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Best v. Bell

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 28, 2014

SEAN BEST, Plaintiff,
LAWRENCE BELL, et al., Defendants.


J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sean Best alleges that, while he was in the custody of the City of New York, his rights were violated in two ways. First, City officials refused to give him the medications necessary to treat his mental illness. Second, when City officials released him from custody, they refused to give him a supply of his medications or information about how to obtain medication, housing, and other necessities (a process known as discharge planning). Best sues the City of New York, Prison Health Services, and twenty-four individual Defendants. The City has moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred, or, in the alternative, because Best's substantive allegations are insufficient to state a claim for relief. For the reasons that follow, the Court holds that Best has stated a timely claim against the City with regard to denial of medication, but not discharge planning. The Court also holds, sua sponte, that Best's claims against the twenty-four individual Defendants are time-barred. The City's motion is therefore granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Best alleges the following facts, which the Court assumes to be true for purposes of this motion.

City officials repeatedly denied Best's requests for the medication necessary to control his mental illness, thus perpetuating his cycle of contact with the criminal justice system. Best has a psychiatric condition that has been diagnosed as severe mood disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, axis I, with brief psychotic features. He requires medication for his manic phases, which come on abruptly. When Best is not medicated during these phases, he suffers from racing thoughts, auditory and visual hallucinations, severe paranoia, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts.

Best's story begins on December 15, 2008, when he was in New York City custody. A correction officer told Best that he should change into street clothes in preparation for a court appearance because it was likely that he would be released. Best immediately told the officer that, because of his mental illness, he needed to visit the discharge planning unit for a supply of his medications (Lithium and Risperidone), information about how to find medication and housing outside of jail, and medical approval before he could be released from custody. The officer said that someone would "call medical." (Am. Compl. Stmt. of Facts at 1, Dkt. No. 24.)

No one from the discharge planning unit contacted Best before he was transported to court. On his way to court, Best told every official he encountered-the officer who escorted him from his cell, the area captain who escorted him to the court transport area, the both officers in the court transportation area, both officers in the initial processing area at court, and the area captain in the initial processing area at court-that he had a serious persistent mental illness and that he needed medication before he was discharged. He asked these officials to call Cynthia Hill, a staff member at the Office of Mental Health, who would confirm that he required medication. The officials responded variously with indifference ("I'm not doing it"), blame ("you should've took care of that beforehand, it's now shift change and it's time for you to go to court"), condescension ("you didn't come in here for that and everybody thinks they're going home"), and threats ("you could leave walking or on a stretcher, doesn't matter to me"). ( Id. at 2-4.) But no one responded with a phone call.

Best was released from custody at his court appearance that day. He sought assistance at the courthouse, but found none-he was ultimately released without a coat, a metrocard, or information about how he might obtain his medication. He was homeless.

Best found work as a receptionist for the PAC Program, a center offering various outpatient treatment programs. A manic phase set in around February 5, 2009: Best began hearing voices and becoming paranoid. He had been off his medication for almost sixty days. His supervisor fired him due to his erratic behavior.

About a week later, on February 11, 2009, Best's symptoms had worsened, and he ran from an unmarked black car that he believed was sent by the devil to kill him. The car made a U-turn and drove up to Best; two police sergeants got out of the car, struck him with their batons, and held a gun to his head. Best explained that he ran because he thought they were going to kill him; he also said that he needed medication. The sergeants said that he could "tell it to the judge." ( Id. at 5.) They placed him under arrest.

Best explained his medical needs to the arresting sergeants, the desk sergeant at the precinct, and the officer who escorted him to central booking. He specifically told these officials that he hadn't had medication for two months, his symptoms were worsening by the minute, and he felt suicidal. Each of these officials declined to send Best to a hospital. At central booking, Best was taken to an emergency medical services station. They asked if he needed medical attention; Best explained his condition and his need for medication, but the officer who escorted Best to the medical station told the EMT that he would not bring Best to Bellevue because Best would be released by the next day. The EMT "moved [Best] along and cleared [him]." ( Id. at 6.)

Best was transferred to the custody of the City Department of Correction. Again, he told every correction officer and captain he encountered that he had bipolar disorder, that he had been unmedicated for two months, and that he felt suicidal. Again, he was met with indifference ("If you gon kill yourself do it[;] if you feel like you want to hurt someone do it") ("fuck off"), blame ("I was told that I should've told that to the N.Y.P.D. I told him I did; I was told oh well then.'"), and threats ("touch one of my officers and we're going to touch on you"). ( Id. at 6-7.) At some point, Best pleaded guilty to obstruction of governmental administration, [1] and his release date was set for February 13, 2009. He informed both officers in the area where he was confined that he needed medication immediately, and that he needed a supply of medication and a discharge plan before he was released. The officer in charge responded that "it was a holiday weekend, that tomorrow was Valentine's Day and nobody was dealing with [his] bullshit." ( Id. at 8.) A captain came to check that Best was actually the person who was supposed to be released; again, Best explained his needs and asked the captain to contact Cynthia Hill or a doctor with the Office of Mental Health; again, the captain refused to assist Best. He was discharged ten minutes later without medication or a discharge plan. Best immediately went next door to the Metropolitan Detention Center to ask that the desk officer contact the Office of Mental Health. The desk officer threatened to arrest Best if he did not leave immediately.

Best describes his state of mind the following day as "hyper manic." ( Id. at 9.) He became convinced that his girlfriend was trying to kill him. After he spit at her and chased her through her house, she kicked him out. The next few hours were "like a dream" to Best; he somehow wound up in the Lower East Side, where he was captured on video at 4:00AM on February 15, 2009. ( Id. ) Voices in his head were telling him that a stranger walking by was trying to kill him with a knife, so he "got to him first."[2] At this point, Best had not slept for almost six days. He was arrested, taken to Bellevue, and medicated.

Best was admitted to Metropolitan Detention Center the next day, on February 16, 2009. Someone from the Office of Mental Health stated or noted that "Mr. Best is well known to jail based MH services." ( Id. at 10.) Best again continually informed all housing area officers and captains he encountered about his symptoms and warned them that he was a danger to himself and others. City officials did not provide Best with medication until February 26, 2009. At some point during the period when Best was unmedicated, his attorney appears to have represented to the trial court-over Best's objections-that Best waived his right to testify before the grand jury.

Best does not make any allegations about the period between February 26, 2009 and January 11, 2010. On January 11, when Best was transferred to Rikers Island, he felt the onset of a manic episode. The medical intake personnel at Rikers were familiar with Best, and they knew that he had been prescribed medication. This prescription was also in his medical file. Best requested his medication from the intake personnel, but they told him he would need to wait to see staff members from the Office of Mental Health. Best explained that he "was going crazy and that [his] brain was moving [too] fast, " so he urgently needed medication-he also explained that he had a court appearance the next morning, so he would not be able to see staff from the Office of Mental Health the next day. The intake personnel did not assist Best, and the next morning, he was taken to court unmedicated.

Under pressure from his attorney and in fear for his life (it is unclear why; perhaps as a result of his mental illness), Best pleaded guilty to the February 15 assault. He tried to tell the judge that he was unmedicated and incapable of entering a guilty plea, but she said she "[didn't] want to hear it." ( Id. at 11.) Best was remanded to City custody on January 12, 2010. City officials did not provide Best with medication until January 16, 2010.

At his next court appearance on January 26, 2010, Best attempted to withdraw his guilty plea. His request was denied and he was sentenced to an eight-year term of imprisonment ...

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