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Bell v. County of Westchester

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 18, 2014

OTIS BELL, Plaintiff,


LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

While in the custody of the Westchester County Department of Corrections ("WCDOC") as a pre-trial detainee in 2012, Plaintiff Otis Bell stepped in a poorly maintained shower drain and injured himself. Plaintiff then brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Defendant County of Westchester (the "County") for violating his constitutional rights. Defendant moves for summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The facts are taken from Defendant's Statement and Plaintiff's Counterstatement pursuant to Local Rule 56.1. As required on a motion for summary judgment, the facts are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

From May 15, 2012, through April 16, 2013, Plaintiff was in the custody of WCDOC as a pre-trial detainee. On November 15, 2012, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Plaintiff was showering at the jail when he stepped away from the shower stream to soap himself. While washing his head, some soap entered Plaintiff's eyes and temporarily blinded him. With his eyes closed, Plaintiff took several steps in an attempt to locate the shower stream so that he could wash the soap out of his eyes. As Plaintiff tried to find the shower, his right foot stepped into a recessed drain. As a result of stepping into the faulty drain, Plaintiff fell onto the shower floor on his back, and his head struck a plastic chair.

The block officer, who was sitting at his desk outside the shower room, heard Plaintiff's fall and called out asking whether everything was okay. Plaintiff reported that he had fallen, that his back was in pain and that he had a tingling sensation in his right leg. Plaintiff then managed to get up, dry and dress himself. Approximately an hour later, Plaintiff was taken to the medical unit in the jail, where he was given pain medication and admitted for overnight observation. An x-ray was eventually performed. The Second Amended Complaint alleges that the x-ray revealed that two discs on Plaintiff's lower back had shifted. No evidence in the record substantiates this allegation. Plaintiff took pain medication and was treated by a chiropractor and/or other medical professionals approximately two to three times a week while at the WCDOC.

A work order dated November 15, 2012, the day of Plaintiff's fall, identified the shower drain Plaintiff fell into and two other drains as needing repair because "tiles are [b]reaking apart." On November 17, 2012, Plaintiff filed a grievance requesting that the shower drain be fixed. The resulting investigation report characterized the shower drain Plaintiff stepped in as "substantially larger" than the adjacent drain due to erosion, "possibly creating a hazardous condition."

Plaintiff's grievance submission after his fall is the first recorded complaint in the record about the disrepair of the shower, and the record contains no evidence of how long the drain had been enlarged.

Finally, WCDOC correction officers and supervisors are required to conduct a security safety inspection, which includes the shower, at the beginning of each tour of duty. If they find any defects, they are required to submit a work order.

II. Sole Defendant

Defendant brings this motion for summary judgment on behalf of the County. Plaintiff purports to respond to the motion on behalf of "defendants." However, there is only one defendant in this case, and the remainder of this opinion considers only claims against that defendant.

Under the Federal Rules, "[t]he title of the complaint must name all the parties." Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a). "The caption alone, however, is normally not determinative of the identity of the parties or of the pleader's statement of claim.'... Rather, [t]he caption, pleadings, service of process and other indications of the intent of the pleader, are evidence upon which a district court will decide, in cases of doubt, whether an entity has properly been made a party to a lawsuit.'" Cooper v. Trs. of Coll. of Holy Cross, No. 13 Civ. 8064, 2014 WL 2738545, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 17, 2014) (quoting E.E.O.C. v. Int'l Ass'n of Bridge, Structural, & Ornamental Ironworkers, Local 580, 139 F.Supp.2d 512, 525 (S.D.N.Y. 2001)).

Plaintiff filed his initial complaint in this action pro se in December 2012, naming the Commissioner of WCDOC, Kevin Cheverko, and WCDOC as defendants. On March 1, 2013, Plaintiff was ordered to file an amended complaint if he wished to pursue the action because the initial complaint failed to allege any constitutional violation, and failed to allege that either Commissioner Cheverko or WCDOC could be held responsible. Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint on March 22, 2013, naming only the County as defendant. Counsel appeared for Plaintiff and in a letter dated June 14, 2013, committed to serve the County, which had not yet been served. With the Court's permission, Plaintiff, now represented, filed a second amended complaint on October 8, 2013. The Second Amended Complaint, which is the operative complaint in this case, named only the County ...

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