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Franko v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 27, 2017

SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Lawrence Franko is a prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis against the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) Commissioner Scott Semple, Warden Timothy Farrell, Warden Jon Brighthaupt, Dr. Ruiz, Dr. Syed Naqvi, Lisa Simo-Kinzer, and two unidentified judicial marshals. Plaintiff alleges that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. He is suing Commissioner Semple in his official and individual capacities and all other defendants in their individual capacities only. Plaintiff is seeking monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Based on my initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I will allow plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against some of the defendants to proceed, but will dismiss the claim as to other defendants for failure to allege plausible grounds for relief.


         The following allegations from plaintiff's complaint are accepted as true for purposes of the Court's initial review. Plaintiff has long suffered from claustrophobia and claustrophobia-related issues. The claustrophobia causes plaintiff to suffer from panic attacks and other symptoms when he is confined in overly crowded areas, including transport vehicles used by the Connecticut judicial marshal services. Prison officials have had notice of plaintiff's condition since at least 2009, when plaintiff's claustrophobia was raised during his state court proceedings on March 25, 2009, and again on July 9, 2010. The state court noted the medical condition on plaintiff's March 25 mittimus, which was viewed by prison officials. Prison officials have also been aware of the injuries plaintiff sustained in the past as the result of his claustrophobia. Doc. #1 at 4-5 (¶ 6-13).

         On October 1, 2014, plaintiff was transported in a judicial marshal transport van from Cheshire Correctional Institution to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, and then from MacDougall-Walker to Connecticut Superior Court in Rockville in order to attend his state habeas corpus proceeding. On the first leg of the trip, plaintiff complained to judicial marshals John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 that he felt extremely uncomfortable and was experiencing dizziness and chest pain. Both marshals ignored his complaints.

         Despite plaintiff's complaints, the marshals forced plaintiff into a second transport van at MacDougall-Walker for the second leg of the trip. At some point during this trip, plaintiff experienced blurred vision and passed out, causing him to fall face first on the ground. When the van arrived at the Rockville courthouse, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 refused to assist plaintiff or to allow him to exit the van even as other prisoners were allowed to exit. Both marshals prevented plaintiff from attending his court proceeding and informed courthouse staff that his behavior was unstable. The marshals transported plaintiff in the van back to MacDougall-Walker, where he pleaded for medical attention. Plaintiff was examined by a nurse, who found plaintiff to have swollen lips, knee wounds, and extremely elevated blood pressure and heart rate. He later spoke with a doctor who determined that he should no longer be transported in judicial marshal or DOC vehicles for court trips. Doc. #1 at 5-6 (¶ 15-29).

         Shortly thereafter, plaintiff was returned to Cheshire where he was again evaluated by medical staff. Dr. Ruiz and mental health social worker Lisa Simo-Kinzer were notified about plaintiff's claustrophobia but failed to act or abate the situation. Doc. #1 at 7 (¶ 30-34).

         Prior to the incident on October 1, DOC staff had notified Warden Ferrell and Simo-Kinzer via email about plaintiff's condition and his inability to ride in marshal vans. Plaintiff's attorney, Keith Anthony, also emailed Warden Ferrell and Warden Brighthaupt on several occasions requesting that arrangements be made for alternative transportation because of plaintiff's claustrophobia. Warden Ferrell responded to Anthony that his medical staff had researched and reviewed plaintiff's condition but that there was no record to support individual transportation arrangements at that time. Doc. # 1 at 7 (¶ 35-38), 13-17.

         Following the October 1 incident, plaintiff's lips became infected and the doctor prescribed medication to treat the infection. Plaintiff appears to allege that he did not receive this medicine. Additionally, plaintiff had an EKG scan performed following the incident on October 1, 2014. Plaintiff was not truthfully informed of the EKG results until March 24, 2016, when Dr. Wright informed him that he had a “mini” heart attack on October 1. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Ruiz and Dr. Naqvi never advised him that he had had a heart attack. Plaintiff alleges that the harm he suffered resulted from Commissioner Semple's failure to establish adequate protocols to address the mental health conditions of inmates. Doc. # 1 at 8 (¶ 42-46).


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the Court 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. The Court must accept as true all factual matters alleged in a complaint, although a complaint may not survive unless its factual recitations state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp., 770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2014) (same). Nevertheless, it is well-established that “pro 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).

         Plaintiff principally claims a violation of his rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that a prison official's “deliberate indifference” to a prisoner's serious medical needs amounts to a violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976).

         The Second Circuit in turn has made clear that a prisoner who claims deliberate indifference to a serious medical need must satisfy two requirements. First, there is an objective requirement-that the prisoner's medical need was sufficiently serious. See Spavone v. New York State Dep't of Corr. Serv's., 719 F.3d 127, 138 (2d Cir. 2013). The prisoner must show that he suffered from an urgent medical condition involving a risk of death, degeneration, or extreme pain. See Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011).

         Second, there is a subjective requirement: that the defendant have acted recklessly-that is, with an actual awareness of a substantial risk that serious harm to the prisoner would result from the defendant's action or non-action. See Spavone, 719 F.3d at 138. It is not enough to allege simple negligence or negligent medical malpractice. See Hilton v. Wright, 673 F.3d 120, 122-23 (2d Cir. 2012); Hathaway v. Coughlin, 99 F.3d 550, 553 (2d Cir. 1996). Instead, a prisoner must show that the defendant acted with the equivalent of a criminally ...

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