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Mowatt v. The City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 17, 2017

DEVAL MOWATT, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, DEPUTY MELISSA MATTHEWS, CAPTAIN CHARLES HARRIS, and CORRECTIONS OFFICER JOHNSON, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Edgardo Ramos, U.S.D.J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Deval Mowatt brings this action against Deputy Melissa Matthews (“Matthews”), Captain Charles Harris (“Harris”), Corrections Officer Johnson (“Johnson”), and the City of New York (the “City, ” and collectively “Defendants”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the conditions of his confinement at Rikers Island Correctional Facility (“Rikers”) amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED as to Defendant City of New York and is DENIED as to Defendants Matthews, Harris, and Johnson.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         On October 15, 2015, while in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction, Plaintiff was placed in “C95 Housing area 5 upper cell 16, ” a cell in the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island. Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”), Doc. 7, at II.D. Upon entering, Plaintiff realized that the cell was “corroted [sic] [and] polluted” and that the “ceiling was vulnerable of a collapse [sic].” Id. After complaining about the condition of the cell, Plaintiff was moved to cell 23. Id. Two days later, Johnson removed Plaintiff from cell 23 and returned him to cell 16-the cell that was in disrepair. Id. Plaintiff alleges that although he was told he had to return to the cell for “security reasons, ” the actual purpose of the move was to punish him, particularly because other cells, presumably in habitable conditions, were available at the time of his move. Id. On October 17, 2015, Plaintiff complained to Johnson, Harris, and Matthews and explained to them that cell 16 was “on [the] verge of collapse.” However his requests to be moved were denied. Id. Two days later, on October 19, while Plaintiff was sitting in his cell, the ceiling collapsed on his head. Upon hearing the collapse, Johnson went over to the cell, saw debris on floor, and took Plaintiff to the medical ward where he was prescribed Tylenol. Id. After receiving an injury report Plaintiff was again placed in cell 16 over his repeated objections. Id. The next morning, Plaintiff was moved to a different cell. Id. A few days later, Plaintiff went back to the medical facility, where he received Ibuprofen. Id. at III. Plaintiff claims that as result of the collapse, he suffers from, among other things, severe head and neck pain, dizziness, blurred vision, and weakness of limbs.

         II. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff commenced this action on December 29, 2015. Doc. 1. On February 9, 2016, the Court directed Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint, Doc. 6, which he filed on February 25, 2016. Doc. 7. On March 23, 2016, the Court issued an Order of Service requesting that Defendants waive service of summons. Doc. 10. On April 13, 2016, the waiver of service was returned executed as to Matthews, Harris, and the City. Docs. 13, 15. The waiver of service was returned unexecuted as to Johnson, who could not be properly identified because the name is so common. Doc. 14. The City, Matthews, and Harris filed the instant motion on June 13, 2016.[2]Doc. 17. On November 2, 2016 the Court issued a Valentin Order directing counsel for Defendants to provide Johnson's full name and service address within 60 days of the order. Doc. 22. On January 31, 2017 - more approximately one month after the due date - the Court issued an order directing counsel for Defendants to file a response by February 3, 2017. Doc. 23. In response, counsel asked for a two week extension, which the Court granted. Docs. 25, 26. On February 26, counsel again requested a two week extension. Doc. 27. Though the Court granted the extension, to date, counsel has not responded to the November 2, 2016 Valentin Order.

         III. Standard of Review

         On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations from the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014). However, this requirement does not apply to legal conclusions, bare assertions, or conclusory statements. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The complaint must adhere to Rule 8(a), which has been interpreted to require that it contain enough factual matter for the claim to be plausible on its face. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Rule 8(a) “does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79. If the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] Complaint must be dismissed.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         The same standard applies to motions to dismiss pro se complaints. See Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 F. App'x 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010). However, the Court is also obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally and to interpret a pro se plaintiff's claims as raising the strongest arguments that they suggest. Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011); Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam). The obligation to be lenient while reading a pro se plaintiff's pleadings “applies with particular force when the plaintiff's civil rights are at issue.” Jackson v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Labor, 709 F.Supp.2d 218, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citing McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004)). “However, even pro se plaintiffs asserting civil rights claims cannot withstand a motion to dismiss unless their pleadings contain factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint that “tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” will not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted); see also Triestman, 470 F.3d at 477 (“[P]ro se status ‘does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'”) (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         IV. Discussion

         To state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must allege “that the conduct complained of was committed by a person or entity acting under color of state law, and that the conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” Newton v. City of New York, 566 F.Supp.2d 256, 270 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citing Palmieri v. Lynch, 392 F.3d 73, 78 (2d Cir. 2004)). Section 1983 does not create any rights, but merely provides “a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights [already] established.” Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). The conduct complained of must have “deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Eagleston v. Guido, 41 F.3d 865, 876 (2d Cir. 1994). In the instant case, the alleged constitutional violation falls within the ambit of the Eighth Amendment.

         A. Eighth Amendment Claims

         “The Eighth Amendment, which applies to the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the infliction of ‘cruel and unusual punishments' on those convicted of crimes.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 296-97 (1991). The Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials take “reasonable measure[s] to guarantee the safety of inmates in their custody.” Hayes v. New York City Dep't of Corrections, 84 F.3d 614, 620 (2d Cir. 1996); see also Gilmore v. Rivera, No. 13 Civ. 6955 (RWS), 2014 WL 1998227, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2014) (“Prison officials may neither deprive a prisoner of basic human needs, e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety, nor expose an inmate to conditions that pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health.”) (citations omitted). And while the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, prisoners are entitled to satisfaction of their basic human needs. Randle v. Alexander, 960 F.Supp.2d 457, 470 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993)). “To prove a violation of the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must show (1) that the deprivation alleged is ‘objectively sufficiently serious' such that the plaintiff was denied ‘the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, ' and (2) that the defendant official possessed a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind' associated with ‘the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'” Trammel v. Keane, 338 F.3d 155, 161 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (“the inmate must show ...


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