ex. A, at Bates No. 311).

Plaintiff charges that Dr. Lewis, a facility physician at Orleans, was deliberately indifferent (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶¶ 49-50). Dr. Lewis asserts that plaintiff was given proper medical care for his shoulder while at Orleans, he was prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, and a sling (id. ¶ 51; Docket No. 43, Dr. Lewis Decl. ¶ 3), as well as monitoring images of his shoulder and examinations by outside consulting physicians (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 52; Docket No. 43, Dr. Lewis Decl. ¶ 3).

Defendants argue that both the subjective and objective elements of a deliberate indifference claim are not met here. Subjectively, they argue that plaintiff has not proven a culpable state of mind for any of the defendants (Docket No. 38, Defs. Memo. at 8-13). Objectively, defendants contend that plaintiff was scheduled for shoulder surgery in 2007 but was released and that surgery was never performed. Plaintiff was again incarcerated in 2008 and had two surgeries on his shoulder (Docket No. 48, Dr. Douglas Decl. ¶ 6). In 2009, plaintiff was deemed not to be a candidate for surgery, and was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication instead. Plaintiff, however, was not compliant with medical advice. Plaintiff worked out extensively, with one routine on May 7, 2009, videotaped showing plaintiff lifting weights, punching a heavy bag, and playing basketball, despite medical instruction to avoid such strenuous activity (Docket No. 45, Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 5-10, Ex. A (videotape)*fn2 ). Defendants conclude that plaintiff's complaints did not rise to the level of serious medical need to meet the objective prong of the deliberate indifference claim (Docket No. 38, Defs. Memo. at 5-7).

Defendants each deny conspiring against plaintiff (Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶¶ 10, 16, 24, 33, 48, 54; Docket No. 38, Defs. Memo. at 19-21) and deny any deliberate indifference on their part to plaintiff's condition (see Docket No. 39, Defs. Statement ¶ 54). They also argue that plaintiff fails to establish the personal involvement of Superintendent Khahaifa, Austin, Fitts, or Wilson in plaintiff's medical care (Docket No. 38, Defs. Memo. at 13-19). Defendants alternately argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity if a constitutional violation is found here (id. at 21-23).

Plaintiff responds that he complains that he continues to suffer pain in that shoulder due to not being prescribed pain medication (Docket No. 54, Pl. letter response dated Apr. 11, 2012, at 1-2), although he has not amended his Complaint to allege continuous liability. He was prescribed Ibuprofen 800 mg., but plaintiff states that he could not tolerate this medicine in his stomach (id. at 1). Plaintiff previously argued that there is conflicting testimony (Docket No. 51, Pl. Memo. in support of motion for appointment of counsel and stay of defense motion ¶¶ 2, 5) but does not identify these conflicts. Plaintiff denies that he alleges any conspiracy among the defendants (Docket No. 52, Pl. Aff. in support of appointment motion ¶ 3).

Plaintiff also complains about an assault that allegedly occurred on April 4, 2012, seeking to have this Court and prison grievance official review videotape of the incident (Docket No. 54, Pl. letter, at 1-2). That incident and others he raises in his papers (some ...

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