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Gerald v. Lakeview Shock Incarceration Corr. Fac.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 21, 2014

THOMAS GERALD, 12-R-3282, Plaintiff,


CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA, District Judge.


Plaintiff Thomas Gerald, currently an inmate of the Gouverneur Correctional Facility proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Docket No. 1), a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket No. 5) and a motion for the appointment of counsel (Docket No. 3). Before completion of the Court's review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), plaintiff filed a motion to withdraw the action (Docket No. 7), which was granted by the Hon. John T. Curtin on June 5, 2013 (Docket No. 8). Plaintiff subsequently filed a letter motion requesting that the case be reopened. (Docket No. 9).

Plaintiff's motion to reopen is granted. Because plaintiff's filings satisfy the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's claim against the sole defendant named in the complaint is dismissed, but plaintiff will be granted leave to file an amended complaint.


Because plaintiff has met the statutory requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and filed an Authorization with respect to this action, plaintiff is granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. Section 1915(e)(2)(B) of 28 U.S.C. provides that the Court shall dismiss a case in which in forma pauperis status has been granted if the Court determines that the action (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. In addition, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) requires the Court to conduct an initial screening of "a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, " id., regardless of whether or not the inmate has sought in forma pauperis status under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

In evaluating the complaint, the Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations and must draw all inferences in plaintiff's favor. See Larkin v. Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 139 (2d Cir. 2003) (per curiam); King v. Simpson, 189 F.3d 284, 287 (2d Cir. 1999). Moreover, "a court is obliged to construe [ pro se ] pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations." McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004); and see Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998). Nevertheless, even pleadings submitted pro se must meet the notice requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wynder v. McMahon, 360 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2004). "Specific facts are not necessary, " and the plaintiff "need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Boykin v. Keycorp, 521 F.3d 202, 213 (2d Cir 2008) (discussing pleading standard in pro se cases after Twombly ; "even after Twombly, dismissal of a pro se claim as insufficiently pleaded is appropriate only in the most unsustainable of cases."). "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, ..., and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Generally, the Court will afford a pro se plaintiff an opportunity to amend or to be heard prior to dismissal "unless the court can rule out any possibility, however unlikely it might be, that an amended complaint would succeed in stating a claim.' " Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Gomez v. USAA Federal Savings Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 796 (2d Cir. 1999) ( per curiam )).

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To state a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege that the challenged conduct (1) was attributable to a person acting under color of state law, and (2) deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Whalen v. County of Fulton, 126 F.3d 400, 405 (2d. Cir. 1997) (citing Eagleston v. Guido, 41 F.3d 865, 875-76 (2d Cir. 1994)).

Based on its evaluation of the complaint, the Court finds that plaintiff's claim must be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) (ii), (iii). As explained below, however, plaintiff will be granted leave to file an amended complaint.


Plaintiff alleges that while he was an inmate of the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility ("Lakeview") in November, 2012, he was forced to eat peanut butter under threat from "drill instructors" despite his having indicated that he was allergic to it. Plaintiff asserts that he was told "There [sic] number one rule is eat what's on your tray." As a result, he further alleges that he suffered a severe allergic reaction, respiration-related ("my throat was closing"), for which he had to be treated on an emergency basis at Brooks Hospital, where he was informed that he could have died from the reaction.

While plaintiff does not specify the constitutional claim he is asserting, the Court finds that his allegations would appear to be sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim. See, e.g. Ybarra v. Meador, 427 Fed.Appx. 325 (5th Cir. 2011) (prisoner's allegations that he was served meals containing peanut butter or tuna, to which he was allergic, were sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim).

Plaintiff's claim cannot proceed as pleaded, however, for the sole defendant named in the complaint-Lakeview-is immune from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Eleventh Amendment protects a state against suits brought in federal court by citizens of that state, regardless of the nature of the relief sought. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 3057-58, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978). "An official arm of the state, " such as the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, "enjoys the same Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court as is enjoyed by the state itself." Posr v. Court Officer Shield No. 207, 180 F.3d 409, 414 (2d Cir. 1999). See also Woods v. Rondout Valley Cent. School Dist. Bd. of Educ., 466 F.3d 232, 236 (2d Cir. 2006) (Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to "state agents and [*5] state instrumentalities that are, effectively, arms of a state.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Simmons v. Gowanda Corr. Facility, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92926, at *4-5 (W.D.N.Y. July 1, 2013) (claim against Gowanda Correctional Facility barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity) Saxon v. Attica Medical Dept., 468 F.Supp.2d 480, 484 (W.D.N.Y.2007) (claims against Attica Medical Department are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity). Accordingly, plaintiff's complaint against Lakeview fails to state a claim against a defendant amenable to suit and must be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

Since, however, plaintiff's allegations, as summarized above, indicate that a valid § 1983 claim might be stated against individual Lakeview officials or staff who are not immune from suit, the Court will grant plaintiff leave to amend the complaint so as to assert his claim against any "drill instructor" or other facility official who plaintiff claims made him consume peanut butter. Pursuant to Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, must provide a short, plain statement of claim against each defendant named so that he has adequate notice of the claims against him. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation"). A pleading that only "tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement" will not suffice. Id. (quotation marks omitted) (alternation in original). Plaintiff must provide facts sufficient to allow each defendant to have a fair understanding of what the plaintiff is complaining about and to know whether there is a legal basis for recovery. "It is well ...

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