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McQuay v. Pelkey

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 17, 2017

KERRY MCQUAY, Plaintiff,
DAVID PELKEY, Defendants.


          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         Pro se plaintiff Kerry McQuay sues Dr. David Pelkey (Director), Alton Gray (Clinician), Nancy Katz-Johnson (Chief Privacy Officer), John Callahan (Associate Director), Carol Sapienza (Quality Management Worker), John Page (Executive Secretary), Reginald Jones (Chief EMS), Graylin Crockett (Assistant Chief EMS), Kathy Riekert (Executive Secretary), Alfred Montoya (Director), Irena Danczik (Psychiatrist), Karen Grogan (Regional Counsel, North Hampton Office), David Salthouse (Chief of Police), Louis Trevissan (Assistant Psychiatrist), Cynthia Tyler (Regional Counsel Supervisor, North Hampton Office), Frank Podpolucha (Officer), Bill Klotzbucher (General Counsel, Veterans Affairs), Steve Martino (Chief Psychologist), Kathryn Simpson (Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Veterans Affairs), and E. Douglas Bradshaw, Jr. (Chief Counsel, Veterans Affairs) (collectively, the "Defendants").[1] (Id. at 1.) McQuay sues the Defendants, all of whom are federal employees, under 42 U.S.C § 1983 - which applies to actions taken under color of state law - for allegedly colluding against him, obstructing justice, filing false federal reports, and depriving him of his due process rights.[2] Therefore, I construe his amended complaint to allege claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Bureau o/Narcortics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 (1971). Robinson v. Overseas Military Sales Corp., 21 F.3d 502, 510 (2d Cir. 1994)(noting approvingly that "the district court construed [plaintiffs] claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as Bivens claims" where a plaintiff named a federal agency and federal officers as defendants in a §1983 suit).

         I. Background

         Between 2014 and 2015, McQuay had a series of disputes with hospitals and their staff, including the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven, at which he is a patient.[3] (ECF No. 1 at II, 15.) The confrontation leading to this suit occurred on May 15, 2014. (Id. at 8-9.) On that day, at McQuay's request, a hospital forwarded certain of McQuay's medical records to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven. (Id. at 8.) Upon receipt of those records, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Hospital reviewed the records and shredded them. (Id.) McQuay filed complaints with the Veteran Affairs regional counsel and general counsel concerning the incident. (Id. at 18.) Veterans Affairs regional counsel "represented by Katheryn Grogan and Cynthia Tyler" conducted an investigation into McQuay's claims and "found no wrong actions conducted by the VA staff"[4] (Id.) The Veteran Affairs general counsel concluded the same. (Id.)

         On March 14, 2016, McQuay sued the United States for allegedly violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPPA"), destroying his personal health information, filing false federal reports, colluding against him, committing the tort of "patient abuse, " obstructing justice, and denying him due process. (Id. at 3.) I dismissed McQuay's complaint in its entirety because the United States is not subject to suit under 42. U.S.C. §1983. (ECF No. 8 at 3-4.) McQuay was instructed to file an amended complaint within 30 days, or the clerk would close the case. (Id. at 4.) Accordingly, he filed the instant complaint asserting claims against the Defendants under §1983 for money damages.[5]

         II. Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), I must evaluate a plaintiffs complaint and dismiss the complaint if it "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although detailed allegations are not required, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A complaint that includes only '"labels and conclusions, ' 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' or 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement, '" does not meet the facial plausibility standard. Id. (quoting Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007)).

         When a plaintiff submits a complaint pro se, the reviewing court shall construe the allegations liberally, raising "the strongest arguments [they] suggest[]." Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). Even a pro se plaintiff, however, must meet the standard of facial plausibility set forth above. See Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013)("[A]/vo se complaint must state a plausible claim for relief.")(citation omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. McQuay's Bivens Claims

         McQuay's Bivens claims against the Defendants in their official capacities for money damages are barred by the sovereign immunity doctrine. Robinson, 21 F.3d at 510 ("[Plaintiffs] claims against AAFES and the individual federal defendants in their official capacities were properly dismissed on the ground of sovereign immunity" because such a case "must be brought against the federal officers involved in their individual capacities."); Wright v. Gondii, No. 13-CV-2849, 2015 WL 708607, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 20\5)("Bivens claims do not lie against federal employees in their official capacities, because such suits are considered actions against the United States, and are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.")(citation omitted). Therefore, I lack subject matter jurisdiction over those claims.

         To state a Bivens claim against the Defendants in their individual capacities, McQuay must allege that the Defendants "deprive[d] [him] of a constitutional right." Tavarez v. Reno, 54 F.3d 109, 110 (2d Cir. 1995). McQuay alleges Defendants "fail[ed] to provide [him] due process." (ECF No. 9 at 3.) In particular, he alleges that he "did not receive due process" because Defendants - specially Grogan, Tyler, and the VA general counsel - "did[] [not] conduct a lawful investigation" into the "wrongful actions conducted by the VA staff, i.e., the destruction of his medical records that had been faxed to the VA hospital. (ECF No. 1 at 18.) He further alleges denial of his due process rights because the investigators "never called the patient advocates office." (Id.) Notwithstanding these allegations, I am unable to discern facts suggesting a property interest here, which is a requisite to either a procedural due process, or substantive due process, claim.[6] Victory v. Pataki, 814 F.3d 47, 59 (2d Cir. 2016)(holding that to allege a claim for violation of procedural due process, a plaintiff must allege "there exists a liberty or property interest of which [plaintiff] has been deprived"); Royal Crown Day Care LLC v. Dep't of Health & Mental Hygiene of City of N.Y., 746 F.3d 538, 545 (2d Cir. 2014)(noting to state a substantive due process claim, a plaintiff must allege that "(1) it had a valid property interest...")(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The amended complaint points to no rule, regulation, or state law giving McQuay a legitimate claim of entitlement to the benefits he seeks - either the non-destruction of his medical records or an investigation by the VA counsel into the destruction of his medical records (or that such investigation required contact with the patient advocates office). See MacFallv. City of Rochester, 495 Fed.App'x 158, 159 (2d Cir. 2012)("Property interests protected by due process...are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law-rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits.")(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). His "mere unilateral expectation" cannot give rise to a property interest. Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, the absence of allegations concerning a property interest is fatal to McQuay's due process claims and thus hisBivens claims. Eckv. Gallucci, 321 F.Supp.2d 368, 372 (D. Conn. 2004)(dismissing Bivens claim where "complaint [was] a maze through which the court [could] discern no viable constitutional claim").

         B. HIPPA Does Not Provide A Private Cause of Action

         To the extent that McQuay asserts a cause of action under HIPPA, McQuay is barred from such action because HIPPA does not provide a private right of action. Webb v. Smart Document Sols., LLC,499 F.3d 1078, 1080 (9th Cir. 2007)("HIPAA provides for no private right of action."); Acara v. Banks,470 F.3d 569, 571 (5th Cir. 2006)("HIPAA ...

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