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Jackson v. Bederman

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 20, 2014

DR. EVAN BEDERMAN, et al., Defendants.



Plaintiff Richard Jackson, proceeding pro se, brought this action alleging that Defendants, officers and medical professionals at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to provide him with adequate mental health care. Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in full.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was incarcerated at Rikers Island, as relevant here, beginning in December 2011. (Medical Record 143). He self-reported to the examining medical staff there a history of mild intermittent asthma, bipolar disorder, and heroin and cocaine use; he was at the time in a methadone treatment program. ( Id. at 143-54). He also reported one prior attempt at suicide via overdose. ( Id. at 146). His medical intake examiner diagnosed Plaintiff with schizophrenia and prescribed methadone, in keeping with Plaintiff's then-current participation in a methadone program. ( Id. at 134). Plaintiff had a subsequent appointment with a mental health clinician four days later, who scheduled a follow-up appointment with a clinician and a psychiatrist. ( Id. at 124-27). Plaintiff was evaluated by a psychiatrist another five days later, who prescribed psychiatric medications. ( Id. at 106-09).

Over the following weeks, Plaintiff was seen by medical professionals a number of times. (Jackson Dep. 41:9-15; Medical Record 84-88, 91-92, 110-16). For almost this entire initial period, Plaintiff was housed in a dormitory-style housing block in the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island ("AMKC"). (Jackson Dep. 34:18-35:3). On January 3, 2012, Plaintiff was transferred within AMKC from "the dorms" ( id. at 35:2) to what he alleges was a much less advantageous individual cell with a broken window, no blanket, and a broken light ( id. at 48:24-49:2). After an extremely unpleasant night, Plaintiff went to a parole hearing the next morning; thereafter, he informed a corrections officer that he was suicidal, refused to return to the substandard cell, and requested to see a psychologist. ( Id. at 53:12-17). He was seen by a clinician that evening ( id. at 57:22-25), who referred him to her supervisor for disposition (Medical Record 11-16). That supervisor, Defendant Poggioli, reported that Plaintiff was expressing "suicidality with plan, " but that Plaintiff appeared "very goal directed to leave his current housing area." ( Id. at 16). Plaintiff was consequently transferred to suicide watch within "C-71, " the mental health observation unit within AMKC. ( Id.; Jackson Dep. 59:16-23). A nurse practitioner evaluated Plaintiff upon his transfer to C-71 and recorded that Plaintiff informed her that - contrary to his avowals to corrections officers and Poggioli - he was not suicidal and had heard no voices ordering him to kill himself, but merely did not want to return to his cell. (Medical Record 73-74).

While in C-71, Plaintiff was enrolled in what he termed a "long-term psychological drug program" (Jackson Dep. 61:16), involving group therapy, regular individual counseling, and psychological observation ( id. at 61:24-64:21). Plaintiff was evaluated five days later, on January 10, 2012, and remained assigned to the C-71 facility. (Medical Record 68). Plaintiff had a follow-up evaluation the next day ( id. at 65-66) and again two days later ( id. at 60-63); during both of these interviews, the medical professionals who examined Plaintiff reported that he was responding positively to therapy and showed no symptoms of suicidal ideation. Four days later, on January 17, 2012, another mental health professional evaluated Plaintiff, concluded that he could be "treated at a lower level of care, " and recommended his transfer back to general population housing. ( Id. at 63).

Plaintiff explained at his deposition that on the day he was transferred out of the C-71 facility, he had received a phone call informing him that a woman with whom he "used to have a relationship" had recently received an upsetting medical diagnosis. (Jackson Dep. 68:2-69:5). He sought to speak to a therapist regarding his distress at this news, but was immediately informed that he had been transferred out of the C-71 facility. ( Id. at 62:13-23, 68:2-9). Plaintiff was upset by his transfer, especially because he had believed that his enrollment in the "long term" program in C-71 meant he would be assigned to that facility for "at least about three, four months, because [he] heard it was a six-month program." ( Id. at 62:10-12). As Plaintiff had only been resident in C-71 for 13 days, this transfer upset his expectations and caused him significant distress. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff was transferred from AMKC to the mental observation dormitory in the Otis Bantum Correctional Center ("OBCC"), another facility on Rikers Island, on the evening of January 17, 2012. (Jackson Dep. 71:20-72:21). He requested to see a psychiatrist and was informed that he would have to wait until the morning because the facility lacked overnight psychiatric care. ( Id. at 72:5-73:1). In a last-ditch effort to receive an appointment with a psychiatrist, Plaintiff informed the OBCC staff that the bad news he had received earlier in the day "concerned a death... in the family" ( id. at 73:4-7), and, indeed, that his sister had died ( id. at 92:19-25) - though that was, as Plaintiff testified at his deposition, a lie ( id. at 68:2-69:5, 92:3-92:18).[2] The staff continued to inform Plaintiff that he would not be able to see a mental health professional until the following day. ( Id. at 72:23-73:1).

The immediately subsequent series of events is not clear. Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he "stayed up all night... [a]nd the next morning, tried to hang [him]self." (Jackson Dep. 73:10-12). On Plaintiff's account, his suicide attempt was interrupted by "some guy" in the dormitory; he was then taken for a medical examination, and thereafter to see a psychologist. ( Id. at 73:19-25). Plaintiff further alleges he made a second suicide attempt during his medical examination, in which he "tried to tie the wire of the fan around [his] neck." ( Id. at 74:3-4).[3]

The Medical Record reflects a different sequence of events. The relevant medical documents reflect that Plaintiff was seen in his dormitory before his attempted suicide episode by a clinician, to whom he repeated the falsehood that his sister had passed away and demanded that he be transferred to suicide watch in C-71. (Medical Record 54). He refused, however, to speak to social services personnel or discuss his allegedly deceased sibling. ( Id. ). The clinician recorded her clinical judgment that Plaintiff was demonstrating goal-directed behavior animated by his desire to return to his former housing in C-71. ( Id. at 55). The Medical Record goes on to indicate that Plaintiff attempted to commit suicide only after his session with the clinician on the morning of January 18. ( Id. at 54).

The parties' accounts largely cohere regarding this suicide attempt, though the Medical Record includes additional details Plaintiff did not discuss. Plaintiff testified that he tied a sheet around his neck, tied it to a door, and stood on a chair in an effort to hang himself. (Jackson Dep. 73:14-18). The Medical Record indicates that after Plaintiff left his counseling session with the clinician, he "took a thin piece of sheet[, ] came outside of [the clinician's] door[, ] and tied the string around his neck"; the Medical Record also reflects that an observer was able almost immediately to interrupt the attempt. (Medical Record 54). Non-psychological medical personnel also recorded their response to an emergency alert in the OBCC mental observation unit, where they found and examined Plaintiff immediately post-attempt. ( Id. at 52-53).

Plaintiff offers contradictory accounts of the following events. In his deposition he acknowledged that after his attempted suicide episode - irrespective of when that episode took place - he was taken to a medical facility within OBCC, where he spoke with Defendant Bederman. (Jackson Dep. 77:18-78:1). This coheres with the Medical Record, which indicates that Bederman interviewed Plaintiff after the episode. (Medical Record 49-50). Bederman recorded that, when Bederman entered the treatment room, Plaintiff asked if Bederman were Jesus; whenever Bederman suggested that Plaintiff might remain in OBCC instead of transferring back to C-71, Plaintiff shouted, "The voices!" ( Id. at 49). Bederman also recorded that Plaintiff repeated the falsehood regarding the recent death of his sister, as well as Plaintiff's insistence that all of his symptoms would dissipate if he were returned to C-71. ( Id. ). Bederman recorded his clinical conclusion that Plaintiff was demonstrating goal-directed behavior animated by his desire to return to his former housing in C-71, and might in the future "engage in gesturing or verbalizing a desire to harm himself if not returned to C-71." ( Id. at 50). An additional evaluation filed by Bederman 10 minutes later indicates that Plaintiff told Bederman that he would not harm himself if returned to C-71, but threatened danger to himself if he remained housed in OBCC. ( Id. at 47-48).

Bederman's additional evaluation from January 18, the day of Plaintiff's attempted suicide episode, reflects that Defendant Poggioli also saw and evaluated Plaintiff that evening. (Medical Record 45-46). Plaintiff's deposition testimony reflects the same sequence of events: Plaintiff testified that the evening after he tried to hang himself, Poggioli appeared at OBCC to evaluate him. (Jackson Dep. 76:4-10). Poggioli's notes in the Medical Record indicate that Plaintiff expressed a desire to return to C-71 in AMKC, as well as a desire to reconnect with a nephew who was also incarcerated in AMKC. (Medical Record 45-46). Poggioli recorded that he informed Plaintiff that he (Poggioli) would make an effort to have Plaintiff reassigned to AMKC and placed in his prior program in C-71, but that Plaintiff would have to remain in OBCC's mental observation unit pending such a transfer. ( Id. ). The Medical Record and Plaintiff's deposition testimony tally on this point as well. Plaintiff testified that Poggioli promised to make an effort to have Plaintiff sent back into the program at AMKC, but that Plaintiff would have to remain at OBCC and wait for the transfer to be effected. (Jackson Dep. 76:12-77:4).

According to the Medical Record, Bederman interviewed Plaintiff again on January 19, 2012, the day after Plaintiff's attempted suicide episode. (Medical Record 41). Plaintiff acknowledged at his deposition that he saw Bederman on a second occasion after the day of his episode, though he did not testify as to when that second interview occurred. (Jackson Dep. 90:21-91:11). Plaintiff recalled telling Bederman during this second interview that Poggioli had held out the possibility of a transfer back to AMKC. ( Id. at 91:3-15). Plaintiff also acknowledged at his deposition that he recalled reporting to someone, though he could not recall to whom, that he had overheard other inmates in the mental health observation unit expressing irritation and anger at him for attracting the attention of corrections officers to the dormitory on account of his attempted suicide episode. ( Id. at 78:6-79:2).

Bederman's notes of this second interview indicate that, contrary to Plaintiff's presentation during their first meeting, Plaintiff showed no signs of psychosis. (Medical Record 41). More troublingly, Bederman also recorded that Plaintiff admitted to feigning symptoms the previous day in an effort to return to his prior treatment program in AMKC. ( Id. ). Bederman concluded that Plaintiff appeared eligible for transfer to general population housing based on the absence of signs of mental disturbance, his confession of feigning symptoms the previous day, and his confession of staging his attempted suicide episode as an effort to obtain a different housing assignment. ( Id. ).

Bederman's notes also contain a report from Plaintiff that the inmates in the mental health observation unit in OBCC had threatened Plaintiff after his attempted suicide episode. (Medical Record 41 ("When I went back to [the mental health observation unit] they said they were going to jump me for bringing heat to the house for that hang up yesterday.'"); compare Jackson Dep. 78:21-22 ("...I heard somebody make a remark about something, Get that crazy out of here. He bringing heat up on the dorm.'")). Because of this threat, the Medical Record indicates, Plaintiff was transferred from the OBCC mental observation unit into a cell in the main intake of OBCC. (Medical Record 41). Plaintiff's testimony indicates that he had already been transferred to the OBCC general population cell by the time of Bederman's second interview. (Jackson Dep. 91:8-11 ("I was in the cell. In the receiving room, he came there.")).

In his opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff contends that this entire sequence of events, despite being supported by the Medical Record and his own deposition testimony, is "completely false." (Pl. Opp. 4). He insists he was never interviewed by Bederman after his meeting with Poggioli ( id. at 4-5), and that he was never threatened by other inmates ( id. at 5, 8), something he later calls a "rumor" ( id. at 10).

Though Plaintiff testified he was unaware of any rationale for his reassignment, he discussed this transfer within OBCC at length during his deposition. Plaintiff testified that when he left the receiving room in OBCC on the day of his suicide attempt, Defendant Eason escorted him to a cell in OBCC's general population area, where he would remain for the next week. (Jackson Dep. 80:17-25). Plaintiff recalled that Eason, when questioned as to where Plaintiff would now be housed, responded, "Don't worry. You won't be around nobody." ( Id. at 98:25). When Plaintiff reached the cell in OBCC general population, Eason told a nearby corrections officer, "Make sure they keep his cell locked. I don't want nobody around him." ( Id. at 99:5-6). This was the only interaction Plaintiff had with Eason. ( Id. at 98:9-12).

Plaintiff testified that during his week in the OBCC general population cell, beginning on January 19, 2012, he was only let out to shower twice and the rest of the time was confined, even when the other cells would open to release inmates for recreation. (Jackson Dep. 86:1-4, 99:13-16). Plaintiff acknowledged that he never asked to be let out of his cell for recreation, never asked to be sent to the infirmary, never sought an appointment with a mental health professional, and never sought to file a grievance about this period of his confinement. ( Id. at 99:17-24, 101:18-102:15, 111:13-113:22).

Plaintiff recalled seeing a mental health professional once during this week. The Medical Record tells the same story, reflecting an interview with a clinician on January 22, 2012, three days after his transfer out of the OBCC mental health observation unit. (Medical Record 37-38). During this interview, Plaintiff once again repeated his request for transfer back into C-71 in AMKC. ( Id. at 37). Though Plaintiff's recall of this interview was limited, his deposition testimony confirms this point. (Jackson Dep. 83:3-12). The Medical Record also indicates that Plaintiff denied any suicidal ideation and informed that he was regularly taking his psychoactive medications. (Medical Record 37-38).

Plaintiff's deposition testimony is in some tension with this last item of the report from his interview on January 22. Plaintiff testified that he only specifically remembered receiving medication "one time" during this week (Jackson Dep. 106:3-4), but also acknowledged that "it is possible" that there were other occasions on which he received medication that he did not remember ( id. at 105:19-22). Plaintiff also testified that, though he could not recall the content of any interview, he would have told the mental health professional who interviewed him during this week whether he was having problems receiving medication. ( Id. at 104:19-105:11). Plaintiff clarified that he was not accusing Defendants Eason, Poggioli, or Bederman of any involvement in any nonreceipt of his medication that he may have experienced. ( Id. at 110:16-111:9).

Plaintiff had a parole hearing on January 25, 2012, during which he told the presiding judge "[a]bout what was happening to [him] at OBCC, ... being suicidal and not receiving no new treatment, " and the attempted suicide episode of the previous week. (Jackson Dep. 135:1-3). Plaintiff's Legal Aid attorney then contacted the facility, and on Plaintiff's return he was sent directly to a mental health interview, where he once again repeated his desire to return to AMKC and discussed being "unstable and uncomfortable" throughout his time in OBCC. (Medical Record 31). Asked about suicidal ideation, Plaintiff responded that he had "thoughts from time to time" based on being in OBCC, that he wanted to return to AMKC where his nephew was incarcerated, and that he was "gonna say that [i.e., claim suicidal ideation] to go back there." ( Id. ).

Poggioli interviewed Plaintiff the same day. Poggioli's notes indicate his clinical judgment that Plaintiff was "utilizing [coercive] threats of self[-]harm in order to facilitate [a] housing change of his preference." (Medical Record 34). Poggioli also noted the contradiction between Plaintiff's threats of suicide and his "hope of being accepted into an inpatient drug program in lieu of state time" with respect to his pending criminal charges. ( Id. ). Despite this judgment, Poggioli nonetheless had Plaintiff transferred back to suicide watch in C-71 in AMKC "as a precautionary measure." ( Id. )

Two days later, back in AMKC, Plaintiff was again interviewed by a clinician, who noted that Plaintiff "expresse[d] interest in various treatment programs [in AMKC], although his genuine motivation for participating in the programs [was] suspect considering his stronger focus on securing preferential housing." (Medical Record 24). The clinician recorded her clinical judgment that Plaintiff was "specifically focused on avoiding transfer back to OBCC" and, perhaps more importantly, that Plaintiff's "thoughts and behavior appear[ed] clearly goal-directed...." ( Id. ). Plaintiff's suicide watch status was discontinued. The following day, a nurse practitioner evaluated him to confirm that the discontinuation of suicide watch had not left Plaintiff at risk; Plaintiff responded that he was fine with his status and did not object to being housed either in mental health observation or in the general population, so long as he did not return to OBCC.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action one month later, on February 22, 2012, naming three individuals: Dr. E. Bederman, Dr. Petrola, and Captain Eason. (Compl. 1). He also named two unidentified individuals and two groups of unknown individuals: OBCC Psychiatrists, AMKC Psychologist, OBCC Officer of Admissions Intake, and Unknown Officers in Charge of Housing/Transfers at AMKC. ( Id. ). Read broadly, the Complaint apparently seeks both money damages for his psychological injuries, pain, and suffering, as well as injunctive relief "ensuring such treatment will not continue at OBCC facility." ( Id. at 5).

The Court[4] issued an Order of Service on May 17, 2012, concluding that the Complaint included sufficient information to enable the New York State Department of Correctional Services to identify one of the unknown parties named in the complaint: "officers responsible for implementing housing and transfer orders from AMKC psychologist Dr. Petrola in the late night of January 19 and early morning of January 20, 2012." (Dkt. #9). The City of New York responded to that Order of Service in a letter received November 13, 2012, identifying Defendants Bederman and Poggioli, and explaining that it was impossible at that time to determine the identities of any of the officers responsible for the transfers of which Plaintiff complained. (Dkt. #24).

The Court ordered the parties to appear for an initial pretrial conference on January 14, 2013. (Dkt. #25). Plaintiff failed to appear at this conference. (Dkt. #26). The Court ordered Plaintiff to file a letter by January 30, 2013, showing cause why his case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. (Dkt. #27). Plaintiff responded on January 28, 2013, explaining that he had been detained in a correctional facility and unable to attend the conference. (Dkt. #28). The Court rescheduled the pretrial conference for February 15, 2013. (Dkt. #30). The Court thereafter issued an Order on February 19, 2013, setting a discovery schedule, instructing Plaintiff to serve the Complaint on Bederman, inviting him to file an Amended Complaint identifying additional parties by March 12, 2013, and explaining to Plaintiff that certain individuals described in his Complaint could not, based on the information therein provided, be identified. (Dkt. #31).

Plaintiff filed a motion to amend the Complaint on February 26, 2013, this time naming Eason, Bederman, and Poggioli, as well as three groups of unknown officers: "unknown officers in charge of transfer/housing at AMKC on 1/3/12"; "unknown officers in charge of housing/transfer to OBCC on 1/18/12"; and "unknown officers in charge of housing/transfer from OBCC 4L to OBCC 3N on 1/19/12." (Dkt. #32). The Court granted that motion to amend on April 2, 2013, and the Amended Complaint was accordingly filed the same day. (Dkt. #35). The Amended Complaint seeks "monetary damages for pain, suffering[, ] and psychological injuries involving excessive cruelty and inadequate treatment, " as well as injunctive relief "ensuring such treatment will not continue at OBCC facility nor AMKC." (Am. Compl. 5). The named Defendants answered the Amended Complaint on April 22, 2013. (Dkt. #37, 39, 41).

The named Defendants moved for summary judgment on October 15, 2013. (Dkt. #58-64). Plaintiff filed his opposition papers on November 14, 2013. (Dkt. #66). The motion was fully submitted when Defendants replied on December 11, 2013. (Dkt. #67).

On April 29, 2014, the Court issued an Order explaining that the unidentified Defendants were not fairly in this case (inasmuch as they had never been named or served), and notified Plaintiff that his claims against those Defendants would be dismissed if he failed to identify and serve them within 30 days, a period that expired on May 29, 2013. (Dkt. #78). ...

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