United States District Court, N.D. New York
January 16, 2014
CHRISTOPHER JUNE, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL HOGAN, DONALD SAWYER, TERRI MAXYMILLIAN, YOLONDA PERONI, Defendants.
CHRISTOPHER JUNE, 81710, Ogdensburg, NY, Plaintiff pro se.
GREGORY J. RODRIGUEZ, ESQ., ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, NY, Counsel for Defendants.
REPORT-RECOMMENDATION and ORDER
THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, Magistrate Judge.
This pro se civil rights action, commenced pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., Senior United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c). Plaintiff Christopher June claims that Defendants violated his federal due process rights during his involuntary civil confinement as a sex offender at the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC"). (Dkt. No. 1.) Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Dkt. No. 83.) For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the Court grant Defendants' motion and enter judgment in their favor.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY
Plaintiff's complaint in this action is sixty-seven pages long and includes many claims regarding his confinement to and conditions at CNYPC. (Dkt. No. 1.) As a result of previous motions in this case, only two claims remain: (1) a due process challenge to Plaintiff's placement in the Motivation on Deck Program ("MOD"); and (2) a due process challenge to Defendants' use of shackles and handcuffs. (Dkt. No. 71 at 21-22, 25-27; Dkt. No. 75 at 3.) Only four Defendants remain in the action: Michael Hogan, Donald Sawyer, Terri Maxymillian, and Yolonda Peroni. (Dkt. No. 75 at 2-3.) The following factual and procedural summary will be limited to the remaining claims and Defendants.
The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was placed in the MOD "with no substantial physician written order.'" (Dkt. No. 150.) Plaintiff alleges that this "clearly demonstrates" that he was placed in the MOD as a form of punishment rather than as a form of "effective treatment." Id. The complaint alleges that Defendant Hogan was "fully aware" of problems in the MOD. Id. 51. Plaintiff identifies some of these problems as:
restrained to a day room some fourteen (14) hours; restrictions on any activity center and recreation, not allowed to treatment mall to engage in treatment programs; denied free nightly movie viewing; no art/crafts opportunities, forced against his will to remain in the "Mod" area day and night which in turn added extreme pain, stress and suffering.
Defendant Maxymillian, the Director of Treatment Services for the Sex Offender Treatment Program ("SOTP") at CNYPC, declares that "[a]cts of physical aggression or the direct threat of such will frequently lead to transfer to the MOD." (Dkt. No. 84 U 9.) Such transfers "can be based upon an acute event or based on ongoing maladaptive behaviors." Id. Defendant Maxymillian declares that Plaintiff had repeated behaviors - including verbal and physical altercations with other residents, refusal to abide by facility rules, and problems with his treatment programs - that "required him to remain on a unit away from those residents successfully engaging in treatment." Id. ¶¶ 14-39. Defendant Maxymillian further declares that "[r]esidents on MOD continue to be offered 20 hours of programming per week as do residents not on MOD status." Id. ¶ 11.
The complaint alleges that Defendants "abused their dis[cre]tion in... the use of shackles and handcuffs." (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 77.) Plaintiff alleges that he was "abused by the usage of shackles and handcuffs" on "many occasions." Id. The paragraph of the complaint regarding shackles and handcuffs references an exhibit. Id. The referenced exhibit discusses "the use of handcuffs and other restraints when patients are transported on trips outside the" facility. Id. at 58. This Court has previously noted that Plaintiff's claim regarding shackles and handcuffs thus appears to involve the use of restraints during travel outside the facility. (Dkt. No. 71 at 25-26.) William Owen, III, the Chief Safety Officer at CNYPC, declares that "[t]ransport staff are required to produce residents to courts throughout the State of New York as well as area hospitals. The layout of each of these locations and security staffing/protocols is typically unfamiliar to staff." (Dkt. No. 83-2 ¶ 6.) Because "every resident of the SOTP has been committed by court order, in most instances against their will, they may endanger transport staff health and safety, may have violent propensities or may present flight risks were they to be escorted outside the secure perimeter without safety and security devices." Id. ¶ 5. Safety and security devices "have always been used when people committed to the facility are transported outside of the facility." Id. ¶ 7.
Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action on March 20, 2009. (Dkt. No. 1.) On December 7, 2009, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. (Dkt. No. 39.) Magistrate Judge George H. Lowe issued a Report-Recommendation on September 30, 2010, recommending that the motion be granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. No. 60.) Defendants objected to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 65.) On March 28, 2012, the Court adopted Judge Lowe's recommendation in part and rejected it in part, dismissing many of Plaintiff's claims, some with leave to amend. (Dkt. No. 71.) Plaintiff did not file an amended complaint. On July 13, 2012, the Court issued an order stating that, as a result of Plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint, only two claims remained against four Defendants. (Dkt. No. 75.) As discussed above, the two remaining claims are due process challenges to Plaintiff's placement in the MOD and to the use of shackles and handcuffs. Id. at 3. The four remaining Defendants now move for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 83.) Plaintiff has not opposed the motion, despite being warned of the consequences of failing to respond. (Dkt. No. 83 at 3; Dkt. No. 86.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing, through the production of admissible evidence, that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006). Only after the moving party has met this burden is the nonmoving party required to produce evidence demonstrating that genuine issues of material fact exist. Id. at 273. The nonmoving party must do more than "rest upon the mere allegations... of the [plaintiff's] pleading" or "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 & n.11 (1986). Rather, a dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 309 (2d Cir. 2008).
When a plaintiff fails to respond to a defendant's motion for summary judgment, "[t]he fact that there has been no [such] response... does not... mean that the motion is to be granted automatically." Champion v. Artuz, 76 F.3d 483, 486 (2d Cir. 1996). Rather, the Court must (1) determine what material facts, if any, are undisputed in the record; and (2) assure itself that, based on the undisputed material facts, the law indeed warrants judgment for the defendants. See Champion, 76 F.3d at 486; Allen v. Comprehensive Analytical Grp., Inc., 140 F.Supp.2d 229, 232 (N.D.N.Y. 2001); L.R. 7.1(b)(3).
Where a plaintiff has failed to properly respond to a defendant's Statement of Material Facts (its "Rule 7.1 Statement"), the facts as set forth in that Rule 7.1 Statement will be accepted as true to the extent that (1) those facts are supported by the evidence in the record, and (2) the non-moving party, if he is proceeding pro se, has been specifically advised of the potential consequences of failing to respond to the movant's motion for summary judgment. See L.R. 7.1(a)(3); Vermont Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004); Champion, 76 F.3d at 486.
A. Placement in the MOD
Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his right to due process by placing him in the MOD and that there were "problems" with conditions there. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 50-51.) Defendants move for summary judgment dismissing this claim, arguing that it fails because there is no evidence that Plaintiff was placed in the MOD arbitrarily rather than because of legitimate penological concerns. (Dkt. No. 83-3 at 3-7.) Defendants are correct.
Individuals, like Plaintiff, who have been civilly committed retain substantive due process rights. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 315 (1982). In determining whether such rights have been violated, courts must weigh "the individual's interest in liberty against the State's asserted reasons for restraining" it. Id. at 320. In weighing these interests, courts must "make certain that professional judgment was in fact exercised. It is not appropriate for the courts to specify which of several professionally acceptable choices should have been made." Id. at 321. Thus, only a "substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards" can support a substantive due process claim brought by an involuntarily committed individual against highlevel staff members who are expected to exercise professional judgment. Id. at 323; Vallen v. Carrol, No. 02 Civ. 5666 (PKC), 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20840, at *25-26, 2005 WL 2296620, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2005); Yeldon v. Hogan, No. 9:08-CV-769 (NAM/RFT), 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23821, at *13-15, 2010 WL 983819, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2010) (finding that placement in the MOD did not violate involuntarily committed sex offender's due process rights).
Here, Defendant Maxymillian, a licensed psychologist, declares that Plaintiff was placed in the MOD because the need to ensure "a safe and secure treatment environment" for other residents required that Plaintiff "remain on a unit away from those residents successfully engaging in treatment." (Dkt. No. 84 ¶¶ 1, 7, 39.) The record thus shows that Plaintiff was placed in the MOD for legitimate reasons based on professional judgment. There is no indication that Defendants departed substantially from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards. Thus, Plaintiff has not raised a triable issue that his placement in the MOD violated his due process rights. Moreover, Defendant Maxymillian declares that Plaintiff continued to receive programming on the MOD. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff has not opposed the motion for summary judgment and thus has not refuted that declaration. There is thus no evidence of the "problems" of which Plaintiff complains. Therefore, I recommend that the Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismiss this claim.
B. Use of Shackles and Handcuffs
Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his due process rights by using handcuffs and shackles when transporting him outside the facility. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 77; Dkt. No. 1 at 58.) Defendants move for summary judgment dismissing this claim. (Dkt. No. 83-3 at 7-10.) As with Plaintiff's due process claim regarding placement in the MOD, his claim regarding the use of shackles and handcuffs is analyzed under the balancing test set out in Youngberg. See Abdul-Matiyn v. Allen, No. 06-CV-1503 (GTS/DRH), 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102972, at *38-40, 2010 WL 3880687, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2010) (applying Youngberg balancing test to grant CNYPC officials' motion for summary judgment of claim that handcuffing involuntarily committed individual during transport from state prison to CNYPC violated his due process rights). Mr. Owen declares that because "every resident of the SOTP has been committed by court order, in most instances against their will, they may endanger transport staff health and safety, may have violent propensities or may present flight risks were they to be escorted outside the secure perimeter without safety and security devices." (Dkt. No. 83-2 \ 5.) The record thus shows that shackles and handcuffs were used for legitimate reasons based on professional judgment. There is no indication that Defendants departed substantially from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards. Thus, Plaintiff has not raised a triable issue that the use of shackles and handcuffs violated his due process rights. Therefore, I recommend that the Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismiss this claim.
ACCORDINGLY, it is
RECOMMENDED that Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 83) be GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk change the docket to reflect the spelling of Defendant Terri Maxamillion's last name as "Maxymillian"; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk provide Plaintiff with copies of Vallen v. Carrol, No. 02 Civ. 5666 (PKC), 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20840, 2005 WL 2296620 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2005); and Yeldon v. Hogan, No. 9:08-CV-769 (NAM/RFT), 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23821, 2010 WL 983819 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2010).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties have fourteen days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing Small v. Secy of Health and Human Servs., 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989) (per curiam)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (Supp. 2013); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, 6(a).
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
*1 Plaintiff Barry Lee Vallen brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was the victim of multiple patient-to-patient assaults and deprivations of property during the time that he resided at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center ("Mid-Hudson"), a facility operated by an agency of the state of New York. In a Memorandum and Order dated September 2, 2004, I dismissed defendants New York State Office of Mental Health and Mid-Hudson on the basis of the state's constitutionally-based immunity from suit. Vallen v. Mid-Hudson Forensic Office of Mental Health, 2004 WL 1948756 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 2, 2004). I concluded that the Complaint set forth allegations sufficient to state claims against the individual defendants for deliberate indifference to confinement conditions that were seriously and dangerously unsafe. Id. at *3. I held that plaintiff's claim did not arise under the Eighth Amendment because he was not serving a term of imprisonment pursuant to a conviction, but, generously construed, his pro se Complaint could be read as alleging that persons acting under color of state law had deprived him, as an involuntarily detained person, of rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Id.
Discovery in this action is now closed. The defendants have moved for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff's claims. For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion is granted.
The following facts are taken from plaintiff's pleadings, his sworn deposition testimony or are otherwise not disputed. Where multiple inferences can be drawn from the facts, I have considered only the one most favorable to Mr. Vallen, the non-movant.
In 1984, the plaintiff was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the death of his parents. (Vallen Dep. at 169) Plaintiff pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect and was diagnosed as a paranoid-schizophrenic. (Vallen Dep. at 169-71) A Justice of the New York Supreme Court, Orange County, found that, at that point in time, the plaintiff suffered from a dangerous mental illness and ordered that he be committed to a psychiatric facility. (Vallen Dep. at 170) Subsequently, plaintiff was discharged to outpatient care on two occasions, but in each instance he was later recommitted. (Vallen Dep. at 172-84) From April 18, 1997 through June 14, 2000, plaintiff was an inpatient at Mid-Hudson. (Dickson Aff. ¶ 5)
In an order dated July 22, 2002, Chief Judge Michael B. Mukasey dismissed plaintiff's deprivation of property claim and ruled that the State of New York provided adequate post-deprivation remedies for the recovery of lost property. (July 22, 2002 Order at 3) He also ruled that the Complaint inadequately detailed the assault claims, and dismissed those claims without prejudice. (July 22, 2002 Order at 2, 4-5) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint ("AC") dated January 24, 2003.
The AC alleges that, during his three years of treatment at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Facility, the plaintiff was subjected to violence and threats of violence, and that the individual defendants promoted or failed to prevent these incidents. The individual defendants were employed as security hospital treatment assistants ("SHTAs") who were responsible for assisting psychiatric patients in their day-to-day needs and activities. (DeLusso Aff. ¶¶ 2-3)
*2 Each of the incidents set forth in the AC are discussed below. Generally described, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants either encouraged or failed to intervene in violent attacks that other patients inflicted upon the plaintiff. According to the AC, the defendants were aware that various Mid-Hudson patients had violent histories, and placed these patients in close proximity to the plaintiff. On other occasions, the AC alleges that the defendants displayed pleasure at the attacks on plaintiff that allegedly took place. Plaintiff notes, by way of contrast, that since the year 2000 he has resided at a facility in Rochester, New York, and has never been threatened or assaulted.
Helpfully, as part of their motion papers, the defendants have organized the allegations set forth in the Complaint into sixteen distinct incidents or clusters of incidents. Solely for the purposes of facilitating evaluation and discussion of the incidents, I will refer to the sixteen incidents by the number and descriptive title employed in the defendants' motion papers. (Appendix to this Memorandum and Order) I do not in any way treat the defendants' submission as having any evidentiary quality to it.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). It is the initial burden of a movant on a summary judgment motion to come forward with evidence on each material element of his claim or defense, demonstrating that he or she is entitled to relief. A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law..." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The evidence on each material element must be sufficient to entitle the movant to relief in its favor as a matter of law. Vermont Teddy Bear Co., Inc. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir.2004).
When the moving party has met this initial burden and has asserted facts to demonstrate that the non-moving party's claim cannot be sustained, the opposing party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " and cannot rest on "mere allegations or denials" of the facts asserted by the movant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). In raising a triable issue of fact, the nonmovant carries only "a limited burden of production, " but nevertheless "must 'demonstrate more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' and come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Powell v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 364 F.3d 79, 84 (2d Cir.2004) (quoting Aslanidis v. United States Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1072 (2d Cir.1993)).
An issue of fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Caution is particularly warranted when considering a summary judgment motion in a discrimination action, since direct evidence of discriminatory intent is rare, and often must be inferred. Forsyth v. Fed'n Empl. & Guidance Serv., 409 F.3d 565, 569 (2d Cir.2005). The Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor, and may grant summary judgment only when no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir.1995) (quotations and citations omitted); accord Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must scrutinize the record, and grant or deny summary judgment as the record warrants. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In the absence of any disputed material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Id.
*3 The defendants have served the pro se plaintiff with the notice explaining the manner in which a party may oppose summary judgment, as required by Local Rule 56.2. I am mindful of the latitude afforded to a pro se party opposing a summary judgment motion. See Forsyth, 409 F.3d at 570 ("special solicitude" owed to pro se litigants opposing summary judgment); Shabtai v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 2003 WL 21983025, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 20, 2003) (obligation to construe leniently pro se opposition papers on a summary judgment motion). However, a party's pro se status does not alter the obligation placed upon the party opposing summary judgment to come forward with evidence demonstrating that there is a genuine dispute regarding material fact. Miller v. New York City Health & Hosp. Corp., 2004 WL 1907310, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 25, 2004).
1. Statute of Limitations Defense
The applicable limitations period for Section 1983 actions is found in the state statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989). "Accordingly... New York's three-year statute of limitations for unspecified personal injury actions, New York Civil Practice Law and Rules § 214(5), governs section 1983 actions in New York." Ormiston v. Nelson, 117 F.3d 69, 71 (2d Cir.1997). The statute of limitations begins to accrue" 'when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of his action." Id. (quoting Singleton v. City of New York, 632 F.2d 185, 191 (2d Cir.1980)).
This action was filed in the pro se office on December 10, 2001, although the Complaint was not formally accepted for filing until July 22, 2002. The timeliness of the Complaint for statute of limitations purposes is measured from the delivery to the pro se office on December 10, 2001. See Ortiz v. Cornetta, 867 F.2d 146 (2d Cir.1999); Toliver v. Sullivan County, 841 F.2d 41 (2d Cir.1988). It is undisputed that some of the events alleged in the AC occurred more than three years prior to such delivery, i.e. prior to December 10, 1998.
Here, plaintiff argues that he is entitled to tolling under New York law by reasons of insanity. Once the defendant demonstrates that the claim facially falls within the limitations period, the plaintiff, not the defendant, bears the burden of proof on tolling. See Doe v. Holy See (State of Vatican City), 17 A.D.3d 793, 794 (3d Dep't 2005); Assad v. City of New York, 238 A.D.2d 456, 457 (2d Dep't 1997).
CPLR 208 provides for tolling when "a person entitled to commence an action [was] under a disability because of infancy or insanity at the time the cause of action accrues...." While the words of the statute, taken at face value, might appear to be broad enough to apply to any person suffering from a debilitating mental illness, the New York Court of Appeals has interpreted the statute more narrowly. McCarthy v. Volkswagen of Am., 55 N.Y.2d 543 (1982). The McCarthy Court reviewed the legislative history of the provision and concluded that the legislature intended that CPLR 208 be "narrowly interpreted". Id. at 548. In the words of the Court: "we believe that the Legislature meant to extend the toll for insanity to only those individuals who are unable to protect their legal rights because of an over-all inability to function in society." Id. at 548-549. New York courts have consistently applied the McCarthy standard to claims of tolling by reason of insanity. See, e.g., Eberhard v. Elmira City School Dist., 6 A.D.3d 971, 973 (3d Dep't 2004) (McCarthy standard not satisfied by claim of post-traumatic stress syndrome); Burgos v. City of New York, 294 A.D.2d 177, 178 (1st Dep't 2002) ("The doctor's affirmation... was vague and conclusory in asserting that plaintiff's dementia and psychotic disorder [are] due to multiple medical conditions [that] have existed for many years and are permanent, ' and thus insufficient to raise an issue of fact" on CPLR 208 tolling under the McCarthy standard).
*4 The standard articulated in McCarthy has two components. First, the party must be "unable to protect [his] legal rights" and, second, the reason he is unable to protect his legal rights is "because of an over-all inability to function in society". I assume for the purposes of this motion that, during the period for which plaintiff seeks tolling, he had "an over-all inability to function in society." In this regard, plaintiff has had several "retention hearings" that have resulted in findings that Vallen should remain in an institutional setting. (Vallen Decl. ¶ 1) However, I still must consider whether plaintiff has raised a triable issue of fact as to his ability to protect his legal rights during the period for which he seeks tolling.
As part of their summary judgment burden, the defendants have come forward with evidence of Vallen's direct, personal and vigorous pursuit of his legal rights in judicial proceedings instituted during the period for which he claims tolling. In November 1998, plaintiff commenced an action in the Court of Claims of the State of New York alleging that the state had been negligent in permitting seven inmate assaults on him over the course of one and one-half years. (Peeples Aff., Ex. C) He was then familiar with the necessity of timely filing a claim, as evidenced by his handwritten complaint dated November 16, 1998, which recites as follows: "This claim is filed within 3 years after the claim accrued, as required by law." (Peeples Aff., Ex. C)FN1 Vallen v. State of New York, Claim No. 100141 (N.Y.Ct.Cl. Sept. 1, 1999). He filed a second Court of Claims action in or around July 1999 alleging that the state had been negligent by permitting a patient identified as C.J. to initiate a physical attackFN2 (Peeples Aff. Ex. D) Vallen v. State of New York, Claim No. 100803 (N.Y.Ct.Cl. Apr. 17, 2001). Plaintiff filed a third Court of Claims action in July 1999, alleging that the state was negligent in permitting the theft of his personal property; in that action, he set forth a detailed list of each item of lost property and its value, including a "suit for court" ($279) and a pair of ostrich leather western boots ($350) (Peeples Aff. Ex. E) Vallen v. State of New York, Claim No. 100804 (N.Y.Ct.Cl. Apr. 17, 2001). Also in July 1999, he filed a Section 1983 action in this District alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated. (Peeples Aff. Ex. I) Vallen v. Connelly, 99 Civ. 9947(SAS).FN3 In March 2000, plaintiff filed a fourth suit in the Court of Claims alleging that falsified claims had been levied against him. (Peeples Aff. Ex. F) Vallen v. State of New York, Claim No. 102160 (N.Y.Ct.Cl. Sept. 1, 2000). In toto, between November 1998 and March 2000, Vallen, proceeding pro se, filed five separate lawsuits in two different fora in an effort to enforce and protect his legal rights. In two of the pleadings, he affirmatively expressed an understanding of the applicable statute of limitations. The 1999 federal court action evinces an awareness of a federal remedy and the procedural means to invoke it. Cf. Cerami v. City of Rochester Sch. Dist., 82 N.Y.2d 809, 813 (1993) (considering, inter alia, the numerous lawsuits filed by the party claiming toll in rejecting such a claim).
FN1. The same allegation is set forth in Vallen's 2000 state Court of Claims complaint. (Peeples Aff., Ex. F)
FN2. To protect their privacy, all Mid-Hudson patients other than the plaintiff will be identified via their initials.
FN3. See also Vallen v. Connelly, 36 Fed.Appx. 29 (2d Cir. June 11, 2002), on remand, 2004 WL 555698 (S.D.N.Y. Mar 19, 2004).
*5 In response to the defendants' evidence submitted on their summary judgment motion, plaintiff has been unable to raise a triable issue of fact as to his ability to protect his legal rights during the period for which he claims tolling. The plaintiff has had a full opportunity to conduct discovery. In his papers in opposition to summary judgment, he has exhibited an understanding of the requirements of Rule 56, which were explained to him in the Local Rule 56.2 Notice. Yet, nowhere does he address his ability or inability to protect his rights during the time he has been in a mental health facility. Indeed, rather than rebut the defendants' evidence, plaintiff notes that, during the period for which he seeks tolling, he "pressed charges and the patient C.J. was convicted and sent to Orange County jail." (Pro Se Affidavit in support to deny [sic] summary judgment) The closest he comes to responding to the defendant's argument is the assertion that he lost some or all of his lawsuits on the basis of "simple technicalities", thereby demonstrating that he was unable to protect his rights. (Pro Se Mot. to Den. Summ. J. at 1) But it does not follow that because other claims he asserted were dismissed on various grounds that, therefore, he was unable to assert the claims that he belatedly asserted in this action. He also asserts that the express reference to the statute of limitations in two of his filings "was only a mere statement I read in a book...." (Pro Se Mot. to Den. Summ. J. at 1) The source of his awareness of his rights is not relevant to this motion.
To the state employees who are named as individual defendants in plaintiff's Section 1983 claim, it is no small matter to allow a stale claim to stand when there is no basis in the record for tolling. These individuals would be required to defend themselves against allegations concerning events that occurred long ago brought by a plaintiff who has amply demonstrated his ability to file a lawsuit in a timely manner in other instances where he has felt aggrieved.
I conclude that the plaintiff has failed to raise a triable issue of fact on his claim that he was "unable to protect [his] legal rights" for the period commencing from November 18, 1998, the date of his first Court of Claims Complaint. On the issue of tolling, the plaintiff bore the burden of proof and, in response to defendant's motion, he failed to come forward with evidence sufficient to require a trial on this issue. Holy See (State of Vatican City), 17 A.D.3d at 794; Assad, 238 A.D.2d at 457. However, there remains the question of which incidents occurred more than three years prior to the commencement of this action, i.e. prior to December 10, 1998.
Plaintiff has stated that in the "first few months" after his May 18, 1997 assignment to Mid-Hudson, defendant Gonzales predicted that violence would be "coming [his] way." (Vallen Dep. at 216) This is Incident No. 1 in the Appendix. According to the AC, during his first months at Mid-Hudson, defendant SHTA Carrol predicted that the plaintiff would have some accidents, defendant SHTA Malfatone was aware that patient John Doe No. 1 had violent tendencies, and defendant SHTA Gonzales failed to intervene during an assault that John Doe No. 1 made against the plaintiff. (AC at 3, 5, 8; Vallen Tr. at 216, 219-20) Additionally, on November 8, 1998, a patient identified in the AC as "Reshawn" physically attacked the plaintiff in front of defendant Gantz, who allegedly failed to intervene. (Complaint at 17) This is Incident No. 9 in the Appendix. One to two weeks later, defendant SHTA Gantz allegedly threatened and punched the plaintiff. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 56-59) This is Incident No. 10 in the Appendix. Sometime between the Reshawn incident and the Gantz incident, Malfatone instructed the plaintiff to stop drinking from a water fountain, and knocked him to the ground. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 230) This is Incident No. 13 in the Appendix.
*6 The plaintiff does not dispute that these incidents all occurred between May 18, 1997 and late November 1998. The three-year statute of limitations for these incidents accrued, and plaintiff's claims were thus time-barred, prior to the commencement of this action on December 10, 2001.FN4 The defendants' summary judgment motion is granted as to Incident Nos. 1, 9, 10 and 13 set forth in the Appendix, and this portion of the plaintiff's action is dismissed. Though claims based upon these occurrences are barred by the statute of limitations, I will consider the underlying facts to the extent they are relevant to plaintiff's opposition to the other prongs of defendants' motion. See Jute v. Hamilton Sanstrand Corp., Docket No. 04-3927 (2d Cir. August 23, 2005) (considering such facts in the context of Title VII).
FN4. Assuming that the earliest of his claims accrued in May 1997 and was tolled under CPLR 208 from May 1997 to November 18, 1998, plaintiff had three years from November 18, 1998, i.e. until November 18, 2001 to assert the claims. He did not assert the claims prior to that date.
2. Lack of Showing of a Defendant's Personal Involvement
The defendants, each of whom is individually accused of having deprived plaintiff of constitutionally-protected rights, argue that certain of the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because there is no evidence of personal involvement in the events giving rise to the asserted claims. "It is well settled in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.1994) (quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 885 (2d Cir.1991)).
There are five ways in which a plaintiff may show the personal involvement of a defendant in a constitutional deprivation: (1) the defendant directly participated in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, having been informed of a violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which constitutional violations occurred, or allowed the continuation of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant displayed deliberate indifference to the inmates' rights by failing to act on information that unconstitutional acts were occurring. See Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir.1995). Liability may not be anchored in a theory of respondeat superior. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 122 (1992). "The bare fact that [a defendant] occupies a high position in the [institutional] hierarchy is insufficient to sustain [a] claim." Colon, 58 F.3d at 874.
The defendants identify six separate incidents for which they claim that the plaintiff can set forth no facts that indicate personal involvement on the part of the various defendants. The plaintiff alleges that a Mid-Hudson patient, C.J., stabbed him with a pen near his eye while SHTA Nelson and John Doe defendants Nos. 2 and 3 were supposed to be supervising. (AC at 11-12) This is Incident No. 4 in the Appendix. SHTA Nelson was never served and is not a party to this action, and the plaintiff has been unable to identify John Does Nos. 2 and 3.FN5 (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 106-07) As such, his claims arising from this incident (No. 4) are dismissed.
FN5. According to Donna DeLusso, director of Human Resources at Mid-Hudson, SHTA Nelson has not been employed by Mid-Hudson since his retirement on October 30, 1999. (DeLusso Aff. ¶ 4)
*7 The plaintiff alleges that in a separate incident, patient C.J. approached him, stabbed him near the eye, and attempted to gouge out his eye with his fingers. (AC at 14) This is Incident No. 5 in the Appendix. Plaintiff asserts that John Doe defendants Nos. 1, 2 and 3 observed this incident and failed to intervene. (AC at 14) However, the plaintiff is unable to identify John Does Nos. 1, 2, and 3. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 120-21) Because there is no evidence of personal involvement on the part of any defendant remaining in this action, plaintiff's claim arising from this incident (No. 5) is dismissed.
In a third incident involving patient C.J., plaintiff alleges that two Mid-Hudson employees permitted C.J. to assault him in a facility dining room. (AC at 10-11) This is Incident No. 6 in the Appendix. Plaintiff alleges that afterward, defendant Carrol laughed about the incident and expressed regret that he had not been present to observe the assault. (AC at 11) However, the plaintiff does not identify any employee who observed the assault, and the alleged after-the-fact laughter and comments of defendant Carrol, while callous and distasteful, do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Cf. Moncrieffe v. Witbeck, 2000 WL 949457, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. June 29, 2000) (allegation that corrections officer laughed at plaintiff does not state an Eighth Amendment claim). Plaintiff's claims arising out of this incident (No. 6) are dismissed.
Next, the plaintiff asserts that another Mid-Hudson patient, A.A., had a long history of attacking people, and that Mid-Hudson staff intentionally placed A.A. in the plaintiff's proximity. (AC at 15-16) This is Incident No. 7 in the Appendix. Plaintiff alleges that SHTA Nelson positioned A.A. close to the plaintiff, and that A.A. attacked him. (AC at 15-16) However, Nelson was not served in this action, and the plaintiff has identified no other Mid-Hudson employees who were involved in the incident. Because there are no facts in the record before me indicating that any defendant to this action was personally involved in or supervised A.A.'s attack, plaintiff's claim arising out of this incident (No. 7) is dismissed.
The plaintiff claims that SHTA March shouted at him and pushed him in a bathroom. (AC at 23) This is Incident No. 11 in the Appendix. However, March was not served in this action, and none of the defendants who are parties to this action were implicated in these events. Because there are no facts in the record before me indicating that any defendant to this action was personally involved in the attack, plaintiff's claim arising out of this incident (No. 11) is dismissed.
Lastly, defendants move for summary judgment seeking the dismissal of plaintiff's claims arising from three incidents loosely raised in the AC. Plaintiff alleged that another patient, N., kicked and punched him, and that staff members laughed because N. was an older man. (AC at 24-25) This is Incident No. 14 in the Appendix. In another incident, the plaintiff alleges that an unidentified staff member gave another patient a key to plaintiff's locker, leading that patient to steal $35. (AC at 25) This is Incident No. 15 in the Appendix. In the third incident, the plaintiff alleges that patient B. punched him in a bathroom. (AC at 25) This is Incident No. 16 in the Appendix. However, the plaintiff has not identified by name any members of the Mid-Hudson staff who were involved in these incidents. As a result, all claims arising from these three incidents (Nos.14-16) are dismissed as to all defendants.
3. Defendants' summary judgment Motion as to plaintiff's remaining claims
*8 Defendants move for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's remaining claims and assert that, in response to their motion, plaintiff has come forward with no facts from which a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that that he was deprived of any rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 315-16 (1982), the Court concluded that an involuntarily committed person has substantive rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be free from unsafe conditions of confinement. The Court reasoned that "[i]f it is cruel and unusual punishment to hold convicted criminals in unsafe conditions, it must be unconstitutional to confine the involuntarily committed-who may not be punished at all-in unsafe conditions." Id. See also DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 199 (1989) ("[T]he substantive component of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause requires the State to provide involuntarily committed mental patients with such services as are necessary to ensure their reasonable safety' from themselves and others.").
Although Youngberg established that involuntarily committed mental patients have substantive due process rights, the standard articulated in the opinion for adjudicating claims based on those rights does not control here. Like Mr. Vallen, the plaintiff in Youngberg had been involuntarily committed to a state institution-albeit one for mentally retarded individuals-and had experienced violent attacks from other residents while staying there. See Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 310. The plaintiff alleged that the institution's director and two supervisors had known, or should have known, that the plaintiff was suffering injuries and that they failed to institute appropriate preventive measures. Id. The Court held that only an official's decision that was a "substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice or standards" would support a substantive due process claim brought by an involuntarily committed mental patient. Id. at 323. This standard reflected the Court's conclusion that a decision in this setting, "if made by a professional, is presumptively valid." Id. In defining its use of the term "professional", the Court appeared to include nonprofessionals acting under the direction of professional supervisors. Id. at 323 n. 30. Unlike the defendants in Youngberg, the defendants here are low-level staff members. The nature of such an employee immediately addressing patient-on-patient assault or theft differs significantly from higher-level decisions like patient placement and the adequacy of supervision. For the latter decisions, it is readily possible to apply a test based on professional judgment, practice or standards. In this case, professionals made none of the challenged decisions, and thus the "substantial departure" test has no applicability.
In addition, the general approach to substantive due process claims appears inappropriate in this case. Usually, in order to establish a substantive due process violation for purposes of Section 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant's actions taken under color of state law involved "conduct intended to injure [plaintiff] in some way unjustifiable by any government interest [and]... most likely to rise to the conscience-shocking level." County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 849 (1998). However, for pretrial detainees protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, but not the Eighth Amendment, the Court has applied the lower standard of "deliberate indifference" to Section 1983 claims arising from state officials' inattention to their medical needs.FN6 In Lewis, the Court reasoned:
FN6 In the Eighth Amendment context, a "prison official's deliberate indifference' to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates" the inmate's constitutional protection. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994). Officials must take "reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates, " ' including protection of inmates from other inmates' acts of violence. Id. at 832 (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). A failure-to-protect claim requires the plaintiff to satisfy both an objective test and a subjective test. The objective test requires that a deprivation must be "sufficiently serious, " with a defendant's act or omission resulting in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Id. at 834 (citation omitted). To succeed on a deliberate indifference failure-to-protect claim, the plaintiff must also prove that a plaintiff was "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Id. By contrast, the subjective considerations look to whether a defendant had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind, " one that reflects deliberate indifference to an inmate's health or safety. Id. (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991)).
*9 "Since it may suffice for Eighth Amendment liability that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the medical needs of their prisoners, it follows that such deliberately indifferent conduct must also be enough to satisfy the fault requirement for due process claims based on the medical needs of someone jailed while awaiting trial." Id. at 850 (citations omitted). As in the case of pretrial detainees, the involuntary commitment of mentally ill individuals does not constitute punishment for purposes of the Eighth Amendment. See DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 199 ("[T]he State does not acquire the power to punish with which the Eighth Amendment is concerned until after it has secured a formal adjudication of guilt in accordance with due process of law.") (citations omitted). However, the Fourteenth Amendment still protects these individuals, including the plaintiff in this case. See, e.g., Lombardo v. Stone, 2001 WL 940559, *7 n. 7 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 20, 2001) (rejecting the Eighth Amendment as a basis for claims of a patient at a psychiatric facility who had not been convicted of a crime and analyzing them instead under the Fourteenth Amendment). Moreover, the state's central role in supervising and caring for the involuntarily committed-like the pretrial detainees considered in Lewis -suggests that the conscience-shocking standard demands too much of such plaintiffs' substantive due process claims.
I am inclined to agree with the Eighth Circuit that the standard of "deliberate indifference" is the correct one for Section 1983 claims brought by involuntarily committed mental patients and based on alleged failures to protect them that violated their substantive due process rights. See Moore v. Briggs, 381 F.3d 771, 773 (8th Cir.2004). However, I do not need to reach the issue because whether the defendants' actions are measured under the "conscience-shocking", the "substantial departure" or the "deliberate indifference" standard, the result is the same: no reasonable fact-finder could conclude based upon the evidence, drawing all inferences in plaintiff's favor, that the defendants' conduct either shocked the conscience, was deliberately indifferent or substantially departed from accepted professional judgment, practices or standards.
Defendants argue that four incidents (Nos.2, 3, 8, 12) set forth in the AC should be dismissed because there are no triable issues of fact that support plaintiff's claim. I address them each in turn.
First, the plaintiff asserts that defendant Jones and that SHTA John Does Nos. 1 and 2 permitted patient C.J. to circle the plaintiff, and that C.J. then punched the plaintiff in the face several times. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 89-96; AC at 9-10) This was the first alleged assault that C.J. inflicted upon the plaintiff, and is designated as Incident No. 2 in the Appendix. The defendants assert that summary judgment is warranted because the plaintiff cannot point to any facts supporting a conclusion that defendant Jones had any advance knowledge of C.J.'s assault upon plaintiff or was deliberately indifferent to the assault once he observed it. The defendants point to Vallen's deposition testimony that Jones "flew out from behind the desk and threw [C.J.] to the ground or something" when he saw that C.J. was attacking the plaintiff. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 96) There is no dispute that once an attack was underway, Jones actively intervened to stop a physical attack against the plaintiff. After intervening in the attack, Jones told the plaintiff that he saw C.J. "circling you, I knew he was going to do something, and then he did it." (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 95) While such a statement may be open to multiple inferences, this remark standing alone is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact. Based on the plaintiff's own account, as soon as C.J. began the assault upon plaintiff, defendant Jones immediately intervened and restrained C.J. Defendant Jones's conduct was not indifferent to Vallen's fate but rather proactive and protective of him. Plaintiff's claim does not survive under any of the arguably applicable standards-conscience-shocking conduct, deliberate indifference or substantial departure from accepted judgment standards or practices. Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to this incident (No. 2) is therefore granted.
*10 Next, the defendants assert that summary judgment is appropriate for an incident in which defendant SHTA Leper told Mid-Hudson patient C.J. to enter a bathroom that the plaintiff was using because it would not bother the plaintiff. (AC at 16) This is Incident No. 8 in the Appendix. Defendants assert that summary judgment is appropriate because Leper did not infringe the plaintiff's constitutional rights when he suggested that C.J. enter the bathroom. (Def.'s Mem. 20-21) In opposition, the plaintiff asserts that C.J. posed a risk of violence to him at that time, but he does not indicate that he endured any physical injury from C.J.'s presence. (Opp'n Decl. ¶ 8) However embarrassing this incident may have been to the plaintiff, it does not rise to the level of a Constitutional violation. See, e.g., Rodriguez v. Ames, 287 F.Supp.2d 213, 219-20 (W.D.N.Y.2003) (doctor was not deliberately indifferent to inmate's privacy rights when he conducted examination of inmate's bowel condition in prison cell because of lower privacy baseline in prison facilities); Robinson v. Middaugh, 1997 WL 567961, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 1997) ("plaintiff's claims that he was made to shower, dry off with a pillow case, and his private parts exposed due to the wearing of a 'paper suit', and sleeping on an unsanitized mattress do not rise to the level of deliberate indifference or the wanton infliction of pain."). The deprivation implicated is not sufficiently serious and does not deprive him of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. Cf. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). The defendant's motion is granted as to this incident (No. 8), and it is dismissed from this case.
Defendants move for summary judgment as to the plaintiff's claims concerning defendant SHTA Brown and Mid-Hudson patient F. This is Incident No. 12 in the Appendix. According to the plaintiff, F. commenced an attack on the plaintiff and began to kick him from behind. (AC at 24) At that point, according to the AC, "S.H.T.A. Brown jumped in to protect the patient who kicked me." (AC at 24) The AC does not assert that S.H.T.A. Brown was responsible for the attack, encouraged the attack, or had foreknowledge of the attack. To the contrary, the record and the allegations indicate only that once an attack was underway, defendant Brown attempted to restrain patient F. from attacking the plaintiff. In his deposition, the plaintiff volunteered that defendant Brown intervened when the plaintiff himself "started to go at [patient F.]." (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 229) Because the record does not support an inference that defendant Brown's conduct shocked the conscience, resulted from deliberate indifference or departed substantially from professional standards or practices, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to the incident (No. 12), and it is dismissed.
Finally, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to claims arising from an incident with Mid-Hudson patient S.W. This is Incident No. 3 in the Appendix. Defendants argue that the plaintiff can point to no admissible evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could find in plaintiff's favor. "In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir.1995); see also Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir.1994) ("[T]he moving party may obtain summary judgment by showing that little or no evidence may be found in support of the nonmoving party's case."). The plaintiff alleges that he was walking up the staircase when S.W. punched him in the face. (AC at 9-10; Vallen Dep. Tr. at 97-98) He asserts that defendant SHTA Malfatone was present. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 98) However, there is nothing in the record that shows whether SHTA Malfatone observed the attack and failed to act or intervene, or whether Malfatone was indifferent to the plaintiff's health or safety. As a result, the defendants' summary judgment motion seeking the dismissal of plaintiff's claim based upon this incident (No. 3) is granted because plaintiff has failed to raise a triable issue of fact under any of the applicable standards.
4. Qualified Immunity and Law of the Case
*11 Because claims arising from these incidents are dismissed on other grounds, I do not consider the defendants' contention that defendants Carrol, Jones and Leper are entitled to qualified immunity. Similarly, I need not consider the defendants' contention that the law of the case bars plaintiff from continuing to pursue his lost property claim for the $35 stolen from his locker.
The defendants' summary judgment motion is GRANTED. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendants, and to dismiss this case.
APPENDIX TO MEMORANDUM AND ORDER IN VALLEN V. CARROL, 02 CIV. 5666(PKC)
1. Allegations Based on Events that Occurred During Plaintiff's First Few Months at Mid-Hudson Forensic
SHTA Carrol told plaintiff that he was going to have some accidents. (AC at 3, 5) SHTA Gonzales told Plaintiff that violence was coming his way. (AC at 5) SHTA Gonzales heard patient John Doe # 1 threaten plaintiff, and stood by as patient John Doe # 1 hit plaintiff in the head. (AC at 5) SHTA Malfatone "and other S.H.T.A. staff were aware that this same patient, John Doe # 1, was violent, but laughed and did nothing when patient John Doe # 1 followed plaintiff to his room and punched him. (AC at 8) The next morning, patient John Doe # 1 came up behind plaintiff at a sink and put a hair pick to his eyes and said that he wanted no more trouble out of plaintiff. (AC at 8) SHTA Gonzales told plaintiff to stop causing trouble. (AC at 8) These events (the "Initial Incidents") allegedly occurred within the first few months of plaintiff's arrival at Mid-Hudson Forensic-within a few months of April 8, 1997. (Vallen Dep. Tr. 216, 219-20)
2. The First Patient C.J. Allegation
SHTA Jones and SHTAs John Doe # 1 and # 2 "let" patient C.J. "circle around" plaintiff until he got behind plaintiff. (AC at 9) Patient C.J. then punched plaintiff in the face and "tried to take [plaintiff's eye out." (AC at 9) Plaintiff does not know who John Doe # 1 and # 2 are. (Vallen Dep. Tr. 96) This was the first time patient C.J. had assaulted plaintiff. (Vallen dep. Tr. at 89-91, 95-96; AC at 9-10)
3. The Patient S.W. Allegation
Patient S.W. punched plaintiff on a staircase, and SHTAs Malfatone and Nelson were there (the "S.W. Incident"). (AC at 9-10)
4. The Second Patient C.J. Allegation
Patient C.J. was on assault precautions in the high observation area in the dayroom. SHTA Nelson and SHTAs John Doe # 2 and # 3 were watching the ward. Patient C.J. walked to where plaintiff was watching television, and stabbed plaintiff near his eye with a pen. (AC at 11-13) Plaintiff cannot identify SHTAs John Doe # 2 and # 3. (Vallen Dep. Tr. 106-07)
5. The Third Patient C.J. Allegation
Patient C.J. took a pen and left the precaution area while SHTAs John Doe # 1, # 2 and # 3 were observing, walked to where plaintiff was seated watching television, stabbed plaintiff near the eye, and tried to gouge plaintiff's eye with his fingers. (AC at 14) Plaintiff cannot identify John Does # 1, # 2 or # 3. (Vallen Dep. Tr. 120-21)
6. The Fourth Patient C.J. Allegation
*12 SHTAs John Doe # 1 and # 2 allowed patient C.J., who was on assault precautions, to leave his line in the dining room, and patient C.J. then assaulted plaintiff while plaintiff was carrying his tray. (AC at 10-11, Vallen Dep. Tr. at 101) Plaintiff cannot identify SHTAs John Doe # 1 or # 2. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 101) An hour later, SHTA Carrol laughed and said he wished he had been present to watch the assault. (AC at 11)
7. The Patient A.A. Allegation
Unidentified staff "indicated" that plaintiff was "a good target." (AC at 15) Patient A.A. was attacking people, and after SHTA Nelson placed patient A.A. in a chair a few feet from plaintiff, patient A.A. jumped from his chair and attacked plaintiff. (AC at 15-16)
8. The Allegation Against SHTA Leper
Plaintiff was in the bathroom, and SHTA Leper told patient C.J. to go into the bathroom because it would not bother plaintiff if patient C.J. went in (the "Leper Bathroom Incident"). (AC at 16-17)
9. The "Reshawn"Allegation
After SHTA Gantz had given plaintiff permission to do laundry, a patient whom plaintiff identifies as "Reshawn" pushed plaintiff in front of Gantz. (AC at 17) Reshawn then punched plaintiff in the mouth. (AC at 17-21) The blow split plaintiff's lip and broke one tooth and loosened another. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 37-38) Plaintiff received fourteen stitches to his lip. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 222-23) The Reshawn Incident occurred on November 8, 1998. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 24; Peeples Aff., Exh. C, at 1)
10. The Gantz Bathroom Allegation
SHTA Gantz threatened plaintiff and punched him in the chest in a bathroom (AC at 21-22; Vallen Dep. Tr. at 56-59) The Gantz Bathroom Incident occurred a week or two after the Reshawn Incident, which occurred on November 8, 1998. Vallen Dep. Tr. at 24, 56-57; Peeples Aff., Exh. C, at 1)
11. The SHTA March Bathroom Allegation
SHTA March came into the bathroom at the Canteen, screamed at plaintiff, and pushed plaintiff across a room. (AC at 23)
12. The SHTA Brown Allegation
Patient F. kicked plaintiff from behind, and SHTA Brown jumped in to protect patient F. because plaintiff "started to go at" patient F. (AC at 24; Vallen Dep. Tr. at 229)
13. The SHTA Malfatone Water Allegation
SHTA Malfatone told plaintiff to stop drinking water from a water fountain in the yard, and came over and knocked plaintiff to the ground. (AC at 24) The Malfatone Water Incident occurred before the Reshawn Incident. (Vallen Dep. Tr. at 231-32)
14. The Patient N. Allegation
Patient N. kicked and punched plaintiff, and unidentified staff laughed because patient N. was an old man. (AC at 24-25) Plaintiff cannot identify the staff members. (AC at 24-25; Vallen Dep. Tr. at 233-35)
15. The $35.00 Allegation
An unidentified staff member gave the key to plaintiff's locker to another patient, who then took $35.00 in quarters from plaintiff's locker (the "$35.00 Incident"). (AC at 25) Plaintiff cannot identify the staff members. (AC at 25; Vallen Dep. Tr. at 235-39)
16. The Patient B. Bathroom Allegation
*13 Patient B. punched plaintiff in the bathroom, and plaintiff chased patient B. out of the bathroom. (AC at 25) Unidentified staff saw plaintiff chasing patient B, but did not see patient B. assault plaintiff in the bathroom. (AC at 25; Vallen Dep. Tr. at 238-39)
FN1. Defendant Terrimax Millian's actual name is Terri Maxymillian. See Dkt. No. 30, Terri Maxymillian, Psy. D., Decl., dated July 14, 2009. We will use the correct spelling of this Defendant's name.
Willie James Yeldon, Marcy, NY, pro se.
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General for the State of New York, Adam Sil Verman, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, of Counsel, Albany, NY, for Defendats.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
HON. NORMAN A. MORDUE, Chief Judge.
*1 Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint (Dkt. No. 1) alleges violations of his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights stemming from several policies that were enforced during his civil confinement at the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC") located in Marcy, New York, in 2008. Defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the action (Dkt. No. 30). Upon referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.3(c), United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece issued a thorough Report and Recommendation (Dkt. No. 37) recommending that summary judgment be granted and the complaint be dismissed.
Plaintiff has submitted an objection (Dkt. No. 38) to the Report and Recommendation. In view of plaintiff's objections, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court conducts a de novo review. Upon de novo review, the Court adopts and accepts the Report and Recommendation in all respects.
It is therefore
ORDERED that United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's Report and Recommendation (Dkt. No. 37) is accepted in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 30) is granted the complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is dismissed in its entirety, and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk enter judgment accordingly.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
REPORT-RECOMMENDATION and ORDER
RANDOLPH F. TREECE, United States Magistrate Judge.
Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 30. By his Complaint, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff alleges violations of his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights stemming from several policies that were enforced during his civil confinement at the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC") located in Marcy, New York, in 2008. Dkt. No. 1, Compl.
Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to the Defendants' Motion consists only of a Response to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts submitted pursuant to N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1. See Dkt. No. 31, Pl.'s Resp. Plaintiff has provided no memorandum of law nor any affidavit or other evidence in support of his Opposition. Id. In a letter, dated August 12, 2009, which was attached to Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion, Plaintiff asserted that he did not have in his possession certain documents relevant to the case, but stated that as soon as he received the documents he would "be more than happy to send them to [Defendants' attorney] and the Court." Dkt. No. 31, Pl.'s Lt., dated Aug. 12, 2009. Since the filing of that letter, the Court has received no additional documents from Plaintiff in support of his Opposition, nor has Plaintiff submitted any request to extend the deadline in order to supplement his Response to Defendants' Motion. As such, we consider the matter fully briefed and will render a recommendation based upon the documents provided by the parties.
*2 For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted.
In 2007, the New York State Legislature enacted the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act ("SOMTA"), which became effective on April 13, 2007. Dkt. No. 30, Adam W. Silverman, Esq., Affirm., dated July 15, 2009, Ex. A, Office of Mental Health ("OMH") Rep., dated Jan. 28, 2008, at p. 1. The centerpiece of SOMTA is Article 10 of New York's Mental Health Law. Id. at p. 1. Article 10 establishes an elaborate process for evaluating the mental condition of certain sex offenders who are scheduled to be released from the custody of "agencies with jurisdiction" to determine whether the individual is a "sex offender requiring civil management." A sex offender requiring civil management can be either (1) a dangerous sex offender requiring civil confinement (who would be confined to a secure treatment facility operated by OMH), or (2) a sex offender requiring strict and intensive supervision and treatment (who would be supervised by a Parole Officer in the community).
The process begins when an agency with jurisdiction, such as the Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), refers a detained sex offender to OMH for evaluation. Id. at p. 3. Next, OMH determines, through a procedure that includes psychiatric interviews and evaluations, whether the referred sex offender "suffers from a mental abnormality which predisposes him or her to sexual offending." Id. If that inquiry is answered affirmatively, OMH provides a psychiatric report and notifies the Office of the Attorney General ("OAG"), who has the discretion to file a petition for civil management in the courts. Id. Article 10 provides that a probable cause hearing must commence within thirty (30) days of the filing of the civil management petition, wherein a determination is made as to whether probable cause exists to believe that the respondent is a sex offender who poses a danger to the community, thereby necessitating his secured confinement pending a civil commitment determination in a jury trial. N.Y. MENTAL HYG. LAW § 10.06(g) & (k).
On February 25, 1997, Plaintiff was convicted in New York State Supreme Court of, inter alia, rape, sexual abuse, and sodomy. Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Pl.'s Inpatient & Med. Records FN2 at p. 2 of 41. On August 7, 2007, prior to his release from jail and pursuant to SOMTA, a psychological report was issued concluding that, to a reasonable degree of professional certainty, Plaintiff suffered from a mental abnormality affecting his "emotional, cognitive, or volitional capacity in a manner that predisposes him or her to the commission of conduct constituting a sex offense and that results in his having serious difficulty in controlling such conduct." Id. at p. 11 of 41. Thereafter, the OAG filed a petition for civil management against Plaintiff and from August 9, 2007, through March 3, 2008, probable cause proceedings took place in order to determine whether Plaintiff would be civilly confined and placed in the Sex Offender Treatment Program ("SOTP"), a program designed to "treat sexual deviance and personality disorders." OMH Rep. at p. 7; Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Order, dated Mar. 3, 2008, at p. 12 of 41. On March 3, 2008, the Honorable John L. Michalski concluded that probable cause existed to detain Plaintiff in a secure treatment facility pending his civil commitment trial.FN3 Id. at p. 13 of 41. On March 10, 2008, Plaintiff was transferred from DOCS' custody to CNYPC, where he began the SOTP. Plaintiff remained at CNYPC until January 13, 2009.FN4 Silverman Affirm., Ex. B, Pl.'s Dep., dated Mar. 9, 2009, at p. 72.
FN2. On July 15, 2009, the Court granted Defendants' motion to file Plaintiff's medical records traditionally with the Court because of their confidential nature. Dkt. No. 29, Order, dated July 15, 2009. Those records include a summary of Plaintiff's criminal history, which contains un-redacted names of certain victims of sexual offenses committed by Plaintiff. Therefore, the Clerk is ordered to place this file under seal in order to protect the identity of the victims. See Brown v. Duncan, 2003 WL 21294476, at * 1 n. 1 (N.D.N.Y. June 4, 2003); see also New York Civil Right's Law § 50-b ("[T]he identity of any victim of a sex offense... shall be confidential. No report, paper, picture, photograph, court file or other documents, in the custody or possession of any public officer or employee, which identifies such a victim shall be made available for public inspection.").
FN3. The probable cause determination was delayed by Plaintiff's August 30, 2007 motion to remove the trial to Erie County and the parties' consent to adjourn the proceedings on that same date. Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Order, dated Mar. 3, 2008, at p. 12 of 41. Probable cause hearings were thereafter held on December 6 and 13, 2007, January 22, 2008, and March 3, 2008. Id.
FN4. After his release on January 13, 2009, Plaintiff was subsequently returned to CNYPC because he violated the terms of his release. Dkt. No. 30, Terri Maxymillian, Psy.D., Decl., dated July 14, 2009, at ¶ 35.
*3 The claims alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint concern policies enforced during his residency at CNYPC from March 10, 2008, through January 13, 2009. See Compl. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that during his stay at CNYPC he was denied access to the courts, legal materials, his medical records, and local news television broadcasts and newspapers, and was subjected to restricted telephone use, improper censoring of his incoming and outgoing mail, and illegal searches of his personal effects. Id. Plaintiff also alleges he was forced into a test program called "Motivation on Deck" without his consent, where he was denied treatment, recreation, and interaction with the general resident population at CNYPC.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [the moving party] 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) (citing 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(e); 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. Due Process Claims
*4 Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to participate in a test program called "Motivation on Deck, " ("MOD"), without his consent, thereby violating his constitutional rights. In Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982), the Supreme Court made clear that civilly committed persons retain various constitutional rights. See also DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 199-200 (1989) ("[W]hen the State takes a person into its custody and holds him there against his will, the Constitution imposes upon it a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well-being."). The plaintiff in Youngberg, who was involuntarily civilly confined, brought a § 1983 claim alleging that the administrators of a mental institution violated his substantive due process rights by restraining him in shackles for prolonged periods of time and failing to provide adequate habilitation. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff retained protected liberty interests in freedom of movement and adequate training under the Fourteenth Amendment, and that "whether [a civilly committed person's] constitutional rights have been violated must be determined by balancing his liberty interests against the relevant state interests." 457 U.S. at 319 & 321. In considering such claims, courts must "show deference to the judgment exercised by qualified professional[s], " whose decisions are entitled to a "presumption of correctness." Id. at 322-24.
In this case, the record shows that on April 19, 2008, Plaintiff punched another resident in the face during an altercation. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 32. Thereafter, Plaintiff was escorted into a "side room, " where he was seen by Dr. Brown, FN5 a facility physician, who encountered Plaintiff in an agitated and threatening posture, and decided that Plaintiff was in need of medication. Id.; Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Assessment and Order for Restrictive Intervention, dated Apr. 19, 2008, at p. 18 of 41. Plaintiff refused the medication and was forcibly placed in a "five point restraint" by staff members, and thereafter injected with Thorazine and Benadryl in two separate shots. Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Progress Notes, dated Apr. 19, 2008, at pp. 22 & 26 of 41; see also Pl.'s Dep. at p. 32 (stating that staff gave him two shots). After Plaintiff calmed down, he was released from the restraints and allowed to return to his room. Progress Notes at p. 26 of 41. CNYPC Staff closely monitored Plaintiff throughout the night and made behavioral observations every fifteen (15) minutes from 7:30 p.m. on April 19th through 9:00 a.m. the next day. Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Observation Log, dated Apr. 19-20, 2008, at pp. 28-30 of 41.
FN5. Dr. Brown is not a named Defendant in this lawsuit.
On April 21, 2009, Plaintiff was informed by his treatment team that he was going to be transferred from Unit 405, located on the fourth floor of CNYPC and used for incoming residents entering Phase I of SOTP, to the MOD Unit, also known as Ward 304. Dkt. No. 30, Terri Maxymillian, Psy. D., Decl., dated July 14, 2009, at ¶ 22; Silverman Affirm., Ex. C, Progress Notes, dated Apr. 21, 2008, at p. 38 of 41. The MOD unit is a self-contained residential and treatment floor for residents who have "engaged in violence, threats of violence, or other chronic treatment interfering behaviors and as a result were treated in a setting that allowed for more containment and observation." Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 33. While the physical layout of the MOD floor was the same as on the other floors, MOD residents, as opposed to residents in other units, did not leave the floor for treatment or therapy and were only given twenty (20) minutes of outside recreation time each day. Pl.'s Dep. at pp. 30-31. As MOD residents progress in their treatment, they begin to attend treatment groups off the MOD unit, followed by recreation and other activities off the unit; successful completion of those stages leads to transfer out of the MOD unit. Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 34. Plaintiff stayed in the MOD unit for approximately three months before moving to another unit. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 33. Plaintiff alleges that the restrictions placed on him while in the MOD unit denied him access to the treatments outlined in his treatment plan and that he was unable to associate with residents in other units. Compl. at ¶¶ 25(2)FN6 & 27.
FN6. Plaintiff included two consecutive paragraphs numbered "25." We will refer to them as "25(1)" and "25(2), " respectively.
*5 As previously stated, when considering a due process claim arising out of liberty restrictions placed on persons who are civilly committed, a court must balance the resident's liberty interests against the relevant state interests. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. at 319. In this case, as described above, the MOD program entails greater liberty restrictions than those imposed upon the general SOTP population. However, these additional restrictions are not arbitrary nor are they arbitrarily applied. Terri Maxymillian, Psy.D., is a licensed doctoral psychologist and has been the Director of the Sex Offender Treatment Program at CNYPC since March 2007. Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 1. According to Maxymillian, the MOD unit is for residents who have engaged in violent behavior or "other chronic treatment interfering behaviors, " and it provides CNYPC staff with greater observation of residents in a contained environment. Id. at ¶¶ 33-34. MOD residents are given increasing access to the normal SOTP program as they progress in their treatment. Id. at ¶ 34. Therefore, we cannot say that these liberty restrictions constituted "such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice or standards as to demonstrate that the person responsible actually did not base the decision on such a judgment." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. at 323.
The record before us shows that the MOD program was implemented for legitimate reasons made by qualified professionals. Plaintiff has offered no evidence to rebut the presumption of correctness that must be afforded such a decision. Id. at 324. Courts are bound to show deference to the judgment of qualified professionals and should be circumspect in interfering "with the internal operations of these institutions." Id. at 322.
For these reasons, we recommend dismissal of Plaintiff's substantive due process claims.
C. Equal Protection Claims
Plaintiff brings two claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: (1) residents in the MOD program are treated differently from residents in the regular SOTP program; and (2) residents in the SOTP at CNYPC are treated differently than those at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, located in Ogdensburg, New York. Compl. at ¶ 31(III).
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states "[n]o State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1. It further "directs that all persons similarly situated... be treated alike." Lisa's Party City, Inc. v. Town of Henrietta, 185 F.3d 12, 16 (2d Cir.1999) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). As a general rule, the Equal Protection Clause protects "suspect classes and fundamental interests against inequitable treatment, but other types of inequities and classifications may be justified by a showing of mere rationality." LeClair v. Saunders, 627 F.2d 606, 611 (2d Cir.1980) (citing Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 487 (1970)). However, an equal protection claim may be brought "by a class of one' where a plaintiff alleges that she has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.'" African Trade & Info. Ctr., Inc. v. Abromaitis, 294 F.3d 355, 362-63 (2d Cir.2002) (quoting Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000)).
*6 To establish a valid equal protection claim based on selective enforcement, a plaintiff must demonstrate that "(1) the person, compared with others similarly situated, was selectively treated; and (2) that such selective treatment was based on impermissible considerations such as race, religion, intent to inhibit or punish the exercise of constitutional rights, or malicious or bad faith intent to injure a person." LeClair v. Saunders, 627 F.2d at 609-10.
1. Transfer to MOD Unit
Plaintiff alleges his forced relocation to the MOD unit violated his equal protection rights. However, in order to establish a valid Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim, Plaintiff must demonstrate that his selective treatment was based on impermissible considerations such as race, religion, or intent to punish. In this case, by Plaintiff's own admission, the reason for his transfer to the MOD unit was his physical altercation with another resident that occurred on April 19, 2008. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 32. Plaintiff has offered no evidence to oppose Defendant Maxymillian's sworn statement that the reason for his transfer was to "allow[ ] for more containment and observation" of violent residents. Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 34. As such, Plaintiff's equal protection claim based on the conditions imposed on him during his residence in the MOD unit is without merit and should be dismissed.
2. CNYPC vs. St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center
Plaintiff's second equal protection claim is based on his allegation that residents in the SOTP at CNYPC are treated differently than those at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. Specifically, Plaintiff states that his equal protection rights were violated, along with all the other CNYPC residents, FN7. because residents at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center are given a $200 personal clothing allowance and are allowed to choose their own clothing, while CNYPC residents are issued uniforms consisting of black and tan pants, sweatshirts, polo shirts, velcro sneakers, L.L. Bean boots, and a coat. Compl. at ¶ 26.
FN7. Plaintiff asks the Court to consider his Complaint a class action and at various points in his Complaint, makes allegations on behalf of other CNYPC residents regarding alleged constitutional violations that did not involve him. See Compl. at ¶¶ 28-30. However, a pro se plaintiff cannot represent other individuals in a class action. See, e.g., Gorelik v. Lippman, 2006 WL 941800, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 12, 2006). Therefore, only Plaintiff's claims regarding constitutional violations that he allegedly suffered are considered by the Court.
The record shows that CNYPC residents were issued articles of clothing totaling over $200 per patient. Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 5. Thus, although Plaintiff was not afforded the opportunity to choose his own clothing, he was given a wardrobe of equal value to that allegedly received by residents of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, and therefore, was not treated differently from others similarly situated in any constitutionally significant respect. Nor is there any evidence that such selective treatment was based on impermissible considerations such as race, religion, or intent to punish.
Therefore, we recommend that this equal protection claim also be dismissed.
D. First Amendment Claims
Plaintiff alleges his First Amendment rights were violated because he was denied (1) the right to "freely communicate with those on the outside of the facility because of Defendants blanket censorship of phone and [incoming and outgoing] mail;" (2) access to the courts and legal materials; (3) access to his own medical records; and finally, that he was (4) retaliated against for seeking redress of his grievances from the government. Compl. at ¶ 31.
1. Phone, Mail, and other Restrictions
*7 Plaintiff takes issue with several policies in place during his stay at CNYPC, including restrictions on phone use, mail and stamps, visitations, and access to news media. In the prison context, the Supreme Court has held that an "inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system." Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). Thus, there can be little doubt that civilly committed persons also retain certain First Amendment rights, especially given the Supreme Court's declaration that involuntarily committed persons "are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. at 322.
Less clear is the appropriate standard to be applied when a person who is civilly committed challenges an action or policy on First Amendment grounds, an issue the Second Circuit has yet to address. In Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987), the Supreme Court established a balancing test pursuant to which courts analyze prohibitions on prisoners' exercise of their constitutional rights by considering the following four factors: (1) whether prohibiting an inmate from exercising a constitutional right is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest; (2) whether there are alternative means of exercising that right; (3) what effect accommodation of the interest would have on guards, other inmates, and the allocation of prison resources; and (4) whether there are ready alternatives available that continue to serve the prison's interest without impinging constitutional rights. 482 U.S. at 89-91. Courts in other circuits have applied the Turner test in order to analyze First Amendment claims brought by civilly confined persons. See Ivey v. Mooney, 2008 WL 4527792, at *4 n. 7 (D.Minn. Sept. 30, 2008) (applying Turner, but noting that a civil confinement is significantly different from a criminal confinement); Francis v. Watson, 2006 WL 2716452, at *3 (D.S.C. Sept. 22, 2006) (citing cases that have applied Turner in cases involving civilly confined persons); Marsh v. Liberty Behavioral Health Care, Inc., 2008 WL 821623, at *5 (M.D.Fla. Mar. 27, 2008) (applying Turner and citing Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 991 (9th Cir.2007)); Beaulieu v. Ludeman, 2008 WL 2498241, at *20 (D. Minn. June 18, 2008).
We agree that the Turner test is appropriately applied to First Amendment claims brought by civilly committed individuals alleging that they have been precluded from exercising their First Amendment rights. Essentially, the First Amendment analysis under Turner mirrors the due process analysis under Youngberg; in both instances, courts must balance the constitutional interests of confined persons against the legitimate interests of the state-run institution in which they reside. See Beaulieu v. Ludeman, 2008 WL 2498241, at *20 n. 15 (finding Turner to be consistent with Youngberg because "it will not allow a Program detainee's right to be restricted unless there is a valid institutional reason for doing so"). Therefore, we will apply the Turner test in order to analyze these First Amendment claims.
a. Phone Use
*8 Plaintiff makes the following allegations regarding phone use at CNYPC: (1) staff are two to three feet away when residents make legal calls; (2) residents must use a phone card in order to call private attorneys, state agencies, and all other outside persons/organizations; (3) residents cannot call 1-800 numbers; (4) phone cards are restricted to $20 per month; and (5) personal calls are limited to ten (10) minutes. Compl. at ¶¶ 25(1) & 28.
According to Maxymillian,
residents were required to fill out disbursement forms to purchase phone cards in order to make phone calls to anyone other than legal entities, the Commission on Quality of Care, accrediting agencies, and patients' rights organizations. As of February 2009, calling cards were also needed to make calls to legal entities. Also, because there were a limited number of telephones available for the residents on each unit, time on the telephones was limited to approximately ten minutes per resident when another resident was waiting. In order to make free legal calls, residents were required to receive pre-approval before using the legal telephone. The pre-approval process entailed the resident providing the facility with the name and telephone number of the attorney he would like to call so that the number could be verified prior to the call being authorized. After the request was approved, a member of the staff was required to watch the resident dial the telephone so that no free calls were being used to call a nonapproved telephone number.
Maxymillian Decl. at ¶¶ 17-21.
In his deposition, Plaintiff affirmed Maxymillian's breakdown of the phone policy, and clarified that there were four phones made available to residents, three for personal calls and one exclusively for legal calls; calls to Mental Hygiene Legal Services were free, but calls to private attorneys had to be paid for with a phone card. Pl.'s Dep. at pp. 42-47.
Based on the above descriptions of CNYPC's phone policy, it does not appear that Plaintiff was prohibited from exercising his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff was not prevented from making phone calls, rather, he was simply required to pay for certain calls. Moreover, the other restrictions on phone use are rational, common sense policies reasonably related to issues that arise in an institutional setting. Finally, Plaintiff was free to communicate with the outside world through the post, which is discussed below.FN8
FN8. To the extent Plaintiff seeks to bring an access to the courts claim based on the phone use policy at CNYPC, that claim is addressed in Part II.C.2 below.
Plaintiff alleges that at CNYPC, stamps are considered contraband and that outgoing mail is censored, requiring pre-approval by the treatment team. Compl. at ¶¶ 25(1) & 31. CNYPC residents were not permitted to have stamps "because they are often used as a commodity, leading to counter-therapeutic behaviors." Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 16. As such, in order to send out a piece of mail, Plaintiff was required to fill out a disbursement form to be approved by staff. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 53. Other than being required to fill out a disbursement form for stamps, Plaintiff does not allege that his outgoing mail was intentionally interfered with in any other way.FN9 As such, Plaintiff again does not allege that he was prevented from exercising his First Amendment rights, just that CNYPC's policies inconvenienced him.
FN9. Plaintiff stated at his deposition that he had two "minor" incidents wherein correspondences were returned to him due to clerical errors, one of which was his own fault. Pl.'s Dep. at pp. 56-58.
*9 In terms of incoming mail, Plaintiff testified that on two occasions, pictures were removed from his incoming personal mail, one a picture of his sixteen-year-old niece and a picture of his eight or nine-year-old grandson.FN10 Id. at p. 54. CNYPC did not permit residents to have pictures of children under the age of 18 because many residents have committed sexual offenses against children and/or have deviant sexual arousal towards children. Maxymillian Decl. at ¶¶ 14-15. For the same reasons, CNYPC residents are not permitted to have visitors under the age of 18 who are not also their children. Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 14. Thus, Plaintiff's request to allow his five to seven-year-old nephew visit was denied. Compl. at ¶ 20; Pl.'s Dep. at p. 41.
FN10. Plaintiff was given the pictures back upon his release from CNYPC. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 55.
Restrictions on incoming mail containing pictures of minors in a group home where many residents have committed sexual offenses against children is a policy that is rationally related to legitimate government interests. In addition, there is no way to permit certain individuals to possess such photos without potentially negatively affecting the treatment of other SOTP residents. As such, there are no less-restrictive means to ensure the safety of the public and the treatment of SOTP residents.
c. News Media
Plaintiff complains that CNYCP residents were denied access to local news channels and local newspapers. Compl. at ¶ 25(1). Maxymillian states that "[r]esidents are restricted from reading the local paper and magazines and are also restricted from viewing local television programming because of the potential risk to staff members and their families if residents were to have access to personal information about them." Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 12. CNYPC has a valid interest in protecting its staff members and their families. Allowing residents access to local news media could provide them with information about staff members and their families, thereby undermining the safety of those persons. In addition, Plaintiff does not allege that he was denied access to all newspapers and news broadcasts, just local ones. Compl. at ¶ 25(1). These restrictions are rationally related to legitimate government interests and are not overly broad in their scope.
For the foregoing reasons, we find Plaintiff's First Amendment claims based on his freedom of speech should be dismissed.
2. Access to the Courts
Plaintiff alleges he was denied access to the courts through the aforementioned phone policy, restrictions placed on the ordering of legal materials and the number of books residents were allowed, and the unavailability of a typewriter, "full sized writing instruments, " and carbon paper. Compl. at ¶¶ 18, 25(1), 28-29, & 31. To state a claim for denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant acted deliberately and maliciously, and (2) the plaintiff suffered an actual injury. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 354 (1996); Cusamano v. Sobek, 604 f. supp.2d 416, 498 (N.D.N.Y.2009). Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claim must fail because he has not demonstrated that the Defendants caused him an actual injury, i.e., that prison officials frustrated or impeded his efforts to pursue a non-frivolous legal claim. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. at 354. We agree. Nowhere in his Complaint does Plaintiff identify a lawsuit that was impeded or frustrated by Defendants. Although Plaintiff stated in his deposition that he had another federal lawsuit pending during his time at CNYPC in 2008, Pl.'s Dep. at pp. 66-68, in his Response to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts submitted pursuant to N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1, Plaintiff admits that, apart from the instant lawsuit, he has only been a party to one other federal lawsuit, a case that was closed on February 2, 2005, well before Plaintiff arrived at CNYPC. Dkt. No. 30-6, Defs.' 7.1 Statement at ¶ 37; Pl.'s Resp. at ¶ 25.
*10 There being no evidence or allegation before the Court that Plaintiff has actually been impeded from pursuing a legal action, we recommend that this claim be dismissed.
3. Access to Medical Records
Plaintiff alleges Defendants Bill and Maxymillian denied his requests to see his clinical records in order to find out the medication he was forcibly given during the incident on April 19, 2008, and by whom. Compl. at ¶¶ 21-24. However, Plaintiff made clear in his deposition that he received the clinical records he requested just before he left CNYPC. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 76. Also, the Second Circuit has held that there is "no basis for the proposition that mental patients have a constitutionally protected property interest in the direct and unrestricted access to their [psychiatric] records." Gotkin v. Miller, 514 F.2d 125, 128 (2d Cir.1975). Plaintiff does not assert any injury stemming from the delay in the provision of those records and, as such, that claim is now moot. Thus, we recommend dismissal of this claim.FN11
FN11. To the extent Plaintiff seeks to bring a cause of action under New York State Mental Hygiene Law based on the alleged failure to timely disclose medical records, because we recommend dismissal of all of Plaintiff's federal claims, we recommend that the district court not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over such state claim.
Reading his Complaint liberally, Plaintiff alleges Defendants Sawyer, Norwicki, Maxymillian, Bill, and other CNYPC staff members punished him for exercising his right to seek redress from the government by writing negative clinical notes and placing him in the MOD unit, thereby precluding his association with other CNYPC residents. Compl. at ¶ 31.
In order to prevail on a retaliation claim, a plaintiff bears the burden to prove that (1) he engaged in constitutionally protected conduct; (2) officials took an adverse action against him; and (3) a causal connection exists between the protected speech and the adverse action. Bennett v. Goord, 343 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir.2003) (citations omitted); see also Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 380 (2d Cir.2004) (citation omitted).
In this case, Plaintiff has failed to show that he was engaged in constitutionally protected conduct. Although he states that he sought "[t]o petition [ ] the government for redress of grievance[s], " Plaintiff does not state which government actor he petitioned, nor in what form. Plaintiff attached to his Complaint copies of petitions he sent to various OMH employees seeking to gain access to his medical records. See Compl., Attach. Exs. However, he does not state that such petitions and appeals were the motivating factor behind the alleged retaliatory acts taken against him. Nor does he explain why such petitions would have inured adverse sentiment among CNYPC staff members. Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff asserts that his transfer to the MOD unit constituted an adverse action against him, the record is clear that he was transferred because he was involved in a physical altercation with another resident, not as a reprisal for his engagement in constitutionally protected activity. Pl.'s Dep. at p. 32; Maxymillian Decl. at ¶ 33.
In sum, this retaliation claim is conclusory and finds absolutely no evidentiary support in the record. See Bell. Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007) (stating that a valid claim must have enough factual allegations "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). For those reasons, we recommend dismissal of Plaintiff's retaliation claim.
E. Fourth Amendment Claims
*11 Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures when they searched his property without probable cause. Compl. at ¶¶ 25(2) & 31(II). Like several of his other claims, this claim is stated in wholly conclusory terms and could be properly dismissed on that basis alone. See Bell. Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545. Though unexplained in the Complaint, Plaintiff stated at his deposition that on one occasion he left CNYPC for a court appearance and returned to find his room in disarray. Pl.'s Dep. at pp. 73-74. Plaintiff stated he inquired of Defendant Bill and other staff members, but no one provided any information about who was in his room or why his room was searched.FN12 Id.
FN12. Plaintiff does not allege in his Complaint nor did he testify at his deposition that any of his property was stolen during his stay at CNYCP.
While the Complaint accuses Defendants Sawyer, Norwicki, Bill, and Maxymillian of harassing residents by "repeatedly searching [their] personal property, " Compl. at ¶ 25(2), Plaintiff does not allege any facts in his Complaint or deposition implicating those Defendants in an improper search. Thus, Plaintiff has not alleged any personal involvement on the part of a Defendant that could lead to liability under § 1983 for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment. Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.1994) ("personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983") (citations omitted).
Plaintiff also states in his Fourth Amendment claim that "a clinician should be physically present whenever a staff member has to put his hands on a [resident's] physical being." Compl. at ¶ 31(II). This statement is also conclusory and, to the extent it is a veiled reference to the incident that occurred on April 19, 2008, the record shows that a physician was present and ordered Plaintiff's physical restraint and medication. See supra Part II.B.
Because these claims are conclusory and fail to implicate personal involvement on the part of any Defendant, it is recommended that they be dismissed.
For the reasons stated herein, it is hereby
RECOMMENDED, that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 30) be GRANTED and the Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) DISMISSED; and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk place under seal Plaintiff's Medical Records (filed traditionally with the Court as Exhibit C to the Affirmation of Adam W. Silverman, Esq.); and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk of the Court serve a copy of this Report-Recommendation and Order upon the parties to this action.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties have ten (10) days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN TEN (10) DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir.1993) (citing Small v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir.1989)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1); FED. R. CIV. P. 72, 6(a), & 6(e).