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Vining v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, Second Circuit

April 5, 2013

GREGORY VINING, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

This is a civil rights case brought by Plaintiff Gregory Vining against Defendants the City of New York, Dr. Mohammed Yazdonie, Police Officers Rosado and Mason, and a physician who works as a hand specialist in the West Facility at Riker's Island ("the Specialist") (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment through their deliberate indifference to his need for medical treatment. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted.

I. Standard of Review

On a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts the complaint's factual allegations as true and draws inferences only in the plaintiff's favor. See Cleveland v. Caplaw Enters., 448 F.3d 518, 521 (2d Cir. 2006). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). " Pro se status does not... excuse a plaintiff from compliance with the pleading standards of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, " Jenkins v. New York City Dept. of Educ., No. 10 Civ. 6159, 2011 WL 5451711, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 2011) aff'd, 11-5306, 2013 WL 309982 (2d Cir. Jan. 28, 2013), though pro se complaints are read liberally and interpreted as raising the strongest arguments they suggest, see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

II. Background

Plaintiff was arrested two days after a fist fight and, at the time of his arrest, told Officers Rosado and Mason that he thought his hand was broken-specifically, his "right two knuckles." In his opposition filing, Plaintiff explains that he had not gone to the hospital right away because he wanted to wait a few days post-injury to see if the swelling would go down. The arresting officers refused to take him to the hospital because that would cause a delay in seeing a judge. When Plaintiff arrived at Riker's Island on November 11, 2011, he was seen by Yazdonie. He said to Yazdonie "I think I broke my hand." Yazdonie told Plaintiff that he would be sent to the West Facility for x-rays. That did not occur for two weeks, at which point Plaintiff was informed that his right hand was broken in two places and promised a cast. He never received that cast. When Plaintiff was seen in the medical facility one month later, he was told by the Specialist that it was too late for a cast and that his hand had already healed. Plaintiff told the Specialist that his hand still hurt, so the Specialist sent him to Bellevue Hospital, where he was told that it was too late for a cast or any further treatment of that sort. Plaintiff's hand still hurts: "I can't make a tight fist or I can't straighten my hand out all the way [and] it's going [to affect me] for the rest of my life." Plaintiff notes in his opposition filing that someone at Bellevue "told [him he] should have been brought to the hospital a long time ago."

III. Discussion

A. Denial of Medical Treatment

Plaintiff does not indicate whether he is an inmate or pre-trial detainee. If he is an inmate, his denial of treatment claim is based on the Eighth Amendment; if he is a pre-trial detainee, it is based on the Fourteenth Amendment. See City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983). That distinction does not matter here, however, because "[c]laims for deliberate indifference to a... serious threat to the health or safety of a person in custody should be analyzed under the same standard irrespective of whether they are brought under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment." Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). This standard originated in Eighth Amendment doctrine.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution commands that "cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. This rule, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, see Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 101-02 (1976), is violated by unnecessary and wanton inflictions of pain and suffering, see Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320 (1986). Plaintiff alleges an Eighth Amendment violation due to the quality of his medical treatment. In 1976, the Supreme Court explained that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain proscribed by the Eighth Amendment... whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05 (quotation marks and internal citations omitted).

To state an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must allege both (1) that he suffered a sufficiently, objectively serious deprivation and (2) that officials who caused the harm acted or failed to act with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, i.e., with deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).

The objective prong of this analysis requires an assessment of the allegedly cruel and unusual conditions. Although "the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, " Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981), prisoners may not be deprived of "basic human needs- e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety, " Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103-104). "Nor may prison officials expose prisoners to conditions that pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to [their] future health.'" Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Helling, 509 U.S. at 35). "Ultimately, to establish the objective element of an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must prove that the conditions of his confinement violate contemporary standards of decency." Id. (citations omitted); see also Carr v. Canty, No. 10 Civ. 3829, 2012 WL 3578742, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2012) ("[T]o establish the deprivation of a basic human need such as reasonable safety, an inmate must show actual or imminent harm." (quotation marks and citations omitted)).

"To establish the second element, deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show something more than mere negligence...." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, an official cannot be found liable for an Eighth Amendment violation "unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. The Second Circuit has noted that "[t]his deliberate indifference element is equivalent to the familiar standard of recklessness as used in criminal law." Phelps, 308 F.3d at 186 (quotation marks omitted). "Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of fact subject to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence, ... and a factfinder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842.

Although this standard does not change, "the presence of a medical treatment issue calls upon the Court to assess with particularity the nature and quality of the medical deprivation that Plaintiff endured." Walker v. Schriro, No. 11 Civ. 9299, 2013 WL 1234930, at *13 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2013); see also Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 185 (2d Cir. 2003) ("Because [t]he objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim is... [necessarily] contextual and fact-specific, the serious medical need ...


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