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Reed v. Grosso

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 15, 2017

BENJAMIN T. REED, Plaintiff,

          For Plaintiff: Bradley Kammholz, Esq. pro bono Kammholz Messina LLP

          For Defendants: Gary M. Levine, A.A.G. State of New York Attorney General's Office




         Pro bono plaintiff's counsel filed a comprehensive amended complaint in this prisoner civil rights case alleging, inter alia, deliberate indifference to serious mental health needs. Amended Compl., Jul. 5, 2017, ECF No. 53. Now before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss, filed August 17, 2017, ECF No. 54. The Court has reviewed the papers submitted in support of, and in opposition to, the motion, and heard oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendants' application and dismisses the case.


         The Court appointed pro bono counsel on October 5, 2016. Order, ECF No. 42 (Hon. Jonathan W. Feldman, USMJ). Counsel undertook an extensive review of the records of medical treatment and filed an all-inclusive amended complaint, which Defendants now seek to have dismissed. For the purposes of analyzing the motion, the Court assumes that the allegations in the amended complaint are true. That document details the history of Plaintiff, who has a documented record of self-harm throughout various transfers within the Department of Community and Correctional Services ("DOCCS") from one prison to another, with extensive stays in each prison's Residential Crisis Treatment Program ("RCTP").

         Plaintiff's relevant history begins with a January 23, 2001, screening by the New York Office of Mental Health at the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center during his first incarceration with DOCCS. In the course of questioning, Plaintiff reported that he had been diagnosed in May 2000 with paranoid schizophrenia and that, as a result, had been hospitalized at Four Winds Mental Health Hospital. Amended Compl. ¶ 10. The next screening took place in early November 2006 at the Groveland Correctional Mental Health Unit, where it was noted that Plaintiff might need treatment for anxiety, mild depression adjustment disorder and life circumstance problems. Amended Compl. ¶ 11. Plaintiff has also indicated that he had been admitted to the Richmond, Virginia, Community Hospital "for making serious threats against his family, " for being "hyper-religious, " and for "aggression, " and that he had a childhood history of cutting himself. Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff began a second incarceration with DOCCS in early April 2011. Id. ¶ 12. He was then screened at Elmira Correctional Facility where the records noted that he had a history of psychosis. Id. ¶ 13. He received further screenings in 2011, and on July 19, 2011, a progress note included information that Plaintiff had "a history of cutting himself with knives on his arms starting from about age 10, and that he had cut himself 20-30 times, with the last time being in 2004." Id. ¶ 15.

         In April 2013, his condition worsened and he was downgraded to mental health service level 1 (indicating a major or serious mental illness with active symptoms requiring treatment and not having six months of psychiatric stability). Id. 16. He was subsequently upgraded to level 3, but later downgraded again to level 1, and transferred in mid-July 2013 from Groveland Correctional Facility ("Groveland") to Mid-State ("Mid-State") Correctional Facility because Groveland could not handle a level 1 inmate. Id. 16-19.

         At the end of September 2013, Plaintiff "was admitted to the Central New York Psychiatric Center Mid-State Correctional Facility (Residential Crisis Treatment Program) Observation Cells after banging his head against a wall and threatening to hurt himself and others, while he was being taken to the Special Housing Unit ('SHU') for solitary confinement." Amended Compl. ¶ 20. Because of threats against staff, he was reclassified as requiring maximum security and, consequently, transferred to Auburn Correctional Facility ("Auburn") in late October 2013.

         While at Auburn, Plaintiff received further mental health evaluations and a diagnosis of "adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression, rule out schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anti-social personality disorder." Id. ¶24. In early January 2014, he was released from SHU and put into the general population at Auburn. Two days later, he cut his left arm multiple times with his razor. Id. ¶ 26. He was admitted to Auburn's infirmary with a one-on-one watch. Amended Compl. ¶ 27. Defendant Maggie Grosso ("Grosso"), a licensed social worker or mental health professional employed by either DOCCS or the New York State Office of Mental Health at Auburn, or both, interviewed Plaintiff, who told her that everyone wanted to kill him and he planned to cut himself enough to bleed to death. He also stated he had received "kites"[1] containing death threats. Id. ¶ 28. In a later interview, Plaintiff told Grosso he needed protective custody "because of a problem with a 'high ranking Blood (gang) member' threatening him in SHU." Amended Compl. ¶29. Grosso noted Plaintiff would be transferred to an RCTP bed as soon as one became available.

         He was discharged in mid-January 2014 from the RCTP into the infirmary while waiting for a bed in protective custody to open up. Id. ¶ 31. Two weeks later, he was readmitted to Auburn's RCTP. He was having a problem with another inmate in protective custody and was refusing medication. He complained that he was hearing a "thing" whispering to him, "a negative esoteric entity" he could not "turn off." Id. ¶ 32.

         On or about February 4, 2014, Grosso interviewed Plaintiff again. He told her that he "tried to play the psychiatrist" and that he "told him he was going to kill everybody" saying, "I pulled a stunt because I need to get my cell moved." Id. ¶ 33. The next day, he was transferred to Auburn's SHU in compliance with his desire for isolation. Id. ¶ 34. He was receiving psychological therapy in May and June. Id. ¶¶ 35-38.

         Because of his paranoid behavior, the DOCCS security team at Auburn referred Plaintiff for mental health screening. On July 11, and July 14, family members called the prison expressing concern about his misdiagnosis of adjustment disorder, anxiety, and depression. Plaintiff's therapist conducted a screening interview on July 23, 2014, and noted that Plaintiff was "thinking about cutting my arms again sometimes." Amended Compl. ¶40.

         Plaintiff was readmitted to RCTP on August 14, 2014, based upon his threats to harm himself. Id. ¶ 41. On October 6 and 7, 2014, he was transferred from Auburn's SHU to Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"), where he entered the general population. Id. ¶ 42. A few days later, on October 11, 2014, he cut himself 30 times with a razor, each cut from one inch to one and one quarter inch in length. Id. ¶43. He was admitted to Clinton's infirmary for observation, as Clinton had "no actual CNYPC [sic] Observation Room available." Id. ¶ 44. He was "discharged from RCTP Observation Room" on October 20, 2014, and moved to protective custody at Clinton. Id. ¶ 46. He was readmitted to RCTP on four more occasions, and returned to protective custody. Id. ¶¶ 47-50. On or about May 1, 2015, he was informed that he was going to be transferred to Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica). Id. ¶ 51. On the same day, he "was readmitted to Clinton's RCTP Observation Unit because of threats of self-harm, paranoid delusions, tying his cell bars together, and seeing demons." Id. ¶ 52.

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 7, 2015, he was transferred from the RCTP directly to Attica and was "mentally unstable" and "critically in need of a continuum of mental health care." Id. ¶ 58. He further alleges that Defendants Robin Downs ("Downs"), Sohail Gillani (Gillani"), and/or John and Jane Doe Nos. 1-8 were aware of his mental instability and "critical need of a continuum of mental health care." Id. ΒΆ 59. En route to Attica, Plaintiff spent time at Downstate Correctional Facility ("Downstate") where he threatened to harm himself and, ...

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