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Delacruz v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 19, 2015

CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.


PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jose DelaCruz, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is currently incarcerated at the George Motchan Detention Center ("GMDC") on Rikers Island. On April 9, 2015, he filed this Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights and seeking money damages. Named as defendants are the City of New York; Joseph Ponte, the current Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction; Dora B. Schriro, the former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction; Bill de Blasio, the current Mayor of New York City; Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City; New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo; and, as a "John Doe" defendant, the Corizon Health Services Manager at GMDC, where DelaCruz is incarcerated. For the following reasons, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to replead.

I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

On April 9, 2015, DelaCruz filed this Complaint, alleging that the mattresses provided to prisoners at Rikers Island correctional facilities are part of "incomplete" sets that are all one size and therefore "not accommodating" to individuals taller than five feet, 11 inches. Dkt. 1. The Complaint alleges that he is experiencing "lower back pain, " neck pain, shoulder pain, and "leg soreness" that is "exacerbat[ing] prior injuries." Id. The Complaint further alleges that then-Mayor Bloomberg and then-Commissioner Schriro decided to purchase "cheaper and cost effective" bedding without regard for prisoner health. Id. The Complaint also alleges that defendants have failed to comply with the state health and chiropractic regulations for bedding by issuing improperly sized bed frames and mattresses. Id. Finally, the Complaint alleges that the John Doe Corizon Health Services Manager has failed to declare an emergency to remedy this problem. Id.

More than 90 prisoners have filed similar pro se complaints regarding the beds and pillows provided at several Rikers Island correctional facilities. By order dated February 11, 2013, this Court adopted the Honorable James C. Francis IV's Report and Recommendation dismissing those cases for failure to state a claim. See Howard v. City of New York, No. 12 Civ. 4069 (PAE), 2013 WL 504164 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 11, 2013) (consolidating 63 cases and dismissing with leave to replead).

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint, or portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B); see also Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). Although the law mandates dismissal on any of these grounds, district courts "remain obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). Thus, pro se complaints should be read with "special solicitude" and should be interpreted to raise the "strongest [claims] that they suggest. " Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474-75 (2d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

B. Eighth Amendment

DelaCruz's Complaint, which is extremely similar to the ones previously before the Court, does not state an Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement claim.[2] The Court refers DelaCruz to Judge Francis's Report and Recommendation, a copy of which is attached, for a thorough discussion of the legal issues, but summarizes the analysis here.

To state an Eighth Amendment claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) objectively, the deprivation he suffered was "sufficiently serious" as to deny him "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, " and (2) subjectively, the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference, " Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 303 (1991), in that they "kn[ew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety, " Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994) (quotation omitted). The Eighth Amendment does not require "comfortable prisons." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981). In the context of the facts asserted to state a claim, plaintiff must allege that "(1) he had a preexisting medical condition requiring a special bed to protect against serious damage to his future health; (2) he made that medical condition known to prison officials; (3) he requested a special bed to accommodate such medical condition; and (4) his request was denied by an official [who knew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to [the plaintiff's] health or safety.'" Howard, 2012 WL 7050623, at *9 (quoting Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185-86 (2d Cir. 2002)) (alteration in original).[3]

DelaCruz's Complaint fails to allege with specificity facts sufficient to establish any of the four elements listed above. The Complaint's allegations are conclusory; they fail to provide the factual detail necessary to state a claim that he suffered injuries as a result of the beds at GMDC. For example, DelaCruz's Complaint does not describe his prior injuries; nor does he indicate how the prison bedding has caused or exacerbated his claimed injuries. And, although the Complaint states that the mattresses do not accommodate individuals who are taller than five feet, 11 inches, DelaCruz does not allege what his height is. He simply alleges generally that the mattress is "inappropriate for my height and weight." Dkt. 1. For these reasons, the Complaint fails to comply with the plausibility standard of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That said, it is conceivable that, in an amended complaint, DelaCruz could allege facts sufficient to state a claim.

C. Personal Involvement

DelaCruz's Complaint is further deficient in that it does not explain the role that each defendant played in the allegedly unlawful conduct. To state a § 1983 claim against an individual defendant, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that that defendant was personally and knowingly involved in violating his constitutional rights. Harris v. Westchester Cnty. Dep't of Corr., No. 06 Civ. 2011 (RJS), 2008 WL 953616, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 3, 2008) (citing Provost v. City of Newburgh, 262 F.3d 146, 155 (2d Cir. 2001)). Personal involvement in a § 1983 violation may be shown by evidence that the official: (1) participated directly in the violation; (2) after learning of the violation, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred; (4) was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who caused the unlawful condition or event; or (5) exhibited deliberate ...

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