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Boston v. Suffolk County

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 9, 2018


          By: Peter E. Brill, Esq., Joseph P. Griffin, Esq., Of Counsel Brill Legal Group, P.C. Attorneys for the Plaintiff

          By: Kyle O Wood, Assistant Corporation Counsel Susan A. Flynn, Assistant Corporation Counsel Suffolk County Department of Law Corporation Counsel for the Defendants Suffolk County, New York and Suffolk County Police Department



         The Plaintiff Robert Boston (the “Plaintiff”) brought this civil rights action against the Defendants Suffolk County, New York (the “County” or “Suffolk”), Suffolk County Police Department (the “SCPD”) (with the County, the “Suffolk Defendants”), Town Of Smithtown, New York (the “Town” or “Smithtown”), Town Of Smithtown Park Police (“TSPP”) (with Smithtown, the “Smithtown Defendants”), Suffolk County Police Officers John Doe #1 To John Doe #5, Town Of Smithtown Department Of Public Safety Personnel and/or Park Rangers John Doe #1 To John Doe #5 (together with the SCPD John Does 1 through 5, the “John Doe defendants”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) alleging that they deprived him of his constitutional rights by failing to provide him with medical care while in their custody.

         Presently before the Court are motions by the Suffolk Defendants and the Smithtown Defendants for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.” or “Rule”) 56, as well as a motion by the Plaintiff to amend his complaint pursuant to Rule 15 to substitute certain police officers and rangers for the John Doe defendants.

         For the following reasons, the Plaintiff's motion to amend pursuant to Rule 15 is denied, and the Defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted in part, and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Relevant Facts

         On the afternoon of July 4, 2013, the Plaintiff left his home after having a dispute with his wife. He brought nine tablets of Valium and 35 tablets of Wellbutrin with him. The Plaintiff testified that he does not remember where he went, but that he drove past his wife at some point, and ended up in Bill Richards Memorial Park in Smithtown, New York. (Dep. of Robert Boston at 47-48). While at the park, he smoked some marijuana, and swallowed nine Valium pills and an unknown quantity of Wellbutrin. He wanted to kill himself. The next thing that the Plaintiff remembers is being asked to sign a desk appearance ticket at a police station on July 5, 2013.

         At about 10:19 in the morning on July 5, 2013, Town of Smithtown Park Rangers Russell Sokol (“Ranger Sokol” or “Sokol”) and Joseph Paterson (“Ranger Paterson” or “Paterson”) received a radio report of an individual who was on the premises without authorization. Paterson testified that there was a radio call for a suspicion person around a vehicle, who was possibly intoxicated. (Dep. of Sokol at 35).

         Paterson and Sokol encountered the Plaintiff at about 10:50 a.m.. The Plaintiff “appeared to be . . . sleeping.” (Id. at 37). The rangers awakened the Plaintiff and asked him for identification. The Plaintiff refused. He told the officers that he did not want to come out of the car because he believed they were going to arrest him. (Id. at 39). Ranger Paterson testified that the Plaintiff said that he wanted to be left alone so that he could sleep. (Dep. of Paterson at 36).

         The rangers eventually convinced the Plaintiff to exit his car, and he did so without any aid from the rangers. (Dep. of Sokol at 40-41). He said that he did not know why the rangers were bothering him; he was just sleeping and did not see any problem. (Dep. of Paterson at 37). The Plaintiff cursed at the rangers and used other abusive and offensive language. (Dep. of Sokol at 45-46). The Plaintiff identified himself and the rangers took down his information. (Id. at 47).

         The Plaintiff was a little unsteady on his feet, but was coherent and able to answer the officers' questions. He told the rangers that he had taken two tabs of acid and nine Diazepam pills, and that he had smoked a little weed. Rangers Sokol and Paterson had the Plaintiff sit down and asked him if he needed any medical attention or if he wanted to go to the hospital. The Plaintiff said no. (Id. at 43). Ranger Paterson asked him a series of question to assess his well-being: he asked him the name of the current president; what the weather was that day; what was the day of the week; and the current date. (Dep. of Paterson at 38). Paterson testified that he “got responses that were exactly what [he] had asked. There was no waivering [sic]. There was nothing that arose suspicion. It just seemed like he was just very tired.” (Dep. of Paterson at 39).

         The rangers observed several pills lying on the passenger floor, and the Plaintiff told them that he also had weed. Rangers Sokol and Paterson recovered a quantity of marijuana from the Plaintiff's person. Paterson observed some dried vomit on the passenger seat of the Plaintiff's car. (Id. at 49). The Plaintiff later supported this point by testifying that he had to clean vomit out of his car.

         The Plaintiff was placed under arrest. The Plaintiff was arrested for possession of marijuana; possession of a controlled substance; remaining upon Town Park Property while under the influence of non-prescription controlled substances; use of loud, abusive and indecent language on park property; and failure to show identification upon request.

         Rangers Sokol and Paterson transported the Plaintiff to the Suffolk County Police Fourth Precinct (the “Fourth Precinct”) for processing. While he was transporting the Plaintiff, Ranger Paterson explained the process at the precinct, and the Plaintiff seemed coherent. (Dep. of Paterson at 50).

         At 10:55 a.m., the Plaintiff arrived at the Fourth Precinct. The Plaintiff walked into the precinct without any assistance. The desk sergeant asked the Plaintiff a series of questions: whether he needed medical attention; whether he was okay; whether he was taking any medication; and what was his pedigree information. The Plaintiff answered all of these questions, and stated that he did not need medical attention.

         Sergeant Thomas Healy (“Sergeant Healy” or “Healy”) of the SCPD was the desk officer at that time. He testified that he had no independent recollection of interacting with the Plaintiff. However, on the Prisoner Activity Log, Healy wrote “No” in the section that asks whether the “prisoner claims pain, injury or illness.” (Prisoner Activity Log, Suffolk Defs. Ex. J). Healy also noted that the Plaintiff was unsteady on his feet, lethargic, and spoke with slurred speech.

         Healy did not recall a prisoner ever failing to give a response to his questioning concerning injury or illness. He does not remember the Plaintiff ever making any statements about attempting to take his life; and testified that he would have noted such statements if they had been made, and would have sent the prisoner to the hospital. Healy testified that if a prisoner asks for medical attention, the officer to whom the request was made would bring that request to the desk sergeant's attention. While he has no independent recollection, Healy testified that the records reflect that the Plaintiff did not request medical attention while housed at the Fourth Precinct. Although Healy does not remember it, Ranger Paterson testified that he told him that the Plaintiff claimed to have ingested nine diazepam and two tabs of acid. (Paterson Dep. at 60).

         The prisoner activity log shows that the Plaintiff was in custody at the Fourth Precinct from 10:55 a.m. until 3:20 p.m.. The officers noted in the activity log that the Plaintiff was calm the entire time. At three different times, he took drinks of water. At 12:03 p.m., Ranger Paterson remarked on the log that the Plaintiff was “cooperative.” At 3:20 p.m., the Plaintiff signed a desk appearance ticket. The Plaintiff testified that he remembered signing the desk appearance ticket. (Dep. of Robert Boston at 63-66).

         After issuing the Plaintiff a desk appearance ticket, Ranger Paterson sought to bring the Plaintiff home. He did not want the Plaintiff to drive because he was very tired, but he did not want him housed overnight at another precinct because the Plaintiff had been cooperative. (Dep. of Paterson at 71). The Plaintiff had provided the officers with his home phone number, but he had told them that no one was home. Paterson asked the Plaintiff if he would rather go to a jail cell or go home and get some sleep. The Plaintiff told Paterson that he wanted to go home; specifically, he said he was tired and wanted to go to bed. (Dep. of Paterson at 75).

         While he was at the Fourth Precinct, the Plaintiff never requested medical attention; never complained of any injury or illness; and never disclosed that he had attempted suicide.

         Ranger Paterson drove the Plaintiff home, and Ranger Sokol followed in a separate car. Paterson parked in the driveway. He asked the Plaintiff whose cars were in the driveway, and the Plaintiff told him that the two cars belonged to him and his wife. The Plaintiff further stated that he had thought his wife was still at work, and asked Ranger Paterson to go speak with her if she was home. The Plaintiff remained in the car. The car was running, the air conditioning was on, and the windows were cracked. (Dep. of Sokol at 92).

         Ranger Paterson spoke to the Plaintiff's wife, Joann Boston. He explained to her what happened, and she said that she would not let him into the house. The Plaintiff's daughter, Kayla Boston, ran out of the house to where her father was, and yelled at him, saying that she hated him. The car door was open, and she pulled it open more to yell at him. Ranger Sokol came around to prevent Kayla Boston from opening the door all the way. Kayla Boston testified by deposition that her father did not respond. She said that “he wasn't [her] dad at that moment. He was looking at [her], but like he was looking through [her] [] like [she] was a stranger . . . .” (Dep. of Kayla Boston at 92). She ran back inside. She testified that she did not know if he was in need of medical attention or in distress at that point. (Id. at 160).

         About that time Joann Boston walked outside, and saw the Plaintiff in the car. She went to tell him that his mother was coming to get him. Joann Boston testified that the Plaintiff:

was sitting in the back [of the car] and he was tipped over[, ] and his eyes were like blank. They looked like dead eyes. They weren't his eyes. And he seemed pale and sweaty. And he was tipped over. And I tried to talk to him. I said, are you okay? And I couldn't get him - he wouldn't even respond to me. So I said to the officer - I said, he doesn't need to sleep it off under the tree, he needs an ambulance, he needs to go to the hospital. And he said, well you can call 911 if you want.

(Dep. of Joann Boston at 92). She went inside and called 911. The Plaintiff suffered a seizure at that point. An ambulance arrived and took the Plaintiff to St. Catherine's Hospital. The Plaintiff was in a coma for six days. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; has lost most of his sense of smell; has lost many fine motor senses; and does not see as well as he used to.

         Prior to these events, the Plaintiff had never suffered a drug induced seizure despite having taken many drugs over the course of many years.

         Relevant here, the officers also testified as to their respective training. Ranger Sokol testified that he had never received any training in the signs and symptoms of narcotic use, (Sokol Dep. at 23), and that there are no specific regulations as to how to deal with someone in medical distress, (id. at 28). Ranger Paterson testified that he did not receive any training with regard to the use of drugs, (Paterson Dep. at 16-17), the identification of drugs, (id.), or how to interact with arrestees, (id. at 20-21). He testified, however, that he was trained in the administration of Narcan, (id. at 17), which is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids, especially in overdose. Sergeant Healy testified that he did not receive any training on how drugs might affect people. (Dep. of Healy at 18).

         B. The Relevant Procedural Background

         On October 1, 2013, the Plaintiff served an unverified Notice of Claim on the Town of Smithtown and Suffolk County. On November 8, 2013, the Plaintiff served an amended verified Notice of Claim on the Town of Smithtown and Suffolk County.

         On October 3, 2014, the Plaintiff filed his complaint. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants deprived him of his Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The 1983 claims are brought against the SCPD, the TSPP, and the John Doe defendants, and the Plaintiff brings Monell claims against the County and the Town. The Plaintiff also brings causes of action for negligence against all of the Defendants, and vicarious liability against the County and the Town. The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         On June 23, 2017, the Suffolk Defendants and the Smithtown Defendants filed their respective motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56.

         On August 4, 2017, the Plaintiff filed his motion to amend the complaint pursuant to Rule 15.


         A. As to the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend

         1. Rule 15(c)(1)(C)

         The Plaintiff seeks to amend his complaint pursuant to Rule 15(c)(1)(C) to substitute certain officers for John Doe defendants. The Defendants argue that the statute of limitations has passed, and Rule 15(c)(1)(C) does not permit relation back in this situation where there was no mistake of identity. The Court finds that the Plaintiff cannot avail himself of the provisions of Rule 15(c)(1)(C).

         “Rule 15(c)(1)(C) provides the federal standard for relation back.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 517 (2d Cir. 2013). An amended complaint that adds a new party must meet the ...

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