United States District Court, N.D. New York
EUGENE JONES, Plaintiff pro se, Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, New York.
HON ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, COLLEEN GALLIGAN, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Albany, New York, Counsel for Defendants.
ORDER AND REPORT-RECOMMENDATION
THERÈSE WILEY DANCKS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Eugene Jones commenced this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment while he was confined in the Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate"). (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff asserted claims in his Complaint for: (1) deliberate indifference to his serious mental health needs against Defendants Upstate Superintendent Rock ("Rock"), Upstate Mental Health Unit ("MHU") Psychologist 2, J. Marinelli, incorrectly sued as Marienelli ("Marinelli"), MHU Unit Chief T. Kemp ("Kemp"), Mental Health Doctor John Doe #1, and Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan ("Hogan"), id. at ¶ 72; (2) excessive force and deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious mental health and medical needs against Defendants Corrections Officer Healy ("Healy"), and Corrections Officers John Doe # 2 and John Doe # 3, id. at ¶ 73; (3) conditions of confinement against Defendant Rock; id. at ¶ 74; (4) sexual harassment, assault, and excessive force against Defendants Lt. John Doe #4, Sgt. S. Santamore ("Santamore"), Corrections Officer Lavigne, incorrectly sued as Laveen ("Lavigne"), and Corrections Officer Dyer, incorrectly sued as Dwyer ("Dyer"), id. at ¶ 75; and (5) deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious dental needs against Defendants Corrections Officer John Doe #6, Doctor Jerry Miller ("Dr. Miller" or "Miller").
Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure after filing an Answer to the Complaint. (Dkt. No. 23.) Plaintiff opposed the motion. (Dkt. No. 27.) The Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Senior D.J., adopting the Report and Recommendation of this Court (Dkt. No. 30), granted Defendants motion in part and denied it in part. (Dkt. No. 31). Dismissed on the motion were: (1) all of Plaintiff's claims seeking money damages against all Defendants in their official capacity with prejudice on Eleventh Amendment grounds; (2) claim for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious mental health needs as against Defendant Hogan only; (3) claim for conditions of confinement against Defendant Rock; (4) claims for sexual harassment, assault and excessive force against Defendants Lavigne, Dyer, and Santamore; and (5) claim for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious dental needs as against Defendants Burgess and Santamore.
Defendants Marinelli, Kemp, Healy, Dyer, and Miller have now moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining Eighth Amendment claims: (1) Count #1 for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical (mental health) needs against Defendants Marinelli and Kemp; (2) Count #2 for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical (mental health) needs and excessive force against Defendant Healy; and (3) Count #5 for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical (dental) needs against Defendants Miller and Dyer. (Dkt. Nos. 46, 46-2.)
The grounds for summary judgment asserted by Defendants are: (1) Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies as to Counts #1 and #2 against Marinelli, Kemp, and Healy; (2) Plaintiff's inability to state a prima facie claim of deliberate indifference with regard to medical (mental health) care against Defendants Kemp or Marinelli and medical (dental) care against Defendants Miller and Dyer; (3) Defendants Kemp and Miller's lack of personal involvement in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights; and (4) Defendants Kemp, Marinelli, Dyer, and Miller's right to qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 46-2 at 2-3)
Plaintiff has not opposed Defendants' summary judgment motion. For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that Defendants' motion (Dkt. No. 46) be GRANTED in its entirety and further recommends the sua sponte dismissal of the action against Defendants John Does #1-6 for failure to prosecute.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Under those standards, the party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing, through the submission of admissible evidence, that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006). A dispute is "genuine" if the [record] evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
Only after the moving party has met this burden is the nonmoving party required to produce evidence demonstrating that genuine issues of material fact exist. Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 272-73. The nonmoving party must do more than "rest upon the mere allegations... of the [plaintiff's] pleading" or "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). "Conclusory allegations, conjecture and speculation... are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact. Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998).
In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 309 (2d Cir. 2008). Where a party is proceeding pro se, the court is obliged to "read [the pro se party's] supporting papers liberally, and... interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Ruotolo v. IRS, 28 F.3d 6, 8 (2d Cir. 1994) (district court "should have afforded [pro se litigants] special solicitude before granting the... motion for summary judgment"). However, "a pro se party's bald assertion, ' unsupported by evidence, is not sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Cole v. Artuz, No. 93 Civ. 5981 (WHP) JCF, 1999 WL 983876 at *3, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16767 at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 1999) (citing Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991)).
Plaintiff's failure to oppose Defendants' summary judgment motion does not mean that the motion is to be granted automatically. An unopposed motion for summary judgment may be granted "only if the facts as to which there is no genuine dispute show that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Champion v. Artuz, 76 F.3d 483, 486 (2d Cir. 1996) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Vermont Teddy Bear Co., Inc. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d. Cir. 2004) (where "the non-moving party chooses the perilous path of failing to submit a response to a summary judgment motion, the district court may not grant the motion without first examining the moving party's submissions to determine if it has met its burden of demonstrating that no material issue of fact remains for trial.") (quoting Amaker v. Foley, 274 F.3d 677, 681 (2d Cir. 2001)).
Recently, in Jackson v. Federal Exp., 766 F.3d 189, 198 (2d Cir. 2014), the Second Circuit made clear that "[i]n the case of apro se, the district court should examine every claim or defense with a view to determining whether summary judgment is legally and factually appropriate." In doing so, "the court may rely on other evidence in the record, even if uncited." Id. at 194 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3)). "A verified complaint is to be treated as an affidavit... and therefore will be considered in determining whether material issues of fact exist...." Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted).
This Circuit adheres to the view that nothing in Rule 56 imposes an obligation on the court to conduct a search and independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute where a non-movant willfully fails to respond to a properly filed summary judgment motion. Amnesty Am. v. Town of West Hartford, 288 F.3d 467, 470 (2d Cir. 2002). For this reason, courts in this district have routinely enforced L.R. 7.1(a)(3) in cases in which the non-movant has failed to respond to the movant's Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts by deeming the facts to have been admitted where: (1) the facts are supported by evidence in the record; and (2) the nonmovant, if proceeding pro se, has been specifically advised of the possible consequences of failing to respond to the motion. See Champion, 76 F.3d at 486; see also Jackson, 766 F.3d at 194 (a non-movant who fails to respond to a summary judgment motion "runs the risk of unresponded-to-statements of undisputed facts proffered by the movant being deemed admitted.") While pro se litigants are undeniably "entitled to some measure of forbearance when defending against summary judgment motions, the deference owed to pro se litigants... does not extend to relieving them of the ramifications associated with the failure to comply with the courts local rules." Liberati v. Gravelle, No. 9:12-CV-00795 (MAD/DEP), 2013 WL 5372872, at *6, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137826, at * 8 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2013) (internal citations and punctuation omitted).
In light of Plaintiff's failure to oppose Defendants' summary judgment motion, the facts set forth in Defendants' Statement Pursuant to Rule 7.1(a)(3) (Dkt. No. 46-1) that are, as shown below, supported by record evidence and are uncontroverted by nonconclusory factual allegations in Plaintiff's verified Complaint, are accepted as true. See McAllister v. Call, No. 9:10-CV-610, 2014 WL 5475293 (FJS/CFH), at *3, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154422, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2014) (finding allegations in plaintiff's verified complaint sufficient to controvert properly supported facts set forth in a L.R. 7.1(a)(3) statement of material facts where plaintiff did not oppose defendant's motion for summary judgment); Douglas v. Perrara, No. 9:11-CV-1353 (GTS/RFT), 2013 WL 5437617, at *3, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14125, at * 6 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2013) ("Because Plaintiff [, who filed no opposition, ] has failed to raise any question of material fact, the Court will accept the facts as set forth in Defendants' Statement Pursuant to Rule 7.1(a)(3)..., supplemented by Plaintiff's verified Complaint..., as true."). As to any facts not contained in Defendants' Statement Pursuant to Rule 7.1, in light of the procedural posture of this case, the Court is "required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences" in favor of Plaintiff. Liberati, 2013 WL 5372872, at * 7 (quoting Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2003)).
A. Plaintiff's Mental Health Issues
Plaintiff has been incarcerated in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") since the fall of 1995. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 1; 47 at ¶ 6.) Because Plaintiff had received psychiatric services while in the Niagara County Jail, he was seen by a psychiatrist when he entered the DOCCS system and placed on the New York State Office of Mental Hygiene ("OMH") service. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 2; 47 at ¶ 7; 47-1 at 13.) He has received mental health services from OMH off and on since his incarceration. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 3; 47 at ¶ 8; 47-1 at 12-21.)
During his incarceration, Plaintiff's "Mental Health Level" has fluctuated from Level 1 to Level 6 on a scale of 1 to 6. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 4; 47 at ¶ 9.) The Treatment Needs Service Level UCR Policy defines Level 1 as the most serious and includes major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychotic disorders requiring active treatment, and not having six months of psychiatric stability; those with documented psychotic or bipolar illness who are on certain drugs; and those with psychiatric hospitalizations within the past three years, significant or repeated suicide attempts and/or self-abuse history within the past three years, or suicide attempts resulting in in-patient hospitalization within the last six months. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 5; 47 at ¶ 10; 47-1 at 9.)
Level 6 is defined as "Mental health assessment completed does not require mental health services." (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 6; 47-1 at 9.) Although Plaintiff's mental health status improved between 2005 and 2010, in August of 2009, while he was in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") at Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("Great Meadow"), his mental health level was downgraded to Level 3, defined as "Needs/may need short term chemotherapy for disorders such as anxiety, moderate depression, or adjustment disorders OR suffer from a mental disorder which is currently in remission and can function in a dormitory facility which has part-time Mental Health staff." (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 8; 47-1 at In 12-13; 47-1 at 1, 10.) While Plaintiff was confined at Great Meadow, Psychiatrist Kalyana Battau prescribed Topamax for his psychiatric symptoms. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 9; 47 at ¶ 14; 47-1 at 63.)
Plaintiff was transferred from Great Meadow to Upstate on September 17, 2009, and arrived with a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder ("ASPD"), and a prescription for Topamax. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 11; 47 at ¶¶ 15-16; 47-1 at 8, 9, 44.) The Transfer Progress Notes prepared by a Great Meadow's Social Worker state that Plaintiff's mental status was "Alert, oriented. No evidence of thought disorder. Mood generally neutral, stable." (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 11; 47-1 at 44.)
According to Plaintiff, Upstate is a maximum security prison in which seventy-five percent of the inmates are housed in SHU. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was confined in SHU in a single cell in A-Block in 11-Building where mentally ill inmates were housed together. Id. at In 15, 26. Defendant Marinelli, employed by OMH as a Psychologist 2 at the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC") satellite unit at Upstate, first saw Plaintiff on September 21, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 15; 46-1 at ¶ 12; 48 at ¶ 8; 48-1 at 46-47.) Plaintiff has alleged in his Complaint that he told Marinelli he had a long history of mental illness and treatment both before and during his incarceration. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 16.) Marinelli observed no concerns or issues at that time. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 12; 48 at ¶ 8; 48-1 at 46-47.) He placed Plaintiff on "active status" so he would continue to receive OMH services. (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 46-47.)
On September 23, 2009, Marinelli prepared a Mental Health Treatment Plan ("Plan") for Plaintiff based upon his mental health history, diagnosis of ASPD, and current mental status. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 13; 48 at ¶ 9; 48-1 at 23-34.) The Plan included Plaintiff being placed on Marinelli's service so that he would be seen regularly at his cell, monthly call-outs for private mental health interviews, and continuation of his prescribed medication Topamax. Id. The Plan was approved by OMH Staff Psychiatrist Bezalel Wurzberger ("Dr. Wurzberger") on October 2, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶; 48 at ¶ 12.)
When Marinelli saw Plaintiff for a cell-side visit on September 29, 2009, Plaintiff was doing well and had no current health concerns. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 14; 48, at ¶ 11; 48-1 at 48.) When he met with Plaintiff for a private therapy session on October 7, 2009, Marinelli observed no active mental illness and Plaintiff had no health complaints. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 15; 48 at ¶ 48-1 at 49.)
Plaintiff saw Dr. Wurzberger for an evaluation on October 9, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 17; 23 at ¶ 14; 46-1 at ¶ 18; 47-1 at 30.) Wurzberger's Psychiatric Progress Note states in part:
Inmate recently transferred to this facility; gives a history of "ups and downs and anxiety"; says that he was treated with multiple medications in the past; reports "doing alright now", rates himself "in the middle" on the 0-10 moods scale; sleep and appetite are adequate; has no complaints.
The record indicates an extensive history of behavioral problems, characterologically driven, for which he was referred twice to the [Behavioral Health Unit] BHU.
MENTAL STATUS EXAMINATION AND CHANGES:
Is alert, oriented, coherent and relevant; mood and affect are appropriate; there are no signs of abnormal psychomotor activity; denies hallucinations; denies self harm thoughts or intent; cognitive functions adequate.
SUICIDE RISK ASSESSMENT:
No current warning signs of suicidality.
Discussed treatment options, including risks and benefits involved; he is psychiatrically stable, with no objective evidence of a mood disorder or a thought disorder; discussed with him the fact that Topamax has no psychiatric indications, is non-formulary, and is not indicated for his clinical presentation; I suggested a trial of an SSRI for the anxiety symptoms he described; he told me "thank you, but no thank you", and refused to consider other alternatives; we'll monitor for changes and reassess treatment options as needed.
(Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 18; 47-1 at 30.) Dr. Wurzberger discontinued Plaintiff's Topamax on October 9, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 19; 48 at ¶ 15.) Marinelli and Kemp did not make the decision to discontinue the Topamax. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 43-44; 47 at ¶ 40; 48 at ¶ 48; 48-1 at 64.) According to Kemp, the discontinuance was proper because there is no psychiatric indication for the use of Topamax. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at 46; 47 at ¶ 50; 48-1 at 30.)
When Marinelli saw Plaintiff for his weekly cell-side visits on October 13, 2009, October 23, 2009, and November 9, 2009, after discontinuance of the Topamax, Plaintiff denied mental health issues or concerns, and Marinelli observed no evidence of mental illness or ongoing mental health issues or concerns. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 20-22; 48 at ¶¶ 16-18; 48-1 at 50-53.) At a private therapy session with Marinelli on November 13, 2009, Plaintiff discussed efforts to make positive changes in his life, his relationship with his family, and how his early experiences affected how he related to authority figures. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 23; 48 at ¶ 19; 48-1 at 50.)
The reports from Marinelli's cell-side visits with Plaintiff on November 25, 2009, and December 16 and 31, 2009, and his private mental health interview with Plaintiff on December 15, 2009, all reflect Marinelli's observation that Plaintiff had no current mental health issues. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 24-26; 48 at ¶¶ 20-23; 48-1 at 53-55.) On November 25, 2009, Plaintiff reported he was happy that he had been moved to the PIMS gallery, which was a quieter gallery, and on December 31, 2009, reported that he liked his new "hood." (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 24; 48 at In 20 and 23.) Plaintiff had also told Marinelli he liked his current housing situation at a private mental health interview on December 15, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 25; 48 at ¶ 29; 48-1 at 53.)
However, in a January 13, 2010, letter to Defendant Kemp, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker employed by the N.Y.S. OMH as Unit Chief for the CNYPC mental health unit at Upstate, Plaintiff complained of being taken off the medication he was on when he arrived at Upstate, and that despite really trying, he was having a lot of symptoms of mental illness and couldn't keep living like that. Plaintiff claimed that he tried to talk to Marinelli, "but he thinks it's a game or something." Plaintiff asked Kemp to change his therapist to someone who would treat his mental health issues rather than treating them like a joke. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 20; 27-1 at 10.) Plaintiff claims to have received no reply from Kemp, and Defendants have not referenced the letter in their statement of material facts. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 20; 46.) According to Plaintiff, every time he wrote to Kemp, Marinelli would appear at his cell door and warn him against writing the complaints and telling him "not to go over his head." (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 20.)
On January 25, 2010, Plaintiff refused to attend his private interview with Marinelli, and Marinelli noted that termination of Plaintiff's mental health services should be considered based upon his stability and lack of reported or observed mental health concerns. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 28; 48 at ¶ 24; 48-1 at 55.) Marinelli thereafter had a cell-side meeting with Plaintiff on January 29, 2010, and noted that no mental health concerns were reported or observed. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 29; 48 at ¶ 25; 48-1 at 56.) Marinelli and Plaintiff discussed whether mental health treatment should be discontinued, and according to Marinelli, Plaintiff wanted to wait a month before discontinuing services. Id. Marinelli had cell-side visits with Plaintiff on February 18, 2010, February 25, 2010, March 16, 2010, and March 30, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 31-34; 48 at ¶¶ 27-30; 48-1 at 58-61.) According to Marinelli, Plaintiff denied any mental health issues, and Marinelli did not observe any mental health concerns. Id. On March 30, 2010, Marinelli prepared Termination Transfer Notes recommending that Plaintiff be terminated from OMH service and a Treatment Needs/Service Level Designation recommending that Plaintiff's Mental Health Level be changed to Level 6. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 35-36; 48 at ¶¶ 31-32; 48-1 at 11, 62.) Kemp reviewed the recommendation and Plaintiff's mental health records and approved the change in Mental Health Level and Plaintiff's removal from OMH services. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 37; 47 at ¶ 42; 47-1 at 11.) Even after Plaintiff's termination from the OMH caseload, he continued to receive regular mental health evaluations by OMH staff every ninety days due to his SHU placement. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 42; 48 at ¶ 39; 48-1 at 3-6.)
On March 22, 2010, prior to the termination, Plaintiff had written to Kemp, identifying the subject of the letter as "I want to know why you are trying to ruin my life worse than it already is." (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 22; 27-1 at 9.) In the letter, Plaintiff asked why every time he wrote to Kemp complaining about Marinelli, Marinelli would show up bragging that Kemp had given him a copy of the letter. (Dkt. No. 27-1 at 9.) He asked Kemp why he couldn't help him to see a doctor so he could get some medication to stop the voices in his head and told him that when he talked to Marinelli about seeing a doctor, he laughed in his face. Id. Again, according to Plaintiff, he received no reply or visit from Kemp regarding the letter. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 20.) The letter is not referenced in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46-1.)
On May 3, 2010, Plaintiff wrote to N.Y.S. Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Hogan ("Commissioner Hogan" or "Hogan") explaining that the only reason he was bothering him was that Kemp either wouldn't reply to his letters or would keep sending Marinelli to his cell to harass him about writing to Kemp. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 21; 27-1 at 8.) Plaintiff explained to Hogan that he had a long history of mental health problems and taking medication. Plaintiff told Hogan that his medication had been taken away, and he felt himself slipping back into mental illness. Plaintiff also complained of hearing people talking and not knowing if the voices were real or in his head. (Dkt. No. 27-1 at 8.) Hogan did not reply. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 21.) The letter is not referenced in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46-1.)
Marinelli conducted a SHU 90-day mental health examination of Plaintiff on June 3, 2010, which confirmed that his Mental Health Level was 6, and that he did not require mental health services at that time. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 38; 48 at ¶ 34; 48-1 at 3-4.) On June 17, 2010, Plaintiff wrote a second letter to Kemp informing Kemp that he had written to his boss about the conditions in SHU and the fact that Kemp and Marinelli had refused to treat mentally ill inmates or let them see mental health doctors. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 20; 27-1 at 13.) Kemp did not reply. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 20.) The letter is not addressed in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46-1.)
Plaintiff claims that on August 30, 2010, he used a piece of metal to cut his arms, and when Plaintiff showed Marinelli, he said "they don't look that bad, " and told Plaintiff to run some water on the cuts and he would be fine. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff claims that he started screaming and Marinelli just walked away. Id. Plaintiff wrote to Kemp the same day. In the letter, Plaintiff told Kemp that he had attempted suicide by cutting his arms open, and Marinelli laughed when he showed him. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 20; 27-1 at 13.) Plaintiff asked Kemp to arrange for him to talk to someone other than Marinelli and informed Kemp that the next time he tried suicide, he would not just cut himself but would hang himself and make no mistakes. Id. Kemp did not respond. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 20.) The letter is not referenced in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46.) Marinelli denies the incident occurred and claims that if it had, he would not have responded in the manner Plaintiff has alleged. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 36; 48 at ¶ 36.) Plaintiff's mental health records, which have been submitted by Defendants, include no reference to the suicide attempt Plaintiff claims to have made. ( See Dkt. Nos. 47-1 and 48-1.)
On September 10, 2010, Marinelli conducted another SHU 90-day mental health evaluation of Plaintiff, which confirmed that Plaintiff's Mental Health Level remained at Level 6 and did not require any mental health treatment at that time. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 39; 48 at ¶ 35; 47-1 at 5-6.) On September 21, 2010, Plaintiff wrote a second letter to Hogan. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 21; 27-1 at 7.) In the letter, Plaintiff asked Hogan to come visit Upstate to see what was going on and to help him. According to Plaintiff, the inmates on the mental health caseload were off their medications and were screaming, banging, and throwing things. Plaintiff claimed to be unable to sleep, or eat, and told Hogan that when the mental health staff came around, including Marinelli, they just laughed at everyone and didn't try to talk or do anything about the situation. Id. Hogan did not respond. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 21.) There is no reference to the letter in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46-1.)
Plaintiff wrote to Kemp again on October 14, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 20; 27-1 at 12.) In the letter, Plaintiff told Kemp that he had been reading and found out that Kemp and his friends had been violating the law by not treating people for their mental illnesses, and that he planned to sue him. Plaintiff wrote that he could not understand how people could look at a person like him as the scum of the earth but see Kemp as a good guy that he would never treat people the way Kemp did. (Dkt. No. 27-1 at 12.) Kemp did not reply. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 20.) There is no reference to the letter in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46-1.)
On November 8, 2010, Plaintiff sent a formal complaint against Marinelli to Hogan "as outlined in NYCRR § 701.2(A), (C), (E), " and requested that Hogan follow the regular procedure of the Grievance Committee. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 21; 27-1 at 5.) In the letter, Plaintiff referenced his previous complaints to Hogan of May 3 and September 21, 2010, and Hogan's failure to take action. (Dkt. No. 27-1 at 5.) The gist of Plaintiff's complaint against Marinelli was that Plaintiff disclosed his long history of mental illness and that the parole board had informed him he needed to take a mental health unit program before he could be released. Id. Marinelli said he had reviewed Plaintiff's file and would help him. Id. Instead, Plaintiff was taken off his medication and received no treatment at all. Id. Plaintiff described the single cell SHU section where he was housed as being filled with mentally ill inmates who were not being treated by the mental health staff and were banging and screaming all night, cutting themselves, smearing feces, and refusing to eat. Id. Plaintiff informed Hogan of the letters he had sent to Kemp with no response, and that Marinelli had done nothing to improve the situation. Id. Hogan did not respond. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 21.) The formal complaint is not referenced in Defendants' statement of material facts. (Dkt. No. 46-1.)
Plaintiff was transferred from Upstate to Clinton Correctional Facility on November 15, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 40; 48 at ¶ 37.) At that time, Plaintiff's Mental Health Level was still 6, and he did not require any mental health services. Id.; Dkt. No. 48-1 at 1.
According to Plaintiff, in the early morning of October 21, 2010, he made a rope from his sheets and hanged himself in the shower. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 23.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Healy and two other corrections officers entered Plaintiff's cell and cut him down and then began beating him with their hands and feet. Id. Plaintiff begged them to stop. Id. Healy and the other two officers made Plaintiff promise not to hang himself again and left his cell. Id. Healy warned Plaintiff that if he tried writing up the incident he would really wish he were dead. Id. Later in the day, Plaintiff cut his wrist and showed Healy, who again did not obtain help for Plaintiff from the mental health or medical staffs. Id. at ¶ 24.
C. Plaintiff's Alleged Lack of Proper and Adequate Dental Care
On August 29, 2010, while eating breakfast, one of Plaintiff's teeth cracked and lost its filling, which left Plaintiff in pain and unable to eat on one side of his mouth. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 48.) Plaintiff claims that he thereafter submitted a number of sick call slips to the dental department requesting assistance and sent letters to Defendant Miller, a dentist at Upstate, asking for help on September 6 and 14, 2010. Id. at ¶ 29.
On October 5, 2010, Plaintiff submitted Grievance No. UST 44009-10, in which he complained that he had been in pain for over a month because of a lost filling and had written to the dental department several times but had not been called out. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 74; 49-2 at 4.) In his Declaration, Dr. Miller has stated that he investigated the claim and determined that no dental call out slips had been received from Plaintiff during that time period, as Plaintiff has claimed ( see Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 49), but made no mention of Plaintiff's September 6 and 14, 2010, letters. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 75; 49 at ¶ 19.)
Prior to filing the grievance, Plaintiff had gone to a dental appointment on September 29, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 50; 46-1 at ¶ 51; 49 at 3.) When he arrived for the appointment, he learned from the hygienist that he was there for a cleaning, not to treat his lost filling and cracked tooth. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 50.) Plaintiff's dental records confirm his claim that he informed the dental hygienist of the lost filling at the September 29th appointment, and Miller acknowledges that Plaintiff's dental records reflect that he informed the hygienist about the lost filling, and states that Plaintiff was scheduled for a follow-up appointment on November 3, 2010, to address the lost filling concern. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 51, 53-54; 49 at ¶¶ 10-13; 49-1 at 3.) The hygienist's note did not indicate that Plaintiff complained of pain from the lost filling, and Dr. Miller has opined that a lost filling without significant pain is not emergent and does not require immediate dental treatment. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 78-79; 49 at In 22-23.)
On November 3, 2010, Dyer and Corrections Officer Burgess escorted Plaintiff from his cell for an Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment Program ("ASAT") evaluation and a dental call-out. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 55-56; 51-2 at ¶¶6-7.) The ASAT evaluation was to be conducted in the room next to the block dental office. Id. Plaintiff claims that he told Dyer he wanted to refuse the ASAT call out because he was really in pain and couldn't eat or sleep and really needed to see the dentist. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 55.) Dyer is alleged to have told Plaintiff that he made the rules, and the rules were that if Plaintiff refused one call out, he refused both. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 56.) Dyer denies that Plaintiff ever told him he was in pain or that he wanted to skip the ASAT evaluation in order to see the dentist sooner. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 57; 51-2 at ¶ 8.)
Plaintiff was placed in a holding pen, and while he was waiting to see the dentist, Dyer escorted him to the ASAT evaluation. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 58-59; 51-2 at ¶ 10.) After the ASAT evaluation, Plaintiff was returned to the holding pen to wait for the dentist. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 60; 51-2 at ¶ 11.) According to Dyer, while Plaintiff was waiting in the holding pen, he began yelling at the dental escort that he was going to be seen next by the dentist. (Dkt. No. 46-1 at ¶ 61; 51-2 at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff claims that when a corrections officer tried to take Plaintiff to see the dentist, Dyer waived him away and told Plaintiff if he made it into the dentist at all he would be last, and he might not get in there at all. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 57.) Dyer contends that he did not threaten Plaintiff in any way, and the only thing he said to him was "Jones, stop causing a disturbance, " when Plaintiff was yelling at the dental escort. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 62-63; 51-2 at ¶ 13.)
According to Dyer, Santamore spoke to the dentist, who said he had priority cases ahead of Plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 64; 51-2 at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was told to quiet down or he would be returned to his cell, and when he continued to yell and create a disturbance, Santamore ordered Plaintiff returned to his cell. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at 65-66; 51-2 at ¶ 16.) Dyer claims he had no interest or intent in interfering with Plaintiff's dental care and was only complying with Santamore's order in taking Plaintiff back to his cell. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 67-68; 51-2 at ¶¶ 17-19.) Dyer does not address Plaintiff's execution of a Refusal of Medical Examination And/Or Treatment with regard to the dental work he was supposed to have done on November 3, 2010, or the notation by Plaintiff "I've been waiting & staff refuse to let me see dental staff. I can see a number of inmates going in but corrections staff refuse to let me see dental staff" 1(Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 70; 49-1 at 6.) Plaintiff claims that it was dismissed Defendant Burgess who demanded Plaintiff sign the dental form and go back to his cell or he would be seeing more than the dentist with a visit to the facility hospital. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 59.) According to Dr. Miller, he did not see Plaintiff on November 3, 2010, and was not involved in obtaining the refusal signed by Plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 72; 49 at ¶ 16.)
Plaintiff's tooth was not fixed before he left Upstate, but according to Plaintiff, he was seen by dental approximately a week after being transferred to Clinton and received a temporary filling. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 63.)
A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies with Regard to Claims Against Defendants Healy, Marinelli, and Kemp
Defendants Healy, Marinelli, and Kemp seek summary judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment claims against them on the ground that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (Dkt. Nos. 46-2 at 4-7; 46-4 at ¶¶ 11-12.) The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), imposes several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to maintain federal civil rights actions, and expressly requires that no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under § 1983, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted. "[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). In order to properly exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA, inmates are required to complete the administrative review process in accordance with the rules applicable to the particular institution in which they are confined. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (citing Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006)).
1. DOCCS Internal Grievance Program
In New York State prisons, DOCCS has a well-established three-step Internal Grievance Program ("IGP"). See N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. ("NYCRR") tit. 7, Part 701 (2013); (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 82-84; 46-4 at ¶¶ 4-6.) The first step requires an inmate to file a grievance complaint with the facility's IGP clerk within twenty-one days. Id. at § 701.5(a). If there is no informal resolution, the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") holds a hearing. Id. at § 701.5(b)(2). If the grievance is denied by written decision of the IGRC, id. at § 701.5(b)(3), the grievant may appeal the IGRC's decision to the facility's superintendent within seven calendar days of receipt of the IGRC's written decision. Id. at 701.5(c)(1). The appeal of a grievance involving an institutional issue is decided by the superintendent of the facility. Id. at § 701.5(c)(3)(ii). Grievances regarding DOCCS-wide policy issues are forwarded directly to the Central Review Committee ("CORC") for a decision under the process applicable to the third step. Id. at 701.5(c)(3)(i). The third step is an appeal to CORC, id. at 701.5(d)(1)(i), which issues a written decision. Id. at 701.5(d)(3)(ii).
If a prisoner has failed to properly follow each of the applicable steps prior to commencing litigation, he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93. Because failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, defendants bear the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that a plaintiff has failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies. See Murray v. Palmer , No. 9:03-CV-1010 (GTS/GHL), 2010 WL 1235591, at *4, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32014, at *16 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010); Bailey v. Fortier, No. 09-CV-0742 (GLS/DEP), 2012 WL 6935254, at *6, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185178, at *14-15 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 4, 2012) (the party asserting failure to exhaust bears the burden of proving its elements by a preponderance of the evidence).
An exhaustion review does not end when defendants are found to have met the burden of establishing a plaintiff's failure to exhaust. "Once a defendant has adduced reliable evidence that administrative remedies were available to Plaintiff and that Plaintiff nevertheless failed to exhaust those administrative remedies, Plaintiff must then counter' Defendants' assertion by showing exhaustion unavailability, estoppel, or special circumstances' [under Hemphill v. State of New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004)]." Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *4. Hemphill sets forth a three-part inquiry for district courts. First, courts must determine if administrative remedies were in fact available to plaintiff
Second, courts must determine if the defendants are estopped from presenting non-exhaustion as an affirmative defense because they prevented the plaintiff inmate from exhausting his administrative remedies by "beating him, threatening him, denying him grievance forms and writing implements, and transferring him to another correctional facility." Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688 (citing Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 162 (2d Cir. 2004)). Generally, defendants cannot be estopped from asserting a non-exhaustion affirmative defense based upon the actions or inaction of other individuals. Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *5 & n.26 (collecting cases).
Third, the Second Circuit explained in Hemphill that there are certain "special circumstances" in which even though administrative remedies may have been available and the defendants may not be estopped from asserting a non-exhaustion defense, the inmate's failure to exhaust may be justified. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. "Special circumstances" have been found to include an incorrect but reasonable interpretation of DOCCS' regulations or failing to file a grievance in the precise manner prescribed by DOCCS as a result of threats. See, e.g., Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675-76 (2d Cir. 2004) (failure to exhaust was justified where plaintiff inmate's interpretation of regulations was reasonable and prison official threatened inmate).
2. Exhaustion as to Healy
Plaintiff's allegations with respect to his Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference and excessive force claims against Healy are set forth in paragraphs 23 and 24 of his Complaint. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiff has alleged in his Complaint that he "used the prisoner grievance procedure available at Upstate on 1/13/10 to exhaust all remedies all remedies were exhausted on 10/14/10 for issues in paragraph # 23 and # 24." (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 66.) The dates provided by Plaintiff make no sense given that Plaintiff's claims against Healy arise out of an incident that allegedly occurred on October 21, 2010. Id. at ¶¶ 23-24. Furthermore, as discussed below, the documentary evidence in the summary judgment record establishes that Plaintiff never appealed a grievance arising out of that incident to CORC. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 88; 46-4 at ¶ 12 and 4.)
Jeffrey Hale (Hale"), Assistant Director of the IGP, is the custodian of records maintained by CORC, which renders the final administrative decisions under the DOCCS IGP. (Dkt. No. 46-4 at ¶ 2.) According to Hale, the issues alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are proper subjects for grievances under the DOCCS IGP. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 86; 46-4 at ¶¶ 8-9.) DOCCS Directive # 4040 stipulates that when an inmate appeals a grievance to CORC, it is DOCCS' policy to maintain grievance files for the current year and four prior years. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 85; 46-4 at ¶ 7.) CORC maintains records in accordance with that policy and, in fact, the CORC computer database contains records of all appeals of grievances received from the IGP Supervisor, as well as those reviewed under the expedited procedure at § 701.8, since 1990. Id. Hale conducted a diligent search for appeals filed by Plaintiff based on grievances filed at the facility level and has submitted true and correct copies of records maintained by CORC which show that Plaintiff did not appeal any grievance filed under §§ 701.5 or 701.8 claiming he was denied adequate mental health treatment or subjected to excessive force by Healy while he was confined at Upstate. (Dkt. Nos. 46 at ¶ 87; 46-4 at ¶ 11 and 4.) Inasmuch as Plaintiff has failed to complete all of the steps of the DOCCS IGP with regard to his Eighth Amendment claim against Healy for deliberate indifference to his serious mental health needs and excessive force, he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90 (PLRA requires a plaintiff to complete all of the steps of the applicable IGP and to do so properly to exhaust administrative remedies).
Plaintiff fairs no better under the three-part Hemphill inquiry. As to the first question, New York's IGP is "recognized as an available' remedy for purposes of the PLRA." Taylor v. Chalom, No. 9:10 CV 1494 (NAM/DEP), 2011 WL 6942891, at *4, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150512, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2011). That the grievance procedure was made available to, and actually used by, Plaintiff during his incarceration, is clear from his history of grievances revealed by Hale, and the grievance Plaintiff filed regarding his lost filling. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 74, 82-85; 46-4 at 6-77; 49-2 at 4.)
Furthermore, there is no evidence in the record that Healy interfered in any way with efforts by Plaintiff to file a grievance against him under the IGP and, therefore, no basis for an estoppel. Third, the record is devoid of evidence of "special circumstances" excusing Plaintiff's failure to exhaust. To the contrary, Plaintiff has alleged in conclusory fashion in his Complaint that he did exhaust. See Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d 282, 287 (2d Cir. 2003) (conclusory assertions are not enough to avoid summary judgment when the movant has set out a documentary case).
Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with regard to his Eighth Amendment claims against Defendant Healy and recommends that Healy be granted summary judgment on that ground.
3. Exhaustion as to Marinelli and Kemp
In his Complaint, Plaintiff has alleged that he filed complaints regarding his claims against Marinelli and Kemp with the OMH all the way up the chain to the OMH Commissioner. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 65.) Although Plaintiff alleged that he also filed a grievance with Upstate, presumably under the IGP, and appealed the results to be sure exhaustion was complete, Hale's search of CORC records revealed no appeal by Plaintiff of a grievance complaining of his mental health treatment by Marinelli and Kemp. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 65; 46-1 at ¶ 87; 46-4 at ¶ 11 and 4.) Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff did not exhaust his claims against Marinelli and Kemp under the IGP. See Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90.
That, however, does not end the Court's inquiry on the exhaustion because issues remain as to whether administrative remedies were in fact available to Plaintiff under the IGP with respect to his claims against Marinelli and Kemp and whether there were special circumstances excusing exhaustion. See Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686.
Plaintiff was questioned at his deposition as to whether he filed a grievance against Marinelli:
Q. Did you file any grievances against Mr. Marienelli (sic)?
A. I think I did, yes.
A. I'm pretty sure I did. Or - because also, when you're dealing with M.H.U., you can't really grieve them. You have to write a complaint through -
Q. To the medical -.
A. - to the mental health department.
Q. Right. Right. So the mental health issues go to mental health and the medical issues go to the medical director.
A. Go to medical, right.
Q. Yes, okay.
A. So even though you could write it, but its not going to get anywhere. So you have to they tell you
Q. That's why you wrote to Kemp?
A. Kemp, exactly.
Q. Yup. Okay.
A. That's the whole reason why, because you know, even they they're not even allowed to discuss your mental health file with the grievance people because of confidentiality. So that's kind of like a catch twenty-two.
Q. So you complained to Kemp because, as you understood it, that's the proper process?
(Dkt. No. 46-3 at 35-36.)
In determining whether administrative remedies are available to a particular inmate, a court should "be careful to look at the applicable set of grievance procedures, whether city, state, or federal." Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663, 668 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Administrative remedies are not available "where the relevant administrative procedure lacks authority to provide any relief or to take any action whatsoever in response to a complaint." Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 736 (2001).
Hale has described Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against Marinelli and Kemp as the "proper subject for DOCCS grievance procedures as outlined under 7 NYCRR § 701.1 et seq." (Dkt. No. 46-4 at ¶ 9.) However, both Marinelli and Kemp are OMH, not DOCCS employees, and § 701.3(f) provides:
(f) Outside agencies excluded.
Any policy, regulation or rule of an outside agency (e.g., the division of parole, immigration and customs enforcement, the office of mental health, etc.) or action taken by an entity not under the supervision of the commissioner is not within the jurisdiction of the IGP.
7 NYCRR, § 701.3(f).
Grievances involving actions taken by OMH have in at least some instances been determined by DOCCS to be outside the jurisdiction of the DOCCS IGP based upon § 701.3(f). See, e.g., Westmoreland v. Conway, No. 07-CV-104(Sr.), 2009 WL 2991817, at * 3-4, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83993, at * 9-10 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2009) (plaintiff's allegation that his grievance was dismissed because the IGRC lacked authority over the OMH found to comport with 7 NYCRR § 701.3(f)); Christian v. Goord, No. 9:03-CV-901 (FJS/GJD), 2006 WL 1459805, at * 5, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32143 (N.D.N.Y. May 22, 2006) (both the IGRC and Superintendent on appeal concluding that the OMH is outside the purview of DOCCS and the IGP).
Given the foregoing, the Court cannot conclude that administrative remedies under the IGP were available to Plaintiff with regard to his claims against OMH employees Marinelli and Kemp, or that Plaintiff's understanding that the IGP did not apply to OMH employees did not constitute a special circumstance excusing failure to exhaust, and recommends that Marinelli and Kemp be denied summary judgment on exhaustion grounds.
B. Merits of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claim Against Marinelli and Kemp Defendants Marinelli and Kemp also seek summary judgment on the merits. Claims that prison officials have intentionally disregarded an inmate's serious medical needs fall under the Eighth Amendment umbrella of protection from the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). Prison officials must ensure, among other things, that inmates receive adequate medical care. Id. (citing Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). The requirement extends to adequate mental health care. See Langley v. Coughlin, 888 F.2d 252, 254 (2d Cir. 1989) ("We think it plain that from the legal standpoint psychiatric or mental health care is an integral part of medical care. It thus falls within the requirement of Estelle v. Gamble, [429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)], that it must be provided to prisoners."); Guarneri v. Hazzard, No. 9:06-CV-985 (NAM/DRH), 2010 WL 1064330, at 16, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26966, at *52 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 22, 2010) (the denial of mental health care may constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment).
To state a claim for denial of medical or mental health care, a prisoner must demonstrate (1) a serious medical (mental) condition, and (2) deliberate indifference. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834-35; Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994) ( "Hathaway 1") . The first prong is an objective standard and considers whether the medical condition is sufficiently serious. See Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (citation and punctuation omitted). A "serious medical condition" has been described as "a condition of urgency, one that may produce death, degeneration, or extreme pain." Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 607 (2d Cir. 1990) (Pratt, J. dissenting) (citations omitted), accord Hathaway I, 37 F.3d at 66; Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998). Relevant factors to consider when determining whether an alleged medical or mental health condition is sufficiently serious include, but are not limited to: (1) the existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; (2) the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; and (3) the existence of chronic and substantial pain. Chance, 143 F.3d at 702-03.
The second prong is a subjective standard. Medical mistreatment rises to the level of deliberate indifference only when it "involves culpable recklessness, i.e., an act or a failure to act... that evinces a conscious disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm.' Id. at 703 (quoting Hathaway v. Coughlin, 99 F.3d 550, 553 (2d Cir. 1996)) ( "Hathaway II"). "Deliberate indifference requires more than negligence but less than conduct undertaken for the very purpose of causing harm." Hathaway I, 37 F.3d at 66. To establish deliberate indifference, an inmate must prove that (1) a prison medical care provider was aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that the inmate had a serious medical need; and (2) the medical care provider actually drew that inference. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; Chance, 143 F.3d at 702. The inmate then must establish that the provider consciously and intentionally disregarded or ignored that serious medical need. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. An "inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care" does not constitute "deliberate indifference." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06. Moreover, "a complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim... under the Eighth Amendment." Id. at 106. Stated another way, "medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Id.; see also Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 184 (2d Cir. 2003) ("Because the Eighth Amendment is not a vehicle for bringing medical malpractice claims, nor a substitute for state tort law, not every lapse in prison medical care will rise to the level of a constitutional violation.")
The record evidence does not support Plaintiff's claim that he suffered from a serious mental illness during his time at Upstate. Furthermore, even though Plaintiff was deemed to have some degree of mental illness during at least a part of his time at Upstate, given the evidence of the mental health treatment Plaintiff received from OMH during his time there, no reasonable jury could find that either Marinelli or Kemp had been deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's mental health issues and treatment needs. See Selevan v. N.Y. Thruway Auth., 711 F.3d 253, 256 (2d Cir. 2013) (finding summary judgment appropriate where the nonmovant fails to "come forth with evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable juror to return a verdict in his or her favor on an essential element of a claim") (internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff arrived at Upstate with a diagnosis of ASPD, a prescription for Topamax, a Mental Health Level of 3, and a Transfer Progress note from Great Meadow stating his mental status was alert and oriented, with no evidence of a thought disorder, and a generally neutral and stable mood. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 2-11; 47-1 at ¶¶ 5-16.) When Plaintiff was seen by Marinelli for a mental health assessment less than a week after his arrival at Upstate in September of 2009, Marinelli observed no mental health concerns or issues. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 12; 48 at ¶ 12.)
Marinelli nonetheless placed Plaintiff on "active status" so he would continue to received OMH services and continued to see Plaintiff either cell-side or for a private therapy session on a regular basis until he was terminated from service on March 30, 2010, with Kemp's approval, after Plaintiff had denied the need for services and his Mental Health Level had been upgraded to a Level 6. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 13-17, 19-36; 47-1 at 1; 48 at ¶¶ 30-33.) During that time, Plaintiff generally reported no mental health issues or concerns, and Marinelli reported that he observed no evidence of mental health issues. Id. Marinelli's notes are largely in accord with Dr. Wurzberger's positive assessment of Plaintiff's mental status on October 9, 2009, when he, not Marinelli or Kemp as Plaintiff claims, took Plaintiff off Topamax. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 18-19, 43-44.)
Even after Plaintiff's OMH services were terminated, Marinelli continued to do SHU 90-day mental health evaluations, which confirmed that Plaintiff's Mental Health Level remained at Level 6 from March 30, 2010, until his transfer to Clinton on November 15, 2010. (Dkt. No. 46-1 at ¶¶ 38-40; 47-1 at 1; 48 at ¶¶ 34-35, 37.)
While Plaintiff claims that Marinelli responded to his attempt at suicide by cutting his arms with a piece of metal by telling him it did not look too bad and to run water on the cuts (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 22), Marinelli denies the incident ever occurred, and there is no evidence of such an incident in Plaintiff's mental health records. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 36; 48-1 at 1-118.) Even assuming, arguendo, that the incident did occur, Plaintiff has failed to present evidence that the cuts he inflicted were severe enough to cause serious injury or constitute what could reasonably have been construed by Marinelli as a serious attempt at suicide, and that Marinelli showed deliberate indifference.
In light of the foregoing, the Court recommends that Defendants Marinelli and Kemp be granted summary judgment on the merits on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment medical indifference claim.
C. Eighth Amendment Claim Against Dyer
Plaintiff claims that Defendant Dyer, a corrections officer, showed deliberate indifference to his serious dental needs by preventing him from seeing the dentist for his lost filling on November 3, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 55-58.) Although medical deliberate indifference claims are most-often asserted against medical personnel, non-medical personnel may also be held liable for deliberate indifference to medical needs, in this case dental needs, when a plaintiff proves that "prison personnel intentionally delayed access to medical care when the inmate was in extreme pain and has made his medical problem known to the attendant prison personnel." Hodge v. Coughlin, No. 92 Civ. 0622 (LAP), 1994 WL 519902, at * 11, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13409, at * 31 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1994) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), aff d, 52 F.3d 310 (2d Cir. 1995) (table); Baumann v. Walsh, 36 F.Supp.2d 508, 512 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (same).
The record evidence shows that on November 3, 2010, Dyer was tasked with escorting Plaintiff to an ASAT evaluation and an appointment with the dentist to have his lost filling addressed. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 55; 46-1 at ¶¶ 55-56; 51-2 at ¶¶ 22-23.) Dyer took Plaintiff to his ASAT evaluation while Plaintiff was waiting to see the dentist, and after the evaluation returned Plaintiff to the holding pen to wait to see the dentist. (Dkt. No. 46-1 at ¶¶ 58-60; 51-2 at ¶¶ 10-11.) There is no evidence in the record indicating that Plaintiff would have seen the dentist any sooner had he not gone to the ASAT evaluation.
According to Dyer, while waiting to see the dentist, Plaintiff created a disturbance by yelling at the dental escort that he was going to be seen next by the dentist and was told to quiet down or he would be returned to his cell. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 61-63; 51-2 at ¶¶ 12, 16.) At his deposition, Plaintiff admitted that he had started complaining and had called out to the dentist that he needed to see him. (Dkt. No. 46-3 at 53.) Dyer told Plaintiff to "stop causing a disturbance." (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 62-63; 51-2 at ¶ 13.)
Corrections Sergeant Santamore spoke to the dentist and was told there were priority cases ahead of Plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 64; 51-2 at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff continued to yell and create a disturbance, and Santamore ordered Dyer to take Plaintiff back to his cell. (Dkt. No. 46-1 at ¶¶ 65-66; 51-2 at ¶ 16.) Dyer followed the order and returned Plaintiff to his cell. (Dkt. No. 46-1 at ¶¶ 67-68; 51-2 at ¶¶ 17-19.)
Even if Dyer was aware that Plaintiff was "really in pain, " as Plaintiff has alleged and Dyer has denied (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 55; 46-1 at 46-1 at ¶ 57; 51-2 at ¶ 8), there is no evidence in the record supporting Plaintiff's claim that Dyer intentionally delayed his access to dental care, or that Dyer was responsible for Plaintiff missing his dental appointment on November 3, 2010. Therefore, the Court recommends that Dyer be granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to his serious dental needs.
D. Eighth Amendment Claim Against Miller
Plaintiff claims that Dr. Miller was deliberately indifferent to his serious dental needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment by his failing to attend to a lost filling in a timely manner. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶¶ 49, 76.) Plaintiff must, as with his claim for indifference to his serious mental health needs, show that he had a serious dental condition and that it was met with deliberate indifference from Miller. See Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 136 (2d Cir. 2000); Chance, 143 F.3d at 702. A serious medical, or in this case dental condition, exists where "the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" Chance, 143 F.3d at 702 (citing Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1373 (7th Cir. 1997). Specifically, "[a] cognizable claim regarding inadequate dental care... can be based on various factors, such as the pain suffered by the plaintiff... the deterioration of the teeth due to a lack of treatment... or the inability to engage in normal activities." Chance, 143 F.3d at 703 (citations omitted); see also Berry v. Wright, No. 04-CV-0074(Sr.), 2011 WL 231626, at *5, 2011 U.S. Dist LEXIS 6347, at * 12-13 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2011) ("[a]lthough delay in providing a prisoner with dental treatment, standing alone, does not constitute an eighth amendment violation, ... a prisoner can state a claim of deliberate medical indifference under section 1983 if the delay was deliberate and that it caused him to suffer unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.") (quoting Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989)).
"When the basis of a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim is a temporary delay... in the provision of otherwise adequate medical treatment, it is appropriate to focus on the challenged delay... in treatment rather than the prisoner's underlying medical condition alone in analyzing whether the alleged deprivation is, in objective terms, sufficiently serious' to support an Eighth Amendment claim." Washington v. Farooki, No. 9:11-CV-1137 (TJM), 2013 WL 3328240, at *6, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92623, at *16 (N.D.N.Y. July 2, 2013) (quoting Brunskill v. Cnty. of Suffolk, No. 11-CV-586 (SJF)(ETB), 2012 WL 2921180, at *3, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS (E.D.N.Y. July 11, 2012)).
Dr. Miller has opined that "the loss of a filling without significant pain is not an emergent situation and does not require immediate dental treatment." (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 79; 49 at ¶ 23.) In this case, however, Plaintiff claims that the lost filling caused him a great deal of pain, left him unable to eat out of one side of his mouth, and prevented him from sleeping. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶ 48; 27-1 at 31-32; 49-2 at 4.) There is no evidence to the contrary in the summary judgment record. Plaintiff lost the filling on August 29, 2010, was not scheduled to have the lost filling addressed by the dentist until November 3, 2010, more than two months later, and ultimately did not have the lost filling taken care of until shortly after he was transferred to Clinton on November 15, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶¶ 48, 63; 46-1 at ¶¶ 54, 72.) Even assuming without deciding that the great pain and problems with eating and sleeping Plaintiff claims resulted from the lost filling, when considered with the delay in treatment, constituted a serious dental condition, Dr. Miller is entitled to summary judgment because the record evidence does not show deliberate indifference on his part. See Hunt, 865 F.2d at 200 (deliberate indifference where the delay was deliberate and caused plaintiff to suffer unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain).
The note in Plaintiff's dental records from his September 29, 2010, cleaning, which Miller acknowledged seeing noted only that Plaintiff had complained of a lost filling and said nothing about being in pain as a result. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 51; 49-1 at 3.) Because in Miller's opinion, absent a report of significant pain, the lost filling was not emergent (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at 79; 49 at ¶ 23), failure to schedule an appointment to fix the tooth until November 3, 2010, does not show culpable recklessness on his part. See Hathaway II, 99 F.3d at 553.
While Plaintiff claims to have submitted a number of sick call slips to the Dental Department requesting assistance, Miller investigated Plaintiff's chart in response to an October 5, 2010, grievance filed by Plaintiff and determined that no call-out slips from Plaintiff had been received by the Dental Department during the relevant time period. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 75; 49 at ¶ 19.) Moreover, while Plaintiff also claims to have sent letters of September 6 and September 14, 2010, to Miller advising him of his great pain and requesting assistance regarding the lost filling (Dkt. Nos. 1 at ¶¶ 49; 27-1 at 31-32), Dr. Miller has stated in his Declaration that he was not aware of any request by Plaintiff for dental treatment in the fall of 2010 that he ignored. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶ 80; 49 at ¶ 24.) There is no evidence in the record refuting that statement, no evidence that Dr. Miller ever saw the dental slips Plaintiff claims to have submitted or the letters Plaintiff claims to have sent to him. Given Plaintiff's failure to respond to Defendants' L.R. 7.1 Statement of Material Facts, he is deemed to have admitted that Miller's investigation revealed no call-out slips regarding Plaintiff's lost filling, and Miller was not aware of any request by Plaintiff for dental treatment in the fall of 2010 that was ignored. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 75, 80; 49 at ¶¶ 19, 24.)
Finally, the evidence shows that an appointment was scheduled for November 3, 2010, for Plaintiff's lost filling to be addressed, and Miller had no part in Plaintiff being returned to his cell before seeing him, or in the execution of the Refusal of Medical Examination and/or Treatment form. (Dkt. Nos. 46-1 at ¶¶ 67, 72; 49 at ¶ 16; 51-2 at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was transferred to Clinton shortly thereafter where his tooth was fixed. (Dkt. No. 46-1 at ¶ 73; 49 at ¶ 17.)
In light of the foregoing, the Court recommends that Miller be granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against him.
E. Qualified Immunity
Defendants contend that if the Court were to find that their actions violated Plaintiff's rights, they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 46-2 at 15-18.) Inasmuch as the Court is recommending that Defendants be granted summary judgment on other grounds, it finds it unnecessary to reach the qualified immunity argument.
F. John Doe Defendants #1-6
Plaintiff has asserted claims against John Doe Defendants # 1-6 in this action. There is nothing in the record showing that any of the John Doe Defendants have been identified and served in this lawsuit which was commenced nearly three years ago. (Dkt. No. 1.) The discovery completion deadline in the case was January 18, 2014, more than a year ago. (Dkt. No. 32.) The Court finds that Plaintiff has had ample time and opportunity to discover the identity of the John Doe Defendants and serve them. Given Plaintiff's failure to do so, the Court recommends the sua sponte dismissal of John Doe # 1-6 from the action for failure to prosecute. See Delrosario v. City of N. Y, No. 07 Civ. 2027 (RJS), 2010 WL 882990, at * 5, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20923, at * 12 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2010) ( sua sponte dismissing claims against John Doe Defendants for failure to prosecute "[w]here discovery was closed and the Plaintiff has had ample time and opportunity to identify and serve John Doe Defendants."); Coward v. Town & Vill. of Harrison, 665 F.Supp.2d 281, 301 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) ("Where a plaintiff has had ample time to identify a John Doe defendant but gives no indication that he has made any effort to discover the defendant's name, the plaintiff simply cannot continue to maintain a suit against the John Doe defendant.") (citation and internal quotation marks and punctuation omitted).
ACCORDINGLY, it is hereby
RECOMMENDED that Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 46) be GRANTED IN ITS ENTIRETY; and it is further
RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's claims against John Doe Defendants # 1-6 be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE from this action due to Plaintiff's failure to prosecute; and it is hereby
ORDERED, that the Clerk provide Plaintiff with copies of the unpublished decisions cited herein in accordance with the Second Circuit decision in Lebron v. Sanders, 557 F.3d 76 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties have fourteen days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing Small v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72.
(Cite as: 2012 WL 6935254 (N.D.N.Y.))
Hancock Estabrook LLP, Michael J. Sciotti, Esq., Robert Thorpe, Esq., of Counsel, Syracuse, NY, for Plaintiff.
Hon. Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney, Charles E. Roberts, Esq., Assistant U.S. Attorney, of counsel, Syracuse, NY, for Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, United States Magistrate Judge.
*1 Plaintiff Everton Bailey, a federal prison inmate, has commenced this Bivens FN1 action against defendant Michelle Fortier, a corrections officer stationed at the prison facility in which Bailey was confined at the relevant times, alleging deprivation of his civil rights. Bailey's claims are based upon Fortier's alleged failure to protect him from an assault by a cellmate, despite having registered prior complaints expressing fear for his safety.
FN1. Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971).
Currently at the forefront of the action is the threshold question of whether Bailey, who admits that he did not file a grievance following the procedures in place at Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") facilities, should be excused from the requirement of exhausting administrative remedies before commencing suit due to the alleged refusal of prison officials to provide him with the forms necessary to file a grievance. Because I find, based upon an evidentiary hearing conducted, that Bailey was not prevented by the actions of prison officials from filing a grievance regarding his claim against Fortier, and that he has offered no special circumstances providing a basis to excuse his failure to exhaust administrative remedies, I recommend that his complaint be dismissed on this procedural basis, without addressing its merits.
Bailey is a federal prison inmate currently being held in the custody of the BOP as a result of a 2007 criminal conviction entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. See generally Complaint (Dkt. No. 1); see also VanWeelden Decl. (Dkt. No. 10-4) ¶ 5; June 20, 2012 Hearing Transcript (Dkt. No. 44) at p. 84.FN2 While he is presently housed in another BOP facility, at times relevant to this litigation Bailey was designated by the BOP to the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI Ray Brook"), located in Ray Brook, New York. Id.
FN2. The June 20, 2012 Hearing Transcript (Dkt. No. 44) will hereinafter be cited as "Tr. ____".
On the morning of February 23, 2009, while housed in a six-person cell in the Mohawk Housing Unit at FCI Ray Brook, Bailey was confronted and physically assaulted by one of his cellmates after being accused of stealing that inmate's prayer oil. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 8-9; see also VanWeelden Decl. (Dkt. No. 10-4) Exh. D. Bailey reported the incident to Fortier, and requested that he be moved to another cell. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 10. That request was denied, and Bailey was directed by Fortier to return to his cell in light of an impending inmate count. Id. at ¶ 11.
Following the inmate count, Bailey again was accosted by the same inmate, who on this occasion threw hot oil from a ceramic mug onto his face.FN3 Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 13; VanWeelden Decl. (Dkt. No. 10-4) Exh. D; Tr. 100, 145. Bailey suffered second degree burns to his face resulting in his being hospitalized at an outside medical facility for a period of fourteen days. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 13-14; Tr. 32, 84-85. Upon his return to FCI Ray Brook, Bailey was placed in a special housing unit ("SHU") cell, where he remained until he was transferred to another BOP facility. Tr. 59-60, 85.
FN3. According to Bailey, there were no corrections officers present in his cell unit at the time of the assault. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 13.
*2 The BOP has established an Administrative Remedy Program ("ARP"), comprised of a four-step administrative process through which inmates can seek formal internal review of any complaint regarding any aspect of their imprisonment. Tr. 10; 28 C.F.R. § 542.10 et seq.; see also Macias v. Zenk, 495 F.3d 37, 42 (2d Cir.2007). In accordance with the established ARP protocol, an inmate must first attempt informal resolution of his or her complaint by presenting the issue informally to staff, and staff must attempt to resolve the issue. 28 C.F.R. § 542.13(a); see also Johnson v. Testman, 380 F.3d 691, 693 (2d Cir.2004). This informal, initial procedure typically begins with the filing of a "cop-out, " which can be submitted either on a BP-8 form available to inmates through several sources, including their assigned counselors, or on paper of any other description. Tr. 10, 22, 27, 66-67, 129, 142.
If the complaint cannot be resolved informally, the inmate may next submit a formal written Administrative Remedy Request ("ARR") to the warden of the facility, utilizing a BP-9 form, within twenty calendar days of the event that generated the inmate's complaint.FN4 Tr. 22, 32, 44; 28 C.F.R. § 542.14(a); see also Johnson, 380 F.3d at 693. That twenty-day period, however, can be extended in appropriate circumstances.FN5 Tr. 33, 54, 144. If that formal request is denied, the inmate may next appeal the matter to the appropriate BOP Regional Director, utilizing a BP-10 form, within twenty calendar days of the date the grievance is denied by the facility warden. Tr. 22; 28 C.F.R. § 542.15(a); see also Johnson, 380 F.3d at 693. An unfavorable decision from the Regional Director can then be appealed to the General Counsel's office, utilizing a BP-11 form, within twenty calendar days of the date of the Regional Director's response. Tr. 22; 28 C.F.R. § 542.15(a).
FN4. Plaintiff was aware of the twenty-day limitation for filing a BP-9 form to initiate the formal grievance process. Tr. 103.
FN5. Here, the record demonstrates that in light of his circumstances, including the fourteen-day period of hospitalization following the incident, Bailey almost certainly would have been granted relief from that requirement had such a request been made. See Tr. 43, 144. I note, parenthetically, that the handbook provided to inmates at FCI Ray Brook does not address the possibility of requesting an extension of the twenty-day time limit for filing a BP-9. See Tr. 34, 43.
Despite the existence of the ARP, Bailey did not avail himself of that process by filing a grievance regarding the assault or the defendant's alleged failure to protect him from it. Tr. 101-02, 106. Bailey claims that he requested the appropriate forms for commencing the grievance process from several prison workers, including Hawley Snyder, Barbara Darrah, and the warden at FCI Ray Brook. Tr. 86-88, 91, 93-95, 107-09. Employees at FCI Ray Brook, however, uniformly testified that Bailey never requested the appropriate grievance forms from them. See Tr. 72, 131, 146-47, 153, 155, 168; see also Tr. 49 (Robin Van Weelden); 161 (Jean Marie Diehl); 166 (Michelle Gonyea). I credit the testimony of defendant's witnesses and find that Bailey failed to ask his corrections counselor, or any other BOP employee at FCI Ray Brook, for the necessary forms to commence the grievance process.
The record also reflects that Bailey had abundant opportunity to secure the necessary grievance forms. In February and March of 2009, he was assigned a unit team that included Barbara Darrah, his unit manager; Michelle Gonyea, a case worker; Hawley Snyder, his assigned corrections counselor; and one other corrections counselor.FN6 Tr. 46, 86, 140-41. Members of Bailey's unit team, particularly his corrections counselor, were in frequent contact with him. See, e.g., Tr. 126, 129-30, 140-41, 165.
FN6. Jean Marie Diehl took over as plaintiff's correction counselor in or about September 2009, shortly before Snyder's retirement from the BOP. Tr. 140, 163.
*3 Various other BOP officials were also in regular contact with Bailey, making periodic rounds of the FCI Ray Brook SHU. Tr. 35. For example, at the times relevant to this litigation, the facility's warden typically visited the SHU every Wednesday morning, normally accompanied by Robin Van Weelden, who in February 2009 served as a legal assistant, as well as one or two associate wardens, a corrections captain, and unit team members. Tr. 35, 55. When making those rounds the group would proceed from cell to cell, knocking on doors and asking whether an inmate in a particular cell wished to voice any needs. Tr. 57. In addition, Barbara Darrah, as a unit manager, was required to visit inmates in the SHU twice weekly, although she testified that she was in that portion of the facility "pretty much daily." Tr. 126. When visiting the SHU, Darrah generally carried with her a folder of various forms, including BP-8, BP-9, BP-10, BP-11 and cop-out forms, earning her the nickname "the form lady." Tr. 70-71, 120, 124-27, 131. Like the warden and the warden's group, when visiting the SHU facility Darrah normally would proceed from cell-to-cell. Tr. 128. Similarly Michelle Gonyea, as plaintiff's case manager during February and March of 2009, was required to visit the SHU at least once weekly. Tr. 165.
Despite all of those visits and requests as to whether he needed anything, Bailey did not ask any of those individuals for the forms necessary to grieve Fortier's alleged failure to protect him from harm. Tr. 161-62, 166, 49-50, 72, 132, 144, 154-55, 161, 166.
As previously indicated, plaintiff was absent from FCI Ray Brook receiving outside treatment for his injuries during the fourteen-day period immediately following the inmate assault. In accordance with FCI Ray Brook policy requiring visits by prison officials to any inmate hospitalized for more than five days, Darrah, as plaintiff's unit manager, visited him in or about March of 2009, while he was a patient at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, in order to insure that his needs were being met. Tr. 133. When asked on that occasion whether he needed anything, Bailey replied, "No."FN7 Id.
FN7. During the hearing Bailey testified that he did not recall Darrah visiting him. See Tr. 114. Once again, I credit the testimony of Darrah over that of the Bailey with respect to this issue.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Bailey commenced this action on June 29, 2009. Dkt. No. 1. His complaint identifies Corrections Officer M. Fortier as the sole named defendant, and alleges that she violated his constitutional rights by failing to protect him from foreseeable harm. Id.
On January 8, 2010, prior to answering, Fortier moved to dismiss Bailey's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, alternatively, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. Dkt. No. 10. The sole basis for Fortier's motion was her contention that Bailey's complaint is subject to dismissal based upon his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing suit, as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). That motion resulted in my issuance of a report on August 30, 2010, recommending that the motion be denied, based upon the existence of genuine disputes of material fact to be resolved before addressing whether a proper basis for excusing the governing exhaustion requirement had been demonstrated. Dkt. No. 19. That recommendation was adopted by Chief District Judge Gary L. Sharpe on October 12, 2010. Dkt. No. 21.
*4 Following the issuance and acceptance of my report and recommendation, the parties were afforded the opportunity to engage in discovery, and a scheduling order was entered requiring, inter alia, that any additional dispositive motions be filed on or before October 3, 2011. See Dkt. No. 23. All deadlines under that scheduling order have passed, without the filing of any additional motions, and the case is now trial-ready. In light of the existence of a threshold procedural issue regarding exhaustion, the matter was referred to me for the purpose of conducting an evidentiary hearing, pursuant to Messa v. Goord, 652 F.3d 305 (2d Cir.2011), in order to develop the record concerning Bailey's efforts to satisfy his exhaustion requirement. See Text Entry 11/02/11. That hearing was conducted on June 20, 2012, see Text Entry 6/20/12, and, following the close of the hearing, decision was reserved pending briefing by the parties.FN8, FN9
FN8. The hearing was conducted by video conference, with Bailey participating and testifying from the Kentucky federal correctional facility in which he is currently being held, pursuant to Rule 43(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rivera v. Santirocco, 814 F.2d 859, 862 (2d Cir.1987). At the outset of the hearing I placed upon the record the factors which I considered in declining to exercise my discretion to require that Bailey be produced in person for the evidentiary hearing. See Tr. 3.
FN9. Attorney Michael J. Sciotti, Esq., of the firm of Hancock & Estabrook, LLP, was appointed in January 2012 to represent the plaintiff in this action, pro bono, at the hearing. The court wishes to express its thanks to Attorney Sciotti and his co-counsel, Robert Thorpe, Esq., for their energetic and diligent efforts on behalf of the plaintiff.
A. Governing Legal Principles
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), which imposes several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to maintain federal civil rights actions, expressly requires that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2382, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006); Hargrove v. Riley, No. CV-04-4587, 2007 WL 389003, at *5-6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan.31, 2007). "[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532, 122 S.Ct. 983, 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002). An inmate plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal if the evidence establishes that he or she failed to properly exhaust available remedies prior to commencing the action, his or her complaint is subject to dismissal. See Pettus v. McCoy, No. 04-CV-0471, 2006 WL 2639369, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2006) (McAvoy, J.); see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 94-95, 126 S.Ct. at 2387-88 (holding that the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion" of available remedies). "Proper exhaustion" requires a plaintiff to procedurally exhaust his or her claims by "compl[ying] with the system's critical procedural rules." Woodford, 548 U.S. at 95, 126 S.Ct. at 2388; see also Macias, 495 F.3d at 43 (citing Woodford ). Complete exhaustion has not occurred, for purposes of the PLRA, until all of the steps of that available process have been taken. Macias, 495 F.3d at 44; see also Johnson v. Rowley, 569 F.3d 40, 45 (2d Cir.2009); Strong v. Lapin, No. 90-CV-3522, 2010 WL 276206, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Jan.15, 2010) ("Until the BOP'S Central Office considers the appeal, no administrative remedy is considered to be fully exhausted.").
*5 In a series of decisions rendered since the enactment of the PLRA, the Second Circuit has crafted a three-part test for determining whether dismissal of an inmate plaintiff's complaint is warranted in the event of a failure to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. Macias, 495 F.3d at 41; see Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004). Under the prescribed rubric, a court must first determine whether administrative remedies were available to the plaintiff at the relevant times. Macias, 495 F.3d at 41; Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. If such a remedy existed and was available, the court must next examine whether the defendant should be deemed to have forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to properly raise or preserve it, or whether, through the defendant's own actions preventing the plaintiff from exhausting otherwise available remedies, he or she should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as a defense. Id. In the event the proffered defense survives these first two levels of scrutiny, the court must determine whether the plaintiff has established the existence of special circumstances sufficient "to justify the failure to comply with applicable administrative procedural requirements.FN10, FN11 Id.
FN10. In Macias, which, like this action, involved an Eighth Amendment claim under Bivens, as well as claims under the Federal Court Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., defendants asserted that plaintiff's complaint was subject to dismissal under the PLRA based upon his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. Macias, 495 F.3d at 40. Reiterating the importance of exhaustion in both a substantive and a procedural sense, the Second Circuit concluded that, while a prisoner may have substantively exhausted remedies by making informal complaints regarding the conditions at issue, the PLRA, as illuminated by Woodford, 548 U.S. 81, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 165 L.Ed.2d 368, requires proper procedural exhaustion through the available grievance channels. Id. at 41. The court left open, however, the possibility that, notwithstanding the Supreme Court's decision in Woodford, a defendant could be precluded from asserting failure to exhaust available administrative remedies in the event of a finding that threats by prison officials may have deterred compliance with the PLRA exhaustion requirements, including under Hemphill. Id. at 44-45. The court in Macias also noted that the plaintiff in that case did not assert that the available internal remedial scheme was so confusing as to excuse his failure to avail himself of that process, thereby obviating the need for the court to determine what effect, if any, Woodford would have upon the Hemphill holding to the effect that a reasonable misinterpretation of the available scheme could justify an inmate's failure to follow the procedural rules. See Amador v. Superintendents of Dep't of Correctional Serv., No. 03 CIV. 0650 (KTD/CWG), 2007 WL 4326747, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec.4, 2007). It therefore appears that the teachings of Hemphill remain intact, at least with regard to the first two points of inquiry. Id. at *7.
FN11. In practicality, these three prongs of the prescribed test, though perhaps intellectually distinct, plainly admit of significant overlap. See Hargrove, 2007 WL 389003, at *8 n. 14; see also Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 677 n. 6 (2d Cir.2004).
B. Burden of Proof
Before applying the foregoing legal principles, I must first consider who bears the burden of proof, and whether that burden shifts throughout the analysis prescribed under Hemphill.
As an affirmative defense, Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007), exhaustion is a claim upon which the party asserting it typically bears the ultimate burden of proving its essential elements by a preponderance of the evidence. Soria v. Girdich, No. 9:04-CV-727, 2007 WL 4790807, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 2007) (DiBianco, M.J.) (citing McCoy v. Goord, 255 F.Supp.2d 233, 247 (S.D.N.Y.2003)); McEachin v. Selsky, No. 9:04-CV-83(FJS/RFT), 2005 WL 2128851, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Aug.30, 2005) (Scullin, C.J.) (citing Howard v. Goord, No. 98-CV-7471, 1999 WL 1288679, *3 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 28, 1999)), aff'd in part, vacated in part, 225 F.Appx. 36 (2d Cir.2007). The issue is somewhat complicated, however, by consideration of the three-part analysis mandated by Hemphill and related cases because that line of cases incorporates concepts-such as estoppel, for example -that typically require the party asserting them to bear the ultimate burden of proof. See e.g., Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 642 (2d Cir.2007) ("The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the action was brought within a reasonable period of time after the facts giving rise to the equitable tolling or equitable estoppel...."); In re Heflin, 464 B.R. 545, 554 (D.Conn.2011) ("The burden of providing every element of an estoppel is upon the party seeking to set up the estoppel.") (citing Comm'r v. Union P. R.R. Co., 86 F.2d 637, 640 (2d Cir.1936)).
*6 Also complicating matters is the fact that several courts have held that once a defendant satisfies the burden of demonstrating that an inmate has failed to exhaust administrative remedies, it then becomes incumbent upon the plaintiff to counter with a showing of unavailability, estoppel, or special circumstances. See, e.g., Murray v. Palmer , No. 9:03-CV-1010 (GTS/GHL), 2010 WL 1235591, at* 4 and n. 17 (N.D.N.Y. Mar.31, 2010) (Suddaby, J.); see also Calloway v. Grimshaw, No. 9:09-CV-1354, 2011 WL 4345299, at *5 and n. 5 (N.D.N.Y. Aug.10, 2011) (Lowe, M.J.) (citing cases); report and recommendation adopted, 2011 WL 4345296 (N.D.N.Y. Sep.15, 2011) (McAvoy, S.J.); Cohn v. KeySpan Corp., 713 F.Supp.2d 143, 155 (E.D.N.Y.2010) (finding that, in the employment discrimination context, defendants bear the burden of establishing the affirmative defense of failure to timely exhaust his administrative remedies, but once defendants have done so, the plaintiff must plead and prove facts supporting equitable avoidance of the defense.). Those decisions, while referencing the burden of proof on an affirmative defense, seem to primarily address an inmate's burden of production, or of going forward, to show facts that would form the basis for finding of unavailability, estoppel, or a finding of special circumstances, rather than speaking to the ultimate burden of persuasion.
I have been unable to uncover any cases squarely holding that the defendant bears the ultimate burden of proof with regard to all elements of a Hemphill analysis. In the final analysis, however, Hemphill addresses all of the elements a court is required to consider when analyzing an exhaustion defense. See Macias, 495 F.3d at 41 ("In Hemphill we "read together" [a series of cases] and formulated a three-part test ....") (emphasis added). Therefore, I recommend a finding that, while the burden of production may shift to the plaintiff when a court undertakes a Hemphill analysis, the ultimate burden of proof with respect to the exhaustion defense remains, at all times, with the defendant. See Soria, 2007 WL 4790807, at *2 ("[A]s with other affirmative defenses, the defendant has the burden of proof to show that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.").
C. Application of Governing Legal Principles
1. Availability of Administrative Remedy
In this instance, the question of whether the ARP was available to Bailey is at the heart of the exhaustion analysis. The hearing testimony confirmed, and Bailey admitted, that at all times relevant to this litigation, there was an inmate grievance procedure in place at FCI Ray Brook. This, however, does not necessarily mean that it was "available" to the plaintiff.
Bailey contends that the grievance process was not available to him in light of the alleged refusal of prison officials to provide him with the forms necessary to file an ARR and pursue the grievance to culmination. Having considered the competing testimony, however, I conclude that Fortier has established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the forms necessary to pursue a grievance in accordance with the ARP in place at FCI Ray Brook were available to Bailey through several sources, but were not requested. As such, Fortier has satisfied the first Hemphill factor.
2. Presentation of Defense/Estoppel
*7 The focus of the second prong of the Hemphill analysis is upon "whether the defendants may have forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it, or whether the defendants' own actions inhibiting the inmate's exhaustion of remedies may estop one or more of the defendants from raising the plaintiff's failure to exhaust as a defense." Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 (citations omitted). In her answer, Fortier raised exhaustion as a defense in a timely fashion. See Answer (Dkt. No. 22) Second Defense ("Plaintiff clearly failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)."). Bailey argues, however, that his failure to follow the prescribed grievance process was a direct result of the refusal of prison officials to cooperate in his efforts to grieve the matter.
"Generally, a defendant in an action may not be estopped from asserting the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies based on the actions (or inactions) of other individuals.'" Atkins v. Menard, No. 9:11-CV-9366, 2012 WL 4026840, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept.12, 2012) (Suddaby, J.) (citing Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *5 and n. 26 (collecting cases)). Put differently, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant named in the lawsuit acted to interfere with his ability to exhaust in order to establish a basis to estop that defendant from invoking the exhaustion defense. Calloway, 2011 WL 4345299, at *4 (citing Bennett v. James, 737 F.Supp.2d 219, 226 (S.D.N.Y.2010), aff'd, 441 F.Appx. 816 (2d Cir.2011)) (other citations omitted).
The question of whether, in this instance, prison officials should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as an affirmative defense as a result of their conduct is inextricably intertwined with the question of availability of the remedy. Assuming, however, that this presents a distinct inquiry, the court must examine whether, through her conduct, Fortier has provided a basis to estop her from asserting an exhaustion defense.
In this instance, Bailey does not allege that Fortier engaged in a campaign to preclude him from filing a grievance regarding her actions. Instead, his focus is upon the alleged refusal of other officials at FCI Ray Brook to provide him with necessary forms and cooperate in his efforts to present his grievance against Fortier. Accordingly, Bailey has failed to present any evidence that would support an estoppel against the defendant from raising the issue of exhaustion. Atkins, 2012 WL 4026840, at * 3. Therefore, I conclude that Fortier has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she did not, through her own actions, preclude Bailey from taking advantage of the ARP and therefore should not be estopped from asserting the defense.
3. Special Circumstances
The third, catchall factor that must be considered under the Second Circuit's prescribed exhaustion rubric centers upon whether special circumstances sufficient to justify excusing the plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies have been demonstrated. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 689; see also Giano, 380 F.3d at 676-77; Hargrove, 2007 WL 389003, at *10. Among the circumstances potentially qualifying as "special" under this prong of the test is where a plaintiff's reasonable interpretation of applicable regulations regarding the grievance process differs from that of prison officials and leads him or her to conclude that the dispute is not grievable. Giano, 380 F.3d at 676-77; see also Hargrove, 2007 WL 389003, at *10 (quoting and citing Giano ). Special circumstances may also exist when a facility's "[f]ailure to provide grievance deposit boxes, denial of forms and writing materials, and a refusal to accept or forward plaintiff's appeals-which effectively rendered the grievance process unavailable to him." Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *6 (quoting Sandlin v. Poole , 488 (W.D.N.Y.2008) (noting that "[s]uch facts support a finding that defendant's are estopped from relying on exhaustion defense as special circumstances' excusing plaintiff's failure to exhaust")).
*8 During the evidentiary hearing, Bailey testified to his awareness of the existence of the ARP at FCI Ray Brook. See, e.g., Tr. 102. Bailey's testimony regarding his alleged efforts to secure the forms necessary to pursue the grievance plainly evidences his knowledge of the requirement that he exhaust available administrative remedies, and negates a finding of any reasonable belief on his part that the dispute in issue was not grievable and could not have been presented through the BOP's internal grievance process. Accordingly, again allocating the ultimate burden of proof on the issue of special circumstances to the defendant, I nonetheless conclude that she has demonstrated, by a preponderance of the evidence, the absence of any special circumstances that would serve to excuse plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
The credible testimony and evidence adduced at the recent hearing, held to address the merits of defendant's exhaustion defense, establishes that (1) Bailey failed to avail himself of the BOP grievance process, which was available to him, before commencing this action; (2) Fortier did not, through her actions, preclude Bailey from filing a grievance regarding the claims set forth in his complaint, or otherwise engage in conduct for which she should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as an affirmative defense; and (3) Bailey has offered no special circumstances warranting that he be excused from the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. Accordingly, it is therefore hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED, that plaintiff's complaint in this action be DISMISSED, based upon his failure to comply with the exhaustion requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).
NOTICE: Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections must be filed with the Clerk of the Court within FOURTEEN days of service of this report. FAILURE TO SO OBJECT TO THIS RPORT WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 6(d), 72; Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir.1993).
It is hereby ORDERED that the clerk of the court serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the parties in accordance with this court's local rules.
Joseph Berry, New York, NY, pro se.
George Michael Zimmermann, Office of the New York State Attorney General, Buffalo, NY, for Defendants.
DECISION AND ORDER
H. KENNETH SCHROEDER, JR., United States Magistrate Judge.
*1 Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the assignment of this case to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings in this case, including the entry of final judgment (Dkt.# 24).
Currently before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt.# 151).
Plaintiff Joseph Berry ("plaintiff) commenced this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Dkt.# 1). At all times relevant to the allegations in plaintiff's complaint, plaintiff was incarcerated in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"). Defendant Lester N. Wright, M.D. ("Wright"), was assigned to DOCS offices in Albany, New York; Anthony DePerio, M.D. ("A.DePerio"), Habib Sheikh, M.D. ("Sheikh"), Robert Takos, M.D. ("Takos"), and Renzo Nylander, D.D.S. ("Nylander"), were assigned to Wyoming Correctional Facility ("Wyoming"); and Jose DePerio, M.D. ("J.DePerio"), and Stephen Laskowski, M.D. ("Laskowski") were assigned to Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica").
Plaintiffs third amended complaint (Dkt.# 121) alleges that defendants A. DePerio, J. DePerio, Sheikh, Takos, and Laskowski violated his Eigth Amendment rights when they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to provide him with adequate and appropriate medical treatment for his diabetes. Compl., ¶¶ 10, 35-36, 40, 47-49, 51. Plaintiff further claims that defendant Nylander violated his Eighth Amendment rights when he was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to provide him with adequate and appropriate treatment for his dental needs. Id., ¶ 69 31-32, 54. Finally, plaintiff asserts that defendants Wright and J. DePerio, failed to adequately supervise their subordinates and/or allowed a policy or custom that permitted various violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights. Id., ¶¶ 18-20, 23-24, 54-55, 65, 67-68. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and damages. Id., ¶¶ 69, 75.
For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.
During all time periods relevant to this action, plaintiff was a sentenced prisoner in the custody of DOCS. He began serving his sentence in 2000 and was released in 2007. Statement of Facts ("S.O.F."), ¶¶ 1-2 (Dkt.# 152). Prior to entering DOCS custody, plaintiff was diagnosed with diabetes and was prescribed medications Glucophage and Glyburide. S.O.F., ¶¶ 3-4. Also prior to entering DOCS custody, plaintiff had been diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorder ("TMJ"). Id., ¶ 5. Plaintiff maintains that his diabetes was stable from the time of his arrest until he was sent to Five Points Correctional Facility ("Five Points").
In September, 2001, plaintiff was transferred to Wyoming, where he remained until October of 2003. There, he was examined by defendant A. DePerio on October 2, 2001. During his stay at Wyoming, plaintiff was treated by defendants A. DePerio, Sheikh, and Takos. At both Five Points and Wyoming, plaintiff was seen by an endocrinologist for his diabetes. Id., ¶¶ 7-10. Plaintiff was treated by Nylander, a dentist, at Wyoming. Id., ¶ 11.
*2 In December of 2003, plaintiff was transferred to Attica. There, plaintiff was treated by defendant Laskowski and another physician who is not a named defendant in this action. Id., ¶¶ 12-13. Defendant J. DePerio was the Medical Director of Attica. Id., ¶ 14.
During plaintiff's time in DOCS custody, defendant Wright was the Chief Medical Officer of DOCS. Plaintiff wrote to defendant Wright regarding his complaints concerning his medical care, and received correspondence back. Plaintiff did not have personal contact with Wright. Id., ¶ 14.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
I. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "In reaching this determination, the court must assess whether there are any material factual issues to be tried while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party, and must give extra latitude to a pro se plaintiff." Thomas v. Irvin, 981 F.Supp. 794, 799 (W.D.N.Y.1997) (internal citations omitted).
A fact is "material" only if it has some effect on the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see Catanzaro v. Weiden, 140 F.3d 91, 93 (2d Cir.1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 112 S.Ct. 152, 116 L.Ed.2d 117 (1991).
Once the moving party has met its burden of "demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with enough evidence to support a jury verdict in its favor, and the motion will not be defeated merely upon a metaphysical doubt' concerning the facts, or on the basis of conjecture or surmise." Bryant, 923 F.2d at 982. A party seeking to defeat a motion for summary judgment must do more than make broad factual allegations and invoke the appropriate statute. The [party] must also show, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that there are specific factual issues that can only be resolved at trial. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir.1995).
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), affidavits in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment "shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein." Thus, affidavits "must be admissible themselves or must contain evidence that will be presented in an admissible form at trial." Santos v. Murdock, 243 F.3d 681, 683 (2d Cir.2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)); see also H. Sand & Co. v. Airtemp Corp., 934 F.2d 450, 454-55 (2d Cir.1991) (hearsay testimony that would not be admissible if testified to at trial may not properly be set forth in an affidavit).
II. Eighth Amendment Claims
*3 The Eight Amendment's "deliberate indifference" standard consists of both objective and subjective components. Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir.1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1154, 115 S.Ct. 1108, 130 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1995). Under the objective component, the alleged medical need must be "sufficiently serious." Id. A "sufficiently serious" medical need is "a condition of urgency, one that may produce death, degeneration, or extreme pain." Id. "Factors that have been considered include the existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998).
To satisfy the subjective component, plaintiff must show that the defendant officials acted with a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" in depriving him of adequate medical treatment. Hathaway v. Coughlin, 99 F.3d 550, 553 (2d Cir.1996). "The subjective element of deliberate indifference entails something more than mere negligence... [but] something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.'" Id. (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 826, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)); see also Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir.2003), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 1093, 125 S.Ct. 971, 160 L.Ed.2d 905 (2005) (likening the necessary state of mind to "the equivalent of criminal recklessness"). In order to be found "sufficiently culpable, " the official must "know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; [he] must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.
"[D]eliberate indifference [will not] be found when an inmate simply prefers an alternative treatment or feels that he did not get the level of medical attention that he desired". Shire v. Greiner, No. 02 Civ. 6061(GBD), 2007 WL 840472, * 12 (S.D.N.Y.2007). Instead, plaintiff must establish that defendants "acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, i.e., deliberate indifference. Plaintiff must therefore show that prison officials intentionally denied, delayed access to, or intentionally interfered with prescribed treatment". Tafari v. Stein, No. 01 CV0841, 2009 WL 331378, *6 (W.D.N.Y.2009). "[A]llegations of negligence or malpractice do not constitute deliberate indifference unless the malpractice involved culpable recklessness." Calloway v. Denane, No. 07-CV-664 (TJM/DRH), 2009 WL 3064781, *4 (N.D.N.Y.2009).
A. Defendants A. DePerio, Takos, and Sheikh
Plaintiff first alleges that during his stay at Wyoming, his blood glucose level was persistently poor until his consultation with an endocrinologist, who recommended a treatment plan including daily insulin injections and glucose monitoring. The specialist also recommended follow-up treatments. Compl., ¶¶ 35-40. According to plaintiff, defendants denied plaintiff's follow-up treatments and generally contends that defendants "continu[ed] to administer inadequate medical treatment, causing plaintiff's adverse symptoms to resume." Id., ¶ 40.
*4 The record indicates that, upon his arrival at Wyoming, plaintiff was recognized as a non-insulin dependent diabetic suffering from TMJ pain in his right jaw. A. DePerio examined him five days following his arrival at the facility and ordered an American Diabetes Association diet and medication. A. DePerio Decl., ¶ 7. In the following months, plaintiff was seen regularly and his medication and treatment was modified as appropriate. His blood sugar was monitored, and various complaints were reviewed and addressed. Id., ¶¶ 8-55. Plaintiff was examined at least twenty-seven times by either A. DePerio or his colleagues in the two years he was incarcerated at Wyoming. Id., ¶ 57. Plaintiff was also seen by outside specialists, including an endocrinologist, opthamologist, and dermatologist. Id., ¶¶ 22, 25, 32.
Contrary to plaintiff's assertion, the medical records indicate that Takos followed the recommendations of the endocrinologist, and plaintiff received follow-up care. Takos Decl., ¶¶ 22-28; Ex. A at 85-86, 88-89, 92, 98.
While district courts in this Circuit have held that diabetes is a sufficiently serious medical condition to meet the objective prong, see Butler v. Smith, 07-CV-00431, 2008 WL 4186338, at *4 n. 6 (N.D.N.Y. Sept.10, 2008); Shabazz v. Lee, 03-CV-1520, 2007 WL 119429, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Jan.10, 2007); Johnson v. Harris, 479 F.Supp. 333, 337 (S.D.N.Y.1979); see also Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 607 (2d Cir.1990) (Pratt, J., dissenting) (recognizing that diabetes is a serious medical condition), plaintiff still does not establish that the defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind to satisfy the subjective prong of the deliberate indifference standard. The record, which includes plaintiff's own submissions, is clear that the defendants were aware of plaintiff's diabetes and other medical needs, and continuously treated him for those issues. Plaintiff does not allege that the defendants ignored his needs or refused to treat him. While plaintiff may disagree with the decisions made by the defendants in their treatment of him, it is well-settled that an issue of medical judgment is "precisely the sort of issue that cannot form the basis of a deliberate indifference claim." Hernandez, 341 F.3d at 147. Plaintiff has not presented any evidence to raise a material issue of fact of negligence, much less deliberate indifference. On this basis, plaintiff's claim is dismissed and the defendants' summary judgment motion is granted.
B. Defendant Nylander
Plaintiff next complains that defendant Nylander improperly denied/delayed issuing dentures, filling cavities, performing a root canal, and extracting decayed teeth. Compl., ¶¶ 52-54.
According to Nylander's declaration, plaintiff was seen by Nylander thirty-one times while he was incarcerated at Wyoming. During those visits plaintiff was treated for a variety of symptoms, including pain, TMJ, decay, and abscessed and bleeding teeth. Nylander Decl., ¶ 42.
*5 Plaintiff contends, however, that upon examination by an oral surgeon in February 2002, it was recommended that upper and lower partial dentures be fabricated for plaintiff. Pl. Statement of Facts, ¶ 11 (Dkt.# 162); Compl., Ex. A-18. Three months later, on May 3, 2002, defendant Nylander examined plaintiff and noted that "per DOCS policies, Plaintiff was not eligible for partial dentures at this time." Nylander Decl., ¶¶ 12-13. Plaintiffs next examination with Nylander took place on October 8, 2002, in which Nylander performed an oral examination and submitted an application for partial upper and lower dentures. Plaintiff's dentures were approved by the dental clinic on October 17, 2002. Id., ¶¶ 24-25. The three-month gap between October 17, when plaintiff was approved for the dentures, and February 18, 2003, when the upper and lower dentures were actually inserted, was attributable to the time Nylander spent making impressions, examining/preparing plaintiff for the procedure, and fitting plaintiff for the dentures. Id., ¶¶ 26-36. It is worth noting that plaintiff failed to appear for his initial appointment at the dental clinic to make impressions for his dentures. Id., ¶ 26; see also Pl. Second Amend. Compl., Ex. A-14 (Dkt.# 47).
"Although delay in providing a prisoner with dental treatment, standing alone, does not constitute an [E]ighth [A]mendment violation, " Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 201 (9th Cir.1989), a prisoner can state a claim of deliberate medical indifference under section 1983 if "the delay was deliberate and that it caused [him] to suffer unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Hunt, 865 F.2d at 201 (internal quotation omitted). Here, plaintiff's allegation that he was subject to a one-year delay in obtaining his dentures is contradicted by the evidence. The three-month time frame in which he was fitted and prepared for the insertion of his dentures is reasonable, and petitioner has failed to allege a material issue of fact that Nylander was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's dental needs. Summary judgment is therefore granted to defendant Nylander. See Alster v. Goord, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2010 WL 3835081 (S.D.N.Y.2010) (no Eighth Amendment violation where seven-month delay before scheduled oral surgery date was reasonable). Summary judgment is therefore granted to defendant on this ground.
C. Defendants J. DePerio and Laskowski
Plaintiff's next cause of action alleges that defendants J. DePerio and Laskowski delayed/denied access to necessary medical treatment to improve plaintiff's diabetes, that the defendants were aware of plaintiff's symptoms and that neither took the appropriate action "to abate the serious risk to plaintiff's health" while plaintiff was housed at Attica. Plaintiff specifically complains that medications prescribed by Laskowski were ineffective and that J. DePerio failed to train Laskowski to ensure adequate medical care for the plaintiff. Compl., ¶¶ 47-51. Plaintiff also alleges that an informal policy of "giving low priority to the serious medical needs of chronically ill inmates" existed at Attica, and that Laskowski knew of this informal policy and "acquiesced in its application to the plaintiff." Id., ¶ 48-49.
*6 Laskowski examined plaintiff four times during plaintiff's stay at Attica, during which Laskowski adjusted plaintiff's insulin dosages and continued to monitor plaintiff's blood sugar. Laskowski Decl., ¶ 6; Ex. A at 153-155, 166-167. Plaintiff was also seen by another physician, a podiatrist, and a nurse or physician's assistant on several occasions during the six months plaintiff was housed at Attica. Laskowski Decl., ¶¶ 7-10.
As stated earlier, a plaintiff cannot sustain a claim of deliberate indifference under section 1983 "when an inmate simply prefers an alternative treatment or feels that he did not get the level of medical attention that he desired". Shire, 2007 WL 840472 at * 12 (citing Dean v. Coughlin, 804 F.2d 207, 215 (2d Cir.1986)). The Eighth Amendment does not entitle plaintiff to the treatment of his choice, and Laskowski's care was clearly adequate, even if plaintiff felt that particular medications were less effective than other alternatives. He thus cannot establish that Laskowski was indifferent to plaintiff's chronic diabetes. Moreover, his claim that an "informal policy" of providing inadequate medical care to chronically ill inmates is unfounded. For that reason, plaintiff's assertion that defendant J. DePerio failed to supervise medical staff regarding treatment for his diabetes as a result of "acquiescing" in an alleged policy that gives low priority to chronically ill inmates also fails.
In sum, plaintiff cannot demonstrate that defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind to meet the deliberate indifference standard. See Hathaway, 37 F.3d at 66. To the contrary, the record contains numerous progress reports and medical records that demonstrate that Plaintiff received medical treatment for his diabetes at Attica. Based on the record evidence, no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that defendants knew of and disregarded a medical condition that presented an excessive risk to plaintiff's health, and summary judgment is granted to the defendants on this ground. See id.
D. Defendant Wright
Finally, plaintiff contends that Wright, as DOCS Chief Medical Officer, failed to adequately supervise his subordinates and/or allowed a policy or custom that permitted violations of plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights. Compl., ¶¶ 23-24. Defendant Wright argues that he lacks the requisite personal involvement for plaintiff to maintain a section 1983 claim against him. Def. Mem. at 9. "Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (May 18, 2009). Thus, it is well settled that the personal involvement of defendants in an alleged constitutional deprivation is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983. Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir.2001); Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir.1995); AlJundi v. Estate of Rockefeller, 885 F.2d 1060, 1065 (2d Cir. 1989). Personal involvement may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation; (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) the defendant created or permitted the continuation of a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred; (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts; or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating unconstitutional acts were occurring. Colon, 58 F.3d at 873FN1
FN1. At least one district court in this Circuit has opined that the holding in Iqbal substantially limited the Colon categories. See Bellamy v. Mount Vernon Hosp., No. 07 Civ. 1801, 2009 WL 1835939, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2009) ("Only the first and part of the third Colon categories pass Iqbal 's muster.... The other Colon categories impose the exact types of supervisory liability that Iqbal eliminated."); but see D'Olimpio v. Crisafi, Nos. 09 Civ. 7283, 09 Civ. 9952, 718 F.Supp.2d 340, 2010 WL 2428128, at *4-*5 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2010) ("[T]he five Colon categories for personal liability of supervisors may still apply as long as they are consistent with the requirements applicable to the particular constitutional provision alleged to have been violated.").
*7 Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Wright failed to train and supervise the plaintiff's treating physicians, set policy for medical care and violated state requirements, was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's health services grievances, and encouraged subordinates to follow an informal policy of denying prisoner's adequate medical care. Compl., ¶¶ 6, 18-20, 65, 67-68. Plaintiff's allegations, however, are conclusory statements that find no support in his voluminous submissions to the Court. "Vague and conclusory allegations that a supervisor has failed to train or properly monitor the actions of subordinate employees will not suffice to establish the requisite personal involvement and support a finding of liability." Webster v. Fischer, 694 F.Supp.2d 163, 179 (N.D.N.Y.2010) (citing Pettus v. Morgenthau, 554 F.3d 293, 300 (2d Cir.2009) ("To the extent that [a] complaint attempts to assert a failure-to-supervise claim... [that claim is insufficient where] it lacks any hint that [the supervisor] acted with deliberate indifference to the possibility that his subordinates would violate [plaintiff's] constitutional rights.").
It appears, then, that Wright is being sued on the sole basis of his position within DOCS. There mere fact that a defendant was part of the prison chain of command, without more, is insufficient to maintain a section 1983 claim. See Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir.1985) (to hold a prison official liable under § 1983 "requires a showing of more than the linkage in the prison chain of command"); Sash v. United States, 674 F.Supp.2d 531, 543 (S.D.N.Y.2009) (holding that "[i]t is not enough to show that a defendant ultimately supervised those who allegedly violated plaintiff's Constitutional rights.'" (quoting Mallard v. Menifee, No. 99 Civ. 0923, 2000 WL 557262, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2000)).
Further, the evidence set forth by the other defendants in this action indicates there was no custom or policy to deny inmates with chronic medical conditions proper care and no proof that plaintiff was provided with inadequate care. The crux of plaintiff's complaint is that he disagreed with the course of medical treatment prescribed by his treating physicians. However, plaintiff cannot prevail on a theory of supervisory liability because he has not alleged an underlying Eighth Amendment violation. It is therefore unnecessary to reach the issue of whether plaintiff's allegations show the requisite personal involvement of Wright. See Bryant v. Wright, No. 09 Civ. 2456(GBD)(GWG), 2010 WL 3629443, *10 n. 1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 31, 2010) (citing Black v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 72, 74 (2d Cir.1996); Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir.1995); Reddick v. Lantz, 2010 WL 1286992, at *6 (D.Conn. Mar.29, 2010) ("Absent an underlying constitutional violation, there is no cognizable claim for supervisory liability."); Dorsey v. Fisher, No. 9:09-CV-1011 (GLS)(DEP), 2010 WL 2008966, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. May 19, 2010) (citing cases); DAngelo-Fenton v. Town of Carmel, 470 F.Supp.2d 387, 399 (S.D.N.Y.2007)). Summary judgment is therefore granted to defendant Wright on this basis.
*8 For the reasons set forth above, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is hereby granted.
Glen Brunskill, Gouverneur, NY, pro se.
Brian C. Mitchell, Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, Hauppauge, NY, for Defendants.
FEUERSTEIN, District Judge.
*1 On January 24, 2011, incarcerated pro se plaintiff Glen Brunskill ("plaintiff) commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that medical staff at the Suffolk County Correctional Center failed to identify and treat his broken ribs, and then "neglected to answer" his "numerous slips to medical staff." Complaint ("Compl.") [Docket Entry No. 1] at IV. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered from "pains in his stomach, " difficulty breathing, and "damage to his face and nose" after passing out on the floor. Id. FN1
FN1. Plaintiff originally named "Suffolk County Medical, " "John Doe, " and "John Jane" as defendants in this action. [Docket Entry No. 1]. After a conference before Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle, the complaint was amended to substitute defendant County of Suffolk for defendant "Suffolk County Medical" and to substitute defendant Steven John, M.D. for defendants "John Doe" and "John Jane." [Docket Entry Nos. 19-20].
Before the Court are defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [Docket Entry No. 27] and several motions filed by plaintiff [Docket Entry Nos. 32, 38]. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, and plaintiff's motions are denied as moot.
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
In deciding a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Matson v. Bd. of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of N.Y., 631 F.3d 57, 63 (2d Cir.2011); see also Ruston v. Town Bd. for the Town of Skaneateles, 610 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir.2010) ("When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief."). "[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679. "While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it requires more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Matson, 631 F.3d at 63 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Defendants move to dismiss this action in its entirety, arguing that plaintiff has failed to adequately allege a claim for deliberate indifference to his medical needs. [Docket Entry No. 27-4].
1. Defendant County of Suffolk
*2 "Section 1983 imposes liability on a government that, under color of some official policy, causes an employee to violate another's constitutional rights." Okin v. Village of Cornwall-On-Hudson Police Dept., 577 F.3d 415, 439 (2d Cir.2009) (quoting Monell v. Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Gordon v. City of New York, No. 10-CV-5148, 2012 WL 1068023, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2012) ("In order to sustain a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a municipal defendant, a plaintiff must show the existence of an officially adopted policy or custom, and a direct causal connection between that policy or custom and the deprivation of a constitutional right."). Monell 's "policy or custom" requirement is satisfied "where a local government is faced with a pattern of misconduct and does nothing, compelling the conclusion that the local government has acquiesced in or tacitly authorized its subordinates' unlawful actions." Reynolds v. Giuliani, 506 F.3d 183, 192 (2d Cir.2007). "Such a pattern, if sufficiently persistent or widespread as to acquire the force of law, may constitute a policy or custom within the meaning of Monell. " Id. (citing cases). However, "a single incident alleged in a complaint, especially if it involved only actors below the policy-making level, does not suffice to show a municipal policy." Ricciuti v. New York City Transit Auth., 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d Cir.1991).
It is, of course, axiomatic that the Court reads the pro se plaintiff's complaint liberally and interprets it to raise the strongest arguments it suggests. Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir.2010). However, "even a pro se complaint... must satisfy the pleading standards set forth in [Twombly and Iqbal ]." Parker v. Mack, Fed.Appx. 62, 62 (2d Cir.2012). Plaintiff has failed to allege the existence of any policy or custom sufficient to subject Suffolk County to Section 1983 liability. At most, plaintiff claims that medical staff at the Suffolk County Correctional Center failed to properly diagnose his condition and that subsequent medical treatment was delayed.FN2 The claims arise exclusively from a single incident in which plaintiff alleges that he received inadequate medical care. He does not allege the existence of a municipal policy or custom that is causally connected to the alleged constitutional deprivations, and his submissions do not indicate that he could allege a legally sufficient claim. Accordingly, the motion is granted insofar as it seeks dismissal of the claims against Suffolk County. See Gordon, 2012 WL 1068023, at *4 (dismissing claim when allegations of municipal policy or custom were "unsupported by anything other than the facts of what occurred in [plaintiff's] particular case").
FN2. In his opposition brief, plaintiff claims that his "request for medical attention went ignored about 16 times." [Docket Entry No. 28] at 1-2.
2. Defendant Steven John, M.D.
Nor has plaintiff adequately alleged a claim against defendant Steven John. "In order to establish an Eighth Amendment claim arising out of inadequate medical care, a prisoner must prove deliberate indifference to [his] serious medical needs.'" Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir.1998) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 492 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)).FN3 "This standard incorporates both objective and subjective elements. The objective medical need' element measures the severity of the alleged deprivation, while the subjective ' deliberate indifference' element ensures that the defendant prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 183-84 (2d Cir.2003) (citations omitted). "[N]ot every lapse in medical care is a constitutional wrong." Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 279 (2d Cir.2006). "Rather, a prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when [both the objective and subjective] requirements are met.'" Id. (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)).
FN3. While "[a] convicted prisoner's claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs... is analyzed under the Eighth Amendment, " "a person detained prior to conviction receives protection against mistreatment at the hands of prison officials under... the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if held in state custody." Caiozzo v. Koreman, 581 F.3d 63, 69 (2d Cir.2009). Although plaintiff argues that his claim arises under the Eighth Amendment, [Docket Entry No. 28] at 1, it is not clear whether, at the time of the incidents at issue, plaintiff had been convicted of the charges against him. The Court need not resolve this issue, however, because such claims are subject to a similar analysis irrespective of whether they arise under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments. See id. at 72.
*3 Plaintiffs complaints of inadequate medical care appear to be twofold. First, he claims that prison medical staff failed to identify his broken ribs. Compl. at IV. Second, he claims that medical staff "refuse[d] and neglected to answer" his requests for a medical appointment. Id.
Although plaintiff's condition may have risen to the level of a "serious medical need, " there is nothing to indicate that Doctor John or anyone else acted "with a sufficiently culpable state of mind" as to constitute "deliberate indifference" to that need. Plaintiff has merely alleged a mistaken diagnosis and an erroneous course of treatment, which, at most, would be medical malpractice. However, "the mere malpractice of medicine in prison does not amount to an Eighth Amendment violation.... This principle may cover a delay in treatment based on a bad diagnosis or erroneous calculus of risks and costs, or a mistaken decision not to treat based on an erroneous view that the condition is benign or trivial or hopeless, or that treatment is unreliable, or that the cure is as risky or painful or bad as the malady." Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 139 (2d Cir.2000). Plaintiff's argument, raised in his opposition papers, that the defendants failed to send him for an x-ray is merely a "disagreement over a course of diagnosis and treatment which is not actionable under the Eighth Amendment." Rodriguez v. Smith, No. 10-CV-0734, 2011 WL 4479689, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 19, 2011). Thus, plaintiff's claim, insofar as it arises from the allegedly mistaken diagnosis, is also dismissed. See Thomas v. Nassau Cnty. Corr. Ctr., 288 F.Supp.2d 333, 339 (E.D.N.Y.2003) ("The plaintiff's allegations that the doctors initially mis-diagnosed and mistreated his injury do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.").
b. Delay in Medical Treatment
Plaintiff also claims that his requests for a medical appointment were "ignored." [Docket Entry No. 28 at 2]. Although it appears that plaintiff was ultimately treated, the Court interprets this claim as one for delay in the provision of medical treatment.
"When the basis of a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim is a temporary delay or interruption in the provision of otherwise adequate medical treatment, it is appropriate to focus on the challenged delay or interruption in treatment rather than the prisoner's underlying medical condition alone in analyzing whether the alleged deprivation is, in objective terms, sufficiently serious, ' to support an Eighth Amendment claim." Smith, 316 F.3d at 185 (quoting Chance, 143 F.3d at 702) (emphasis in original). "[A] delay in treatment does not violate the constitution unless it involves an act or failure to act that evinces a conscious disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm.'" Thomas, 288 F.Supp.2d at 339 (quoting Chance, 143 F.3d at 703). This classification has been "reserved... for cases in which, for example, officials deliberately delayed care as a form of punishment, ignored a life threatening and fast-degenerating condition for three days, or delayed major surgery for over two years." Id. (quoting Espinal v. Coughlin, 98 Civ. 2579, 2002 WL 10450, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan.3, 2002)). "A plaintiff is not required to show that a defendant acted or failed to act for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result, ' but must show that the official was aware of facts' from which one could infer that a substantial risk of serious harm' exists, and that the official drew that inference." Bellotto, 248 Fed.Appx. at 236-37 (quoting Farmer v. Brennanl, 511 U.S. 825, 835, 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)).
*4 This claim is also dismissed. Most importantly, plaintiff has not alleged that Doctor John or any other official was aware of facts from which one could infer that a substantial risk of serious harm existed or that they drew that inference. Indeed, the allegations in the complaint only suggest that the officials were not aware of any substantial risk of serious harm, as the medical staff had concluded that plaintiff's ribs were not broken. In short, plaintiff does not allege that any state actor acted with "deliberate indifference" to his alleged condition. Second, plaintiff has not alleged facts suggesting that the risk of harm resulting from the delay was sufficiently serious to rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Bellotto, 248 Fed.Appx. at 236.
Even under a liberal reading of the complaint, it is clear that plaintiff cannot state a valid claim. Therefore, he will not be granted leave to amend.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
(Cite as: 2006 WL 1459805 (N.D.N.Y.)
Bryan D. Christian, Plaintiff, pro se.
Eliot Spitzer, New York State Attorney General, for Defendants.
Michael G. McCartin, Asst. Attorney General, of Counsel.
DECISION AND ORDER
SCULLIN, Senior J.
*1 The above-captioned matter having been presented to me by the Report-Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Gustave J. DiBianco filed April 26, 2006, and the Court having reviewed the Report-Recommendation and the entire file in this matter, and no objections to said Report-Recommendation having been filed, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the Report-Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Gustave J. DiBianco filed April 26, 2006 is ACCEPTED in its entirety, for the reasons stated therein; and it is further
ORDERED, that defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED, and it is further
ORDERED, that to the extent that plaintiff's opposition to the defendants' motion was labeled a cross-motion for summary judgment, that motion also is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DIBIANCO, Magistrate J.
This matter has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., Senior United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rules N.D.N.Y. 72.3(c).
In this amended civil rights complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants have denied him proper medical care in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Dkt. No. 3).
Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. (Dkt. No. 74). Plaintiff has filed what has been docketed as a cross-motion for summary judgment, but is in reality simply a response in opposition to defendants' motion. (Dkt. No. 77). Defendants have filed a reply, (Dkt. No. 78), and plaintiff has filed a "supplemental response" in opposition to the motion. (Dkt. No. 79).
1. Summary Judgment
Summary judgment may be granted when the moving party carries its burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir.1990) (citations omitted). "Ambiguities or inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion." Id. However, when the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must do more than "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).
At that point, the nonmoving party must move forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. See also Burt Rigid Box v. Travelers Prop. Cas. Corp., 302 F.3d 83, 91 (2d Cir.2002) (citations omitted). However, only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude summary judgment. Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 674 F.Supp. 1048, 1052 (S.D.N.Y.1987) (citation omitted).
2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Defendants argue that plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies as to his claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The PLRA exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes and regardless of the subject matter of the claim. See e.g. Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675-76 (2d Cir.2004). The Second Circuit has also held, however, that the exhaustion requirement is an affirmative defense, not a jurisdictional prerequisite, and there are instances in which the exhaustion requirement may either be waived or excused. Id. at 675. (citations omitted).
*2 Additionally, as with other affirmative defenses, the defendant has the burden of proof to show that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. McCoy v. Goord, 255 F.Supp.2d 233, 247-48 (S.D.N.Y.2003). Where questions of fact exist as to exhaustion, summary judgment is not appropriate. Pendergrass v. Corrections Officers, 01-CV-243A, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28224, *6-7 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 1, 2004). At the same time that the Second Circuit decided Giano, it also decided four other related cases, clarifying the law in the Second Circuit regarding the PLRA's exhaustion requirement and specifying various instances in which the requirement could be waived or excused. See Hemphill v. State of New York, 380 F.3d 680 (2d Cir.2004)(remanding case to determine if defendant's alleged threats constituted "special circumstances" justified plaintiff's failure to exhaust); Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663 (2d Cir.2004)(whether failure to exhaust may be justified because plaintiff obtained favorable rulings on his grievances, but the relief that he was supposed to obtain was never forthcoming); Johnson v. Testman, 380 F.3d 691 (2d Cir.2004) (whether including claims in a disciplinary appeal may suffice for the exhaustion requirement); Ortiz v. McBride, 380 F.3d 649 (2d Cir.2004)(complete dismissal is not required when plaintiff brings both exhausted and unexhausted civil rights claims). New York State provides inmates with a grievance procedure to follow by which inmates may file complaints and appeal adverse decisions. N.Y. CORRECT. LAW § 139; N.Y. COMP.CODES R. & REGS. tit. 7 §§ 701.1 et seq. (N.Y.CRR). The regular Inmate Grievance Program (IGP) consists of a three-tiered process. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 682. The inmate must first file a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (IGRC). Id. ¶ 701.7(a)(1). An adverse decision of the IGRC may be appealed to the Superintendent of the Facility. Id. § 701.7(b). Adverse decisions at the Superintendent's level may be appealed to the Central Office Review Committee (CORC). Id. § 701.7(c). Time deadlines apply at all levels of the process, but exceptions to any of the deadlines may be made based on "mitigating circumstances." Id. § 701.7(a)(1). An inmate must appeal any denial of his grievance to the highest available administrative level. Martinez v. Williams, 349 F.Supp.2d 677, 682 (S.D.N.Y.2004).
There is also an expedited process for the review of complaints of inmate harassment or other misconduct by corrections officers or prison employees. 7 NYCRR § 701.11. Under this procedure, the inmate may (but is not required to) report the misconduct to the employee's supervisor. Id. § 701.11(b)(1). The inmate then files a grievance under the normal procedures outlined above, but all grievances alleging employee misconduct are given a grievance number, and sent immediately to the Superintendent for review. Id. § 701.11(b)(2). Under the regulations, the Superintendent or his designee shall determine immediately whether the allegations, if true, would state a "bona fide" case of harassment, and if so, shall initiate an investigation of the complaint, either "in-house", by the Inspector General's Office, or by the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Id. § 701.11(b)(3)-(b)(4). An appeal of the adverse decision of the Superintendent may be taken to the CORC as in the regular grievance procedure. Id. § 701.11(b)(6)-(b)(7). A similar "special" procedure is provided for claims of discrimination against an inmate. Id. § 701.12.
*3 In this case, defendants concede that plaintiff did file the appropriate grievance regarding the incidents in question, but that plaintiff filed the original complaint five days prior to receiving a final decision from the CORC, thus, failing to exhaust his administrative remedies.
In Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 121 (2d Cir.2001), the Second Circuit held that exhausting administrative remedies after a complaint is filed will not save a case from dismissal. Although portions of Neal were overruled by Porter v. Nuzzle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002), the Supreme Court left this holding undisturbed. The final decision of the CORC constitutes the exhaustion of an inmate's remedies. Jackson v. Goord, 99 Civ. 9872, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15464, *5-6 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2004). In this case, the final decision of the CORC was rendered on July 23, 2003. Defendants' Ex. 1 at "unnumbered" p. 12. Plaintiff's original complaint was filed on July 18, 2003. (Dkt. No. 1).
The court does note that after plaintiff's original complaint was filed, then-Chief Judge Scullin issued a conditional order of dismissal, finding that the original complaint did not meet the requirements of FED. R. CIV. P. 8 & 10. (Dkt. No. 2). Judge Scullin stated that in order for plaintiff to avoid dismissal of the action, he would have to file an amended complaint within thirty days. Id. Plaintiff complied with Judge Scullin's order and filed the amended complaint on August 22, 2003, approximately one month after plaintiff had received the final decision of the CORC.
Defendants appear to concede that plaintiff did exhaust his remedies, but argue that the exhaustion came too late. The first argument for plaintiff is that since the operative complaint in this action was not filed until after plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies, he should be deemed to have exhausted his remedies. This is distinguishable from a case in which plaintiff voluntarily amended his complaint or moved to amend his complaint after defendants had been served and had answered the complaint. In this case, Judge Scullin sua sponte ordered plaintiff to amend the complaint or be subject to dismissal prior to any involvement of defendants. Thus, the original complaint would never have been served or proceeded forward.
If this were the only argument for plaintiff, the case law would not be in his favor. After Neal v. Goord , various courts have held that completion of the grievance process after the federal complaint has been filed is insufficient to exhaust an inmate's administrative remedies. It has been held, even in the Northern District of New York, that if a plaintiff files an action prior to obtaining the CORC's decision, even if that decision was signed on the same day that the complaint was filed, plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Mejia v. Goord, 03-CV-124, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32394, *11-14 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2005) (M.J.Peebles), adopted by (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2005)(J. Kahn). There was, however, no conditional order of dismissal in Mejia and, thus, no amended complaint filed after exhaustion.
*4 This court does not have to decide the issue of whether this case is sufficiently distinguishable from Mejia with respect to filing the complaint prior to obtaining a decision by the CORC because there are other reasons for excusing the exhaustion requirement. The Second Circuit has developed a three-part test to determine whether the exhaustion requirement has been waived or may be excused. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. First, the court should determine whether the administrative remedies were, in fact, "available" to the plaintiff. Id. (citing Abney, 380 F.3d at 667-69). Second, the court determines whether the defendants have forfeited the defense of exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it or whether the defendants are otherwise estopped from raising the defense. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 (citing Johnson, 380 F.3d at 695-96; Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 163 (2d Cir2004)). Finally, the court considers whether there are any "special circumstances" that justify the plaintiff's failure to comply with the exhaustion requirement. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 (quoting Giano, 380 F.3d at 676).
Defendants in this case have clearly raised the issue, thus, the second inquiry is not relevant here. However, the Abney case is applicable to this situation. In Abney, the Second Circuit held that a plaintiff does not have a responsibility to appeal favorable grievance decisions nor does the plaintiff have to appeal the failure of defendants to implement favorable decisions. 380 F.3d at 669. The failure to appeal a favorable decision that was never implemented does not constitute a failure to exhaust. The Second Circuit specifically stated that such a situation would make the administrative remedy "unavailable." Id.
In this case, the court notes that plaintiff received a favorable decision by the IGRC when he filed his grievance. The IGRC response was that the
[i]nvestigation has revealed that grievant does have several referrals for OMH and has yet to be seen.
OMH is outside DOCS. However 6 months is a long time. It is unanimously recommended that grievant be seen by appropriate personnel from OMH.
Plaintiff's Response to Summary Judgment, Declaration at p. 13 (Dkt. No. 77) (emphasis added). This appears to be a favorable decision, and the court would also point out that the response to the grievance indicates that OMH is "outside" of DOCS, and thus, the matter would not be "grievable." Since plaintiff obtained the relief that he sought from the IGRC, he would not have had to appeal the decision. A review of the grievance form shows that although plaintiff marked a box on the decision form that stated that he agreed with the IGRC, he also marked the box, stating that he wished to appeal to the Superintendent.
In response to the appeal, the Superintendent's decision made it clear that plaintiff's request was "outside" the "IGP" (Inmate Grievance Program). Specifically, the Superintendent stated
*5 Although the IGRC contradicts itself, OMH remains outside the purview of DOCS and IGP.
The grievant has been referred to OMH. This is the extent that DOCS is involved. Scheduling is done at the discretion of this OMH.
The grievance is denied.
Id. at p. 14 (emphasis added). The Superintendent appears to be attempting to state that the IGRC was incorrect in deciding in favor of plaintiff because OMH is "outside the purview of DOCS and IGP [Inmate Grievance Program]" and thus, DOCS would not be able to grant plaintiff the relief that he sought. Although the Superintendent "denied" the grievance, the denial appears to be because the IGP did not have the power to grant plaintiff the relief that he was seeking. If the OMH was outside the purview of the IGP, then administrative relief was not "available" through the IGP, and plaintiff was again not required to appeal further, even though he did appeal.
The decision from the CORC is confusing because the CORC states that the grievance is "unanimously accepted in part", but then states that the action requested is "accepted only to the extent that the CORC upholds the determination of the Superintendent for the reasons stated." Plaintiff's Declaration at p. 15. However the Superintendent "denied" the grievance because the OMH is not under the purview of DOCS. The CORC then stated that it was up to OMH to schedule appointments and also stated apparently as an aside, that plaintiff had been examined by OMH and had refused prescribed medications. Id.
This court finds that even though plaintiff appealed all the way to the CORC, he would not have had to do so, since the IGRC decision was favorable, and the Superintendent basically stated that the Grievance Program had no authority over OMH. Defendants argue that although it is true that the IGP had no authority over OMH, plaintiff in this case is suing DOCS defendants, so he would have had to exhaust his administrative remedies. Plaintiff's request, however, was to be examined by OMH personnel. It appears that he did not name specific individuals in his grievance, but if he had named DOCS personnel, the decision of the IGRC would have been the same.
The grievance program only pertained to DOCS personnel, and DOCS personnel were not in charge of OMH. He could not name OMH employees in a grievance for the same reason. In fact, in a letter dated May 28, 2003 from defendant Nurse Administrator Smith to R. Boyea, the IGP Supervisor, defendant Smith stated that "[s]ince OMH is not part of DOCS, an inmate cannot grieve them [sic]." Plaintiff's Declaration at p. 16. On May 14, 2003, plaintiff wrote a letter to defendant Smith, who wrote back to plaintiff telling him that the case loads were very high, and that if plaintiff believed that he was getting worse, he should go to sick call. Id. at 26. Plaintiff wrote to defendant Wright on May 21, 2003. Id. at p. 28. Dr. Wright wrote plaintiff a letter, dated June 4, 2003, telling plaintiff to address his concerns directly to OMH and told plaintiff that he could contact the OMH Satellite Unit Chief at Clinton Correctional Facility. Id. at p. 29.
*6 Plaintiff wrote several more letters, including a June 12, 2003 letter to William Henri, the Acting Executive Director of the South Beach Psychiatric Center. Mr. Henri wrote to plaintiff on June 17, 2003, telling plaintiff that he had referred plaintiff's letter to Hal Smith, the Executive Director of the Central New York Psychiatric Center. Id. at p. 40. On June 23, 2003, plaintiff received a memorandum from Senior Corrections Counselor R. Weeks stating that he had spoken to defendant Smith, and that plaintiff's case had been referred to OMH. Id. at p. 41. Plaintiff was told in this memorandum that if he were "again" not seen in a timely fashion, he should bring it up with Corrections Counselor Vondell. Id.
Based on all the evidence presented, this court finds that plaintiff appears to have attempted all avenues of exhaustion, formal and informal. It also appears that the grievance program was not the appropriate avenue to obtain relief, although if he had not appealed his first favorable decision, he may have been able to obtain a mental health appointment. Thus, even if the CORC decision was rendered after plaintiff filed his initial complaint, this court would find that plaintiff had either sufficiently exhausted his remedies or that he should be excused from the exhaustion requirement because the remedies were not "available" under the statute.
There is one other reason in favor of finding that plaintiff either exhausted his remedies or should be excused from exhaustion. The regulations provide that the CORC shall decide the appeal within twenty working days of receipt of the appeal. 7 NYCRR §§ 701.6(d); 701.7(c)(4). There is also a special section for "time limits." Id. § 701.8. This section provides that time limit extensions may be requested at any level of review, but may only be granted with the written consent of the inmate. Id. The section also provides that "[a]bsent such extension, matters not decided within the time limits may be appealed to the next step." Id.
Defendants in this case are arguing that plaintiff has not exhausted because he filed his action five days prior to obtaining a decision from the CORC, however, defendants did not note that the CORC was approximately seven days late in rendering a decision, and there appears to be no request for an extension of time and no evidence that plaintiff consented to an extension. Plaintiff's appeal statement is dated June 13, 2003 (a Friday). Plaintiff's Declaration at p. 14. The CORC decision is dated July 23, 2003 (a Wednesday). Id. at p. 15. Counting only working days, and not counting July 4, 2003, the CORC decision was due Monday, July 14, 2003, nine calendar days later and seven working days later.
As stated above, the regulations provide that if the IGP decision is late, plaintiff may appeal to the next step. Since the CORC decision was late, plaintiff was justified in filing his federal action on July 18, 2003. Thus, this court finds that there are special circumstances in this action that would make dismissal for failure to exhaust inappropriate.
*7 WHEREFORE, based on the findings above, it is
RECOMMENDED, that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 74) be DENIED, and it is
RECOMMENDED, that to the extent that plaintiff's opposition to the defendants' motion was labeled a cross-motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 77), that motion also be DENIED.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1(c), the parties have ten days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN TEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE RVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir.1993)(citing Small v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir.1989)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 6(e), 72.
(Cite as: 1999 WL 983876 (S.D.N.Y.))
Mr. Craig Cole, Bare Hill Correctional Facility, Malone, New York, Legal Mail, Plaintiff, pro se.
William Toran, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, New York, for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
*1 The remaining defendant in this action, Correction Officer Richard Pflueger, having moved for an order, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, granting him summary judgment and dismissing the amended complaint, and United States Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV having issued a report and recommendation, dated August 20, 1999, recommending that the motion be granted, and upon review of that report and recommendation together with plaintiff's letter to this Court, dated August 28, 1999, stating that plaintiff does "not contest the dismissal of this action", it is
ORDERED that the attached report and recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV, dated August 20, 1999, is adopted in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that defendant Pflueger's motion for summary judgment is granted, and the amended complaint is dismissed; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall enter judgment accordingly and close this case.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
FRANCIS, Magistrate J.
The plaintiff, Craig Cole, an inmate at the Green Haven Correctional Facility, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Cole alleges that the defendant Richard Pflueger, a corrections officer, violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to allow him to attend religious services. The defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the defendant's motion be granted.
During the relevant time period, Mr. Cole was an inmate in the custody the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), incarcerated at the Green Haven Correctional Facility. (First Amended Complaint ("Am.Compl.") ¶ 3). From June 21, 1993 to July 15, 1993, the plaintiff was in keeplock because of an altercation with prison guards. (Am.Compl.¶¶ 17-25). An inmate in keeplock is confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day with one hour for recreation. (Affidavit of Anthony Annucci dated Dec. 1, 1994 ¶ 5). Pursuant to DOCS policy, inmates in keeplock must apply for written permission to attend regularly scheduled religious services. (Reply Affidavit of George Schneider in Further Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment dated September 9, 1996 ("Schneider Aff.") ¶ 3). Permission is granted unless prison officials determine that the inmate's presence at the service would create a threat to the safety of employees or other inmates. (Schneider Aff. ¶ 3). The standard procedure at Green Haven is for the captain's office to review all requests by inmates in keeplock to attend religious services. (Schneider Aff. ¶ 3). Written approval is provided to the inmate if authorization is granted. (Affidavit of Richard Pflueger dated April 26, 1999 ("Pflueger Aff.") ¶ 5). The inmate must then present the appropriate form to the gate officer before being released to attend the services. (Pflueger Aff. ¶ 5).
*2 On June 28, 1993, the plaintiff submitted a request to attend the Muslim services on July 2, 1993. (Request to Attend Scheduled Religious Services by Keep-Locked Inmate dated June 28, 1993 ("Request to Attend Services"), attached as Exh. B to Schneider Aff.) On June 30, 1993, a supervisor identified as Captain Warford signed the request form, indicating that the plaintiff had received permission to attend the services. (Request to Attend Services). Shortly before 1:00 p.m. on July 2, 1993, the plaintiff requested that Officer Pflueger, who was on duty at the gate, release him so that he could proceed to the Muslim services. (Pflueger Aff. ¶ 3). However, Officer Pflueger refused because Mr. Cole had not presented the required permission form. (Pflueger Aff. ¶ 3). The plaintiff admits that it is likely that he did not receive written approval until some time thereafter. (Deposition of Craig Cole dated February 28, 1999 at 33-35, 38).
On August 25, 1993, the plaintiff filed suit alleging that prison officials had violated his procedural due process rights. On December 4, 1995, the defendants moved for summary judgment. (Notice of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment dated December 4, 1995). The Honorable Kimba M. Wood, U.S.D.J., granted the motion and dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to show that he had been deprived of a protected liberty interest, but she granted the plaintiff leave to amend. (Order dated April 5, 1997). On May 30, 1997, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, alleging five claims against several officials at the Green Haven Correctional Facility. (Am.Compl.) On November 16, 1998, Judge Wood dismissed all but one of these claims because the plaintiff had failed to state a cause of action or because the statute of limitations had elapsed. (Order dated Nov. 16, 1998). The plaintiff's sole remaining claim is that Officer Pflueger violated his First Amendment rights by denying him access to religious services on July 2, 1993. The defendant now moves for summary judgment on this issue, arguing that the plaintiff has presented no evidence that his First Amendment rights were violated. In addition, Officer Pflueger contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity. (Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Second Motion for Summary Judgment).
A. Standard for Summary Judgment
Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Tomka v. Seller Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1304 (2d Cir.1995); Richardson v. Selsky, 5 F.3d 616, 621 (2d Cir.1993). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the movant meets that burden, the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute concerning material facts. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Vann v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1040, 1048-49 (2d Cir.1995). But the court must inquire whether "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party" and grant summary judgment where the nonmovant's evidence is conclusory, speculative, or not significantly probative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citation omitted). "The litigant opposing summary judgment may not rest upon mere conclusory allegations or denials, but must bring forward some affirmative indication that his version of relevant events is not fanciful." Podell v. Citicorp Diners Club, Inc., 112 F.3d 98, 101 (2d Cir.1997) (citation and internal quotation omitted); Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (a non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"); Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir.1995) (nonmovant "may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible") ((citations omitted)). In sum, if the court determines that "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288 (1968)); Montana v. First Federal Savings & Loan Association, 869 F.2d 100, 103 (2d Cir.1989).
*3 Where a litigant is pro se, his pleadings should be read liberally and interpreted "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir.1999) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.1994)). Nevertheless, proceeding pro se does not otherwise relieve a litigant from the usual requirements of summary judgment, and a pro se party's "bald assertion, " unsupported by evidence, is not sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. See Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir.1991); Gittens v. Garlocks Sealing Technologies, 19 F.Supp.2d 104, 110 (W.D.N.Y.1998); Howard Johnson International, Inc. v. HBSFamily, Inc., No. 96 Civ. 7687, 1998 WL 411334, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 22, 1998); Kadosh v. TRW, Inc., No. 91 Civ. 5080, 1994 WL 681763, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 5, 1994) ("the work product of pro se litigants should be generously and liberally construed, but [the pro se' s] failure to allege either specific facts or particular laws that have been violated renders this attempt to oppose defendants' motion ineffectual"); Stinson v. Sheriffs Department, 499 F.Supp. 259, 262 (S.D.N.Y.1980) (holding that the liberal standard accorded to pro se pleadings "is not without limits, and all normal rules of pleading are not absolutely suspended").
B. Constitutional Claim
It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right to participate in congregate religious services even when confined in keeplock. Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 993 F.2d 306, 308 (2d Cir.1993); Young v. Coughlin, 866 F.2d 567, 570 (2d Cir1989). However, this right is not absolute. See Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 574 (2d Cir.1990) (right to free exercise balanced against interests of prison officials). Prison officials can institute measures that limit the practice of religion under a "reasonableness" test that is less restrictive than that which is ordinarily applied to the alleged infringement of fundamental constitutional rights. O'Lone v. Estate of Shaabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1986). In O'Lone, the Court held that "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. at 349 (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). The evaluation of what is an appropriate and reasonable penological objective is left to the discretion of the administrative officers operating the prison. O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349. Prison administrators are "accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979).
The policy at issue here satisfies the requirement that a limitation on an inmate's access to religious services be reasonable. The practice at Green Haven was to require inmates in keeplock to present written approval to the prison gate officer before being released to attend religious services. This policy both accommodates an inmate's right to practice religion and allows prison administrators to prevent individuals posing an active threat to security from being released. The procedure is not overbroad since it does not permanently bar any inmate from attending religious services. Rather, each request is decided on a case-by-case basis by a high ranking prison official and denied only for good cause.
*4 Furthermore, in order to state a claim under § 1983, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant acted with deliberate or callous indifference toward the plaintiff's fundamental rights. See Davidson v. Cannon 474 U.S. 344, 347-48 (1986) (plaintiff must show abusive conduct by government officials rather than mere negligence). Here, there is no evidence that the defendant was reckless or even negligent in his conduct toward the plaintiff or that he intended to violate the plaintiff's rights. Officer Pflueger's responsibility as a prison gate officer was simply to follow a previously instituted policy. His authority was limited to granting access to religious services to those inmates with the required written permission. Since Mr. Cole acknowledges that he did not present the necessary paperwork to Officer Pflueger on July 2, 1993, the defendant did nothing improper in denying him access to the religious services. Although it is unfortunate that the written approval apparently did not reach the plaintiff until after the services were over, his constitutional rights were not violated.FN1
FN1. In light of this finding, there is no need to consider the defendant's qualified immunity argument.
For the reasons set forth above, I recommend that the defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted and judgment be entered dismissing the complaint. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Rules 72, 6(a), and 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties shall have ten (10) days to file written objections to this report and recommendation. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court, with extra copies delivered to the chambers of the Honorable William H. Pauley III, Room 234, 40 Foley Square, and to the Chambers of the undersigned, Room 1960, 500 Pearl Street, New York, New York 10007. Failure to file timely objections will preclude appellate review.
(Cite as: 2010 WL 882990 (S.D.N.Y.))
Robert B. Marcus, Schwartzapfel, Truhowsky, Marcus, P.C., Jericho, N.Y., for Plaintiff.
Mark D. Zuckerman, Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, N.Y., for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.
*1 Plaintiff Jario Delrosario brings this action against the City of New York ("the City"), Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Susan Lanzatella, and ten John Doe Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivations of his civil rights. Now before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In the alternative, Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.
Plaintiffs lawsuit stems from injuries inflicted by other inmates while he was incarcerated at Riker's Island Correctional Facility ("Riker's"), located in Bronx County, New York and part of the New York City Department of Corrections ("DOC"). Plaintiff alleges that, although he was repeatedly threatened and assaulted by other inmates for acting as a cooperating witness, Defendants failed to take steps necessarv to protect him from further violence. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Riker's personnel denied him medical care after he was assaulted.
1. Plaintiff's Arrest, Attack, and Injury
Plaintiff was arrested on September 1, 2005 and charged with various crimes under New York state law arising out of a "sting" operation. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 3.) After he was arrested, Plaintiff was taken to and detained at Riker's. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant Lanzatella, an assistant district attorney and chief of the Narcotics Gang Unit of the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Office ("SNPO"), was assigned to prosecute Delrosario and his co-defendants. (Id. ¶ 7.) Lanzatella was assisted by the only attorney under her supervision at that time, Nigel Farinha. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 25.)
Within two months of his arrest, Plaintiff became a cooperating witness. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 11.) In the course of his cooperation, Plaintiff was removed from Riker's and taken to the SNPO as many as 60 times for interviews with investigators and prosecutors. (Decl. of Robert B. Marcus ("Marcus Deck") Ex. A (Dep. Tr. of Susan Lanzatella ("Lanzatella Dep. Tr.")) at 65:25-66:2.) Throughout his cooperation, Plaintiff was repeatedly threatened by his co-defendants on account of the cooperation that they suspected he was providing to authorities. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 8.) Plaintiff's attorney in the state criminal matter, Barry Weinstein, testified that he repeatedly advised both Lanzatella and Farinha of the threats against Plaintiff. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 9; Marcus Decl. Ex. C (Dep. Tr. of Barry Weinstein ("Weinstein Dep. Tr.")) at 12:21-14:21.) FN1
FN1. Lanzatella disputes that she was informed of such threats prior to the March 9, 2006 incident. ( ...