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Lewis v. Clarkstown Police Department

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 31, 2014



EDGARDO RAMOS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Raymond Lewis ("Plaintiff"), currently incarcerated and appearing pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 ("Section 1983"), alleging that his civil rights were violated while he was in Clarkstown Police Department custody. Docs. 2, 12.[1] Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Sergeant Brian Gorsky ("Gorsky") pepper sprayed him because, while in pretrial detention, Plaintiff "kept asking to be taken to the hospital." Doc. 12. He further alleges that he "did not receive any medical treatment at Clarkstown Police Department." Id. The Court reads these allegations as representing claims for (1) the use of excessive force and (2) deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs.[2]

Plaintiff brings suit against both the Clarkstown Police Department and Gorsky (together, "Defendants"), seeking damages in an amount of ten million dollars. Id. [3] Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 39.[4]

For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. Factual Background[5]

The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted.[6] Plaintiff was arrested by Clarkstown police officers during the evening of December 22, 2010. See Aff. of Sgt. Brian Gorsky in Supp. ("Gorsky Aff.") at 2. He was taken to Clarkstown Police Headquarters and detained in a holding cell by himself until his arraignment. See id. at 2-3. [7]During that time, he grew agitated and began punching the walls of the cell. See id. at 3-4. The parties offer alternative explanations as to the cause of Plaintiff's behavior: Plaintiff maintains that it was because the officers were ignoring his requests for medical attention, while Defendants claim that Plaintiff was accusing the officers of stealing some of his money during their post-arrest inventory of his property. Pl.'s Reply Aff. in Opp'n at 3; Gorsky Aff. at 3.[8]

Gorsky ordered Plaintiff to stop punching the walls, but Plaintiff failed to do so. See Gorsky Aff. at 4. Gorsky claims that he then warned Plaintiff that he would be pepper sprayed if his behavior continued. Id. At a certain point, Gorsky sprayed Plaintiff with oleoresin capsicum ("OC") gel. See id. at 5.[9] Gorsky acknowledges that he deployed the gel in multiple bursts. See id. He then temporarily left the area but, because Plaintiff continued to punch the walls, sprayed him with additional bursts of OC gel when he returned. See id. at 6.

Gorsky took no additional measures to control Plaintiff's behavior beyond that point. See id. at 7. Instead, Plaintiff was left alone and eventually calmed down, using water from the basin in the holding cell to remove the OC gel. See id. The officers returned the long-sleeve shirt that they had taken from him subsequent to the arrest and that, as a result, did not have any OC gel on it. See id. He was then taken to his arraignment. See id.

Following Plaintiff's arraignment, he was taken to the Rockland County Correctional Facility. See id. An intake evaluation was performed upon his arrival (at 12:00 a.m. on December 23, 2010). See Decl. of Harold Y. MacCartney, Jr. in Supp. Ex. E.[10] The records from that evaluation showed no serious medical condition and indicated that he could be treated as a "routine admission." Id. [11] A medical assessment was conducted approximately three hours later. See id. [12] The records from that examination showed that Plaintiff had a history of asthma, was experiencing shortness of breath, and had a mild headache. Id. A "Clinical Progress Record" from the same time period notes that he had been given two puffs from an Albuterol inhaler shortly after his arrival at the prison. Id. [13]

II. Legal Standard on Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "An issue of fact is genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Senno v. Elmsford Union Free Sch. Dist., 812 F.Supp.2d 454, 467 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing SCR Joint Venture L.P. v. Warshawsky, 559 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir. 2009)). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the litigation under the governing law. Id.

The party moving for summary judgment is first responsible for demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the burden of proof at trial would fall on the movant, that party's "own submissions in support of the motion must entitle it to judgment as a matter of law." Albee Tomato, Inc. v. A.B. Shalom Produce Corp., 155 F.3d 612, 618 (2d Cir. 1998). Conversely, "[w]hen the burden of proof at trial would fall on the nonmoving party, it ordinarily is sufficient for the movant to point to a lack of evidence to go to the trier of fact on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim." Cordiano v. Metacon Gun Club, Inc., 575 F.3d 199, 204 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23). If the moving party meets its burden, "the nonmoving party must come forward with admissible evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to avoid summary judgment." Jaramillo v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 536 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant." Brod v. Omya, Inc., 653 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Williams v. R.H. Donnelley, Corp., 368 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, in opposing a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party may not rely on unsupported assertions, conjecture or surmise. Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995). The non-moving party must do more than show that there is "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." McClellan v. Smith, 439 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)) (internal quotation mark omitted). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, "the non-moving party must set forth significant, probative evidence on which a reasonable fact-finder could decide in its favor." Senno, 812 F.Supp.2d at 467-68 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256-57 (1986)).

The Second Circuit has made clear that "special solicitude should be afforded pro se litigants generally, when confronted with motions for summary judgment." Graham v. Lewinski, 848 F.2d 342, 344 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988)). Pro se litigants' submissions are "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (per curiam) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)); see also Young v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., No. 09 Civ. 6621, 2010 WL 2776835, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2010) (noting that the same principles apply to briefs and opposition papers filed by pro se litigants). Although " pro se status does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law, '" Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)), courts read the pleadings and opposition papers submitted by pro se litigants "liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Burgos ...

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