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Ryan v. County of Nassau

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 10, 2018

LILYANN RYAN, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of BARTHOLOMEW RYAN, deceased, Plaintiff,

          For Plaintiff: Nicholas E. Warywoda, Esq. Parker Waichman

          Defendants: James R. Scott, Esq. Nassau County Attorney's Office

          For the Armor Defendants: John J. Doody, Esq. Sana Suhail, Esq. Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP


          Joanna Seybert, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Lilyann Ryan (“Plaintiff”), individually and as administrator of the Estate of Bartholomew Ryan (“Ryan”), commenced this action against the County of Nassau, the Nassau County Correctional Center, the Nassau County Sheriff's Department (together, the “County Defendants”), Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., and Armor Correctional Health Services of New York, Inc. (together, the “Armor Defendants” or “Armor, ” and collectively, “Defendants”) on October 22, 2012. (Compl., Docket Entry 1.) On November 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985 and state law claims for negligence and wrongful death. (Am. Compl., Docket Entry 7, ¶¶ 108-180.)

         After the Court dismissed the claims under Sections 1981 and 1985, and the Section 1983 claim against the County Defendants, the remaining claims proceeded to trial. (See March 2016 Order, Docket Entry 62, at 25.) The case was tried from April 3, 2017 to April 12, 2017, and the following claims were submitted to the jury: (1) a Section 1983 claim for deliberate indifference to medical needs against the Armor Defendants, and (2) negligence and wrongful death claims against the Armor Defendants and the County Defendants. (Verdict Sheet, Court Ex. 3, Docket Entry 108, at 2-9.) On April 12, 2017, the jury reached a verdict in Plaintiff's favor on both claims and awarded $370, 000 for pain and suffering on the negligence claim, and $520, 000 for pain and suffering and $7, 000, 000 in punitive damages on the Section 1983 claim. (Verdict Sheet 6(A)-(G).) As to the negligence pain and suffering award, the jury apportioned the fault as follows: twenty-five percent (25%) to the County of Nassau, fifty-five percent (55%) to Armor, and twenty percent (20%) to Ryan. (Verdict Sheet 6(D).)

         Currently pending before the Court is the Armor Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), or alternatively, for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(A). (Armor Mot., Docket Entry 115.) The County Defendants have not moved for any post-trial relief. For the reasons that follow, the Armor Defendants' motion is GRANTED.


         The Court assumes familiarity with its March 2016 Order resolving the parties' motions for summary judgment and will discuss the evidence presented at trial as necessary in its analysis. (See generally March 2016 Order.) Briefly, Ryan was remanded to the Nassau County Correctional Center (“NCCC”) on February 23, 2012. (March 2016 Order at 4.) After his arrival, he was assessed by a corrections officer, two nurses employed by Armor, and Dr. Vincent Manetti (“Dr. Manetti”), a psychiatrist employed by Armor. (March 2016 Order at 5-8.) While Ryan relayed that he had a history of drug abuse and psychological disorders, he did not indicate that he was experiencing suicidal ideations or that he had previously attempted suicide. (March 2016 Order at 5-7.) However, he did indicate to Dr. Manetti that he had used heroin immediately prior to his arrival at NCCC. (March 2016 Order at 7-8.) As a result, Dr. Manetti referred Ryan to the medical department for monitoring on an urgent basis, which according to Armor's guidelines, meant that Ryan would be seen within twenty-four hours. (March 2016 Order at 8, 21.) Unfortunately, just hours after his visit with Dr. Manetti, Ryan committed suicide. (March 2016 Order at 2, 9.)

         I. The Armor Defendants' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         A. Rule 50(b) Standard

         If a party believes that “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis” to find for its adversary on a particular issue, it may move for judgment as a matter of law during trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), and renew the motion after trial under Rule 50(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)-(b). In an order determining a Rule 50(b) motion, the district court may: “(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict; (2) order a new trial; or (3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

         The district court may only grant a Rule 50(b) motion when “‘there exists such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or the evidence in favor of the movant is so overwhelming that reasonable and fair-minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [it].'” Protostorm, LLC v. Antonelli, Terry, Stout & Krauss, LLP, No. 08- CV-0931, 2015 WL 3605143, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. June 5, 2015) (quoting Kinneary v. City of N.Y., 601 F.3d 151, 155 (2d Cir. 2010)) (alterations in original). In other words, judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only when “‘a reasonable juror would have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party.'” Id. at *2 (quoting This is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir. 1998)). “When considering the evidence associated with a Rule 50(b) motion, the trial court may not weigh evidence, assess credibility, or substitute its opinion of the facts for that of the jury, ” Rosioreanu v. City of N.Y., 526 F. App'x 118, 119 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), and must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ” Houston v. Cotter, No. 07-CV-3256, 2016 WL 1253391, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         B. Section 1983 Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs

         To establish a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant violated a “right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under the color of state law.” Charles v. Cty. of Orange, N.Y., No. 16-CV-5527, 2017 WL 4402576, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2017); 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim for deliberate indifference to medical needs under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a pre-trial detainee must establish two elements: (1) that the “deprivation of medical care . . . [was] ‘sufficiently serious, '” and (2) that the defendant “acted or failed to act with ‘a sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” See Smith v. Outlaw, No. 15-CV-9961, 2017 WL 4417699, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2017) (quoting Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 279 (2d Cir. 2006); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1977, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)); see also Grimmett v. Corizon Med. Assocs. of N.Y., No. 15-CV-7351, 2017 WL 2274485, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 24, 2017).

         The first element requires that the Court assess the seriousness of the deprivation of medical care objectively, including whether “the medical care was inadequate, and if so, . . . how the offending conduct is inadequate and what harm, if any, the inadequacy has caused or will likely cause the prisoner.” Smith, 2017 WL 4417699 (internal quotations marks and citation omitted). Further, while courts should tailor the analysis “to the specific circumstances of each case[, ] . . . . the inmate must show that the conditions, either alone or in combination, pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his health.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Generally, the condition must be “‘a condition of urgency' that may result in ‘degeneration' or ‘extreme pain.'” Grimmett, 2017 WL 2274485, at *3 (quoting Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998)). If the plaintiff alleges that medical care was delayed or interrupted, the appropriate inquiry is whether “the challenged delay or interruption in treatment . . . is, in objective terms, sufficiently serious, ” to support a claim. Id. (internal quotation marks, citation, and emphasis omitted).

         Prior to the Second Circuit's decision in Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d 17 (2d Cir. 2017), the second element--whether the defendant acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind--was evaluated subjectively. See Grimmett, 2017 WL 2274485, at *4. However, in Darnell, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Kingsley v. Henderickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015), the Second Circuit held that the standard for deliberate indifference depends on whether the plaintiff is a pre-trial detainee, in which case the claim arises under the Fourteenth Amendment, or a convicted prisoner, in which case the claim arises under the Eighth Amendment. Darnell, 849 F.3d at 32-36. The Second Circuit further held that when a claim arises under the Fourteenth Amendment, “the pre-trial detainee must prove that the defendant-official acted intentionally . . . or recklessly failed to act with reasonable care . . . even though the defendant-official knew, or should have known that the condition posed an excessive risk to health or safety.” Id. at 35; see also Charles, 2017 WL 4402576, at *10. In other words, the second element of a deliberate indifference claim under the Fourteenth Amendment “is defined objectively, ” and a plaintiff is not required to show subjective awareness by the defendant that “[his] acts (or omissions) have subjected the pre-trial detainee to a substantial risk of harm.”[1] Darnell, 849 F.3d at 35. Despite the slightly lower standard articulated in Darnell, which is akin to objective recklessness, “‘any § 1983 claim or a violation of due process requires proof of a mens rea greater than mere negligence.'” Smith, 2017 WL 4417699, at *3 (quoting Darnell, 849 F.3d at 36); see also Grimmett, 2017 WL 2274485, at *4.

         In order for a municipality or a corporation such as Armor[2] to be liable for deliberate indifference to medical needs under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), the plaintiff must “show that the action that caused the constitutional violation was undertaken pursuant to an official policy.” (March 2016 Order at 20.) Specifically, the plaintiff “must ‘demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the [entity] [itself] was the moving force behind the alleged injury.'” Simms v. City of N.Y., 480 F. App'x 627, 629 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Roe v. City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31, 37 (2d Cir. 2008)) (second alteration in original). However, “‘[a] policy or custom need not be memorialized in a specific rule or regulation;'” “‘persistent and widespread'” constitutional violations “can be ‘so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law, '” and lead to the imposition of liability. Houston, 2016 WL 1253391, at *7 (quoting Kern v. City of Rochester, 93 F.3d 38, 44 (2d Cir. 1996); Sorlucco v. N.Y.C. Police Dep't, 971 F.2d 864, 870 (2d Cir. 1992)).

         C. Analysis

         The Armor Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim because the evidence at trial did not establish either element of a deliberate indifference claim. (Armor Br., Docket Entry 117, at 4-5.)

         1. The Objective Prong

         As to the first element, the Armor Defendants maintain that Plaintiff failed to show that Ryan received inadequate medical care. (Armor Br. at 6-9.) Specifically, they contend that “Armor and its staff followed protocol in processing and evaluating the plaintiff upon his arrival to NCCC . . . and there was simply no notice of Ryan's purported suicidal tendencies prior to and at the time of his detention.” (Armor Br. at 6.) They point out that there were no signs that Ryan was experiencing symptoms of withdrawal or mental illness when he arrived at NCCC. (Armor Br. at 6; see also NCCC Records, Doody Decl., Ex. B, Docket Entry 116-2, at 2.) However, because Ryan indicated that he had taken medication for a psychological condition, he was placed on constant observation until he could be assessed by the mental health department.[3] (Armor Br. at 6.)

         Afterward, he was seen by a Licensed Practical Nurse, Joe Mathews (“Nurse Mathews”), and a Registered Nurse, Tanya Tinglin (“Nurse Tinglin”). (Armor Br. at 7; see also Armor Records, Doody Decl., Ex. C, Docket Entry 116-3, at 1-16.) According to the Armor Defendants, the evidence reflects that Ryan told Nurse Mathews that he was previously diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and was taking medication, and indicated that although he used heroin in the past, he was not currently using drugs. (Armor Br. at 7; Armor Records at 12-13, 16.) After assessing him, Nurse Mathews referred Ryan to the mental health department on a routine basis. (Armor Records at 17.) Next, the Armor Defendants assert that when Ryan saw Nurse Tinglin, he reported a history of PTSD, bipolar disorder and anxiety, and denied using drugs. (Armor Br. at 7; Armor Records at 14.) His only complaint was lower back pain, and Nurse Tinglin noted elevated blood pressure during her exam. (Armor Br. at 7; Armor Records at 14.) He denied having any suicidal thoughts or prior suicide attempts. (Armor Br. at 8; Armor Records at 15.)

         The next morning, Ryan saw Dr. Manetti and reported that he used heroin two days prior to being remanded to NCCC. (Armor Br. at 8; Armor Records at 20.) He continued to deny suicidal thoughts and prior suicide attempts. (Armor Records at 20.) Dr. Manetti's diagnosis was opiate dependence, and he put in an urgent referral to the medical department to monitor Ryan for symptoms of withdrawal. (Armor Br. at 8; Armor Records at 18, 21.) Dr. Manetti testified at trial that Ryan was not exhibiting any symptoms of withdrawal when he evaluated him, and that he believed that Ryan had actually used heroin more recently than reported. (Trial Tr. (Manetti), Doody Decl., Ex. A, Docket Entry 116-1, 312:13-18.) He declined to continue Ryan's psychotropic medication and recommended that Ryan be housed with the general population. (Armor Records at 19-21.) The Armor Defendants maintain that all of this evidence shows that Ryan received adequate care, and as a result, Plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof on the first element of her deliberate indifference claim.

         Plaintiff argues that the evidence established “an intentional denial or delay of access to medical care.” (Pl.'s Opp., Docket Entry 119, at 13.) She contends that Dr. Manetti, following Armor's referral protocol, referred Ryan to the medical department on an urgent basis, even when he knew that it could take as long as twenty-four hours for Ryan to been seen and despite his concerns that Ryan was not being monitored for signs of drug withdrawal. (Pl.'s Opp. at 13; Trial Tr. (Manetti) 346:17-348:10 (testifying regarding his concerns and agreeing that Ryan could wait up to twenty-four hours before he was monitored for withdrawal symptoms).) Further, she points out that Dr. Manetti failed to forward the referral form to the medical department until an hour and a half after his visit with Ryan. (Pl.'s Opp. at 13; Trial Tr. (Manetti) 350:21-351:2.) As a result, Plaintiff argues, Ryan was not being monitored after his visit with Dr. Manetti until he committed suicide. (Pl.'s Opp. at 13.) Plaintiff maintains that, among other things, the evidence established that Dr. Manetti (1) should have sought additional information regarding Ryan's prior treatment for psychological disorders based on his assessment that Ryan was a poor historian, (Trial Tr. (Manetti) 308:2-13 (discussing his characterization of Ryan as a poor historian), 310:4-9 (testifying that the fact that Ryan was a poor historian would be a reason to ...

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