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Jones v. Rivera

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 31, 2017

ANTHONY JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
DENISE RIVERA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Brian M. Cogan, USD.J.

         Plaintiff Anthony Jones brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deliberate indifference to his safety in violation of the Eighth Amendment, against Denise Rivera, a corrections officer at Queensboro Correctional Facility (“Queensboro”), where plaintiff was formerly incarcerated. Plaintiff alleges that, while he was incarcerated, he underwent foot surgery, and that defendant subsequently denied him use of the elevator, thus requiring him to take the stairs and causing him to fall and sustain injuries. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff has failed to establish a claim of deliberate indifference and that in any event, qualified immunity shields Rivera from liability. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Rivera is entitled to qualified immunity, and defendant's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The following undisputed facts are from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements.

         Plaintiff Anthony Jones is a former inmate in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) prison system and assigned to Queensboro. Defendant Rivera was a corrections officer at Queensboro between 2012 and 2015. She was assigned to serve as a medical escort at Queensboro at various points in her tenure, including the date of plaintiff's fall.

         Queensboro is a seven-story facility with inmates housed on the fifth and sixth floors and with activities, including the mess hall, on the bottom floors. The mess hall, where all meals are served, is on the first floor. To travel between the floors, inmates generally use the stairs. However, Queensboro does have one elevator, which a medical escort operates. The medical escort is responsible for transporting inmates on that elevator. Inmates are not permitted to ride the elevator alone and must be accompanied by corrections staff. The medical escort, however, is part of the corrections staff, not the medical staff.

         Plaintiff disputes the existence of an official elevator policy, as well as the role of the medical staff at Queensboro. Nevertheless, there is no dispute that only medical staff may issue elevator passes and that corrections staff may not issue elevator passes. In addition, the medical staff generates an “elevator pass list, ” identifying all of the inmates with active elevator passes, and provides this list to the medical escort. However, the elevator pass list is not always updated contemporaneously to reflect real-time changes. The medical staff, not the corrections staff, is responsible for updating the elevator pass list. Notwithstanding the use of elevator passes and the elevator pass lists, medical escorts have discretion to allow inmates on the elevator based on their own observations.

         On May 14, 2015, Jones underwent a surgical procedure on his right foot to remove an extra bone. This surgery occurred at the office of an outside medical provider. When Jones returned from the outside medical provider to Queensboro, he met with Nurse Carol Chaveron Angeron, a member of the Queensboro medical staff. During this meeting, Jones was wearing an orthopedic shoe that he received from the outside medical provider. The particular orthopedic shoe Jones wore had an open toe and open heel with Velcro on top, and a portion to protect plaintiff's ankle, with the top of the shoe stopping at the malleolus. Additionally, Jones had a bandage dressing on his foot.

         During the May 14, 2015 meeting, Nurse Angeron issued, inter alia, a “Medical Pass / Elevator Pass” to Jones that authorized him to ride the elevator, use a cane and an orthopedic shoe, abstain from gym activities and work, and sleep on the bottom bunk in his cell. The pass had an expiration date of May 22, 2015. After the meeting, Nurse Angeron updated the elevator pass list by hand to reflect that Jones had authorization to ride the elevator until May 22, 2015. The medical staff also generated a typed version of that list, dated May 18, 2015.

         On May 21, 2015, Jones visited the outside medical provider again. Later that day, Jones again met with Nurse Angeron, during which time Nurse Angeron renewed Jones's pass. The new expiration date for the renewed pass was May 29, 2015. Despite this renewal, neither Nurse Angeron nor anyone else on the medical staff updated the elevator pass list in any way to reflect the new expiration date.

         On May 25, 2015, at the beginning of her shift, Rivera, who was serving as the medical escort for the elevator that day, visited the medical department to pick up a copy of the most recent elevator pass list. The particular list Rivera received that day contained an entry for Jones that showed his elevator pass had expired on May 22, 2015. When lunch time arrived, Jones sought to ride the elevator down to the mess hall. He did not show Rivera his pass and claimed that his pass was “outdated.” At the time, Jones was walking with his cane, exhibiting a limp, and wearing his orthopedic shoe.

         Despite not being shown an elevator pass and not having Jones on the elevator pass list, Rivera permitted Jones to ride the elevator from his housing floor to the mess hall. While plaintiff was in the mess hall, Rivera called the medical department and spoke to Nurse Anait Yerknapetian. Rivera inquired as to whether Jones had authorization to ride the elevator and whether he had a valid elevator pass for that day. Nurse Yerknapetian informed Rivera that Jones did not have a valid elevator pass for May 25, 2015.

         After lunch concluded, Jones once again sought use of the elevator, asking Rivera for a ride back to his housing floor. Rivera refused to permit him to ride the elevator, advising Jones that he was not on the elevator pass list and that he did not have a valid pass for the day. Rivera told Jones to take the stairs. Thereafter, Jones walked away from the elevator and to the ...


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