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Bethel v. Wolff

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 10, 2017

RONALD BETHEL, Plaintiff,
v.
R.N. CHARLES WOLFF; SERGEANT WAHLQUIST, Sgt. John Doe; DR. V. BHOPALE; SID JOHNSON, Food Services Administrator; SUPERINTENDENT WILLIAM A. LEE; CAPTAIN CAREY; ENRIQUE PAGAN, Physicians Assistant; DR. FREDERICK BERNSTEIN, Health Service Director; Defendants.

          Ronald Bethel Otisville, NY Pro Se Plaintiff

          John Eric Knudsen, Esq. Neil Shevlin, Esq. New York State Department of Law Litigation New York, NY Counsel for Defendants KENNETH M. KARAS, District Judge:

          OPINION & ORDER

          KENNETH M. KARAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ronald Bethel (“Plaintiff”), an incarcerated inmate proceeding pro se, filed the instant Complaint and Amended Complaint against Defendants R.N. Charles Wolff, Sergeant Wahlquist, Dr. V. Bhopale, Sid Johnston, Superintendent William Lee, Captain Carey, Enrique Pagan, and Dr. Frederick Bernstein (collectively, “Defendants”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment constitutional rights by failing to protect him from an assault by a fellow inmate and by failing to provide him adequate medical care. (See Dkt. No. 9.) Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons to follow, the Court grants the Motion.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are taken from Defendants' Statement Pursuant to Rule 56.1 and the supporting documents accompanying the Motion. (See Defs.' Statement Pursuant to Rule 56.1 (“Defs.' 56.1”) (Dkt. No. 55).) Although Plaintiff has not offered a statement of undisputed facts pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, Plaintiff's failure to file such a statement does not “absolve[] the district court of even checking whether the citation [in the Local Rule 56.1 Statement] supports the assertion.” Giannnullo v. City of New York, 322 F.3d 139, 143 n.5 (2d Cir. 2003). Accordingly, the Court will examine the documents offered by Defendants in support of their statement pursuant to Local Rule 56.1

         On September 26, 2013, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility and was assigned to work in the kitchen area of the mess hall. (See Am. Compl. ¶ II(D), ¶ 1 (Dkt. No. 9); see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 10.) Around 7:55 AM, Plaintiff was attacked by another inmate who threw hot water at Plaintiff and cut his arm with a metal can lid. (See Decl. of Neil Shevlin (“Shevlin Decl.”) Ex. D (Dkt. No. 57); see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 10.) Defendant Sergeant Wahlquist, who was assigned to supervise the “chow run, ” heard Plaintiff scream and looked over to investigate. (See Decl. of Robert Wahlquist (“Wahlquist Decl.”) ¶ 4; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 11.)[1] Wahlquist observed Plaintiff bent over with his hands covering his face and head, and also observed another inmate, Simard, holding a folded metal can lid and moving in a slashing motion toward Plaintiff. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 4; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 11.) Wahlquist ran toward Simard and yelled at him to drop the weapon, which he did. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 12.) Simard laid on the floor, face first, and Wahlquist applied mechanical restraints to Simard's hands. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 12.) Wahlquist summoned the medical staff and instructed Officer Neithardt to escort Plaintiff to the clinic for treatment. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 13.) Wahlquist took Simard to the Special Housing Unit. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 13.)

         Plaintiff testified that prior to the incident on September 26, 2013, he did not know Simard personally and had never spoken to him. (See Shevlin Decl. Ex. F (“Pl.'s Dep. Tr.”), at 94; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 14.) Plaintiff stated that he had never had a “situation” with Simard before, and he did not really understand what had happened or why Simard had attacked him. (See Pl.'s Dep. Tr. 14-15; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 14.) None of Defendants responsible for supervising the mess hall was aware of any animosity between Plaintiff and Simard or of any danger to Plaintiff from Simard. (See Lee Decl. ¶ 4; Johnston Decl. ¶ 4; Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 7; Carey Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 15-18.) Inmates are assigned to work in the mess hall on a case-by-case basis by a Program Committee. (See Lee Decl. ¶ 6; Johnston Decl. ¶ 6; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 19.) Neither Lee nor Johnston was directly responsible for assigning inmates to work in the mess hall. (See Lee Decl. ¶ 6; Johnston Decl. ¶ 6; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 20-21.) The only firm criteria for working in the mess hall is passing a medical evaluation. (See Lee Decl. ¶ 6; Johnston Decl. ¶ 6.)

         A civilian staff supervises the production and service of food. (See Johnston Decl. ¶ 8; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 23.) The security staff, which consists of correction officers and their supervisors, monitors the mess hall, the use of tools, and the disposal of sanitation. (See Johnston Decl. ¶ 8; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 24.) Correction officers responsible for supervising the mess hall are normally situated in the tool room and out on the floor during meal service, and make rounds throughout the day. (See Johnston Decl. ¶¶ 7-8; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 26-27.) On the day Plaintiff was attacked, there were several correction officers monitoring the mess hall and kitchen area. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 4; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 28.)

         After Wahlquist summoned the medical staff, Defendant Charles Wolff, a nurse, and Nurse Colonie responded and arrived at the mess hall to find Plaintiff sitting with security. (See Wolff Decl. ¶ 3; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 30.) Plaintiff appeared to be alert and oriented. (See Wolff Decl. ¶ 3; Shevlin Decl. Ex. A (“Medical Records”), at 0080; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 30.) Wolff and Colonie escorted Plaintiff to the medical clinic at Green Haven, where they noted that Plaintiff had first degree burns on the left side of his face, both of his eyelids, his forehead, and the left side of his neck and shoulder. (See Wolff Decl. ¶ 4; Pagan Decl. ¶ 6; Medical Records at 0080, 0082, 0110; Shevlin Decl. Ex. B; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 31.) Plaintiff also suffered a superficial second degree burn on his right forearm that was approximately the size of a quarter; he also had a 3/4 inch superficial laceration on the same forearm. (See Wolff Decl. ¶ 4; Pagan Decl. ¶ 6; Medical Records at 0080, 0082, 0110; Shevlin Decl. Ex B; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 32.) Wolff and Colonie applied cold compresses to the burns and notified Defendant Enrique Pagan, a physician's assistant who was supervising the clinic that morning, requesting that Pagan assess Plaintiff's condition and prescribe a course of treatment. (See Wolff Decl. ¶ 5; Pagan Decl. ¶ 2; Medical Records at 0082; Shevlin Decl. Ex. B; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 33.) Pagan directed Wolff and Colonie to provide Plaintiff with Ibuprofen for the pain; apply Silvadene, a topical cream, to the first degree burns, other than the eyelids, to prevent infection; and apply Bacitracin to the second degree burn and to his eyelids to prevent infection and to keep the tissue moist. (See Wolff Decl. ¶ 5; Pagan Decl. ¶ 7; Medical Records at 0080, 0082, 0109; Shevlin Decl. Ex. B; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 37.) Plaintiff was not sent to an outside hospital.

         According to Defendants, there is no policy at Green Haven of denying inmates the ability to go to an outside hospital for treatment of first and superficial second degree burns. (See Bernstein Decl. ¶ 4; Lee Decl. ¶ 9; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 34.) Here, the decision to keep Plaintiff at the infirmary instead of sending him to a hospital was based on the treating physician's and assistant's determination that Plaintiff's wounds were not serious enough to warrant sending him to an outside hospital. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 4; Pagan Decl. ¶ 3; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 34.) Defendants indicate that first degree burns are typically treated with cold water or cold compresses, and that the next step is to apply topical ointment or cream to the affected area. (See Bernstein Decl. ¶ 5; Bhopale Decl. ¶ 4; Pagan Decl. ¶ 4; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 35.) If there is any sign of infection, antibiotics are given. (See Bernstein Decl. ¶ 5; Bhopale Decl. ¶ 4; Pagan Decl. ¶ 4; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 35.) Second degree burns are classified as either superficial or deep. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 6; Pagan Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 36.) Superficial second degree burns receive largely the same treatment as first degree burns, but superficial second degree burns may also result in blisters, which, if large, should be ruptured. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 6; Pagan Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 36.) Deep second degree burns are also treated similarly, but may sometimes require more invasive intervention, such as surgical excision of dead tissue and a skin graft. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 6; Pagan Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 36.) Inmates at Green Haven who suffer any type of second degree burns are placed in an isolation room to reduce the possibility of infection. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 6; Pagan Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 36.) It is the opinion of Defendants that Plaintiff suffered only first degree burns and superficial second degree burns. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 6; Pagan Decl. ¶ 5; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 36.)

         Later on September 26, after treating his wounds, Wahlquist gave Plaintiff the opportunity to be placed into protective custody, but Plaintiff declined. (See Wahlquist Decl. ¶ 6; Shevlin Decl. Ex. C; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 38.) Plaintiff was, however, placed in an isolation room at the infirmary to prevent infection. (See Pagan Decl. ¶ 7; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 39.)

         The next morning, the nursing staff noted that Plaintiff appeared to be resting comfortably, but a large blister had developed on his left eye and was leaking clear liquid. (See Medical Records at 0110; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 40.) Plaintiff was given gauze pads to pat the blister. (See Medical Records at 0110; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 40.) Later that same morning, Defendant Dr. Vishmas Bhopale, Plaintiff's primary care physician at the time, saw Plaintiff. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 10; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 41.) Plaintiff told Dr. Bhopale that he thought the burn area was looking better, and Dr. Bhopale agreed. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 10; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 41.) Dr. Bhopale continued the treatment of Silvadene and Bacitracin, and also directed that Plaintiff should start taking Amoxicillin, an antibiotic, for seven days. (See Bhopale Decl. ¶ 10; Medical Records at 0109-0110; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 42.)

         On the afternoon of September 27, the nursing staff observed that Plaintiff's left eye, which had previously been swollen shut, was less swollen and Plaintiff was able to open it. (See Medical Records at 0110; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 43.) Plaintiff showered and then received treatment of Silvadene and Bacitracin. The dressing on Plaintiff's forearm was changed. (See Medical Records at 0110; see also Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 44.) That evening, the nursing staff noted that the burn on the left side of Plaintiff's face was improving and the dressing to his right forearm was intact, but also documented that Plaintiff had blisters on the left side of his neck and left eyelid. (See Medical Records at 0111; see also Defs.' 56.1 ...


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