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West v. Goord

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 31, 2017

JAMES A. WEST A/K/A WESS, Plaintiff,


          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. Chief Judge United States


         Plaintiff James West a/k/a James Wess (“Plaintiff'), commenced this action alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Rehabilitation Act”), and various federal Constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF. No. 29 (“2d Am. Compl.”).

         Currently pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 102. Having considered the moving papers, the record evidence and the applicable law, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and for the following reasons, Defendants' summary judgment motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         Plaintiff is an inmate in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”), and is currently housed at Five Points Correctional Facility (“Five Points”). At all times relevant to Plaintiff's claims, he has been wheelchair-bound and suffers from a host of medical issues.

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges: (1) violations of his Eighth Amendment rights when he was denied adequate wheel chair maintenance, hand and wrist splints, and a sufficient supply of proper catheters; (2) denial of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment during impeachment proceedings; (3) withholding of reasonable accommodations and medical equipment under the ADA and Section 504; (4) racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; and (5) various retaliatory actions taken by Defendants in violation of his First Amendment rights. 2d Am. Compl., ¶¶ 76, 78, 85-86, 102, 104, 119, 121, 136, 146, 180-85, 187. Plaintiff also advances an overarching conspiracy claim in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1986. Id., ¶ 186.

         Defendants are or were all employees of DOCCS. Defendants Case, Henrich, Keefe, Lauber, Napoli, Pabon, and Poole were assigned to Five Points. All Defendants, with the exception of Deputy Commissioner of Policy & Compliance Stephan Bernardi, are sued in their individual capacities only.

         I. The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (“IGRC”)[2]

         A. Plaintiff's Involvement and Impeachment

         In June 2003, Plaintiff was elected as an IGRC representative. In connection with his election to serve as an alternate IGRC representative, Plaintiff received a copy of the Inmate Grievance Program (“IGP”) Manual, and signed and agreed to the IGRC Code of Ethics. The Code, applicable to IGRC staff, inmate representatives, clerks, and its chairperson, provides that violations thereof may result in dismissal from participation in the grievance program.

         During a staff meeting on July 2, 2003, Defendant Henrich, Inmate Grievance Supervisor, noted that Plaintiff was “continually disputing the meaning of parts of Directive 4040 and the training manual.” ECF No. 114-6 (“Def. Ex. I”) at 337[3]. Plaintiff states that he was “inquiring about the interpretations of Directive 4040.” ECF No. 110 (“West Decl.”), Ex. 4. In the same memorandum, Henrich noted that “timeliness was addressed, ” and that Plaintiff was reminded that he “signed a Code of Ethics . . . what transpires in the office is to stay in the office.” Id. Plaintiff disputes that he was “reminded.” ECF No. 109 (“Pl. Opp'n Stmt.”), ¶ 60.

         On July 7, 2003, Plaintiff received an Informal Counseling Memorandum from Defendant Henrich, which advised Plaintiff of the confidentiality of the information received in the grievance office, and stated that Plaintiff could assist inmates with grievance preparation without incorporating any personal knowledge of the grievance office. Plaintiff was also reminded of the time frames required in addressing hearings and grievances.

         A July 10, 2003 memorandum written to Plaintiff's file by Defendant Henrich stated her observations of Plaintiff's performance as an IGRC representative. She noted that Plaintiff “needed to be more careful with the files, ” on the basis that a duplicate hearing had been conducted without a complete investigation. Def. Ex. I at 340-41. The memorandum further noted that Plaintiff “continue[d] to read more into a grievance that is stated . . . attempting to create more work in the IGRC office.” Id. On multiple occasions, Plaintiff's vote on a grievance would result in a deadlock.

         On July 23, 2003, the informational notes from Plaintiff's Informal Counseling Memorandum indicated that Plaintiff and another individual were disruptive to the IGRC office. The notes stated that Plaintiff was reminded of the purpose of the IGRC and the importance of timeliness, and that Plaintiff was issued a copy of his proposed job duties. Def. Ex. I at 343-45. Plaintiff disputes that any conversation took place regarding disruptions and responsibilities. Pl. Opp'n Stmt., ¶ 69. The following day, Defendant Henrich observed that Plaintiff “attempted to force things out of control, ” and was “undermining the IGRC . . . .” Def. Ex. I at 346. For example, Plaintiff was observed providing inmates with partial information. Id.

         On July 25, 2003, Plaintiff received an Inmate Counseling Notification for poor program/work performance when Plaintiff was observed reviewing a large group of grievances from a week prior that had potentially become untimely due to Plaintiff's improper filing.

         On August 1, 2003, Plaintiff was issued a Formal Counseling Memorandum regarding his continued failure to thoroughly conduct and complete grievance investigations. A subsequent Formal Counseling Memorandum dated September 3, 2003, noted that Plaintiff should fully review folders prior to formal hearings to ensure that all documentation is present in the grievance file, and to advise if there were incomplete files. Plaintiff was requested to provide all information available to provide a complete investigation whether refuting or substantiating a grievant's claim.

         Plaintiff was issued another Formal Counseling Memorandum on September 11, 2003, for inappropriate behavior during a hearing held on September 9, 2003. During that hearing, Plaintiff provided incorrect information to a grievant regarding the confidentiality of his medical health, resulting in the disclosure of irrelevant medical information.

         In two memoranda dated October 2, 2003 and October 7, 2003, Defendant Henrich noted Plaintiff's continued issues with improper coding of grievances and adversarial demeanor.

         Plaintiff testified that he told Defendant Case at some point that “[y]ou have a racial component in the grievance office . . . and you can either get rid of it, or there's going to be a problem.” ECF No. 114-5 (“Def. Ex. H”) at 59. He stated that he asked Defendant Pabon “why don't you just act like you got balls?” Id. at 100. Plaintiff further testified that he told the IGRC defendants that he would “eventually” sue them for “denying [him] well-established law” and for discrimination. Id. at 108-09. Finally, according to Plaintiff, “in a joking sense, ” he called Defendant Keefe a “sensitive hooker.” Id. at 116-17.

         Defendants Henrich and Lauber never voiced any feeling of displeasure about Plaintiff for filing grievances against the IGRC. Defendant Lauber testified that she “answered a lot of grievances, ” and that Plaintiff's filings “did not stand out in any way.” ECF No. 114-1 (“Def. Ex. D”) at 88.

         Plaintiff was served with a Recommendation for Impeachment and hearing notification on October 21, 2003, in which he was alleged to have breached IGRC confidentiality, improperly safeguarded grievance files, and undermined IGRC's operation and credibility. Def. Ex. I at 69-72, 74-75. In her recommendation for impeachment, Defendant Henrich stated that Plaintiff used the inmate grievances process as an “adversary process, ” contrary to the goals of the program which were to promote mediation and conflict resolution. Id. She further alleged that Plaintiff failed to follow staff direction.

         Plaintiff's impeachment hearing began on October 28, 2013, during which testimony was heard from 25 witnesses over the course of several days. Defendant Napoli served as the hearing officer.

         Four of Plaintiff's requested inmate witnesses refused to testify. Another inmate witness was no longer housed at Five Points, and Plaintiff concedes that the inmate had no knowledge of the incidents surrounding Plaintiff's charges. Plaintiff was denied his request to call various Commissioners and Superintendents who were located in the DOCCS Central Office on the basis that they were immaterial and lacked direct knowledge of the issues raised in the impeachment hearing.[4]

         The hearing resulted in Plaintiff's removal from his position as IGRC representative for a three-year period. He signed a copy of the determination on November 17, 2003, which indicated that Plaintiff provided “no real defense to the charges, ” and noted that the evidence showed that Plaintiff was adversarial and failed to follow staff direction. Def. Ex. I at 69-70. Specifically, Plaintiff was in violation of Rules B, E, F, and G of the IGRC Code of Ethics.[5]

         Plaintiff began filing grievances regarding the IGRC in March of 2002 and continued to do so throughout the entire course of his service as an inmate representative, which ended in the fall of 2003. On April 18, 2003, he wrote a letter to Defendant Goord and copied to Defendants Bernardi and Leclaire regarding multiple violations of Directive #4040, the IGRC Training Manual, and the DOCCS Employee Manual, as well as other misconduct. Plaintiff also testified that he had filed grievances against the IGRC, and notified supervisory staff of the improprieties of the IGRC. Def. Ex. H at 23. Those grievances were investigated by members of the IGRC, none of whom are named Defendants in this case. The matter was upheld by the Central Office Review Committee.

         B. Facility Access

         Prior to the start of Plaintiff's term as an IGRC representative, African-American, Caucasian, and Latino inmates had served in the position. At that time, inmate representatives were permitted access to the entire Five Points facility to conduct IGRC investigations.

         The previous rule permitting IGRC representatives to move freely about the facility to conduct IGRC investigations was suspended sometime in 2002, before Plaintiff's IGRC term began in June of 2003. Defendant Lauber testified that she was not responsible for the rule change, and she believed the policy change was due to Five Points being a maximum security facility. As such, allowing unrestricted movement passes would be difficult, in that inmate representatives would need to be escorted, and because inmates were not permitted to be in housing units to which they were not assigned. She could not recall having personally escorted an inmate to conduct an IGRC investigation. Likewise, Defendants Case and Pabon denied ever escorting an inmate to conduct IGRC investigations.

         Plaintiff, on the other hand, claims that Defendants Bernardi, Dennis, Eagen, Goord, Henrich, Leclaire, and Poole conspired to prevent him from having access to move freely about the facility to conduct IGRC business on the basis of his race.

         II. Plaintiff's Medical Care and Accommodation Requests

         A. Wheelchair

         The IGRC office contained a table, desks, and unattached chairs, used by all IGRC staff and representatives to conduct their duties. There was no assigned seating in the IGP office. Although a table was available for Plaintiff to work at, he contends there was no wheelchair-accessible desk available. Def. Ex. H at 95. Plaintiff testified that he verbally requested a wheelchair-accessible desk for the IGP office, and no action was taken in response. Id. at 94-96. Defendants Case, Keefe, Lauber, and Pabon could not recall whether any such request was received.

         From 2002 to 2006, Plaintiff notified staff of issues regarding his wheelchair. Those complaints were forwarded to the proper departments, but Plaintiff disputes the sufficiency of the repairs made to his wheelchair during that time. Def. Ex. H at 43-44.

         On October 4, 2005, Plaintiff complained about his wheelchair, and was advised that he could swap his wheelchair with another, but would be responsible for repairing his current wheelchair.

         On June 5, 2006, Plaintiff was offered a new wheelchair, as the old one was deemed unsafe. Plaintiff refused to accept the new wheelchair.

         B. Catheters

         Records indicate that on February 20, 2002, Plaintiff was to receive three catheters per week, along with swab sticks and gloves. On February 27, 2002, Plaintiff was issued 21 catheters. The same day, Plaintiff was issued two additional catheters upon his request.

         From March 6, 2002, through March 20, 2002, Plaintiff was issued seven catheters per week. Beginning March 27, 2002, Plaintiff was issued 28 catheters per week.

         On April 4, 2002, Plaintiff's medical permit was changed to include the following: four catheters per day (issued weekly), disposable underpads, surgical lubricant, and instructions for usage. Beginning June 20, 2002, Plaintiff was issued four catheters per day on a daily basis. On December 2, 2002, Plaintiff was issued a 12-day supply of catheters.

         Regarding his alleged injuries, Plaintiff testified that:

They exacerbated my medical problems that I came here under, in the conditional discharge order for James West . . . . They were supposed to give me appropriate catheters - a supply of catheters. They didn't . . . At times, they gave me catheters that I wasn't supposed to have that caused me pain and ...

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