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Heendeniya v. St. Joseph's Hosp. Health Ctr.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 14, 2017

UMESH HEENDENIYA, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. JOSEPH'S HOSP. HEALTH CTR. SJHHC; ROGER GARY LEVINE, MD; LISA MARIE O'CONNOR, MD; GEORGE O. TREMITI, MD; HORATIUS ROMAN, MD; JOANNE MARY FRENCH, RN; WENDY BRISCOE, RN; SUSAN LYNN CATE, LMFT; ROSALINE SPINELLA[1], RN; ROBERT MICHAEL CONSTANTINE, MD; MITCHELL BRUCE FELDMAN, MD; CYNTHIA A. RYBAK, NP; KATHRYN HOWE RUSCITTO, President and CEO of SJHHC; LOWELL A. SEIFTER, JD, Senior VP and Gen. Counsel of SJHHC; MEREDITH PRICE, VP of Fin. Servs. and CFO of SJHHC; DEBORAH WELCH, VP; GAEL GILBERT, RN and Dir. of SJHHC's Psychiatric Ward; SJHHC DOES 1-5, Inclusive; CORPORATIONS A-F, Inclusive; ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, ESQ., New York State Atty. Gen.; NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL HEALTH OMH; ANN MARIE T. SULLIVAN, M.D., Comm'r of OMH; JOSHUA PEPPER, ESQ. Deputy Comm'r of OMH; MICHAEL C. GREEN, Exec. Deputy Comm'r of DCJS; NICS APPEALS OFFICE - OMH; and NEW YORK STATE DIV. OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVS., Defendants.

          UMESH HEENDENIYA Plaintiff, Pro Se

          COSTELLO, COONEY & FEARON, PPLC ROBERT J. SMITH, ESQ. Counsel for Defendants SJHHC, French, Briscoe, Cate, Spinella, Rybak, Ruscitto, Seifter, Price, Welch, and Gilbert

          SMITH, SOVIK, KENDRICK & SUGNET, P.C. KEVIN E. HULSLANDER, ESQ. JOHN P. COGHLAN, ESQ. Counsel for Defendant Levine

          MARTIN, GANOTIS, BROWN, BRIAN M. GARGANO, ESQ. MOULD & CURRIE, P.C. Counsel for Defendants O'Connor, Tremiti, Roman, Constantine, and Feldman

          DECISION and ORDER

          GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge

         Currently before the Court, in this pro se action filed by Umesh Heendeniya ("Plaintiff") against the thirty-five above-captioned entities and individuals ("Defendants") pursuant to, inter alia, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4)'s alleged prohibition on Plaintiff's ability to receive a firearm shipped in interstate or foreign commerce as a result of his involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward, are three motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), filed by (1) Defendants St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center, Susan Lynn Cate, Wendy Briscoe, Joanne French, Cynthia Rybak, Kathryn Howe Ruscitto, Lowell Seifter, Meredith Price, Deborah Welch, and Gael Gilbert (Dkt. Nos. 46, 62), (2) Defendant Roger Gary Levine, M.D. (Dkt. No. 59), and (3) Rosaline Spinella (Dkt. No. 87). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint

         Generally, in his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges (among other things) as follows. (Dkt. No. 55 [Plf.'s Second Am. Compl.].) Plaintiff, a Massachusetts resident, suffers from "Type-2 Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)" and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). (Id. at ¶¶ 96, 140.) However, Plaintiff "has never been diagnosed with any form of psychotic or delusional disorder[.]" (Id. at ¶ 99.)

         On or about April 5, 2013, Plaintiff was brought to St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center ("SJHHC") by "EMS" and, between that date and April 12, 2013, was treated for a "prescription medication overdose" and pneumonia.[2] (Id. at ¶ 141.) He was first treated in the emergency room, then in the intensive care unit ("ICU"), and, finally, in the "general medical wing" of SJHHC. (Id.) While Plaintiff was being treated in the ICU, he was visited by Dr. Lisa O'Connor, M.D., a psychiatrist with SJHHC's psychiatric unit, on two separate occasions. (Id. at ¶¶ 155-56.) Dr. O'Connor "questioned [Plaintiff] at length, " and Plaintiff provided "his complete biographic[al], physical, and mental health, social, and educational histor[ies.]" (Id. at ¶ 163.) Dr. O'Connor asked Plaintiff "about any past arrests, " and Plaintiff disclosed that, in 1995, he had shot and killed an assailant in Oklahoma, was tried for "first degree murder, " and was acquitted in June 1996. (Id. at ¶¶ 108, 164.) Moreover, Plaintiff explained to Dr. O'Connor that "he had been arrested twice in the past for carrying firearms while not having the correct concealed carry permit (due to the lack of reciprocity agreements between the respective [s]tates) in his possession." (Id. at ¶ 165.) Specifically, Plaintiff was arrested for "possessing firearms" in Iowa in 2002 (although he possessed a "concealed carry" permit issued by Virginia at the time), and was arrested again for "possessing a firearm" in Massachusetts in 2007 (although he possessed a "concealed carry" permit issued by Utah at the time). (Id. at ¶¶ 166, 168.) He explained to Dr. O'Connor that he was not convicted of any firearm-related offense on either occasion, and that he wanted to continue to "possess guns" to "protect himself" and because "he was a firm believer in the Second Amendment and firearm rights." (Id. at ¶¶ 167, 169, 171.) Plaintiff also disclosed that he had been treated by his psychiatrist in Massachusetts for his bipolar disorder and PTSD for the previous five years. (Id. at ¶¶ 179-180.)

         On April 12, 2013, after his discussions with Dr. O'Connor, Plaintiff was involuntarily admitted to SJHHC's psychiatric department pursuant to New York Mental Hygiene Law ("MHL") § 9.27, despite the fact that he did not "exhibit any suicidal, homicidal, delusional, paranoid, or psychotic symptoms whatsoever, " and did not "behave in a manner that could cause harm to himself or others."[3] (Id. at ¶¶ 143-44.) Rather, as a basis for Plaintiff's involuntary admission, several of the individual Defendants[4] (including Dr. O'Connor) "falsely or negligently wrote in hospital records" that Plaintiff had a "history of schizoaffective disorder, " despite Plaintiff's own account of his medical history (which did not include this diagnosis) and the opportunity to contact his treating psychiatrist to verify this diagnosis. (Id. at ¶¶ 151-53, 185, 187, 210.) In so doing, Dr. O'Connor "exaggerated and/or increased the (artificial) justification under which [Plaintiff] could be involuntarily admitted" to SJHHC's psychiatric ward. (Id. at ¶ 191.) At no point did any of the Defendants properly assess whether Plaintiff posed a danger to himself or others.[5] (Id. at ¶¶ 247-260.)

         Defendants had at least two motives for improperly involuntarily admitting Plaintiff to the psychiatric ward. First, the SJHHC Defendants and the Physician Defendants had "an unfair bias against" Plaintiff's right to possess firearms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and wanted to "make sure that [Plaintiff] would lose his firearm rights" pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). (Id. at ¶¶ 215, 326, 343, 376, 426.) This "strong moral bias" is evident because SJHHC is "managed, controlled, and/or heavily influenced by the Catholic Church." (Id. at ¶ 326.) Second, the SJHHC Defendants and/or the Physician Defendants "had a financial motive" to involuntarily admit Plaintiff to the psychiatric unit and provide treatment. (Id. at ¶¶ 194, 242, 263, 267, 278, 315, 343.)

         Although Defendants "had good legal cover to . . . involuntarily admit" Plaintiff under the MHL and relevant case law, the St. Joseph's Defendants and Physician Defendants exploited a "loophole" in the MHL by involuntarily admitting him to the psychiatric ward (thereby eliminating his right to possess firearms under 18 U.S.C. § 922[g][4]) and then discharging him on April 17, 2013, before the time at which they were obligated to notify his family members of his right to a hearing to challenge his involuntary admission and free legal representation. (Id. at ¶¶ 311, 328-344.) Moreover, Defendants "never [gave Plaintiff] any paperwork nor notified [him] verbally of his legal rights, including the availability of free [legal representation] to challenge his retention as an involuntarily admitted patient." (Id. at ¶ 365.)[6]

         In "early 2015, " Plaintiff became aware that he may be prohibited from owning or purchasing firearms pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).[7] (Id. at ¶ 348.) Plaintiff wrote a letter to the St. Joseph's Defendants and the Physician Defendants to inform them that his involuntary admission to the psychiatric ward "has now led to him being unable to purchase or possess firearms and ammunition, " but they "wrote back . . . refusing to rectify the . . . impediment that they unjustly and unlawfully imposed on him [with] regard[] to his gun rights . . . ."[8] (Id. at ¶¶ 353-54.)

         Because this Decision and Order is intended primarily for the review of the parties, the Court will not further recite the factual allegations contained in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, with which the parties are familiar.

         Based upon the foregoing allegations, Plaintiff appears to assert the following claims: (1) a claim for medical malpractice against the SJHHC Defendants and the Physician Defendants ("Count I") (id. at ¶¶ 392-406); (2) a claim for "[i]ntentional and/or [r]eckless [i]nfliction of [e]motional [d]istress" against the SJHHC Defendants and the Physician Defendants ("Count II") (id. at ¶¶ 407-12); (3) a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against the SJHHC Defendants and the Physician Defendants ("Count III") (id. at ¶¶ 413-19); (4) a claim for violation of Title III and Title V of the Americans with Disability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12121 et seq. ("ADA") and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., against the SJHHC Defendants, the Physician Defendants and Corporations A-F ("Count IV") (id. at ¶¶ 420-34);[9] (5) a claim for civil conspiracy under New York State law against the SJHHC Defendants and Physician Defendants ("Count V") (id. at ¶¶ 435-41); (6) a claim for "[v]iolation of the Second Amendment" against the State Defendants, and for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in relation thereto ("Count VI") (id. at ¶¶ 442-48); (7) a claim against the State Defendants that MHL § 9.27, as applied, violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ("Count VII") (id. at ¶¶ 449-53); (8) a claim against the State Defendants that MHL § 9.27, as applied, violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ("Count VIII") (id. at ¶¶ 454-58); (9) a claim against the State Defendants that MHL § 9.27, on its face, violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ("Count IX") (id. at ¶¶ 459-63); (10) a claim against the State Defendants that MHL § 9.27, on its face, violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ("Count X") (id. at ¶¶ 464-68); (11) claims for violation of Title II and Title V of the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against the State Defendants ("Count XI") (id. at ¶¶ 469-76); and (12) a claim for violation of N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 79-n and MHL § 33.01 against the SJHHC Defendants, Physician Defendants, and State Defendants ("Count XII") (id. at ¶¶ 477-481).

         B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

          1. St. Joseph's Defendants' Memoranda of Law and Spinella's Memorandum of Law

          Generally, in their respective memoranda of law, the St. Joseph's Defendants and Spinella argue as follows: (1) Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint contains no allegations with respect to Ruscitto, Seifter, Price, Welch, Gilbert, or SJHHC Does 1-5, and any claims purportedly asserted against them must therefore be dismissed; (2) to the extent that Plaintiff may be understood to have alleged a negligent training and/or negligent supervision claim against Ruscitto, Gilbert, Price, Seifter, Welch, Spinella, and/or SJHHC, these claims must be dismissed because (a) he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that these Defendants provided negligent training or negligent supervision, and (b) as Plaintiff alleges, these Defendants were acting within the scope of their employment and, as a result, the employer cannot be held liable under New York law for a claim of negligent hiring, retention, or training; (3) Plaintiff's Title III ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims must be dismissed because (a) individuals may not be held liable under these statutes, and (b) he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that SJHHC constitutes a public accommodation for purposes of his claims or that SJHHC denied him access to its facility or services; (4) Plaintiff's Title V ADA claim must be dismissed because (a) individuals may not be held liable under this statute, (b) he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he was engaged in a protected activity, that SJHHC knew of the protected activity, or the existence of a causal connection between a protected activity and any retaliatory action, and (c) he should not be permitted to "resurrect" his previously dismissed claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which were predicated on the same factual allegations (id. at 8-9); (5) Plaintiff's § 1983 claims must be dismissed pursuant to the law-of-the-case doctrine because these claims, first asserted in his Amended Complaint, were previously dismissed with prejudice; (6) Plaintiff's conspiracy claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (to the extent Plaintiff can be understood to allege such a claim) must be dismissed because (a) he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants conspired to violate his rights or that any such conspiracy was motivated by class-based discriminatory animus, and (b) to the extent that Plaintiff alleges that the conspirators were all St. Joseph's employees, his claim is barred by the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine; (7) Plaintiff's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986 (to the extent Plaintiff can be understood to allege such a claim) must be dismissed because liability under § 1985 is a necessary predicate to liability under § 1986, and, for the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff has failed to properly plead a § 1985 claim; (8) Plaintiff's intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim must be dismissed because (a) it is time-barred and (b) he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants engaged in sufficiently extreme and outrageous conduct to support this claim (or even a negligent-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim) (id. at 14-17); (9) Plaintiff's medical malpractice claim must be dismissed because it is time-barred; (10) to the extent that Plaintiff may be understood to have asserted a claim for "perjury, " this claim must be dismissed because such a civil claim does not exist (id. at 17-18); (11) Plaintiff's claim pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law § 79-n must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he was subjected to violence or intimidation; (12) Plaintiff's claim pursuant to MHL § 33.01 must be dismissed because, in support of this claim, he merely re-asserts that his rights under § 1983, the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act have been violated, and, for the reasons enumerated above, those claims must be dismissed; (13) Plaintiff's civil conspiracy claim under New York State law must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he was subjected to a separate underlying tort; and (14) alternatively, in the event that the Court concludes that only Plaintiff's state law claims survive the St. Joseph's Defendants' and Spinella's motions to dismiss, the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those state law claims. (Dkt. No. 46, Attach. 2, at 2-18 [St. Joseph's Defs.' Memo. of Law]; Dkt. No. 62, Attach. 2, at 1-5 [St. Joseph's Defs.' Supp. Memo. of Law];[10] Dkt. No. 87, Attach. 2, at 1-19 [Spinella's Memo. of Law].)

         2. Dr. Levine's Memorandum of Law

         Generally, in his memorandum of law, Dr. Levine argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff's medical malpractice claim must be dismissed because it is time-barred; (2) Plaintiff's intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim must be dismissed because (a) it is time-barred and (b) Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Dr. Levine had the requisite intent to inflict emotional distress, given Plaintiff's allegations that multiple medical professionals independently determined that Plaintiff's commitment was warranted; (3) Plaintiff's negligent-infliction-of-emotional distress claim must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants' actions involved a threat or danger of physical harm to him; (4) Plaintiff's ADA Title III claim must be dismissed because Plaintiff has not alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Dr. Levine-a psychiatrist who was "director of" the psychiatry unit at SJHHC-was an owner, lessee, or operator of SJHHC for purposes of that provision; (5)

         Plaintiff's ADA Title V claim must be dismissed because (a) Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting any basis for such a claim and (b) Title V does not provide for individual liability; (6) Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claim must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he was denied participation in, or the benefits of, any federally funded program; (7) Plaintiff's civil conspiracy claim under New York State law must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he was subjected to a separate underlying tort; and (8) Plaintiff's claim pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law § 79-n must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he was subjected to violence or intimidation. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 1, at 4-14 [Dr. Levine's Memo. of Law].)

         3. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the Motions to Dismiss Filed by the St. Joseph's Defendants and Dr. Levine

          Generally, in opposition to the motions to dismiss filed by the St. Joseph's Defendants and Dr. Levine, Plaintiff argues as follows: (1) his medical malpractice claim is not time-barred because the last day on which he could have interposed this claim under the statute of limitations (October 17, 2015) was a Saturday, and he therefore had until Monday, October 19, 2015, to interpose it; (2) with respect to the St. Joseph's Defendants first argument, he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that the five "executive" individual Defendants failed to exercise sufficient oversight with respect to "lower level" SJHHC employees; (3) the five "executive" individual Defendants, as well as SJHHC, are also liable for any harm caused to him by the Physician Defendants under principles of agency; (4) his ADA and Rehabilitation claims should not be dismissed because (a) SJHHC is liable for violations of these provisions perpetrated by the St. Joseph's individual Defendants, and, through principles of agency, by the Physician Defendants, (b) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants failed to make a "reasonable modification" to the medical services that he was provided to ensure that his Second Amendment rights were not implicated under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4); (5) none of his claims should be dismissed pursuant to the law-of-the-case doctrine because (a) his claims do not merely rehash his previously dismissed § 1983 claims and (b) application of the law-of-the-case doctrine is discretionary; and (6) his claim pursuant to MHL § 33.01 should not be dismissed because he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that he lost a property right (i.e., "his firearm licensing rights and firearm permit rights") under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) as a result of being "forcefully and unlawfully" involuntarily admitted. (Dkt. No. 90 at 3-9 [Plf.'s Opp'n Memo. of Law to the St. Joseph's Defs. and Dr. Levine].)

         4. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Spinella's Motion to Dismiss

         Generally, in opposition to Spinella's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff asserts the same arguments summarized above in Part I.B.3. of this Decision and Order and, moreover, argues as follows: (1) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Spinella failed to "exercise sufficient . . . oversight" of the Physician Defendants, who (a) wrote "false medical information" in his medical records and (b) falsely noted on his involuntary admission forms that Drs. Tremiti and Roman personally examined him; (2) his civil conspiracy claim should not be dismissed because (a) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Spinella and the other individual Defendants conspired to deprive him of his right to possess firearms and ammunition by (i) recording "false and exaggerated medical information (from a psychiatric illness standpoint), " (ii) failing to contact his treating psychiatrist, and (iii) refusing his request to be admitted on a voluntary basis so that his Second Amendment rights would not be lost by operation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), and (b) his timely medical malpractice claim constitutes an underlying tort for purposes of his civil conspiracy claim; and (3) if his federal claims are dismissed, the Court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any surviving state law claims. (Dkt. No. 105, Attach. 1, at 3-17 [Plf.'s Opp'n Memo. of Law to Spinella].)

         5. St. Joseph's Defendants' and Spinella's Reply Memorandum of Law

         Generally, in their reply, the St. Joseph's Defendants and Spinella argue as follows: (1) Plaintiff has failed to oppose their motion to the extent that it seeks dismissal of (a) his § 1985 claim, (b) his § 1986 claim, (c) his intentional tort claims, (d) his negligent-infliction-of-emotional distress claim, (e) his "perjury" claim, (f) his New York Civil Rights Law § 79-n claim, and (g) his New York State civil conspiracy claim; (2) Plaintiff's § 1983 claims must be dismissed pursuant to the Court's Decision and Order filed February 25, 2016, which dismissed Plaintiff's § 1983 claims with prejudice and directed that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint "shall not attempt to reassert any claims that have been dismissed with prejudice in this Decision and Order"; and (3) Plaintiff's claims that are mere attempts to reassert his previously dismissed § 1983 claims under different causes of action-including his medical malpractice claim, ADA claims, Rehabilitation Act claims, and claim pursuant to MHL § 33.01-must also be dismissed. (Dkt. No. 92 at 1-4 [St. Joseph's Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law]; Dkt. No. 107 at 2-5 [Spinella's Reply Memo. of Law].)[11]

         6. Dr. Levine's Reply Memorandum of Law

         Generally, in his reply, Dr. Levine reiterates the arguments set forth in his memorandum of law and, moreover, argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff has conceded that Dr. Levine cannot be held liable under Title III and Title V of the ADA; (2) because a civil conspiracy under New York State law requires a showing of intentional conduct, Plaintiff's medical malpractice claim cannot serve as the tort underlying his civil conspiracy claim; and (3) because Plaintiff's intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim is time-barred, this claim cannot serve as the tort underlying his civil conspiracy claim. (Dkt. No. 96 at 2-8 [Dr. Levine's Reply Memo. of Law].)

         II. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Legal Standard Governing Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         It has long been understood that a dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), can be based on one or both of two grounds: (1) a challenge to the "sufficiency of the pleading" under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); or (2) a challenge to the legal cognizability of the claim. Jackson v. Onondaga Cty., 549 F.Supp.2d 204, 211, nn. 15-16 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (McAvoy, J., adopting Report-Recommendation on de novo review).

         Because such dismissals are often based on the first ground, a few words regarding that ground are appropriate. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (emphasis added). In the Court's view, this tension between permitting a "short and plain statement" and requiring that the statement "show[]" an entitlement to relief is often ...


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