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Jones v. Crisis Services of Erie County

United States District Court, W.D. New York

August 3, 2018

ROCHELLE M. JONES and JAMES L. THOMAS, Plaintiffs,
v.
CRISIS SERVICES OF ERIE COUNTY, “SHERRY W., ” “MANDY M., ” “R.G., ” JULIAN HARRIS, MYLINDA MCCREADY, [1]ERIE COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER, RICARDO ROMERO, M.D., WON HOON PARK, M.D., ALFONSO TAN, M.D., BUFFALO POLICE DEPARTMENT, BUFFALO POLICE OFFICER JOHN DOE 1, BUFFLO POLICE OFFICER JOHN DOE 2, Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         On March 21, 2016, Plaintiffs Rochelle M. Jones and James L. Thomas filed a Complaint alleging various claims against Defendants stemming from Jones's involuntary commitment at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) under New York's Mental Hygiene Law (MHL). See ECF No. 1.

         Nearly two months later, on May 5, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 3. Plaintiffs never served the original Complaint on any of the Defendants before filing the Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint alleged facts similar to the original Complaint and eleven claims: (1) Defendants Crisis Services of Erie County (CSEC), Sherry W., Mandy M., R.G., and Julian Harris conspired to deprive Jones of her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); (2) CSEC, Sherry W., Mandy M., R.G., Harris, and Buffalo Police Officers John Doe 1 and 2 violated Jones's Fourth Amendment rights in turn violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) CSEC, Sherry W., Mandy M., R.G., Harris, Buffalo Police Officers John Doe 1 and 2, Ricardo Romero, M.D., Won Hoon Park, M.D., and Alfonso Tan, M.D., violated Jones's due process rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment, also violating § 1983; (4) CSEC, Sherry W., Mandy M., R.G., Harris, Buffalo Police Officers John Doe 1 and 2, Drs. Romero, Park, and Tan falsely arrested and imprisoned Jones; (5) CSEC, Sherry W., Mandy M., R.G., Harris, Buffalo Police Officers John Doe 1 and 2, and Drs. Romero, Park, and Tan violated the MHL; (6) Drs. Romero, Park, and Tan (the Physicians) and ECMC committed medical malpractice while treating Jones; (7) the Physicians and ECMC failed to receive informed consent from Jones for treatments they administered to her; (8) Harris and Mylinda McCrady defamed Jones; (9) Harris intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Jones; (10) Harris defamed Thomas; and (11) a derivative spousal claim on Thomas's behalf against all Defendants. See ECF No. 3.

         Thereafter, Harris, McCrady, ECMC and the Physicians moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. ECF Nos. 5, 8, 26, 41, 74. These motions are currently before the Court.

         Additionally, in December of 2017, Plaintiffs moved to proceed in forma pauperis, for appointment of counsel, and for other miscellaneous relief. See ECF Nos. 60-61. Because the Court has since appointed an attorney to represent Plaintiffs, see ECF No. 62, these motions are DENIED.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         On March 21, 2015, Harris contacted CSEC, told representatives that he was Jones's son and was concerned for her safety, and requested that CSEC send an outreach team to conduct a mental health evaluation of Jones. ECF No. 3 ¶¶ 38-41. He specifically noted that he was “not sure” if Jones was suicidal or a danger to herself, and that he believed Jones was not sleeping because she was posting on Facebook throughout the night. ECF No. 3 ¶ 42. In some of the posts, Jones said she thought she was Harriet Tubman and Moses. Id. ¶ 46. He also noted that Jones and Thomas were living separately “due to drug abuse issues, ” a statement that Harris allegedly knew was false. Id. ¶ 43.

         At the time, Harris was living in Washington, D.C., and was studying to receive a masters' degree in social work. Id. ¶ 39. Consequently, he was familiar with the standards governing emergency mental health admissions, including those under the MHL. Id.

         At approximately 3:45 p.m. the same day, Sherry W. and Mandy M., CSEC employees, traveled to Jones's home. Id. ¶ 45. They explained what Harris told them and why they were there. Id. ¶ 46. Jones allowed Sherry and Mandy to view her Facebook page, which did not contain the post Harris described. Id. ¶ 47. Later in their conversation, Jones began to discuss historical African-American figures with Sherry and Mandy. Id. ¶ 53. Sherry was visibly angered by the conversation, which Jones attributed to prejudice and lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness. Id. ¶ 56-57. After approximately twenty minutes, Sherry and Mandy left Jones's home. Id. ¶¶ 48-49.

         ORDER

         After Sherry left Jones's home, she called Harris and discussed the encounter with him. Id. ¶ 59. Harris and Sherry agreed that he would monitor Jones's behaviors and would contact CSEC if a second evaluation was needed. Id. ¶ 60.

         The evening of March 21, Jones's dog was euthanized because of ongoing health problems. Id. ¶ 64. Jones asked Thomas to stay with her for support. Id. ¶¶ 66-67.

         Later that evening, Harris again contacted CSEC. Id. ¶ 71. During his call, he claimed that Jones euthanized her dog, said she was Harriet Tubman, and was spending time with Thomas, who is “evil.” Id.

         The next day, March 22, 2015, McCrady contacted Jones. ECF No. 3 ¶ 73. During the call, Jones told McCrady that Harris called CSEC on her. Id. ¶ 78. Jones asked McCrady to call Harris and ask him why he contacted CSEC. Id. When McCrady contacted Harris, they “apparently” agreed to have Jones removed from her home and hospitalized under the MHL. Id. ¶ 79.

         Later that day, Harris contacted CSEC again. Id. During his call, he told the CSEC representative that he sent a friend to check on Jones, the friend described her as “paranoid, ” and the friend heard her say that her daughter was coming to her house to kill her, so she would have to kill her daughter first. Id. ¶ 83. Additionally, Harris said that Thomas was a drug user and was staying with Jones, and that Jones was a lawyer who had not worked for some time. Id. Jones alleges that these statements were false and Harris knew they were false. Id. ¶ 84.

         At approximately 2:00 p.m. on March 22, 2015, Sherry and R.G. from CSEC arrived at Jones's home with five police officers. Id. ¶¶ 87-88. Jones was then involuntarily transported by ambulance to ECMC under the MHL. Id. ¶¶ 122-24.

         Jones arrived at ECMC at approximately 5:00 p.m. See Id. ¶ 131. Jones informed ECMC staff that she was a diabetic; despite this, she was not given water, food, or medication for nearly twenty-four hours. Id. ¶¶ 138, 147, 155.

         Later that evening, ECMC employees contacted Harris. Id. ¶ 156. Harris explained that Jones was not sleeping properly, was fearful and paranoid, believed that her daughter was going to kill her, had been “drinking a lot lately, ” and was taking medication prescribed for her late dog. Id. Jones alleged that these statements were false, Harris knew they were false, and Harris made them to cause ECMC to admit her for psychiatric treatment. Id. ¶¶ 157-58.

         Dr. Romero examined Jones at approximately midnight on March 22. ECF No. 3 ¶ 163. At that time, Jones was fearful and had not received appropriate food, water, or medication for over eight hours. Id. ¶¶ 164-65. Despite these conditions, Dr. Romero concluded that Jones needed inpatient psychiatric stabilization. Id. ¶ 166.

         Dr. Park examined Jones on March 23. Id. ¶ 167. He reviewed Harris's statements and found them to be credible without basis. Id. ¶ 168. Dr. Park also did not believe that Jones was a lawyer and considered the assertion that she was a lawyer evidence that her sense of reality was markedly impaired. Id. ¶¶ 169-70. Based on this information, he diagnosed Jones with “psychotic disorder not otherwise specified” and prescribed antipsychotic medications. Id. ¶ 171.

         On March 24, ECMC employees began administering the medications Dr. Park prescribed to Jones. Id. ¶ 174. Jones did not give informed consent to the administration of the medications and one medication, Haldol, was given to Jones against her will without a court order. Id. ¶¶ 175-79.

         Nearly a week later, on March 31, Jones began the process of challenging her commitment at ECMC. Id. ¶ 191. Dr. Tan told Jones that if she challenged her commitment, he would “go after” Jones's law license. Id. ¶ 192. Dr. Tan also said that Jones had “Sundowner's disease” and certified that Jones required seven additional days of hospitalization. Id. ¶¶ 194-95.

         Additionally, Dr. Tan prescribed medication to Jones that caused her to “emit a noise similar to someone with Tourette's Syndrome” and her face to twitch. Id. ¶ 203. Dr. Tan also diagnosed Jones with bi-polar disease and prescribed her Depakote and Risperidol. Id. ¶¶ 205, 211. The Depakote and Haldol-the latter prescribed by Dr. Park-caused Jones's legs to swell, resulting in permanent damage to her knees and lower back. Id. ¶ 214. Jones's complaints regarding pain were ignored. Id. ¶ 215.

         The Physicians and ECMC did not explain the risks, hazards, and effects of the medications that were administered to her and did not allow her to refuse the medications. ECF No. 3 ¶¶ 220-21.

         On April 6, 2015, Jones was released from ECMC. Id. ¶ 222.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when it states a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). A claim for relief is plausible when the plaintiff pleads sufficient facts that allow the Court to draw reasonable inferences that the defendant is liable for the alleged conduct. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In considering the plausibility of a claim, the Court must accept factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011). At the same time, the Court is not required to accord “[l]egal conclusions, deductions, or opinions couched as factual allegations . . . a presumption of truthfulness.” In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted); see also Barr v. Abrams, 810 F.2d 358, 363 (2d Cir. 1987) (“As we have repeatedly held, complaints relying on the civil rights statutes are insufficient unless they contain some specific allegations of fact indicating a deprivation of rights, instead of a litany of general conclusions that shock but have no meaning.”).

         It is well established that the Court must construe pro se submissions liberally and read them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Nicholas v. City of New York, No. 15-CV-9592 (JPO), 2017 WL 2537293, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. June 12, 2017) (quoting Ortiz v. McBride, 323 F.3d 191, 194 (2d Cir. 2003)). Those principles apply, without question, to McCrady's Motion, since she has proceeded pro se for the entirety of the case. They do not apply, however, to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, even though it was filed pro se. Courts within the Second Circuit have declined to liberally construe pleadings of seasoned, licensed attorneys proceeding pro se. Chira v. Columbia Univ., 289 F.Supp.2d 477, 482 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). Jones is both licensed to practice law in New York and a seasoned attorney before this Court.[3] Consequently, the Court will not construe the Amended Complaint liberally.

         With these principles in mind, the Court now turns to a threshold issue it must consider before evaluating the Motions to Dismiss: whether Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint is a ...


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