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Cuffee v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 27, 2017

HIAWATHA CUFFEE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, OFFICER SQUIELARO Shield No. 18063, and OFFICER GONZAEEZ Shield No. 17148, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PAUL G. GARDEPHE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se Plaintiff Hiawatha Cuffee, Jr., brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the City of New York (the "City") and New York City Department of Corrections ("DOC") Officers Gonzalez and Squillaro. Plaintiff- who is incarcerated - alleges that the individual defendants violated his constitutional rights in connection with a motor vehicle accident involving a DOC bus that was transporting Plaintiff to Rikers Island. (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2)) Plaintiff also brings a Monell claim against the City. (Id.) Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 16)

         On October 20, 2016, this Court referred Defendants' motion to Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman for a Report and Recommendation ("R & R"). (Dkt. No. 27) On March 3, 2017, Judge Freeman issued a 28-page R & R recommending that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. No. 29) For the reasons stated below, this Court will adopt the R & R in its entirety.

         BACKGROUND

         I. FACTS [1]

         On July 31, 2015, the DOC transported Plaintiff by bus from Rikers Island -where Plaintiff was being detained[2] - to Bellevue Hospital Center. (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 9)[3]At Bellevue Hospital, Plaintiff underwent a prostate examination and biopsy. (Id.) After the procedure. Plaintiff got on a DOC bus for transport back to Rikers Island. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that he "was handcuffed and shackled at the waist[, ] and confined in a steel, locked cage approximately VA feet wide." (Id.) The cage "was positioned directly behind the driver" of the bus. (Id.) Plaintiff did not have a seatbelt. (Id. at 12) Defendant Gonzalez was driving the bus (id. at 9), and Defendant Squillaro was present as a passenger. (See Id. at 9-10; May 21, 2016 Pltf. Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 3)

         At about 12:40 p.m., as the bus was returning to Rikers Island, Defendant Gonzalez "pull[ed] out into traffic ... at an unusually high rate of speed." (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 9) Plaintiff then "heard the screeching of tires, " and the DOC bus collided with another motor vehicle. (Id. at 9-11; May 21, 2016 Pltf. Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 2) Plaintiff "was thrown forward" in the steel cage and, "upon impact, " he "injured [his] knee, lower back, . . . neck, and . . . was also bleeding from [his] rectal area [due] to [his] recent biopsy." (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 9) Plaintiff alleges that he "began screaming to [Defendant] Gonzalez ... to ... get [him] back to the hospital because [he] desperately needed medical assistance." (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that he told Defendants Gonzalez and Squillaro "over and over" that he was bleeding. (May 21, 2016 Pltf Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 3) Other inmates on the bus also "scream[ed] for help" and "pleaded for medical assistance." (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 9)

         Defendants Gonzalez and Squillaro told Plaintiff to "hold on" and hurriedly exited the bus to investigate the accident. (See id.) Although the bus was only "[five] minutes [away] from Bellevue Hospital" at the time of the accident (May 21, 2016 Pltf. Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 1), Plaintiff and the other inmates "sat on the bus for 1 Vi hours waiting for [DOC supervisors] to complete their investigation [of the accident]." (Id. at 9) Plaintiff and the other inmates - still in shackles and chains - were eventually loaded onto another DOC bus for transport back to Rikers Island. (See May 21, 2016 Pltf. Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 1) Plaintiff "did not receive medical attention until he was returned back to Rikers [Island]." (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 10) Plaintiff contends that the defendant officers' failure to return to Bellevue or to call medical personnel to the scene "caused further harm to Plaintiff." (May 21, 2016 Pltf. Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 3)

         At Rikers Island, Plaintiff received an X-ray and was given an ice pack, pain medication, and a cane. (May 21, 2016 Pltf. Ltr. (Dkt. No. 14) at 1; Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 4) Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of the accident, he sustained injuries to his neck, lower back, knees and pelvis, and that he suffers "extreme[]" and "continued pain . . . every day." (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2) at 10-11) Plaintiff continues to walk with a cane and a "stomach belt, " and expresses concern that his loss of mobility will prevent him from performing his duties as a "certified plant maintenance electrician." (Id. at 10-12)

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff commenced this action on November 12, 2015. (Dkt. No. 2) The Complaint - considered liberally and together with Plaintiffs' other filings - asserts three causes of action: (1) a Fourth Amendment claim against Defendants Gonzalez and Squillaro, based on their "[]reckless" conduct that placed Plaintiff in a "dangerous position" and caused his injuries; (2) an Eighth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference against Defendants Gonzalez and Squillaro, based on "their cruel and unusual punishment and lack . . . of. . . medical response" to his injuries following the accident[4]; and (3) a Monell claim against the City, based on its failure to equip DOC buses with seat belts or air bags, which creates a danger that "shackled and handcuffed" detainees may "fly out of their seats." (Id. at 11-12)

         On June 30, 2016, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 16) On October 20, 2016, this Court referred Defendants' motion to Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman for a Report and Recommendation ("R & R"). (Dkt. No. 27) On March 3, 2017, Judge Freeman issued a 28-page R & R recommending that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted except as to Plaintiffs deliberate indifference claim against Defendant Gonzalez. (R & R (Dkt. No. 29) at 26) Judge Freeman further recommends that Plaintiff be granted leave to amend the remaining claims in the Complaint, with the exception of the Fourth Amendment claim, which Judge Freeman recommends be dismissed with prejudice. (14)

         Judge Freeman's R & R gives notice that any objections are to be filed within fourteen days from service of the R & R, and that "FAILURE TO FILE OBJECTIONS WITHIN FOURTEEN (14) DAYS WILL RESULT IN A WAIVER OF OBJECTIONS AND WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW." (Id. at 27) No objections to the R & R have been filed.[5]

         DISCUSSION

         I.LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Review of Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

          In reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, a district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), a party may submit objections to the magistrate judge's R & R. Any objections must be "specific" and "written, " and must be made "[w]ithin 14 days after being served with a copy of the recommended disposition." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         "'The district judge evaluating a magistrate judge's recommendation may adopt those portions of the recommendation, without further review, where no specific objection is made, as long as they are not clearly erroneous.'" Gilmore v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, No. 09 Civ. 6241 (RMB) (FM), 2011 WL 611826, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2011) (quoting Chimarev v. TD Waterhouse Investor Servs., Inc., 280 F.Supp.2d 208, 212 (S.D.N.Y. 2003)). A decision is "clearly erroneous" when, "upon review of the entire record, [the court is] left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Snow, 462 F.3d 55, 72 (2d Cir. 2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twomblv. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "In considering a motion to dismiss ... the court is to accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint, " Kassner v. 2nd Ave. Delicatessen Inc.. 496 F.3d 229, 237 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Dougherty v. Town of N. Hempstead Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 282 F.3d 83, 87 (2d Cir. 2002)), and must "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Id. (citing Fernandez v. Chertoff, 471 F.3d 45, 51 (2d Cir. 2006)).

         A complaint is inadequately pled "if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement, '" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twomblv, 550 U.S. at 557), and does not provide factual allegations sufficient "to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Port Dock & Stone Corp. v. Oldcastle Northeast, Inc., 507 F.3d 117, 121 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Twomblv. 550 U.S. at 545).

         "Although a court in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is generally limited to considering the facts alleged in the complaint, a district court may also consider documents appended to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference, and matters of which judicial notice may be taken." Johnson v. Ctv. of Nassau, 411 F.Supp.2d 171, 178 (E.D.N.Y.2006) (citing Allen v. WestPoint-Pepperell. Inc.. 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1991)). "In addition, a court may also consider documents outside the pleadings if they are 'integral' to the complaint and upon which the complaint relies." Id. at 178 (citing Int'l Audiotext Network, Inc. v. American Tel, and Tel. Co.. 62 F.3d 69, 72 (2d Cir. 1995)).

         A "pro se complaint. . . [is] interpreted] ... to raise the 'strongest [claims] that [it] suggest[s].'" Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Triestman v. Fed-Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)); see Weixel v. Bd. of Educ. of Citvof NewYork. 287 F.3d 138, 145-46 (2d Cir. 2002) ("When considering motions to dismiss a pro se complaint such as this, 'courts must construe [the complaint] broadly. . . .'" (quoting Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir. 2000))). "However, although pro se filings are read liberally and must be interpreted 'to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest, ' a pro se complaint must still 'plead sufficient facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Wilder v. United States Dep't of Veterans Affairs. 175 F.Supp.3d 82, 87 (S.D.N.Y.2016) (internal citations omitted). Moreover, "the court need not accept as true 'conclusions of law or unwarranted deductions of fact."' Whitfield v. O'Connell, No. 09 Civ. 1925 (WHP), 2010 WL 1010060, at *4 (S.D.N.Y.Mar. 18, 2010) (quoting First Nationwide Bank v. ...


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