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Rivera v. New York City

United States District Court, Second Circuit

November 18, 2013

NEW YORK CITY, Defendant.

Anthony Rivera, proceeding, pro se, 13-A-4571 Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining NY, for the plaintiff Anthony Rivera.

Jeffrey S. Dantowitz, Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY, for the defendant New York City.


DENISE COTE, District Judge.

Anthony Rivera ("Rivera") brings this action pro se against the City of New York ("the City") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Rivera alleges constitutional violations in purportedly being denied adequate dental care and clean linens while an inmate at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center ("OBCC"), a facility operated by the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC") on Rikers Island. Following discovery on the issue of whether the plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies, the City moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, a hearing is required to determine whether Rivera was informed of the procedures he must follow to exhaust his administrative remedies.


The following facts are undisputed. Rivera is currently incarcerated in the New York State Correctional System at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. This case concerns the period from July 28, 2011 through October 17, 2013, during which Rivera was an inmate at OBCC and alleges that his constitutional rights were violated in being denied clean linens and adequate dental care.

Procedural History

On January 30, 2012, Rivera filed his initial complaint alleging a number of different constitutional violations at OBCC. That complaint was substantially similar to the complaint in the related case of Patterson v. City of New York, No. 11 Civ. 7976 (DLC). In both cases, the plaintiffs named the same defendants and raised similar claims. By Order dated March 20, 2012, Rivera's case was stayed pending resolution of a motion to dismiss in Patterson.[1] In an Opinion issued on August 9, 2012, the motion to dismiss the Patterson case was granted but the plaintiff there was granted leave to re-plead claims regarding access to medical care and denial of clean linens.[2] Patterson v. City of New York, 11 Civ. 7976 (DLC), 2012 WL 3264354 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2012). By Order of August 10, Rivera was granted leave to amend his substantially similar complaint with respect to any claims regarding denial of access to medical care or to clean linens. The Court received Rivera's amended complaint on September 19, 2012 ("Amended Complaint"), naming the City of New York as the only defendant.

On January 3, 2013, the City filed a motion to dismiss Rivera's complaint on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to state a claim, and that he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 110 Stat. 1321-71, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e et seq.. By Order of August 15, the Court denied the City's motion to dismiss on the grounds that: 1) the complaint stated a claim for deliberate indifference to his dental care needs[3]; and 2) discovery was required as to whether prison officials hid the grievance process from Rivera such that his failure to exhaust the administrative remedies might be excused. The parties conducted discovery on the question of exhaustion of administrative remedies and the City's motion for summary judgment on the exhaustion issue was fully submitted on September 17, 2013. The following facts are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff unless otherwise noted.

The OBCC Inmate Grievance Review Process

OBCC has instituted a multi-step procedure to resolve inmate grievances called the Inmate Grievance Resolution Program ("IGRP"). First, an inmate may initiate the grievance process by completing an "Inmate Grievance Interview Slip" or an "Inmate Grievance Form" and giving it to an Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee member or Grievance Officer, or depositing it in a Grievance Box. In the event that an inmate is unable to gain access to an official slip or form, he may write his initial grievance on an ordinary piece of paper. At that point, there is supposed to be an attempt to resolve the grievance informally. If there is no resolution or response within five days, the second step in the process is that the inmate may request a formal hearing before the Inmate Grievance Review Committee ("IGRC"), and must use a specified "form #7101R" to do so. If there is still no resolution, an inmate may appeal to the Warden, then to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), and finally to the Board of Correction ("BOC"). The IGRP procedures also advise that "[i]f you do not receive a response to your grievance at any step of the Grievance Procedure within the time period required... you may proceed to the next step of the Grievance Procedure."

This multi-step grievance procedure is briefly outlined in the Inmate Handbook ("Handbook"), which is supposed to be given to inmates upon their arrival at OBBC. The Handbook also informs inmates that "[m]ore detailed information on the time frames and process for all the steps in the procedure is included in [the DOC's Inmate Grievance Resolution Program Directive], " which is available at "the Grievance Office and the Law Library."

Health Care Service Complaint Process

Additional procedures exist for inmates who wish to file complaints pertaining to "the delivery of health care services" in a correctional facility. The Charter of the City of New York vests the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ("DoHMH") with authority to "promote or provide medical and health services for the inmates of prisons maintained and operated by the city." N.Y.C. Charter § 556(d)(8). DoHMH has issued policies and procedures that govern inmates' complaints ...

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