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Derrick Brooks v. Michael Hogan

January 31, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Derrick Brooks brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as a result of a strip search conducted by Defendants, employees of Central New York Psychiatric Center (CNYPC), where Plaintiff was involuntarily civilly committed. See Dkt. No. 31, Am. Compl. Defendants now move for Summary Judgment on the grounds that the search was consensual, and even if it was not, that the search was not unreasonable, and/or Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. See Dkt. No. 60. Plaintiff opposes the Motion claiming the search was not consensual, Defendants lacked probable cause, and Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. See Dkt. No. 65. For the reasons stated below we recommend that the Defendants' Motion be GRANTED.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a), summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party bears the burden to demonstrate through "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with [ ] affidavits, if any," that there is no genuine issue of material fact. F.D.I.C. v. Giammettei, 34 F.3d 51, 54 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). "When a party has moved for summary judgment on the basis of asserted facts supported as required by [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)] and has, in accordance with local court rules, served a concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends there exist no genuine issues to be tried, those facts will be deemed admitted unless properly controverted by the nonmoving party." Glazer v. Formica Corp., 964 F.2d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 1992).

To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, and cannot rest merely on allegations or denials of the facts submitted by the movant. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d 282, 287 (2d Cir. 2003) ("Conclusory allegations or denials are ordinarily not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment when the moving party has set out a documentary case."); Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994). To that end, sworn statements are "more than mere conclusory allegations subject to disregard . . . they are specific and detailed allegations of fact, made under penalty of perjury, and should be treated as evidence in deciding a summary judgment motion" and the credibility of such statements is better left to a trier of fact. Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d at 289 (citing Flaherty v. Coughlin, 713 F.2d 10, 13 (2d Cir. 1983) and Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995)).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Group of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, where a party is proceeding pro se, the court must "read [his or her] supporting papers liberally, and . . . interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994), accord, Soto v. Walker, 44 F.3d 169, 173 (2d Cir. 1995). Nonetheless, mere conclusory allegations, unsupported by the record, are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991).

B. Summary of Material Facts

Except where noted, the following facts are uncontested.

At all times relevant to the Complaint, Plaintiff was involuntarily committed to the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) at CNYPC, where he was "detained [as a] sex offender requiring civil management pursuant to Article 10 of the New York Mental Hygeine Law." Dkt. No. 60-2, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter "Defs.' 7.1 Statement") at ¶¶ 1--4.*fn1 While at CNYPC, Plaintiff was housed in Unit 304, a "self-contained residential and treatment Unit designed to house and treat residents . . . [requiring] more containment and observation." Id. at ¶¶ 4--5. Unit 304 "was a secure unit within the larger secure environment and residents not living on the unit did not have access to it." Dkt. No. 60-3, Dr. Terri Maxymillian, Psy.D., Decl., dated Aug. 15, 2012, at ¶ 11. On February 3, 2009 while Plaintiff and other Unit 304 residents were eating lunch in the Unit's dining room, two rolled cigarettes containing marijuana were found on the floor outside of the Unit's day room. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶¶ 6 & 7.

Thereafter, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Defendants Dr. Terri Maxymillion, the Director of Treatment Services for the SOTP at CNYPC, and Charmine Bill, the Treatment Team Leader, went to the Unit's dining room and alerted the residents that a controlled substance had been found within the Unit. Id. at ¶ 10. Defendants claim that they asked the patients to submit to the search and that Plaintiff and several other residents immediately consented. Id. at ¶¶ 11 & 13--14. Plaintiff avers that although he ultimately consented to the search, he did so only because the Defendants had ordered the residents to comply and threatened that those inmates who failed to do so would be forcibly searched by the police*fn2 and have their parole violated. Am. Compl. at ¶ 7(C).

Sometime before 3:00 p.m., Plaintiff was brought into a room adjacent to the dining room and subjected to a body search by two male staff members. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 19; Pl.'s Opp'n at ¶ 5(B). No contraband was found on Plaintiff's person. Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 20. A body search is defined by CNYPC's internal policy as "a search in which a resident disrobes under direct observation." Maxymillian Decl., Ex. A at p. OMH 9, Contraband Searches Policy (docketed as Dkt. No. 60-4). The body searches conducted on February 3 were approved by Defendant Dr. Donald Sawyer, the Executive Director of CNYPC. Am. Compl. at ¶ 7(C).

C. Fourth Amendment

To establish a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, a plaintiff must show "(1) that some person has deprived him of a federal right, and (2) that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state . . . law." Velez v. Levy, 401 F .3d 75, 84 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980) (internal quotations omitted, alterations in original)). Members of the staff of a state run psychiatric center, are "government actors subject to the strictures of the Fourth Amendment." ...

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