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Sawabini v. McGrath

United States District Court, N.D. New York

August 28, 2017

EDWARD MCGRATH, et al., Defendants.


          Lawrence E. Kahn U.S. District Judge.


         Pro se plaintiff Lutfallah T. Sawabini brought this action against (among other individuals and entities that are no longer parties to this case) defendants Harold Southworth, Mary McCarthy, Michael Hodgman, and Edward McGrath (collectively, the “Bassett Defendants”); the New York State Division of Human Rights (“DHR”), Helen Torres, Victor DeAmelia, Caroline Downey (collectively, the “State Defendants”); and William Carentz. Dkt. Nos. 1 (“Complaint”), 7 (“Amended Complaint”).[1] Presently before the Court are the State Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, motions for summary judgment filed by the Bassett Defendants and Carentz, and Sawabini's cross-motion for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 82 (“State Motion”), 104 (“Carentz Motion”), 115 (“Bassett Motion”), 116 (“McGrath Motion”), 106 (“Sawabini Cross-Motion”). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motions filed by the State Defendants and Carentz, grants in part and reserves decision on the remainder of the Bassett Motion, and denies Sawabini's Cross-Motion.


         A. Factual Background

         1. The Alleged False Arrest

         Sawabini is a licensed pharmacist who was continuously employed for over fifty years in various capacities from age nineteen to seventy. Am. Compl. at 6; Dkt. No. 106-1 (“Sawabini Cross-Motion Affidavit”) at 2.[2] In 2014, Sawabini applied for a risk management position at O'Connor Hospital, an affiliate of the Bassett Healthcare Network. Dkt. No. 117-1 (“Sawabini Opposition Declaration”) at 7; Dkt. 115-4 (“Bassett Statement of Material Facts”) ¶ 1. After Sawabini was denied the position, several O'Connor employees reported to Edward McGrath-the Senior Director of Operations at O'Connor Hospital-that Sawabini was making threatening statements. Dkt. No. 115-3 (“McGrath Declaration”) ¶¶ 1-2. On or about April 14, 2014, McGrath called Sawabini and requested that he stop his behavior, and McGrath followed up by sending Sawabini a letter on April 15, 2014. Id. ¶ 3; Dkt. No. 115-3 (“Southworth Declaration”) ¶ 6. McGrath also reported the threats to Southworth, the Network Manager of Public Safety. McGrath Decl. ¶ 4; Southworth Decl. ¶ 3. On April 22, 2014, another employee reported that Sawabini was continuing to make threatening statements. Southworth Decl. ¶ 7. Sawabini denies that he threatened O'Connor employees, and he claims that McGrath is lying about his conduct. Sawabini Opp'n Decl. at 3-4, 7.

         Southworth reported Sawabini's threatening phone calls to Dr. Celeste Johns, Bassett's Chief of Psychiatry and the designee of the Director of Community Services for New York Mental Hygiene Law. Southworth Decl. ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 115-3 (“Johns Declaration”) ¶ 4.[3] Southworth told Dr. Johns that “it was [his] belief, based on [his] training and experience, that [Sawabini] presented a substantial risk of harm to himself or others.” Southworth Decl. ¶ 9. New York Mental Hygiene Law section 9.45 states that:

The director of community services or the director's designee shall have the power to direct the removal of any person . . . to a hospital . . . [if] a licensed physician, health officer, peace officer or police officer reports to him or her that such person has a mental illness for which immediate care and treatment in a hospital is appropriate and which is likely to result in serious harm to himself or herself or others.

         Pursuant to this authority, Dr. Johns completed a section 9.45 form after finding reasonable cause to believe that Sawabini was suffering from a mental illness that posed a danger to himself or others. Johns Decl. ¶ 5. Sawabini appears to suggest that Southworth never communicated with Dr. Johns, and that Southworth fabricated Dr. Johns's role after Southworth had Sawabini confined. Sawabini Opp'n Decl. at 12. Yet Sawabini presents no admissible evidence to support this assertion.

         After completing the section 9.45 form, Dr. Johns handed it to Mary McCarthy, a registered nurse in the Crisis Center, who then faxed it to the Sidney Police Department. Johns Decl. ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 115-3 (“McCarthy Declaration”) ¶¶ 3-8. On April 22, 2014, the Sidney Police Deparment transported Sawabini without restraint to Bassett Hospital. Bassett SMF ¶ 10. Once at the hospital, Sawabini was evaluated by Dr. Johns and Dr. Michael Hodgman, an attending physician at Bassett. Johns Decl. ¶ 7; Hodgman Decl. ¶¶ 1, 3. Dr. Hodgman concluded that “although [Sawabini] suffered from hypomania, he did not pose an immediate risk of substantial harm to himself or others.” Hodgman Decl. ¶ 6. Dr. Johns provided a similar diagnosis. Johns Decl. ¶ 7. Accordingly, Dr. Hodgman ordered Sawabini's release. Hodgman Decl. ¶ 8. Sawabini, for his part, claims that Southworth “intended to ask” Dr. Johns for Sawabini's “permanent detainment.” Sawabini Opp'n Decl. at 6. Sawabini also appears to suggest that because Dr. Johns was aware that the Bassett Defendant were falsely arresting him, she let him leave. Id. at 9. And according to Sawabini, Dr. Johns promised to report Southworth for his involvement in the false arrest. Id. at 10.

         Sawabini further alleges that William Carentz, his psychologist, conspired with the Bassett Defendants to have him confined while Carentz was on vacation in Florida. Sawabini Cross-Mot. Aff. at 5-7. Carentz is a licensed clinical social worker who maintains a private practice. Dkt. No. 104-2 (“Carentz Affidavit”) ¶ 2. Carentz treated Sawabini as a private client between February and June 2014. Id. ¶ 3. Carentz denies involvement with any of the events surrounding Sawabini's confinement at Bassett Hospital. Carentz Aff. ¶¶ 5-8. Sawabini fails to explain the basis for his knowledge about Carentz's activities during his Florida vacation; thus, there is no admissible evidence in the record supporting Sawabini's assertion that Carentz acted in concert with the Bassett Defendants to confine him.

         2. The DHR Proceedings

         After waiting for some time to hear back regarding his application for the risk management position, Sawabini filed a discrimination complaint with the DHR. Am. Compl. at 6-7.[4] At proceedings in front of the DHR, Sawabini objected to the failure to swear in Barbara Greene, McGrath, and Jane Doe 1, a telephone operator at O'Connor Hospital, during a February 6, 2015 telephone conference at which an unfavorable decision was rendered. Id. at 47. Sawabini also alleges that several individuals lied during the course of the DHR inquiry, including Greene and McGrath. Id. at 20, 22. In particular, Greene stated that Sawabini's resume did not contain enough “evidence of expertise in [s]uch management.” Id. at 22. Sawabini believes that McGrath has a habit of lying due to the lay opinions of various security guards at the Delaware City Court; the chief of police of Delhi, New York; and the chief of emergency services of Delaware County. Id. at 46-47. Sawabini unsuccessfully brought these allegations to DeAmelia, the regional director for the DHR, and Torres, an investigator for the DHR. Id. at 47-48. He asked Torres to recuse herself due to her refusal to “see the liability” in his case. Id. at 21.

         Sawabini states that Victor DeAmelia, the regional director for the DHR, issued faulty decisions, that he did not read Sawabini's rebuttal, and that Caroline Downey, general counsel for the DHR, was complicit in denying Sawabini his ability to have his case heard in front of the DHR. Id. at 28, 45, 48. Torres allegedly failed to investigate the confinement, interview Jane Doe 1, question Denise Pinter, a member of the human resources department at O'Connor hospital, as to why Sawabini's alleged threats were relevant, order Sawabini's arrest report, or call Southworth, McCarthy, Hodgman, Vance Brown, or Richard Brown. Id. at 48-49. In sum, the DHR determination was “[c]apricious, arbitrary and abusive.” Id. at 27. Sawabini states that the DHR considered evidence where various defendants admitted to the conduct he alleges as well as evidence of discrimination, intent to inflict emotional distress, and other malicious conduct. Id. at 28. Sawabini specifically alleges that Downey was unresponsive, failed to appear at least once in state court, and “team[ed] with all defendants to feed her ego.” Id. at 50-51.

         B. Procedural History

         Sawabini filed this action on June 8, 2015, asserting claims arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. Sawabini filed an Amended Complaint on September 21, 2015, adding Tri-Town Hospital, the Bassett Defendants, the State Defendants, William Carentz, Greene, Pinter, Carlton Rule, and eleven John and Jane Does as defendants. Am. Compl. at 6-14. Several defendants then moved to dismiss, and on September 8, 2016, this Court granted in part and denied in part these motions. Dkt. No. 69 (“September Order”) at 51-53. The Court held that the following claims survived: (1) the false arrest claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against McGrath, Carentz, Hodgman, Southworth, and McCarthy, and (2) the due process claims against the State Defendants under § 1983. Id. at 52. Further, because the Court entertained doubts as to its jurisdiction over the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) claims, it directed Sawabini to file the full decision from the DHR and explain why the Court could exercise jurisdiction over the claim. Id. 52-53. On October 19, 2016, the Court dismissed the NYSHRL claims because Sawabini's submission “clarifie[d] that his complaint was dismissed on the merits and does not fit into one of the . . . exceptions [for exercising jurisdiction over NYSHRL claims that have already been brought before the DHR].” Dkt. No. 75 (“October Order”) at 2. Accordingly, the Court terminated several defendants from the action. Id.

         On November 2, 2016, the State Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, State Mot., and on January 18, 2017, Carentz moved for Summary Judgment, Carentz Mot. Sawabini then cross-moved for summary judgment on February 21, 2017, Sawabini Cross-Mot., and on May 15, 2017, the Bassett Defendants moved for summary judgment, Bassett Mot; McGrath Mot.


         A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         A party may move for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) any time after the close of pleadings but before trial. E.g., Calingo v. Meridian Res. Co., No. 11-CV-628, 2013 WL 1250448, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2013). Rule 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings are decided by the same standard as Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 160 (2d Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive a Rule 12(c) motion, a pleading “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in a pleading and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir. 2006). Plausibility, however, requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-[plaintiff]-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Where a court is unable to infer more than the mere possibility of the alleged misconduct based on the pleaded facts, the pleader has not demonstrated that she is entitled to relief and the action is subject to dismissal. Id. at 678-79.

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to grant summary judgment if “there is 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). Although “[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary” will not preclude summary judgment, “summary judgment will not lie if . . . the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991) (“Only when no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party should summary judgment be granted.”).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party claims will demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Similarly, a party is entitled to summary judgment when the nonmoving party carries the ultimate burden of proof and has failed “to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.

         In attempting to repel a motion for summary judgment after the moving party has met its initial burden, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). At the same time, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Grp. of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). Thus, a court's duty in reviewing a motion for summary judgment is ‚Äúcarefully ...

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