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Stewart v. Fischer

United States District Court, Second Circuit

October 15, 2013

AL-FATAH S. STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, COMMISIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

HAROLD BAER, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arguing that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, Plaintiff urges that Chad Coffey, Ronald Collins, Timothy Gotsch, Bryan Hess, Raymond Koskowski, and Kevin O'Connor failed to protect him after he was stabbed on February 4, 2011. According to Plaintiff, this resulted in a second stabbing on February 28. And Plaintiff urges that those officers aware of his injuries along with medical personnel Robert Bentivegna, Richard Burns, and Hari Chakravorty were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

This opinion takes into account not only the evidence provided in the parties' initial summary judgment briefing, but also the supplemental materials that the parties submitted on or before October 2, 2013. On December 12, 2011, I granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint. Stewart v. Fischer, No. 11 Civ. 2184, 2011 WL 6153084 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2011). Familiarity with that opinion is assumed.

A. The Assaults on Plaintiff

I turn now to the parties' substantive dispute, viewing as I must all facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. This saga began on February 4, 2011 when Plaintiff claims he was stabbed in his left forearm while in state custody at Green Haven Correctional Facility. According to Plaintiff, Officer Hess, who was stationed on the roof overlooking the yard, saw the stabbing itself and shouted down to the inmates to "break it up." (Stewart Decl. ¶¶ 6, 9.) Hess denies witnessing any altercation. After leaving the yard, Plaintiff then told Officer Coffey that he had been "hit"-meaning he had been stabbed. (Stewart Decl. ¶ 11.) But all Coffey did was direct Plaintiff to return to his cell, adding that "if he had to do paperwork[, ] [Plaintiff] would really get hurt." ( Id. ) Plaintiff claims that his fear of retribution from Coffey prevented him from complaining further to Green Haven personnel. And neither Hess nor Coffey reported a stabbing that day.

Two days later on February 6, Sergeant O'Connor asked Plaintiff about his injuries. He also escorted Plaintiff to the clinic. Plaintiff then told O'Connor that another inmate had stabbed him. Plaintiff claims O'Connor refused him protective custody unless he identified his assailant. Plaintiff was unable to do so. O'Connor also prevented Nurse Burns from properly treating Plaintiff's injuries. Instead, Nurse Burns noted only that Plaintiff's wounds "looked like a cigarette burn." (Stewart Decl. ¶¶ 31-32.) And Plaintiff's medical records following Burns' examination reflect his determination that Plaintiff suffered from "minor" burn wounds that appeared to be a "few days old." (Kim Decl. Ex. G.) On February 10, Plaintiff then wrote to Chakravorty, his primary prison physician, asking for immediate treatment for a "serious injury" sustained on February 4. (Stewart Decl. ¶ 39 & Ex. A.) Plaintiff did not see Chakravorty until the next month.

Following his conversation with Plaintiff, O'Connor instead of attending to his wound issued Plaintiff a misbehavior report, ordered him to be detained in his cell pending a disciplinary hearing, and noted in the report that Plaintiff had injured himself while playing "chicken" with another inmate. (Kim Decl. Ex. E.) O'Connor's report also described the possibility that inmates had been fighting with "homemade knives." ( Id. ) And on February 12, Plaintiff attended a hearing before Lieutenant Gotsch. During that hearing, Plaintiff admitted that he had injured himself playing "chicken" using cigarettes. He also denied being involved in a knife fight. But Plaintiff now urges that these statements were lies. According to Plaintiff, the door to the hearing room was ajar while he spoke with Gotsch. This permitted other inmates to eavesdrop on their conversation. (Stewart Decl. ¶ 41.) And because other inmates might view Plaintiff as a snitch if they overheard him mention the stabbing, Plaintiff fabricated his story.

Following the hearing, Gotsch directed Plaintiff to be confined for thirty days in "keeplock." According to prison records, Deputy Superintendent Koskowski was responsible for reviewing this determination. But none of the misbehavior reports or medical records that Koskowski would have reviewed indicated that Plaintiff had been involved in a knife fight. (Kim Decl. Ex. I.) And Plaintiff offers no evidence that Koskowski otherwise knew of the assault on February 4 until after the second stabbing.

Then, on the evening of February 28, while Plaintiff was in keeplock, Officer Collins remotely opened Plaintiff's cell door. (Collins Decl. ¶ 9.) According to Collins, Plaintiff was scheduled to be escorted to the clinic for his medication that evening. ( Id. ) Officer Hess claims that Plaintiff himself requested medication. (Hess Decl. ¶ 8; Kim Decl. Ex. N.) But soon thereafter, an inmate stabbed Plaintiff again "with an ice-pick type weapon." (Stewart Decl. ¶ 48.) Medical records following that attack confirmed that Plaintiff received multiple puncture wounds. (Kim Decl. Ex. O, at STEWART 100.) After receiving treatment for his injuries, Plaintiff was placed in involuntary protective custody.

B. Plaintiff's First Grievances

According to Plaintiff, he then filed two written grievances on February 28. The first grievance complained both about the circumstances leading to Plaintiff's second stabbing as well as the medical treatment he received for both that stabbing as well as a knee injury. Plaintiff also described the February 4 stabbing and his placement in keeplock "for not reporting a[n] injury." (Stewart Decl. Ex. B.) He further complained that Nurse Burns failed to treat properly his initial wounds. ( Id. ) But this grievance was not assigned a tracking number.

Plaintiff's second February 28 grievance-numbered 71274 and addressed to the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC")-again described the February 4 stabbing. Plaintiff also asked that the prison place metal detectors in the yard to prevent such attacks. (Kim Decl. Ex. S, at 30.) And on March 4, Plaintiff also raised complaints with regard to his two stabbings and the "breach of security." These concerns were voiced in additional letters to the superintendent and to the IGRC. (Stewart Decl. Ex. D; Kim Decl. Ex. S, at 34-35.) Plaintiff urged that he had not requested medication on February 28 and thus there was no reason for his cell door to be opened that day. (Kim Decl. Ex. S, at 34.) In response to these complaints, the IGRC forwarded Plaintiff's March 4 letter to Koskowski, noting that "an inmate-on-inmate assault is not within the purview of... the IGRC." (Kim Decl. Ex. S, at 36.) Prison officials filed this response using the same grievance number as Plaintiff's February 28 grievance: 71274. ( Id.; see also Kim Decl. Ex. T.)

Plaintiff completed the appeals process for grievance 71274 by July 27, 2011. In response, the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") investigated Plaintiff's failure to report his assault and observed that Sergeant O'Connor had issued a misbehavior report for inflicting self-harm. (Kim Decl. Ex. S, at 38.) CORC also conducted an ...


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