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Dobbins v. Ponte

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 2, 2017



          JESSE M. FURMAN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Kashawn Dobbins, a New York State prisoner proceeding pro se, brings claims against the City of New York (the “City”), several New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) officers, and a DOC Hearing Officer. (Docket No. 22 (“Second Am. Compl.”)). Specifically, Dobbins alleges that he was subjected to the use of excessive force, that his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated, and that he was denied necessary medical treatment. (Id. at 2-4). The parties now cross-move, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for summary judgment. (Docket No. 53; Docket No. 55 (“Defs.' Mem.”); Docket No. 58 (“Pl.'s Mem.”)). Additionally, Dobbins moves for leave to amend his complaint to add claims against another DOC Officer. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, Dobbins's motion for summary judgment is denied, and his motion for leave to amend is denied.


         The relevant facts, taken from the Second Amended Complaint and admissible materials submitted by the parties, are either undisputed or described in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Costello v. City of Burlington, 632 F.3d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 2011).[1]

         In early 2014, Dobbins was in pretrial custody at the Otis Bantum Correction Center (“OBCC”), a DOC facility on Rikers Island. (Second Am. Compl. 2; Docket No. 54-1 (“First Am. Compl.”), at 2). On the evening of February 1, 2014, DOC Officers from the Emergency Services Unit (“ESU”) conducted a search of Dobbins's housing area and cell. (Second Am. Compl. 2; Defs.' Mem. 2). During the search, Officer Rivera - a Defendant here - escorted Dobbins to his cell and began to search his person. (Defs.' Mem. 2). Officer Rivera came to believe that Dobbins was hiding something in his mouth and ordered him to spit it out. (Id. at 2-3). Defendants allege that Dobbins refused and that Officer Rivera, soon assisted by Officer Ortiz, began struggling with Dobbins to place him in handcuffs. (Id. at 3). Dobbins contends that after he turned around to be handcuffed, one of the Officers “slammed” him “on the bed, ” choked him, and hit him “about three times” in the ribs. (Docket No. 54-2 (“Dobbins Depo.”), at 32-38). He alleges that he suffered injuries to his wrist, back, and ribs as a result. (Id. at 32).

         Officers Boyd and Richardson - Defendants here as well - then removed Dobbins from his cell and escorted him out of the housing area, events that were captured on videotape by DOC personnel. (Docket No. 54-3 (“Video”)). The videotape shows Officers Boyd and Richardson forcefully holding Dobbins's handcuffed arms behind him in what Defendants describe as “control holds . . . to gain his compliance” and “to ensure that [he] did not escape them and run.” (Id. at 21:10-22:35; Docket No. 57 (“D e f s ' Rule 56.1 SUF”) ¶¶ 7-8). On the videotape, Dobbins is heard screaming “I'm not resisting nothing!” and, at one point, looks directly at the camera and says: “For the camera, they're breaking my wrists, seriously!” (Vi d eo 21:51-53). The officers then took him to a hallway right outside the housing area, where they secured him facing a wall for a few minutes, during which he continued to yell “My wrist!” and the like. (Id. at 22:05-25:34). The videotape then shows a group of officers escorting Dobbins away from the housing area, apparently to the intake unit. (Id. at 26:28-27:10). Notably, in his deposition, Dobbins testified that he was not “touch[ed]” by any officer on his way to intake, that it was “just walking and probably like holding me and making sure I don't run or something like that, and holding me while I am being handcuffed.” (Dobbins Depo. 68-69).

         In the intake unit, Dobbins was strip-searched by Officer Richardson. (Docket No. 54-8 (“Richardson Report”)). Dobbins alleges that during the course of the strip-search - which was not captured by the camera, even though the videotape continued to run - Officer Richardson punched him until he was knocked unconscious and that he awoke bleeding from the head. (Second Am. Compl. 3). Defendants do not dispute that Officer Richardson punched Dobbins, or that the latter was knocked unconscious, but insist that Officer Richardson defended himself after Dobbins “threw the first punch.” (Defs.' Mem. 4; Richardson Report). Later the same day, Dobbins received medical treatment for a three-centimeter laceration to the right side of his scalp and a contusion to his left eye. (Docket No. 54-11 (“Feb. 1, 2014 Medical Records”)). The records from that visit specifically note the absence of any “neck pain.” (Id.). One week later, Dobbins returned to the OBCC medical clinic complaining of “chest discomfort” and “hand pain, ” citing the February 1, 2014 incident. (Docket No. 54-12 (“Feb. 8, 2014 and Feb. 12, 2014 Medical Records”)). He received treatment for an abrasion on his right wrist. (Id.).

         Defendants allege that during the search, a small plastic bag was found outside of Dobbins's cell, the contents of which later tested positive for crack cocaine. (Docket No. 54-13). On February 4, 2017, Dobbins received a notice charging him with three disciplinary infractions: assaulting staff, possession of a controlled substance, and refusing to obey a direct order. (Docket No. 54-15 (“Notice of Infraction”)). Three days later, Hearing Officer Wiley - also a Defendant here - conducted a hearing. (Docket No. 54-18 (“Hearing Tr.”), at 1). Despite repeated requests, Dobbins was not permitted to review any of the Officers' statements or other paperwork that was read into the hearing record. (Hearing T r. 8-11). He was, however, allowed to call two witnesses. (Id. at 12-21). Following the hearing, Hearing Officer Wiley found Dobbins guilty of all three infractions and sentenced him to seventy days in the Central Punitive Segregation Unit (“CPSU”). (Docket No. 54-19 (“Disciplinary Disposition Notice”)). Thereafter, the Bronx County District Attorney's Office prosecuted Dobbins for the substance recovered during the February 1, 2014 search. (Docket No. 54-21). On September 30, 2014, Dobbins pleaded guilty to one count of Promoting Prison Contraband in violation of New York Penal Law Section 205.20, and was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, to be served concurrently with his underlying sentence. (Id.).

         After exhausting the prison grievance procedures, Dobbins filed this action, naming as Defendants the DOC, the Commissioner of DOC, the Warden of OBCC, several named and unnamed DOC officers, and medical staff (“to[sic] many to name.”) (First Am. Compl. 1). By Order dated May 4, 2015, this Court dismissed the claims against the DOC, the OBCC Warden, the DOC Commissioner, and medical staff for pleading deficiencies. (Docket No. 6 (“Order of Service”)). The Court also construed the Complaint to assert state law claims against the City under a theory of respondeat superior, but dismissed any claim against the City pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). (Order of Service 2-3). Thereafter, Dobbins filed the operative complaint, the Second Amended Complaint, naming as Defendants the City; DOC Officers Ortiz, Rivera, Boyd, and Richardson; and Hearing Officer Wiley. (Docket No. 22).[2] Liberally construed, the Second Amended Complaint asserts against the DOC Officers or Hearing Officer Wiley claims under state and federal law for excessive force, violations of due process, and the deprivation of medical treatment; and asserts against the City a respondeat superior claim under state law. (Id.).[3]


         Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence and the pleadings demonstrate “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Johnson v. Killian, 680 F.3d 234, 236 (2d Cir. 2012) (per curiam). A dispute over an issue of material fact qualifies as genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a judgment for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); accord Roe v. City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 2008). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.” Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23); accord PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, ” Overton v. N.Y. State Div. of Military & Naval Affairs, 373 F.3d 83, 89 (2d Cir. 2004), and the court must “resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, ” Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004). When, as in this case, both sides move for summary judgment, the district court is “required to assess each motion on its own merits and to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of that party.” Wachovia Bank, Nat'l Ass'n v. VCG Special Opportunities Master Fund, Ltd., 661 F.3d 164, 171 (2d Cir. 2011). Thus, “neither side is barred from asserting that there are issues of fact, sufficient to prevent the entry of judgment, as a matter of law, against it.” Heublein, Inc. v. United States, 996 F.2d 1455, 1461 (2d Cir. 1993).

         To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a non-moving party must advance more than a “scintilla of evidence, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, and demonstrate more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party “cannot defeat the motion by relying on the allegations in [its] pleading or on conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits supporting the motion are not credible.” Gottlieb v. Cnty. of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Affidavits submitted in support of, or opposition to, summary judgment must be based on personal knowledge, must “set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, ” and must show “that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.” Patterson v. Cnty. of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         It is well established that courts must give “special solicitude” to pro se litigants in connection with motions for summary judgment. Tracy, 623 F.3d at 101. Thus, a pro se party's papers opposing summary judgment are to be read liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See, e.g., Clinton v. Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., 824 F.Supp.2d 476, 481 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). This special solicitude is not unlimited, however, and does not “relieve” a plaintiff of his or her “duty to meet the requirements necessary to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Jorgensen v. Epic/Sony Records, 351 F.3d 46, 50 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Nor is the ‚Äúduty to liberally construe a plaintiff's opposition the ...

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