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Hernandez v. The City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 22, 2017

THE CITY OF NEW YORK,, Defendants.


          J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

         Plaintiff Angel Hernandez filed this action on January 2, 2014, proceeding pro se, alleging that Defendant Corizone Medical Department Staff delivered substandard medical treatment while he was incarcerated at Rikers Island. (Dkt. No. 2.) This Court granted a motion to dismiss the initial complaint and also gave Hernandez leave to amend. Hernandez v. Corizone Med. Dep't Staff, No. 14 Civ. 192, 2015 WL 273690, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 22, 2015).

         Thereafter, Hernandez obtained pro bono counsel (Dkt. No. 53), and filed the operative Sixth Amended Complaint (“Complaint”), alleging deliberate indifference to his medical condition, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the City of New York, the New York City Health Department, Correction Officer Captain Isaac, Correction Officer Adun, and other corrections personnel at Rikers Island, named in the Complaint as Doe Defendants (Dkt. No. 69 ¶¶ 70-77 (“Compl.”)). Hernandez also alleges that all Defendants, except for the New York City Health Department, were negligent under state law and caused him injury. (Id. ¶¶ 78-86.)

         Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint. (Dkt. No. 79.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Some familiarity with the facts of this case is presumed; the contours of the events are chronicled in this Court's earlier Opinion and Order on the first motion to dismiss. See Hernandez, 2015 WL 273690, at *1. The following facts are taking from the operative Sixth Amended Complaint and are presumed true for the purposes of this motion.

         As relevant to the pending motion to dismiss, Hernandez alleges that Rikers Island staff manually regulated and maintained the temperature of the water in the inmate showers in the 1 Lower South (“1LS”) building at the Robert N. Davoren Complex at Rikers. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-14.) The temperature could not be controlled by inmates and was adjusted only by accessing the locked boiler room, which was staffed by authorized personnel. (Id. ¶ 13) On October 16, 2013, the staff on duty left the water in the showers in 1LS at a “scalding temperature.” (Id. ¶ 14.) When Hernandez turned on the shower, the shower head “broke off from the faucet, ” and a large volume of “scalding hot” water cascaded over him, causing “severe skin burns” on his head, back, and legs. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         On or around October 18, 2013, Hernandez's burns had not healed, and blisters erupted on his back and right leg. (Id. ¶ 17.) He informed Defendant Correction Officer (“CO”) Adun of the injuries and the “excruciating pain” they caused; he asked that Adun help him get medical care. (Id.) That same day, CO Adun told his superior, CO Captain Isaac, what Hernandez had reported to him, including that Hernandez had blisters on his back and right leg and was experiencing tremendous, excruciating pain. (Id. ¶ 18.) Hernandez further alleges that Adun and Isaac were personally in charge of his custody and care-and, based on this first exchange, that they were aware of this medical condition from start to finish. (Id. ¶¶ 6-8.)

         After his initial report to CO Adun, Hernandez was examined by a physician's assistant (“PA”) at a New York City Correctional Health Services office located at Rikers. (Id. ¶ 19.) He was diagnosed with “contact dermatitis due to hot water, ” and the PA documented multiple pus blisters and other irritation, including a visible rash. (Id. ¶ 20.) Hernandez was given an ointment to spread over the affected areas and told to take ibuprofen for pain. (Id.)

         Two days later, Hernandez returned to the same medical facility because of worsening discomfort-the “severe pain” made lying in bed too painful for him to sleep. (Id. ¶ 21.) The PA noted that Hernandez had developed “scaly erythematous patches on his back, ” and that the blisters and rash caused by the scalding water had begun to spread to other parts of his body. (Id.) The PA also noted that Hernandez's skin had become pruritic, which could be an indication of infection or skin disease. (Id.) On the basis of Hernandez's severe and worsening condition, and at Hernandez's request, the PA issued a referral for an examination and treatment by a dermatologist through Bellevue Hospital. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         In spite of Hernandez's worsening medical condition and the referral to Bellevue, the authorities in charge of Hernandez's custody refused to make arrangements for him to receive appropriate dermatological care. (Id. ¶ 25.) A month later, around November 22, 2013, he was brought to a dermatology clinic onsite at Rikers, where a PA again reviewed his case and documented a worsening condition, including the further spread of blisters and rash, additional signs of infection, and the outbreak of lesions. (Id. ¶ 26.) The PA diagnosed Hernandez with a skin infection called “lichen planus v. gultata psoriasis” and ordered that he have a follow-up visit within six weeks. (Id. ¶ 29.) But the follow-up did not occur. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         On November 28, 2013, Angel called a physician to explain that his condition was worsening. (Id. ¶ 30.) The doctor concluded that the treatments were not working and that Hernandez's condition was indeed deteriorating. (Id. ¶ 31.) Hernandez's blisters and “scales” grew and began “secreting blood and pus.” (Id. ¶ 32.) He filed a grievance with the New York City Health Department in December, describing his substandard medical treatment. (Id. ¶ 34.) He also filed a New York City Department of Correction Inmate Grievance and Request Program Statement Form, in which he begged for medication to help him “get better.” (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) In response, the New York City Department of Correction issued an Inmate Grievance and Request Program Disposition Form, acknowledging that Hernandez “need[ed] treatment” and directing its provision. (Id. ¶¶ 38-39.) However, no action was taken. (Id. ¶ 40.) At the end of the December, 2013, Hernandez filed a second “Inmate Grievance.” (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.) Then, in January, Hernandez penned a letter to the warden about the situation; the letter was never answered. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.)

         After Hernandez submitted another request to see a dermatologist, a physician onsite at Rikers issued a referral for evaluation, examination, and treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47.) Around the same time, the New York City Health Department also issued a dermatology referral. (Id. ¶ 48.) Still, nothing happened. (Id. ¶ 49.)

         It was not until January 17, 2014, that Hernandez was brought in for a dermatology review. (Id. ¶ 50.) And at the end of January, Bellevue Dermatology was, at last, able to review photographs of Hernandez's skin condition-albeit remotely-and recommended that he be transported for further evaluation in several weeks at the latest. (Id. ¶¶ 51-52, 55.) But, again, no one approved or arranged for this visit. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         In February, Hernandez filed another health grievance form (id. ¶ 58), and got another referral (id. ¶¶ 60, 65). But, still, he was not transported-instead, Hernandez was sent back to the clinic at Rikers. (Id. ¶ 59.)

         It was only on the last day of March, 2014, that Hernandez was transported offsite to see a dermatologist at Bellevue. The dermatologist observed extensive scarring caused by the condition and told Hernandez it ...

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