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Eze v. City University of New York at Brooklyn College

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 13, 2014

SOPHIA CHINEMEREM IHUOMA EZE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BROOKLYN COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CHERYL L. POLLAK, Magistrate Judge.

On September 13, 2011, plaintiff Sophia Chinemerem Ihuoma Eze commenced this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the City University of New York ("CUNY") at Brooklyn College ("Brooklyn College" or the "College"), Karen Lee Gould, as President of the College, Milga Morales, as Dean of Student Affairs of the College, Brooklyn College Campus and Community Safety Services ("BCCCSS"), Donald Wenz, Director, Ursula G. Chase, Deputy Director, Harry Gomez, Lieutenant, Cynthia Hunter, Lieutenant, Robert Scott, Liaison Officer/Coordinator of Honors Academy, Jaime Weiss, Advisor, Sally Robles, [1] Assistant Professor, John Doe Security Officers Nos. 1-4, and Jane Doe Security Officers Nos. 1-4, alleging violations of her civil rights based on her involuntary commitment to Kings County Hospital[2] (the "Hospital") against her will. The Complaint also contains claims of negligence against all defendants, negligent hiring and supervision claims against the College, Gould and BCCCSS, and claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

On December 27, 2011, the district court dismissed all claims against Brooklyn College, BCCCSS, and the individual defendants in their official capacities, based on plaintiff's concession that these claims were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Eze v. City Univ. of New York at Brooklyn Coil., No. 11 CV 2454, 2011 WL 6780652, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 27, 2011). Plaintiff also conceded that the statute of limitations had run on her claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and thus, those claims were dismissed as well. Id.

As for the Section 1983 claims brought against the remaining defendants, Scott and Munoz, in their individual capacity, the district court dismissed the claims stemming from plaintiff's involuntary commitment, finding that the allegations in the Complaint failed to satisfy the plausibility standards of Iqbal and Twombly in that plaintiff failed to allege facts demonstrating that defendants caused plaintiff to be committed. Id. at *6. The court also dismissed the negligence claims against the two defendants, on the grounds that the allegations in the Complaint were only consistent with a Section 1983 claim based on defendants' intentional conduct of restraining and transporting plaintiff to the Hospital. Id . The district court concluded that the only claim remaining against defendants Scott and Munoz was plaintiff's Section 1983 Fourth Amendment claim, arising from the alleged detention of plaintiff at the BCCCSS office and the defendants' role in forcing her into the ambulance. Id. at *5. With respect to that claim, the court concluded that the forcible transport of person to a hospital may violate the Fourth Amendment even where the detention is not committed by a law enforcement officer but rather is at the hands of another state actor, which defendants concede they were at the time of the incident in question. In the decision, the district court noted that neither party had moved for qualified immunity, and that it was not appropriately raised on a motion to dismiss, but that in a case like this, qualified immunity would be appropriate at the summary judgment stage if "the detention and forcible transport of the plaintiff was objectively reasonable under the circumstances." Id. at *5, n.5.

On August 22, 2013, defendants Scott and Munoz filed this motion for summary judgment on the remaining claim, which was referred to the undersigned to prepare a Report and Recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, it is respectfully recommended that defendants' motion be granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Undisputed Facts

It is undisputed that plaintiff Eze is a Nigerian national who came to the United States in October 2007 to study at Brooklyn College.[3] (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 1; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmnt[4] ¶ 1). From the Fall of 2007 through the Fall semester of 2008, Ms. Eze was enrolled in the Macauley Honors College as an undergraduate student at Brooklyn College. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 2; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 1).

From 1996 through 2011, defendant Robert Scott was employed as Coordinator of the Honors Academy, a unit of Brooklyn College that housed the Macauley Honors College. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 3; Scott Decl.[5] ¶ 2). According to Mr. Scott, as Coordinator, he served as a resource for students in the honors programs, providing information regarding academic programs, housing, and services. (Scott Decl. ¶ 2). Mr. Scott states that he met with Ms. Eze on numerous occasions in 2007 and 2008, and, because she had just arrived from Nigeria, he tried to help her find services and get acquainted with Brooklyn. (Id. ¶ 3).

Defendant Michele Munoz is a licensed psychologist and certified psychoanalyst with a doctorate in clinical psychology from St. John's University. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 4; Munoz Decl.[6] ¶ 1). According to her Declaration, Dr. Munoz has been employed by Brooklyn College on a part-time basis since January 2006, providing counseling services and clinical supervision in the College's Personal Counseling Center. (Munoz Decl. ¶ 2; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 5). In addition to her private practice and the counseling services she provides to the Brooklyn College students, Dr. Munoz has also taught classes in the mental health counseling master's degree program in the Psychology Department at the College. (Munoz Decl. ¶ 2).

According to defendants, between November 24, 2008 and December 2, 2008, Scott and other officials at Brooklyn College received various emails from Dr. Brenda Henry-Offor, expressing concern about statements plaintiff Eze made to her and about the state of plaintiff's mental health. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 8; Scott Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. A; Munoz Decl., Ex. A). According to Scott, he had known Dr. Henry-Offor for more than ten years, beginning when she was an undergraduate student at Brooklyn College. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 7; Scott Decl. ¶ 5). Scott had provided Dr. Henry-Offor with advice in her pursuit of her doctorate in English, and he understood her to be either related by marriage to Ms. Eze or a close family friend. (Scott Decl. ¶ 5[7]). Defendant Scott had also noticed that in the Fail of 2008, Ms. Eze started saying things to him in their meetings that he "found disturbing and caused me to question her grasp of reality." (Id. ¶ 4). Among other things, Ms. Eze had accused her roommates of posting defamatory statements about her on the Internet, but when Scott asked to see the posts, she became evasive, saying that the webpage was no longer available or that she would show him later. (Id.) When he tried to locate the postings, he could not find them. (Id.)

Dr. Henry-Offor first contacted Scott and Dr. Gunja SenGupta, Director of Macaulay CUNY Honors College and professor of history, on November 24, 2008. In that correspondence, she asked Scott and Dr. SenGupta to "please help" and forwarded an email and attachment that she had received from Ms. Eze's mother, Mary Eze. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 8; Scott Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. A at 17). The email from Mary Eze noted that she and Dr. Henry-Offor had spoken recently about Ms. Eze's "condition, " and Mary Eze expressed concern about "FRIGHTENING UNCO[O]RDINATED REMARKS" that plaintiff had posted on Facebook, including one cryptic post that referred to "knives and pen."[8] (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 9; Scott Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. A at 17). Mary Eze said the family was "scared she is alone Night can be very bad, " and asked that something "be done fast" because plaintiff might cause harm to herself. (Scott Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. A at 17). She asked about medical intervention, stating, "I hope she will not harm herself, " and pleading "Pls something has to be done fast. Is she on therapy already? Are there any medications?" (Id. at 17).

On November 29, 2008, Dr. Henry-Offor sent Scott and Dr. SenGupta a second email expressing her own concerns about the plaintiff's mental state. Dr. Henry-Offor reported that after plaintiff spent Thanksgiving with family friends in the Bronx, plaintiff reported to Dr. Henry-Offor that the friends were taping plaintiff's conversations. (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 25). Additionally, according to plaintiff, plaintiff's landlord had bugged her room and installed a monitoring system so "that the men upstairs can see her."[9] (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 10; Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 25). According to Dr. Henry-Offor, plaintiff had told her that she was looking for "a private detective to help her find the blog that her former roommates... put up and take down" and that "[i]f the police does [sic] not take care of the girls she says that she will." (Id.) Dr. Henry-Offor also indicated that plaintiff had spoken with a women's crisis center, which told her she needed a "different kind of help... i.e. Psychiatric" and a lawyer, who told her she had no evidence of online defamation, and that she was now looking for help from a private detective. (Id.) In her November 29, 2008 email, Dr. Henry-Offor indicated that she had already contacted New York City's 311 service, which connected her to 911. They advised Dr. Henry-Offor that Brooklyn College should call for an ambulance and have plaintiff taken to the Emergency Room for evaluation and help. (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 25; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 11).

On Monday, December 1, 2008, Dr. Henry-Offor reported in another email that plaintiff had been calling her "constantly to report that there are two guys above her who spy on her and make jokes about her." (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 24; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 12). She also stated that plaintiff's landlady had asked her to move out because of the bugging, and that "the landlady is probably scared about what Sophia might do" because "[o]f course, none of this is real." (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 24). According to this email, Dr. Henry-Offor had spoken to a friend who was "a detective at the 61st Precinct" and that he had recommended that plaintiff get a psychiatric evaluation. (Munoz Decl, Ex. A at 24; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 12).

Dr. Sally Robles, psychologist and Acting Director of the Brooklyn College Personal Counseling Center, responded to Dr. Henry-Offor, stating that "the advice of the detective is sound" and that the Kings County Mobile Crisis Unit could perform an initial evaluation if plaintiff was "not in imminent danger and... not at imminent risk of hurting someone else." (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 23). She asked what plaintiff meant by saying that she would "take care' of the girls who defamed her if the police don't, " and noted that if she had a "plan/intent to harm these girls, " 911 should be called. (Id.)

On December 2, 2008, Dr. Henry-Offor sent a series of emails regarding Ms. Eze. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 13-14). At 9:49 a.m., she sent an email to Scott, Dr. SenGupta, Dr. Robles, and Jacqueline Williams, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, reporting that she had spoken with plaintiff the night before and that plaintiff "wants the two young women punished, " referring to plaintiff's former roommates, and that plaintiff said "they should not be allowed to get away with what they did to her." (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 22; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 13). At 10:44 a.m., she sent another email to Dr. Robles, Williams, Dr. SenGupta and Scott, in which she stated that she "hop[ed] that someone at Brooklyn C. can help with escorting [Eze] and getting the information to the health professionals." (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 21; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 14).

At 2:10 p.m., Dr. Robles, who had received a number of Dr. Henry-Offor's emails, [10] wrote to the Dean of Student Affairs, Milga Morales, and recommended that plaintiff be transported to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. (Munoz Decl., Ex. A at 20; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 15). Dr. Robles noted in the email that Ms. Eze had "refused previous referrals to the counseling center, " and thus, it was "extremely unlikely" that she would come to the counseling center on her own. (Munoz Decl., Ex. A. at 20). Dr. Robles stated that if Eze was seen on campus and did not go to the counseling center voluntarily, she should be transported to Kings County Hospital. (Id.) Finally, Dr. Robles suggested that if Ms. Eze did not come to campus, 911 should be called so that an ambulance could be sent to her home to take her for an evaluation by a psychiatrist. (Id.) Dr. Robles warned that because transport to Kings County Hospital "will likely be involuntary... Campus Security and 911 will likely have to be called." (Id.)

Shortly after receiving Dr. Robles' email, Dean Morales contacted Ursula Chase, Deputy Director of BCCCSS, by telephone and spoke to her, along with Scott and an attorney employed by Brooklyn College, Pamela Pollack.[11] (Chase Decl.[12] ¶ 2; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 16). During that call, Dean Morales informed Chase that Brooklyn College officials had received reports that plaintiff was exhibiting paranoid behavior. (Chase Decl. ¶ 2; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 17). According to Chase, she was told that the people sending the reports knew the plaintiff and were concerned that she might try to harm herself or her former roommates. (Chase Decl. ¶ 2; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 17). During the call, Dean Morales, Chase, and the College's lawyer, Pollack, discussed the need to have plaintiff evaluated by staff at the College or sent for a psychiatric evaluation. (Chase Decl. ¶ 4; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 17). At 2:18 p.m., Dean Morales forwarded to Chase the November 29, 2008 through December 2, 2008 emails previously sent by Dr. Henry-Offor, in which Dr. Henry-Offor expressed her concerns about plaintiff's mental state. (Chase Decl., Ex. A; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 18).

Later that afternoon of December 2, 2008, Dr. Munoz met with Dr. Robles and with Dr. Shirley Puchkoff, a psychologist employed in the Personal Counseling Center; together, they reviewed the emails received from Dr. Henry-Offor. (Munoz Decl. ¶ 4; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 19). The three psychologists concluded, based on the information they had received, that plaintiff may have been experiencing "a thought disorder with paranoid delusions that affected [plaintiff's] ability to judge what was real." (Munoz Decl. ¶ 5; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 20). Based on this analysis and plaintiff's reported statements about wanting to "punish" her former roommates, Dr. Robles, Dr. Puchkoff, and Dr. Munoz determined that the best course of action was to have plaintiff evaluated by a psychiatrist; they were concerned that she might attempt to harm herself or her former roommates. (Munoz Decl. ¶ 5; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 20, 21).

On December 2, 2008, at approximately 3:40 p.m., plaintiff voluntarily went to the BCCCSS office to file an incident report with a campus public safety officer, Sgt. Karen Samuels. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 22, 23; Chase Decl., Ex. B; Eze Dep. at 34, 40, 53). The report, which was prepared by Sgt. Samuels based on plaintiff's statements, states that according to plaintiff: "she sometimes hears people on the street comment on her actions inside her room;" "her former [roommates] posted defamatory blogs about her on myspace.com;" she "heard two strangers on campus... laugh and say that's Sophia;" and she claimed to receive calls from unknown numbers on her cell phone. (Chase Decl., Ex. B; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 24).[13] Plaintiff also reported that "people [were] listening in on her cell phone conversations." (Chase Decl., Ex. B; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 24).

When Samuels notified Chase that plaintiff was at the BCCCSS office filing this report, Chase contacted Dr. Munoz, who told Chase to keep plaintiff occupied and to call Scott. (Chase Decl. ¶¶ 6, 7; Munoz Decl. ¶ 7; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 25, 26, 27). Dr. Munoz believed that Scott might be able to persuade plaintiff to cooperate in going to the hospital. (Chase Decl. ¶ 7; Munoz Decl. ¶ 7; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 27). After Samuels finished taking plaintiff's report, she brought plaintiff to Chase's office as per Chase's request. (Chase Decl. ¶¶ 5, 7; Eze Dep. at 51, 54; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 28, 29). Plaintiff waited in Chase's office for a short time before meeting with Dr. Munoz and Scott, sometime between 4:00 and 4:20 p.m. (Eze Dep. at 56, 61; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 30, 31). According to defendants, Ms. Eze then went voluntarily into the ambulance. (Chase Decl. ¶¶ 9, 10; Scott Decl. ¶ 10; Munoz Decl. ¶ 11). On December 2, 2008, plaintiff executed an application for voluntary admission to Kings County Hospital, and she was admitted as a patient in the psychiatric unit, where she remained for more than two weeks until her discharge on December 19, 2008. (Eze Dep. at 146-148, 179; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 37, 38).

B. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff does not dispute the vast majority of facts set forth in defendants' motion papers. (See Pl.'s 56.1 Stmnt). Although she does dispute defendants' claim that she went voluntarily into the ambulance (Eze Aff.[14] ¶¶ 22, 23, 32), she does not dispute that the College officials received the emails from Dr. Henry-Offor and Mary Eze, nor does she even dispute the fact that she reported many of the things described in Dr. Henry-Offor's emails.

Plaintiff does dispute certain details of what she allegedly said to other people or she draws different inferences from what occurred. At times, her statements in her Affidavit and her deposition testimony are inconsistent. However, plaintiff insists that she never exhibited any physical signs of being a danger to herself or to others, nor was she suicidal or had any mental illness. (Pl.'s Mem.[15] at 2-3).

In her Affidavit, plaintiff claims that she went to the BCCCSS office on December 2, 2008 to file a report and seek advice regarding the surveillance being conducted by plaintiff's landlady and the male tenant in the apartment above her. (Id. at 3; Eze Aff. ¶ 4). She claims that she went to the BCCCSS office because she had rented the room through the College and felt that the College had an obligation to help her, and because she had never before called the police.[16] (Pl.'s Mem. at 3; Eze Aff. ¶ 4).

Ms. Eze admits that the security officer took down a written report of what Ms. Eze told her. (Eze Aff. ¶¶ 5, 6). However, during her deposition, Ms. Eze denied making certain statements as reported by the security officer. She denied stating that she heard the landlord's daughter, Nadia, making comments about Ms. Eze's actions, even though she later admitted in her deposition that the landlord had a daughter named Nadia.[17] (Compare Chase Decl., Ex. B with Eze Dep. at 106-07). Ms. Eze also denies telling the security guard that she sometimes hears people on the street commenting about her, instead claiming that she told the security guard about the incident where she overheard the two people mentioning her name as being all over the Internet. (Compare Chase Decl., Ex. B. with Eze Dep. at 107-08). Although plaintiff admits in her deposition that she told the security officer that "she was aware of the blog two months ago and has not seen it'" (Eze Dep. at 112 (quoting Chase Decl., Ex. B)), she denies telling the officer that "every time [she] tried to go online looking for the blog, someone says Sophia is online and removes the blog."[18] (Id. at 114). She also denies telling the security officer that people were listening in on her cell phone conversations (id. at 114-16), instead testifying that what she said was that her calls were being "misdirected." (Id. at 115).

In her Affidavit, Ms. Eze states that after she filled out the Report, she was questioned by a school psychologist, Dr. Munoz, until she told the psychologist that she wished to leave the room. (Eze Aff. ¶¶ 5, 6). Plaintiff testified that during this meeting, Dr. Munoz questioned plaintiff regarding her mental state, but that Scott did not speak to plaintiff at all. (Eze Dep. 61, 63-64; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶¶ 31, 32). When she told Dr. Munoz that she had a group presentation in Manhattan on the handling of advanced biodegradation of waste material, Dr. Munoz told her that she was not going anywhere and that they were getting an ambulance. (Eze Aff. ¶ 7). At this point, Ms. Eze declared that she no longer wanted to be enrolled in Brooklyn College and that there was nothing wrong with her. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that she was subjected to a "confusing, frightening, and humiliating ordeal, " where she was asked "very personal questions" in front of a school administrator - which she contends violates HIPAA - and was "confined against her will." (Pl.'s Mem. at 3). After approximately 15 minutes, a security officer notified Dr. Munoz that an ambulance had arrived. (Eze Dep. at 63, 68; Defs.' 56.1 Stmnt ¶ 34). According to plaintiff, Scott, Dr. Munoz, Chase and two female security officers took plaintiff to the ambulance that then transported her to Kings County Hospital. (Eze ...


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