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James v. Morgan

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 4, 2014

JAMES MORGAN, Treatment Team Leader, Marcy Psy. Center Facility; DR. RICHARD KASKIW, Medical Specialist, Marcy Psy. Center Facility; and CANDICE WILBER, Nurse Practitioner, Marcy Psy. Center Facility, Defendants.


DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.


Plaintiff Rodney Keith James commenced this action by filing a pro se complaint, together with an application to proceed in forma pauperis. Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl."), Dkt. No. 2 ("IFP Application"). By Decision and Order filed August 1, 2013, plaintiff's IFP application was granted, but following review of the complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), it was found that the complaint was subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Dkt. No. 4 (the "August Order"). In light of his pro se status, plaintiff was afforded an opportunity to submit an amended complaint. Plaintiff has submitted an amended complaint. Dkt. No. 5 ("Am. Compl.").


A. The Complaint

In the complaint, plaintiff alleged claims relating to his confinement at the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC"). See generally Compl. Construed liberally, the complaint alleged that (1) plaintiff was improperly placed on "bathroom restriction;" (2) plaintiff was denied adequate medical care; (3) defendants verbally threatened and harassed plaintiff; and (4) defendant Morgan discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of his religion. See generally Compl.

After reviewing the complaint, it was determined that (1) plaintiff failed to state a claim with respect to his alleged improper placement on "bathroom restriction"; (2) plaintiff had failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that any of the defendants were personally responsible for actually denying plaintiff medical care for a serious medical need; (3) plaintiff's allegations of verbal threats and harassment failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and (4) plaintiff failed to state a plausible Equal Protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment against defendant Morgan. August Order at 6-9. Therefore, plaintiff's claims were dismissed without prejudice, but in light of his pro se status, plaintiff was granted an opportunity to amend his complaint. Id. at 9-11.

B. Review of the Amended Complaint

The legal standard governing the dismissal of a pleading for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e) was discussed at length in the August Order and it will not be restated in this Decision and Order. See August Order at 2-3.

In addition to the defendants included in the original complaint-namely James Morgan, a treatment team leader; Richard Kaskiw, M.D.; and Candice Wilbur, a nurse practitioner-plaintiff now adds Ms. Elizabeth Farnum, a psychiatrist, as a defendant. Am. Compl. at 1. Since plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the amended complaint has now been thoroughly reviewed and the allegations read liberally in the light most favorable to him. Construed in this light, the amended complaint asserts the following claims: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment medical deliberate indifference claim against all defendants; (2) a claim that defendant Morgan improperly placed plaintiff on "bathroom restriction;" (3) a First Amendment retaliation claim; and (4) a Fourteenth Amendment claim that plaintiff was denied Equal Protection "based upon [his] age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and [his] physical appearance." Id. at 1-3. For a complete statement of plaintiff's claims, reference is made to the entire amended complaint.

1. Fourteenth Amendment Deliberate Medical Indifference Claim

Individuals involuntarily committed to state custody have constitutionally-protected liberty interests in adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and conditions of reasonable care and safety. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 324 (1982). The rights of patients who are involuntarily committed have been likened to the rights of detainees awaiting trial. See Serna v. Goodno, 567 F.3d 944, 948 (8th Cir. 2009) (an involuntarily committed person's Constitutional claim "should be evaluated under the... standard usually applied to... claims brought by pretrial detainees"); Buthy v. Comm'r of Office of Mental Health of N.Y., 818 F.2d 1046, 1051 (2d Cir. 1987) (applying the levels of protection afforded pre-trial detainees under the Due Process Clause to persons confined due to an acquittal by reason of insanity or their incompetence to stand trial).

Because plaintiff was civilly committed at the time of the incident, his medical care claims are analyzed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than under the Eighth Amendment. See Groves v. New York, No. 9:09-CV-0412 (GLS/DEP), 2010 WL 1257858, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 2010). Despite this distinction, the same standard applies to Fourteenth Amendment medical care claims involving non-prisoners as to Eighth Amendment medical claims regarding prisoners. See Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) ("Claims for deliberate indifference to a serious medical condition or other serious threat to the health or safety of a person in custody should be analyzed under the same standard irrespective of whether they are brought under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment.").[1]

There are two elements to a claim that officials violated a plaintiff's right to receive adequate medical care: "the plaintiff must show that she or he had a serious medical condition and that it was met with deliberate indifference." Id. (citation and punctuation omitted). "The objective edical need' element measures the severity of the alleged deprivation, while the subjective deliberate indifference' element ensures that the defendant prison ...

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