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Nelson v. New York City N.Y.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 12, 2017

NEW YORK CITY N.Y., Defendant.



         The plaintiff, Ondre Vernon Nelson, proceeding pro se, brings this action against the City of New York (the "City") . Mr. Nelson sues under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that the defendant violated his constitutional rights by (1) requiring him to sleep on the floor without a pillow or blanket and (2) later requiring him to sleep on a mattress mounted on a foundation, despite the mattress label's warning that it should not be used with a foundation. Mr. Nelson now seeks injunctive relief requiring the City to provide him with a more suitable mattress and to change its policy concerning detainees' mattresses. In addition, Mr. Nelson seeks compensatory damages totaling $18, 000, 000.

         The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff has not responded. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the motion be granted.


         Mr. Nelson's Amended Complaint states that after his arrival at Rikers Island on September 29, 2015, he spent six days in a holding cell, where he was forced to sleep on the “bair [sic] cold concreat [sic] floors” without a blanket or pillow. (Amended Complaint (“Amend. Compl.”) at 3). Later, when the plaintiff moved into a housing unit, he was allegedly forced to sleep on a mattress improperly mounted on a foundation. (Amend. Compl. at 3). Mr. Nelson considers his treatment “cruel and unusual punishment.” (Amend. Compl. at 3). To substantiate his claim, he attaches to his Amended Complaint a copy of a mattress tag, which states, “This mattress is intended to be used without a foundation.” (Mattress Warning Label, attached as Exh. A to Amend. Compl.). Mr. Nelson claims to have developed “[severe] back pain, . . . which made a preexisting lower back pain worse, . . . [scoliosis] in [his] back, numbness of arm, shoulders, hands, sides, hips, legs, and feet, as well as pain i[n] those areas.” (Amend. Compl. at 3). The plaintiff claims to have suffered from sleep deprivation due to his bedding and claims to continue to suffer from “disorientation, mental stress, and pain.” (Amend. Compl. at 3).

         Mr. Nelson filed a grievance with the New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) about his back pain and the improper use of his mattress. (Amend. Compl. at 4). DOC refused to move him, change his mattress, or allow him to “double up” mattresses. (Amend. Compl. at 6-7).[1] Mr. Nelson then asked doctors to write medical notes for him and spoke with grievance supervisors. (Amend. Compl. at 4). On November 11, 2016, the plaintiff met with Grievance Supervisor “Mr. Guerrant” and Grievance Officer “Mr. Jefferson, ” who informed him that he had exhausted his administrative remedies and that nothing more would be done about the mattress. (Amend. Compl. at 5).

         The plaintiff brought this action on August 10, 2016, and he amended his complaint on January 31, 2017, in response to an order of the Court. The defendant has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the grounds that (1) the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement or inadequate medical treatment and (2) the plaintiff has not stated a claim for municipal liability.


         A. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court's charge in ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion “is merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof.” GVA Market Neutral Master Ltd. v. Veras Capital Partners Offshore Fund, Ltd., 580 F.Supp.2d 321, 327 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (quoting Eternity Global Master Fund Ltd. v. Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York, 375 F.3d 168, 176 (2d Cir. 2004)). A court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, “taking its factual allegations to be true and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71 (2d Cir. 2009).

         This standard applies equally to pro se plaintiffs, but their pleadings are read more liberally and are construed as raising the strongest claims implied. See Teichmann v. New York, 769 F.3d 821, 825 (2d Cir. 2014). The court may also consider “materials outside the complaint to the extent that they are consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Martinez v. Aycock-West, 164 F.Supp.3d 502, 508 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (quoting Alsaifullah v. Furco, No. 12 Civ. 2907, 2013 WL 3972514, at *4 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 2, 2013)). Finally, even if a plaintiff does not oppose a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the failure to respond does not warrant dismissal if the complaint sufficiently states a claim. McCall v. Pataki, 232 F.3d 321, 323 (2d Cir. 2000).

         B. Conditions-of-Confinement Claim

         In order to establish a § 1983 claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement,

a pretrial detainee must satisfy two prongs, . . . an “objective prong” showing that the challenged conditions were sufficiently serious to constitute objective deprivations of the right to due process, and a “subjective prong” -- perhaps better classified as a “mens rea prong” or “mental element prong” --showing ...

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