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Smalls v. Wright

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 11, 2017

VICTOR SMALLS Plaintiff,
v.
CARSON WRIGHT, Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS [DOC. NOS. 29 AND 34]

          JANET C. HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On December 19, 2016, the plaintiff, Victor Smalls (“Smalls”), filed a Complaint pursuant to title 42, section 1983 of the United States Code against Dr. Carson Wright (“Dr. Wright”), Nurse Vicki Scruggs (“Scruggs”), and two other unnamed nurses at MacDougall Walker Correctional Institution. Smalls alleged that the four defendants violated his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment by acting with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. This court granted Smalls' Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis on December 22, 2016. See Order (Doc. No. 6). Thereafter, on February 7, 2017, this court issued its Initial Review Order dismissing Smalls' claims against the two unnamed nurses pursuant to title 28 section 1915A(b)(1) of the United States Code, but permitting his deliberate indifference claim to proceed against Dr. Wright and Scruggs in their individual and official capacities. See Initial Review Order (Doc. No. 8).

         On March 7, 2017, Attorney Stephen R. Finucane appeared on behalf of Dr. Wright and Scruggs in their official capacities only. That same day, this court referred this case to Hon. Sarah A. L. Merriam for a settlement conference. See Order (Doc. No. 15). A settlement conference was held on April 5, 2017, but the parties were not able to reach a settlement. See Order (Doc. No. 28). Thereafter, on April 11, 2017, Dr. Wright and Scruggs, through counsel, filed their first Motion to Dismiss Smalls' Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 29). Smalls responded to that Motion by written opposition on April 21, 2017. Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 30). Thereafter, Dr. Wright and Scruggs were served individually with the Complaint, and Attorney Finucane filed an appearance on their behalf in their individual capacities. See (Doc. Nos. 31- 33). On May 14, 2017, Dr. Wright and Scruggs, through counsel, filed their second Motion to Dismiss the Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 34). Smalls filed an Opposition to that Motion on June 6, 2017. Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 38). The two Motions to Dismiss essentially raise the same arguments regarding Smalls' Complaint, with minor differences arising from the pursuit of claims against Dr. Wright and Scruggs in their official versus their individual capacities.[1] As shown below, because Smalls' Complaint cannot survive either Motion to Dismiss, both Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must determine whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim by making allegations that, if true, would show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (interpreting Rule 12(b)(6), in accordance with Rule 8(a)(2), to require allegations with “enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief'”). The court takes all factual allegations in a complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Crawford v. Cuomo, 796 F.3d 252, 256 (2d Cir. 2015). However, the tenet that a court must accept a complaint's allegations as true is inapplicable to “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         To survive a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Where . . . the complaint was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally with ‘special solicitude' and interpreted to raise the strongest claims that it suggests.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011)).

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The facts, construed in the light most favorable to Smalls, are as follows.

         While housed at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MacDougall”) in 2014, Smalls experienced difficulty getting off the top bunk. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 11. Smalls is six feet three inches tall and overweight. Id. His height and weight made it difficult for him to use the narrow ladder on the bunk. Id. On December 4, 2014, Smalls submitted a request to the medical department seeking a bottom bunk pass. Id. On December 8, 2014, in response to the request, Smalls was placed on the sick call list. Id. at ¶ 12. That same day, Smalls submitted another request seeking a bottom bunk pass. Id. at ¶ 13. Smalls was not called to the medical unit. Id. at ¶ 14. On December 11, 2014, his request for accommodation was denied. Id.

         On December 19, 2014, Smalls slipped on the ladder while getting off the top bunk. Pl.'s Comp. ¶ 15. He fell and twisted his right ankle. Id. Smalls made his way down the stairs to the bottom tier and asked a correctional officer to call for medical assistance. Id. ¶ 16. Smalls was taken to the medical unit by wheelchair. Id. ¶ 17. There, a nurse gave Smalls an ice bag, an ace bandage, a pair of crutches, and a bottle of Motrin. Id. ¶ 18-20. Smalls later submitted a grievance about the incident complaining that he had twisted his ankle because his previous request for a bottom bunk pass had not been addressed. Id. ¶ 21. He attempted to sleep on the floor of his cell but was ordered to sleep in his bunk. Id.

         On November 5, 2016, nearly two years after his injury, Smalls was still experiencing pain in his right ankle and, therefore, “wrote a request to [Dr. Wright] about the ankle pain.” Pl.'s Comp. ¶ 24. Scruggs responded to his request two days later, telling him that he was on the list to see Dr. Wright. Id. at ¶ 25.

         On November 25, 2016, Smalls filed a grievance alleging severe ankle pain that limited him to attending outdoor recreation only once per month. Pl.'s Comp. ¶ 26. He requested an MRI and a consultation with a podiatrist. Id. Four days later, Smalls was told that he did not need an MRI on his ankle because Dr. Wright “said [that] he specializes in feet.” Id. at ¶ 27. Scruggs thereafter signed Dr. Wright's name on the grievance disposition and returned the grievance back to Smalls. Id. at ¶ 28.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Smalls claims that the actions of Dr. Wright and Scruggs amounted to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. In support of their Motions to Dismiss, Dr. Wright and Scruggs argue that Smalls has failed to state a plausible Eighth Amendment claim because his allegations against them (1) are conclusory with insufficient factual support and (2) amount to nothing more than a disagreement over the proper form of treatment for his injury. Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 29-1) at 6-9; Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 34-1) at 6-9. Smalls counters that he has stated a plausible Eighth Amendment claim because “Dr. Wright knowingly persisted in a course of treatment that was ineffective and left [Smalls] in extreme pain and . . . Scruggs knowingly interfered with [Smalls'] ability to receive treatment by diagnosing [Smalls] and . . . forging . . . Dr. Wright's name.” Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 38) at ¶ 5. Moreover, Smalls argues that he continues to suffer pain in his ankle, which shows that he did not receive adequate ...


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