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Feder v. Sposato

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 7, 2014

ROBERT M. FEDER, Plaintiff,

Plaintiff proceeds pro se.

Defendants Armor and Rhim are represented John J. Doody and Suzanne Emily Aribakan, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, New York, NY.


JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.

Robert M. Feder ("plaintiff'), proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against Armor Correctional Health Services of New York, Inc. ("Armor"), and Dr. Chang Soo Rhim ("Rhim"), alleging that Armor and Rhim violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by failing to provide him with adequate medical care while he was an inmate in the Nassau County Correctional Center ("NCCC").[1] Specifically, plaintiff claims that he was deprived of morphine medication for his physical pain, and psychiatric medication for his mental health issues.

Before the Court is Armor and Rhim's motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which the Court (with notice to plaintiff) converted into a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion in its entirety. Specifically, there is no evidence that Rhim was deliberately indifferent to plaintiffs pain by failing to prescribe him morphine. In fact, it is uncontroverted that Rhim prescribed plaintiff Tylenol #3 and monitored plaintiff's morphine withdrawal upon plaintiff's transfer to the NCCC. Although plaintiff contends that the Tylenol #3 was insufficient to manage his pain, plaintiff's disagreement with Rhim over his course of treatment does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. In other words, given the uncontroverted evidence of the treatment plaintiff did receive, no rational jury could find that Rhim was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. In addition, because Rhim's failure to prescribe morphine does not constitute a constitutional violation, plaintiff has no basis to hold Armor-Rhim's employer-liable. Finally, plaintiff cannot hold Armor liable for its employees' failures to prescribe morphine or psychiatric medications because, even if any of those failings did violate plaintiff's constitutional rights, there is no evidence in the summary judgment record establishing that Armor had a policy or custom that led to those alleged constitutional violations.


A. Facts

1. The Amended Complaint

The following facts are taken from the amended complaint filed on December 17, 2012 ("Am. Compl."), and are not findings of fact by the Court. Instead, the Court recites plaintiff's allegations in order to provide context for the present motion.

Plaintiff is a New York State prisoner serving a sixteen year sentence. (Am. Compl. at 4, ¶ IV.) On August 2, 2012, the Nassau County Sheriff's Department transferred plaintiff from the Downstate Correctional Facility to the NCCC. ( Id. ) Although plaintiff is in a wheelchair and cannot walk, he was handcuffed, shackled, and told to crawl in and out of an SUV, which caused him great pain. ( Id. )

While at the NCCC, plaintiff alleges that he did not receive proper medical treatment for his physical pain and mental health issues. With respect to his physical pain, plaintiff had been taking morphine pain medication for almost two years before arriving at the NCCC. At the NCCC, doctors working for Armor told plaintiff, "We don't give that here." ( Id. ) Plaintiff persisted in attempting to obtain morphine by asking all medical personnel he saw for his morphine medication. ( Id. ) Rhim did prescribe Tylenol #3 for plaintiff; however, this did nothing to alleviate plaintiff's pain or morphine withdrawal symptoms. ( Id. at 4, ¶ IV.A.) Thereafter, plaintiff endured one week of throwing up, shakes, and fever as a result of morphine withdrawal. ( Id. at 7.)

Plaintiff filed a grievance, which was denied. ( Id. ) He also sent a letter dated August 13, 2012 to this Court, requesting information on how to amend the complaint that he had already filed in this action (presumably so that he could add allegations concerning the denial of morphine). ( Id. ; see ECF No. 56.) By letter dated August 17, 2012, the Court replied and sent plaintiff information on how to amend his complaint. (Am. Compl. at 7; see ECF No. 57.) Two days later, on August 19, 2012, Rhim learned that plaintiff was seeking to amend his complaint and asked plaintiff about it. (Am. Compl. at 7.) According to plaintiff, Rhim said that the NCCC had no record of plaintiff being on morphine, and said that the NCCC would request his medical records from Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven"), where plaintiff had previously been an inmate. ( Id. ) Plaintiff had already signed a release authorizing the NCCC to access his medical records at Green Haven on August 3, 2012. ( Id. )

As for his mental health issues, plaintiff consulted with Manetti at the NCCC on August 6, 2012. ( Id. ) Before prescribing plaintiff any medication, Manetti told plaintiff that he needed to send a release to Green Haven to find out what medications plaintiff was on at the time. ( Id. ) In the meantime, Manetti prevented plaintiff from taking his mental health medication, which plaintiff had brought with him. ( Id. ) One week later, plaintiff met with Manetti again, and Manetti informed him that he had experienced difficulty contacting plaintiff's doctor at Green Haven. ( Id. ) Plaintiff could see his Green Haven file on Manetti's desk, however, and he alleges that Manetti never had any intention of treating his mental illness. ( Id. ) As a result of Manetti's failure to prescribe plaintiff any psychiatric medication, plaintiff experienced panic attacks and hallucinations, and worried that he might hurt himself. ( Id. at 8.) Plaintiff did talk to a social worker as treatment for his mental illness. ( Id. )

By letter dated October 21, 2012, plaintiff informed the Court that he had been transferred back to Green Haven. (ECF No. 77.)

2. Summary Judgment Record

In support of their motion, Armor and Rhim submitted a "Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Assessment Flowsheet, " which demonstrates how Armor employees monitored plaintiff's morphine withdrawal from August 3, 2012 to August 8, 2012-the first six days after his transfer to the NCCC. (Doody Decl., Mar. 21, 2013, Ex. B ("Withdrawal Assessment").[2]) This form, signed by Rhim, indicates that plaintiff experienced only "mild nausea, no vomiting and/or diarrhea, " mild anxiety, and "very mild" headaches during that period of time. ( Id. ) In deposition testimony submitted by Armor and Rhim in support of their converted motion for summary judgment, plaintiff confirmed that Armor employees monitored him during his morphine withdrawal. Specifically, he testified that a nurse on the Medical Unit visited him "[t]hree times a day." (Doody Decl., Feb. 21, 2014, Ex. 3, Dep. of Robert Michael Feder, May 30, 2013 ("Feder Dep"), at 71.)

During his morphine withdrawal and afterward, plaintiff filed multiple "Sick Call Request" forms complaining about physical pain and demanding pain medication. ( See Pl.'s Reply Ex. D.) He filed such a form on August 8, August 13, September 6, September 13, September 19, September 25, October 4, and October 11, 2012. ( Id. ) Although plaintiff was not given morphine, Armor's records (which are uncontroverted) show that Rhim prescribed him Tylenol, Motrin, and Tylenol #3. Specifically, Rhim and other Armor employees prescribed the following medications on the following dates: Tylenol on August 3, 2012; Tylenol #3 on August 4 and August 9, 2012; 400 mg of Motrin two times per day for three days, beginning on August 8, 2012; and Tylenol #3 two times per day for the period from August 17 to October 19, 2012. ( See Doody Decl., Feb. 21, 2014, Ex. 6, Order Sheet.) Plaintiff confirmed in his deposition that he received Tylenol #3 for his pain, which he described as a "small dosage opiate" that was much weaker than his morphine medication. (Feder Dep. at 68.)

Armor has also submitted Manetti's notes on plaintiff's mental health. (Doody Decl., Mar. 21, 2013, Ex. C ("Mental Health Notes").) There, Manetii noted that there were "no objective signs of any hallucinations or delusions, " of which plaintiff complained, and that his diagnostic impression was that plaintiff was malingering. ( Id. ) Plaintiff has countered this evidence with medical records showing that, before his incarceration at the ...

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