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White v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 31, 2015

BOBBY WHITE Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bobby White brings this action against the City of New York (the "City") and Marlene Ocasio, formerly a correction officer at Rikers Island, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for alleged violations of his Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The City has moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). For the reasons set forth in this Opinion, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

A. Factual Background

1. Plaintiff's Allegations Regarding Excessive Force

Plaintiff was incarcerated at the George Motchan Detention Center ("GMDC") at Rikers Island during the fall of 2013. (Compl. ¶ 11). He alleges that on September 28, 2013, at approximately 12:45 p.m., Defendant Ocasio "sprayed a chemical agent on [him] while he was in his cell" and "slammed a metal door on [his] hand." ( Id. at ¶¶ 12-13). According to Plaintiff, prior to Ocasio's use of force, he did not pose a threat to her, and he was not otherwise engaged in any activity that would justify the use of force. ( Id. at ¶ 14; see also id. at ¶¶ 21, 22). Plaintiff further alleges that a video of the encounter exists. ( Id. at ¶ 21).

As a result of the altercation, Plaintiff suffered bruising and swelling on his left forearm, and was instructed to wear a sling by medical staff. (Compl. ¶ 16). Despite his pleas for medical attention, Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive such treatment until "hours later." ( Id. at ¶ 15). In addition to his physical injuries, Plaintiff has experienced "emotional distress, nightmares, panic attacks, mental anguish and unwarranted severe anger bouts, " as well as a fear of the police and a general inability to function at his normal capacity, "which has caused a severe strain and breakdown in his personal relationships." ( Id. at ¶¶ 23, 26).

Following the incident, Plaintiff filed a grievance, and Ocasio's supervisors subsequently conducted an investigation. (Compl. ¶ 17). The investigators found that Ocasio's use of force was "unwarranted and unnecessary and recommended disciplinary action." ( Id. at ¶ 18).

2. Plaintiff's Monell Allegations

Plaintiff alleges that his mistreatment arose from the City's "deliberate indifference" towards a "pervasive culture of violence" and "disregard for inmate[s'] rights on Rikers Island." (Compl. ¶¶ 58-60). According to Plaintiff, the City's deliberate indifference towards "overwhelming evidence of [correction officers'] unconstitutional behavior created a policy and custom of unrestrained use of force" that led to Ocasio's actions against Plaintiff. ( Id. at ¶ 60). Further, Plaintiff alleges that the City engaged in a practice of failing to sanction and discipline officers properly, and that "due to their poor training and inexperience, correction officers [at Rikers] lack adequate conflict resolution and de-escalation skills, " which has led to a deprivation of inmates' constitutional rights pursuant to Section 1983. ( Id. at ¶ 6).

To support these allegations, Plaintiff cites newspaper articles from 2009 and 2014 from The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Village Voice, and the New York Daily News. More significantly, he cites the DOJ Findings Letter, see supra n.1, which details the DOJ's investigation concerning the excessive use of force against adolescent inmates at Rikers Island from 2011 to 2013. (Compl. ¶¶ 40-52). In the DOJ Findings Letter, the DOJ asserts that during fiscal year 2013, there were 1, 057 injuries among males in 565 reported incidents. ( Id. at ¶ 41). According to Plaintiff, these figures support the existence of a "deep-seated culture of violence' against inmates, " in which "brute force is the first impulse rather than the last resort.'" ( Id. at ¶¶ 40, 42 (citing DOJ Findings Letter 3)). To that end, Plaintiff provides numerous examples of correction officers abusing prisoners. For example, Plaintiff includes an excerpt from the DOJ Findings Letter detailing an incident where, after reportedly being disruptive while waiting to enter a dining hall, an inmate was "taken down by a Captain and punched repeatedly on his head and upper torso while he lay face down on the ground." ( Id. at ¶ 43). In that instance, the Tour Commander filed a report and found that the Captain's use of force was "excessive and avoidable' because the inmate posed no threat while lying on the ground." ( Id. ). Significantly, Plaintiff alleges that the DOJ Findings Letter "concludes with recommendations to address the poor training and lack of accountability among officers." ( Id. at ¶ 44).

Plaintiff also relies heavily on the 79-page DOJ Findings Letter to support his allegations regarding the City's policy and custom of unrestrained use of force against inmates at Rikers Island and its failures in training and supervising correction officers. In relevant part, the DOJ Findings Letter asserts that:

the New York City Department of Correction systematically has failed to protect adolescent inmates from harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This harm is the result of the repeated use of excessive and unnecessary force by correction officers against adolescent inmates, as well as high levels of inmate-on-inmate violence.
We have made the following specific factual determinations:
• force is used against adolescents at an alarming rate and violent inmate-on-inmate fights and assaults are commonplace, resulting in a striking number of serious injuries;
• correction officers resort to "headshots, " or blows to an inmate's head or facial area, too frequently;
• force is used as punishment or retribution; [and]
• force is used in response to inmates' verbal altercations with officers[.]

(DOJ Findings Letter 4).

The DOJ also described the "systemic deficiencies that contribute to, exacerbate, and indeed are largely responsible for the excessive and unnecessary ...


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