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Townsley v. Lee

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 14, 2017

TAYDEN TOWNSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT WILLIAM A. LEE; LIEUTENANT TOKARZ; SGT. NEIL YANDO; CO. ROBERT SNEDEKER CO. WARREN FREEMAN; CO. JAMES LAWYER; CO. WILLIAM STEVENS; INVESTIGATOR FRANK ORTIZ; THE ESTATE OF DR. HERBERT E. GOULDING, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          VINCENT L. BRICCETTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tayden Townsley, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action under 42 U.S.C § 1983 against defendants Superintendent William A. Lee, Lieutenant Mark A. Tokarz, Sergeant Neil Yando, corrections officer ("CO.") Robert Snedeker, CO. Warren Freeman, CO. James Lawyer, CO. William Stevens, Investigator Frank Ortiz, and the Estate of Dr. Herbert E. Goulding, alleging defendants used excessive force, failed to protect plaintiff, conducted an unlawful investigation, and were deliberately indifferent to plaintiffs serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. #29).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is GRANTED as to defendants Lee, Tokarz, and Ortiz; as to defendants Estate of Dr. Goulding, Yando, Snedeker, Freeman, Lawyer, and Stevens, the motion to dismiss is converted to a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), 56, and that motion is also GRANTED.

         As to defendant Ortiz only, the Court sua sponte grants plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint, as further explained below.

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         BACKGROUND

         For purposes of ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all factual allegations of the complaint as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs favor. In addition to the facts alleged in the complaint, "[i]n considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider .. . documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint." DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C.. 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010).

         At all relevant times, plaintiff was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven").

         Accepting plaintiffs allegations as true for purposes of this motion, on March 21, 2013, [1]plaintiff was stopped and searched while at "J-School" (Compl. ¶ 2), a facility at Green Haven containing the law library, inmate organizations and programs, and counseling and physical therapy units. See Jackson v. Goord, 664 F.Supp.2d 307, 320 (S.D.N.Y.2009) (describing Green Haven's J-School). Plaintiff had with him a folder containing legal documents. Defendant CO. Freeman took plaintiffs legal files from another officer who was searching plaintiff, and asked the officer why he was being "so gentle" with plaintiffs belongings. (Compl. ¶ 2). Freeman dumped plaintiffs legal paperwork out of the folder and shoved plaintiff toward the wall. Freeman threatened plaintiff and attempted to provoke plaintiff into fighting him.

         Plaintiff filed a written complaint with Superintendent Lee regarding the March 21, 2013, incident with CO. Freeman.

         At the time, plaintiff was the Green Haven inmate liaison committee representative for his housing block. As an inmate liaison committee representative, plaintiff attended monthly meetings with Green Haven's administrative executive team, which included the superintendent or his designee, all deputy superintendents, and corrections officers of the rank of captain or lieutenant. At these meetings, plaintiff and the other inmate liaison committee representatives raised the issue of physical assaults and harassment of inmates by corrections officers, particularly incidents occurring in specific parts of the facility and during particular shifts. Plaintiff also encouraged inmates to report any misconduct by filing a grievance or complaint.

         Plaintiff claims he witnessed or otherwise became aware of several incidents he reported directly to the superintendent, including claims of harassment by Freeman. For example, Freeman allegedly took two watches from inmates, and threatened to deprive other inmates of recreation time if they did not relinquish their cigarettes. Plaintiff feared his filing of complaints against Freeman were the motivation for Freeman's actions on March 21, 2013. In plaintiffs complaint to Superintendent Lee regarding that incident, plaintiff sought protection from retaliation, threats, harassment, and intimidation resulting from plaintiffs reports of officer misconduct.

         On April 24, 2013, defendant Lieutenant Tokarz responded by letter to plaintiff on behalf of Superintendent Lee. Tokarz informed plaintiff that a letter of complaint was not the appropriate mechanism to address the concerns of other inmates. Tokarz also memorialized the actions he had taken in response to plaintiffs complaint. Tokarz said he interviewed plaintiff on April 17, 2013, and subsequently spoke with all staff allegedly involved in the March 21, 2013, incident each of whom submitted a written statement denying plaintiffs version of events. Tokarz determined there was no evidence to support plaintiffs claims of wrongdoing, and considered the matter to be addressed and resolved.

         On March 25, 2013, plaintiff wrote to Brian Fischer, then the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), regarding the processing of plaintiff s grievances. Karen Bellamy, Director of the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP"), responded and informed plaintiff that he had not filed a grievance regarding the March 21, 2013, incident. Furthermore, she instructed plaintiff to see an IGP supervisor if he wished to file a grievance because it could not be filed directly through Fischer's office.

         On May 6, 2013, plaintiff was allegedly attacked and beaten by corrections officers while attempting to go to his evening program assignment. Plaintiff had been released too late from his housing block to join the group heading to J-School. As a result, plaintiff was told to return to his housing block, but was then authorized by an unnamed CO. to line up with the neighboring housing block so that he would be able to join his group at J-School. Under the impression that plaintiff had left his housing block without permission, defendant Sergeant Yando isolated plaintiff from the group and ordered him to put his hands on the wall. With plaintiffs hands on the wall, defendant Freeman struck plaintiff on his side. Defendant Lawyer grabbed plaintiff by the waist, and defendants Snedeker and Stevens rushed plaintiff, knocking him to the ground. Plaintiff momentarily lost consciousness, waking up to officers holding him on the ground, and Snedeker jabbing plaintiff along his right side with a baton.

         Plaintiff implored the officers to stop and pleaded for help. Sergeant Yando asked plaintiff why he left his housing block. The officers finally released plaintiff after forcing him to agree not to take any action regarding the attack.

         After returning to his cell, plaintiff was informed that non-defendant CO. Imperati told Sergeant Yando that plaintiff had not been given permission to leave his housing block.

         That night, plaintiff asked for and was denied access to medical care. Plaintiff went to emergency sick call the next day, May 7, 2013, complaining of severe pain in his leg, ankle, shoulder, and ribs. Medical staff recorded the following injuries: a chipped front right tooth; sore neck; redness on his hand; and bruising and tenderness of the shoulder, armpit, right thigh, and ankles. Staff provided plaintiff with ibuprofen for his pain.

         Plaintiff informed non-party Lawrence O'Neill, Assistant Deputy Assistant of Programs, of the attack, asked that it be reported, and requested to have photos taken of his injuries. Photos were taken and plaintiff filed a written complaint with defendant Superintendent Lee after refusing to provide a statement to non-party Sergeant Miller. Plaintiff described what happened and asked Superintendent Lee to take disciplinary action against the corrections officers involved in the May 6, 2013, attack.

         On May 9, 2013, plaintiff returned to sick call and showed his injuries to Superintendent Lee and Assistant Deputy Assistant of Programs O'Neill. Plaintiff was also seen by medical staff, and photos were again taken. Medical staff gave plaintiff an ace bandage for his ankle, which appeared more swollen and bruised. Plaintiff complained of extreme pain in his thigh, ankle, shoulder, and side. Plaintiff was given more ibuprofen for his pain.

         Plaintiff had been placed in keeplock confinement-i.e., administrative segregation-as a result of the May 6, 2013. incident, about which plaintiff complained to Superintendent Lee. Lee told plaintiff someone would be coming to speak with him soon.

         Later that day. plaintiff met briefly with Investigator Ortiz from the Inspector General's Office for an interview before agreeing to continue the conversation on another day.

         On or about May 10, 2013, plaintiff met with defendant Dr. Goulding, his assigned medical provider, and showed Dr. Goulding his injuries. After telling Dr. Goulding how he received his injuries, plaintiff claims Dr. Goulding became "very hostile and belligerent." (Compl. ¶ 23). Dr. Goulding recorded only some of plaintiff s injuries, refused to document others, and gave plaintiff only ibuprofen for the pain. Dr. Goulding did not perform a full examination, denied plaintiff physical therapy-even though the mobility in plaintiffs right shoulder remained limited for a year-and did not authorize plaintiffs use of an ace bandage. Plaintiff requested an MRI or x-ray of his ribs, but Dr. Goulding denied that request.

         Plaintiff submitted a complaint dated May 14, 2013, regarding the medical care he received from Dr. Goulding with Dr. Frederick Bernstein, Green Haven's Medical Director, and Dr. Carl Koenigsmann, DOCCS' Chief Medical Officer. (Pl.'s Decl. Ex. B).

         Plaintiff was seen again by Dr. Goulding on May 30, 2013. X-rays of plaintiff s ribs and right ankle were taken at that time. According to a response dated August 13, 2013, from Dr. Bernstein to plaintiff regarding his May 14, 2013, complaint, the x-rays showed no injury. (Pl.'s Decl. Ex. B), Dr, Bernstein's response also indicated Dr. Goulding's care had been appropriate and plaintiffs request for a new medical provider was denied.

         On or about May 13, 2013, plaintiff met again with Investigator Ortiz. Throughout the interview, plaintiff felt like Ortiz insinuated plaintiff had fabricated the May 6, 2013, incident. Ortiz said that CO. Snedeker's baton had been sent to forensics, but the bruises on plaintiffs leg appeared to be from a broom handle, indicating plaintiff had been attacked by inmates rather than corrections officers.

         A family visit interrupted the interview, causing Ortiz to become angry and further question the validity of plaintiff s claims because plaintiff wanted to attend the visit rather than finish the interview. Plaintiff provided Ortiz with a list of witnesses to interview regarding the May 6, 2013, incident, but Ortiz did not speak to any of the witnesses plaintiff identified. Instead, plaintiff claims Ortiz randomly questioned inmates not present during the attack.

         On May 16, 2013, plaintiff filed a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC"), using the letter he had sent to Superintendent Lee on the night of May 6, 2013. Non-party Lieutenant Murphy interviewed plaintiff regarding his grievance and, on June 29, 2013, decided to defer investigation to the inquiry already started by Ortiz and the Inspector General's Office.

         On July 11, 2013, Superintendent Lee notified plaintiff that an investigation into the matter was ongoing and any necessary action would be taken following the conclusion of the investigation.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6) Standard of Review

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court evaluates the sufficiency of the operative complaint under the "two-pronged approach" articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009), First, plaintiffs legal conclusions and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, " are not entitled to the assumption of truth and are thus not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678; Havden v. Patersoru, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). Second, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief, " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the allegations in the complaint must meet a standard of ''plausibility." Id. at 678; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007). 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         The Court must liberally construe submissions of pro se litigants, and interpret them "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Applying the pleading rules permissively is particularly appropriate when, as here, a pro se plaintiff alleges civil rights violations. See Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008). "Even in a pro se case, however .. . threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d ...


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