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Cuffee v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 1, 2018

HIAWATHA CUFFEE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, OFFICER SQUILLARO Shield No. 18063, and OFFICER GONZALEZ Shield No. 17148, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PAUL G. GARDEPHE, U.S.D.J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Hiawatha Cuffee, Jr., brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the City of New York (the "City") and New York City Department of Corrections ("DOC") Officers Gonzalez and Squillaro. (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 33)) Plaintiff alleges that, while he was incarcerated, the individual defendants violated his constitutional rights in connection with a motor vehicle accident involving a DOC bus that was transporting Plaintiff to Rikers Island. (Id.) Plaintiff also brings a Monell claim against the City. (Id.) On June 16, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Def. Mot. (Dkt. No. 39)), arguing that Plaintiffs claims are barred by a general release signed by Plaintiff. (Def. Br. (Dkt. No. 42) at 7-10) Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to Defendants' motion.

         On September 4, 2017, this Court referred Defendants' motion to Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman for a Report and Recommendation ("R & R"). (Dkt. No. 49) On November 14, 2017, Judge Freeman issued a 14-page R & R recommending that Defendants' motion to dismiss be converted to one for summary judgment, and granted. (Nov. 14, 2017 R&R (Dkt No. 51)) No. objections have been filed to the R&R. For the reasons stated below, this Court will adopt the R & R in its entirety.

         BACKGROUND

         I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         On My 31, 2015, the DOC transported Plaintiff by bus from Rikers Island -where Plaintiff was being detained -to Bellevue Hospital Center. (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 33) at 7)[1] At Bellevue Hospital, Plaintiff underwent a prostate examination and biopsy. (Id. at 7-8) After the procedure, Plaintiff got on a DOC bus for transport back to Rikers Island. (Id. at 7) Plaintiff alleges that he "was handcuffed and shackled at the waist [, ] and confined in a steel, locked cage approximately 31/2 feet wide." (Id. at 7-8) The cage "was positioned directly behind the driver" of the bus. (Id. at 7) Plaintiff did not have a seatbelt. (Id. at 11) Defendant Gonzalez was driving the bus (Id. at 8), while Defendant Squillaro was a passenger. (See id, at 11)

         At about 12:40 p.m., as the bus was returning to Rikers Island, Defendant Gonzalez "pull[ed] out into traffic ... at an unusually high rate of speed." (Id at 7) Plaintiff then "heard the screeching of tires, " and the DOC bus collided with another motor vehicle. (Id. at 7-9) Plaintiff "was thrown forward" in the steel cage and, "upon impact, " he "injured [his] knee, lower back, .. . neck, and ... was also bleeding from [his] rectal area [due] to [his] recent biopsy." (Id. at 7-8) Plaintiff alleges that he "began screaming to [Defendant] Gonzalez ... to ... get [him] back to the hospital because [he] desperately needed medical assistance." (Id. at 8) Other inmates on the bus also "scream[ed] for help" and "plead[ed] for medical assistance." (Id. at 11) Notwithstanding Plaintiffs pleas for assistance, Defendants did not provide Plaintiff with medical attention for "several [] hours." (Id. at 12)

         II. THE GENERAL RELEASE

         In support of their motion to dismiss, Defendants have submitted two "Personal Injury Claim Form[s], " dated August 4, 2015 and September 3, 2015, which Plaintiff filed with the New York City Comptroller (Englert Decl., Ex. A (Aug. 4, 2015 Claim) (Dkt. No. 41-1); Englert Decl, Ex. B (Sept. 3, 2015 Claim) (Dkt. No. 41-2)), and a January 28, 2016 "General Release" signed by Plaintiff and notarized.[2] (Englert Deck, Ex. C (Jan. 28, 2016 Release) (Dkt. No. 41-3)) The Personal Injury Claim Forms address injuries Plaintiff allegedly suffered as a result of the July 31, 2015 DOC bus accident. (See Englert Decl., Ex. A (Aug. 4, 2015 Claim) (Dkt. No. 41-1); Englert Decl., Ex. B (Sept. 3, 2015 Claim) (Dkt. No. 41-2)) Plaintiff submitted the first Personal Injury Claim Form pro se, while a lawyer submitted the second Personal Injury Claim Form on Plaintiffs behalf. (See Englert Deck, Ex. A (Aug. 4, 2015 Claim) (Dkt. No. 41-1); Englert Deck, Ex. B (Sept. 3, 2015 Claim) (Dkt. No. 41-2))

         The General Release provides in pertinent part:

[Plaintiff] ... in consideration of the payment of $5, 000.00, receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, . .. voluntarily, knowingly, and willingly releases and forever discharges the City of New York, and all past and present officials, officers .. . [and] employees .. . of the City of New York .. ., collectively the "Releasees", from any and all liability, claims, or rights of action alleging a violation of civil rights and any and all claims, causes of action, [or] suits .. . which [Plaintiff] .. . now has or hereafter can, shall or may have ... against the Releasees for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever that occurred through the date of this Release.

(Englert Deck, Ex. C (Jan. 28, 2016 Release) (Dkt. No. 41-3) at 1)

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Complaint was filed on November 12, 2015, and alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiffs constitutional rights during and immediately after the July 31, 2015 bus accident. (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 2)) On June 30, 2016, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 16) On October 20, 2016, this Court referred Defendants' motion to Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman for a Report and Recommendation ("R & R"). (Dkt. No. 27) On March 3, 2017, Judge Freeman issued a 28-page R & R, recommending that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part, and that Plaintiff be given leave to amend the Complaint. (March 3, 2017 R & R (Dkt. No. 29) at 26) On March 27, 2017, the Court adopted the March 3, 2017 R&R in its entirety. (March 27, 2017 Order (Dkt. No. 31))

         Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 2, 2017, alleging that Defendants subjected him to "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Am. Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 33) at 14) Plaintiff contends that Defendants Gonzalez and Squillaro "placed [him] in a dangerous situation and position" on the DOC bus, that Defendant Gonzalez was "reckless" in driving the DOC bus, that Defendants Gonzalez and Squillaro denied Plaintiff timely medical treatment, and that the City subjected Plaintiff to unsafe conditions by transporting him in a DOC bus that was not equipped with "standard safety seat belts" and "protective] air bags." (Id.14 at 14-15)

         On June 16, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, arguing that Plaintiffs claims are barred by the General Release. (See Dkt. Nos. 39, 42) Defendants also served Plaintiff with a formal, written notice that Defendants' motion to dismiss could be treated by the Court as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. (Notice to Pro Se Litigant ...


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