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Cornelius Martin, Ii v. the Niagara County Jail

August 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge


Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and the deprivation of medical care. Currently pending before the court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment (Items 59, 60) and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment on liability (Item 62).


Plaintiff commenced this action on December 12, 2005 with the filing of a pro se complaint pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Item 1). He filed an amended complaint on March 30, 2006 (Item 6). Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Answers to the amended complaint were filed on November 13, 2006, by defendants Mahar, Drehs, Woock, Niagara County Jail, and Beilein ("the County defendants") (Item 18), and on November 15, 2006 by defendants Hohensee, Aikin, and Inter-Community Memorial Hospital ("the medical defendants") (Item 22). Plaintiff's deposition was taken on September 4, 2008. Following the deposition, the parties stipulated to the following: 1) plaintiff agreed to withdraw his claims against the defendants based on excessive dust, regarding his treatment for sinus problems, and arising from his lack of a mattress and pillow for 12 hours; 2) plaintiff agreed to withdraw his claims against defendants Drehs and Woock individually; 3) all issues regarding plaintiff's CPAP machine were resolved; and 4) plaintiff acknowledged that his claim that he did not receive an inmate handbook did not constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment (Item 53).

Pursuant to a case management order and following the parties' exchange of discovery materials, on August 27, 2009, the medical defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (Item 59). On August 28, 2009, the County defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Item 60). Defendants assert the following grounds for summary judgment: 1) the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995; 2) Inter-Community Memorial Hospital cannot be held liable on the basis of respondeat superior; 3) there was no deliberate indifference to plaintiff's medical needs; 4) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and 5) plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Beilein must be dismissed as they are based on a policy that does not exist.

Plaintiff filed his cross-motion for summary judgment on August 31, 2009 (Item 62). He asserted that administrative remedies were unavailable to him as he never received an inmate handbook at the Niagara County Jail. Plaintiff also argued that he suffers from a serious medical need and that the interference by the defendants with his ongoing medical treatment constituted deliberate indifference.

On October 30, 2009, defendants filed responses in opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Items 66, 67). Plaintiff filed a response to defendant's motions on November 5, 2009 and agreed to withdraw his claim against Inter-Community Memorial Hospital (Item 68, p. 3). Thereafter, on January 27, 2010, the medical defendants filed a reply (Item 70), and the County defendants filed a reply on January 29, 2010 (Item 71).

The court has determined that oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted, and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied.


Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Niagara County Jail ("NCJ") from May 11, 2005 through July 5, 2005, and again from October 7, 2005 until February 3, 2006. At the time he entered the jail, he had been undergoing treatment following multiple spinal surgeries which consisted of physical therapy; two 80 milligram time-released oxycontin pills, one taken at night and one in the morning; and five milligram oxycodone pills to be taken in combination with aspirin or tylenol for breakthrough pain (Item 59, Exh. H, "Martin Dep.," p. 20). Plaintiff stated that while he was not addicted to oxycontin, he was physically "dependent" on the medication. Id., p. 34.

At the time he was booked into the NCJ on May 11, 2005, plaintiff was evaluated by defendant Mahar, a nurse employed by the NCJ. She noted a diagnosis of diabetes and sleep apnea and a prior history of spinal surgery (Item 60, Att. 6, "Mahar Aff.," Exh. A). Nurse Mahar contacted defendant Aikin, the nurse practitioner for the NCJ, who issued a telephone order for plaintiff to be started on the facility's diabetes and detoxification protocols. Id., ¶¶ 14-15. According to the signed standing medical orders of the detox protocol, Nurse Mahar gave plaintiff one tablet of darvocet on the evening of May 11, 2005. Id., ¶ 16.

As a result of being on the detox protocol, plaintiff was housed in an area of the NCJ that he described as "squalor" (Martin Dep., pp. 51, 97). On May 13, 2005, plaintiff asked to be removed from the detox program so that he could be moved to more suitable housing for federal prisoners. Id., p. 98. As a result of being denied oxycontin, plaintiff testified that he suffered sweats, tremors, extremely high blood pressure, diarrhea, and pain in his extremities which lasted about a week to ten days. Id., p. 41, 42. Other than extremity pain, the withdrawal symptoms plaintiff experienced as a result of the detox protocol have all resolved. Id., p. 47. While housed at the NCJ, plaintiff was also prescribed Ultram for pain, nasal spray for rhinitis, Imodium for diarrhea, and blood pressure medication for hypertension. Id., pp. 44, 54, 106-07.

Prior to his admission to the NJC, plaintiff had not spent a significant amount of time in custody in a New York State jail or prison. He spent 14 days at the Erie County Medical Center awaiting extradition to Ohio in 1995, and approximately one hour in Fredonia awaiting bail in 1990 (Martin Dep., pp. 61-62). He was not familiar with the grievance process and had never filed a grievance. Id., pp. 62-63. Plaintiff stated that he learned of the grievance process in December 2005 or January 2006 by reading the New York State "Minimum Standards" binder in the facility law library. Id., pp. 65, 86.

During the intake process, plaintiff signed a form acknowledging receipt of a inmate handbook, although he denies receiving the handbook either time he was processed. Plaintiff stated that he simply signed the acknowledgment because he was told to do so by the admitting officer (Martin Dep., pp. 80, 84-85). He filed a grievance related to his Eighth Amendment claim on January 2, 2006 and pursued the grievance through the appeals process. Id., pp. 71-72.

In support of the motion for summary judgment, defendants submitted an affidavit of Captain Duane Vendetta, grievance coordinator for the Niagara County Sheriff's Department (Item 60, att. 7). The grievance policy in effect at the time plaintiff was incarcerated provided that inmates must complete and submit a grievance form within five days of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance. Id., ¶ 9. If the inmate is dissatisfied with the decision of the grievance coordinator, he can appeal to the Chief Administrative Officer of the facility. Id., ¶ 10. After receiving a response from the Chief Administrative Officer, the inmate could seek review of the decision with the Citizen's Policy and Complaint Review Council ("CPCRC") of the New York State Commission of Correction. Id., ¶ 11. Capt. Vendetta stated he reviewed the grievance file for the time period that plaintiff was incarcerated at the NCJ and found no grievances filed by the plaintiff until January 3, 2006 and January 13, 2006. Id., ¶¶ 15-16. Additionally, Capt. Vendetta stated that it is standard practice for all incoming inmates to receive an inmate handbook that outlines the grievance process. Id., ¶ 24. Even if ...

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