Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Torres v. Uconn Health

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 31, 2017

UCONN HEALTH, et al., Defendants.


          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Pedro Gonzalez Torres (“Gonzalez”), [1] a state prisoner currently confined at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, has filed suit pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated his rights under the Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution through deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Gonzalez names as defendants UConn Health; the Department of Correction; Commissioner of Correction Scott Semple; the Connecticut Department of Public Health; Medical Supervisor “John/Jane Smith”; Nurse “Rob Smith”; Doctor “John Doe”; Doctor “Jane Smith”; and the manufacturer and/or provider of Neurontin medication, “John/Jane Smith.” Gonzalez's complaint was filed on February 23, 2017, Doc. No. 1, along with a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, Doc. No. 2. Gonzalez's motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on February 27, 2017. Doc. No. 7.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         I. Allegations

         On March 29, 2016, while confined at Northern Correctional Institution, Gonzalez awoke with severe back pain. Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 5. On May 29, 2016, Gonzalez saw Dr. “Jane/Smith” at Walker Correctional Institution. Id. She prescribed Gabapentin (Neurontin), an anticonvulsant used to control seizures, neuralgia, and other conditions. See Gabapentin, Mayo Clinic (2017),

         On June 23, 2016, Gonzalez began exhibiting symptoms that he later discovered had been attributed to Neurontin. Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 5. On July 1, 2016, x-rays confirmed “serious medical issues.” Id. (brackets omitted) Regardless, Gonzalez was ordered to continue taking the medication. Id. On August 9, 2016, Gonzalez wrote to the medical department complaining of “pains and medical issues.” Id. at 6 (brackets omitted).

         On October 21, 2016, Gonzalez experienced shortness of breath. Id. A desk officer, Shulz, contacted the medical department multiple times on Gonzalez's behalf, but was told there was no medical emergency. Id. Gonzalez's medical file reflected that he suffers from asthma and back issues. Id. Although Gonzalez only alleges in the complaint that he experienced shortness of breath, he states in an attached grievance and letter to the Department of Public Health that he also suffered chest pains. See Exs. D & E to Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 22 & 26. Later that day, Gonzalez was called to the medical department. Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 6. The nurse, Rob, acted disrespectfully and made Gonzalez wait a long time before he was seen. Id.

         On November 4, 2016, Gonzalez claims that he wrote to Commissioner Semple and Correctional Managed Health Care regarding the matters alleged in the complaint. Id. The attached exhibit purporting to be copies of the letters, however, consists of Department of Public Health forms with an envelope indicating that the forms were sent to Correctional Managed Health Care but could not be delivered. See Ex. E to Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 25. Although Gonzalez alleges that Commissioner Semple instructed him to submit a grievance, his evidence shows that action was recommended by a nurse at the Department of Public Health. See Id. at 32. In any event, nothing was done to redress Gonzalez's situation. Id.

         II. Analysis

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that Gonzalez has included as defendants UConn Health, the Department of Correction and the Department of Public Health. Section 1983 requires that each defendant be a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordnance, regulation, custom or usage, of any State … subjects or causes to be subjected….”). State agencies are not persons within the meaning of section 1983. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (state agencies cannot be sued under section 1983); Ferla v. Correctional Managed Health Care, 2015 WL 5826812, at *2 (D. Conn. Oct. 2, 2015) (University of Connecticut Health Center and its divisions are not persons within the meaning of section 1983). Because none of those entities is a proper defendant, all claims against UConn Health, the Department of Correction and the Department of Public Health are dismissed.

         Gonzalez contends that the defendants have violated his Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. See Compl., Doc. No 1, at 6. His primary claim is that the defendants were deliberately indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He asserts two deliberate indifference claims. First, Dr. Jane Smith improperly prescribed Neurontin for an off-label use and caused him to suffer side-effects of the medication. See Id. at 5. Second, Nurse Rob was deliberately indifferent to his claims of shortness of breath and chest pains by refusing to treat him for four hours. See Id. at 6.

         To state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, Gonzalez must show both that his medical need was serious and that the defendants acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. See Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 184 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 492 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). The deliberate indifference standard has both objective and subjective components. See Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994). Objectively, the alleged deprivation must be “sufficiently serious, ” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)-that is, the condition must produce death, degeneration or extreme pain. See Hathaway v. Coughlin, 99 F.3d 550, 553 (2d Cir. 1996). Subjectively, the defendants must actually have been aware of a substantial risk that the inmate would suffer serious harm as a result of their actions or inactions. See Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 262, 279-80 (2d Cir. 2006). Negligence that would support a claim for medical malpractice does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference, and is not cognizable under section 1983. See Id. Nor is deliberate indifference satisfied by a difference of opinion regarding what constitutes an appropriate response and treatment. See Ventura v. Sinha, 379 F. App'x 1, 2-3 (2d Cir. 2010); Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir. 1998). Yet even though a disagreement over treatment is not cognizable under section 1983, the treatment actually given must be adequate. See Chance, 143 F.3d at 703.

         Complaints of severe back pain can constitute a serious medical need. See, e.g., Guarneri v. Hazzard, 2008 WL 552872, at *6 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 27, 2008) (“[s]evere back pain, especially if lasting an extended period of time, can amount to a serious medical need under the Eighth Amendment”); Faraday v, Lantz, 2005 WL 3465846, at *5 (D. Conn. Dec. 12, 2005) (lower back pain caused by herniated discs and sciatica constitute a serious medical need). Gonzalez alleges that he has back issues and that he experienced severe pain in March 2016. To the extent that Gonzalez has challenged the use of Neurontin to address his back issues, his claim fails, because the mere use of a drug for an off-label purpose does not constitute deliberate indifference. Although drug makers cannot market a drug for off-label purposes, federal law does not prohibit doctors from prescribing a drug for off-label purposes. See Buckman Co. v. Plaintiff's Legal Comm., 531 U.S. 341, 350 (2001). Thus, any claim that Dr. Smith improperly prescribed Neurontin constitutes a disagreement about treatment, which is not cognizable under the Eighth Amendment.

         Gonzalez also alleges that he suffered side-effects from Neurontin but was instructed to keep taking the medication. Gonzalez does not identify the nature of those side-effects. Although he alleges that x-rays confirmed “serious medical issues, ” he does not identify those issues or submit a copy of the x-ray results. See Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 5 (brackets removed). The only document Gonzalez submits to support this allegation merely confirms that x-rays were taken, and that Gonzalez was instructed to continue taking his medication. Absent more detailed factual allegations, I cannot determine whether the side-effects constitute a serious medical needs. In addition, Gonzalez alleges no facts suggesting that any defendant was aware of a risk that he would suffer serious harm. Gonzalez's allegations appear to raise, at most, a claim for medical malpractice, which is not cognizable under section 1983. Accordingly, I dismiss Gonalez's deliberate indifference claim relating to the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.