United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JEREMY A. STEELE, Plaintiff,
CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS C.O. AYOTTE, C.O. OLSEN, CORRIGAN CORRECTIONAL CENTER; and JOHN DOE, UCONN HOSPITAL EMPLOYEE, Defendants.
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
se plaintiff Jeremey A. Steele, currently incarcerated
at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution
("MacDougall-Walker"), has commenced this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Correctional
Officers Ayotte and Olsen, alleging violations of his Eighth
Amendment rights. He has also brought a state law claim for
negligence against John Doe, a truck driver employed by UCONN
Hospital. The Court has conducted its statutorily mandated
initial review of the case. For the reasons set forth below,
the Complaint will be dismissed in part.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must review a
prisoner's civil complaint against governmental actors
and "dismiss . . . any portion of the complaint [that]
is frivolous, malicious, or 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."
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). This
requirement applies whether the inmate has paid the filing
fee or is proceeding in forma pauperis. See Carr v.
Dvorin, 171 F.3d 115 (2d Cir. 1999) (per curiam).
order to proceed, the complaint "must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that
is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S 544, 570
(2007)). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. The complaint must provide "more than the
accusation." Id. "A pleading that offers
'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555).
a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will
[ultimately] . . . be a context-specific task that requires
the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense." Id. at 663-64. When
"well-pleaded factual allegations" are present,
"a court should assume their veracity and then determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief." Id. at 679. Factual disputes do not
factor into a plausibility analysis under Iqbal and
all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be
true, this tenet is `inapplicable to legal
conclusions.'" LaMagna v. Brown, 474
Fed.Appx. 788, 789 (2d Cir.2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678). See also Amaker v. New York State Dept. of
Corr. Servs., 435 Fed.Appx. 52, 54 (2d Cir.2011) (same).
Accordingly, the Court is not "bound to accept
conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as
factual conclusions." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins.
Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir.2011) (quoting Rolon
v. Henneman, 517 F.3d 140, 149 (2d Cir.2008) (internal
quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, "[t]hreadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555).
respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established
that "[p]ro se submissions are
reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed
liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments
that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank
Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017)
(quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470
F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)(per curiam)). See also Sykes
v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013)
(same); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d
Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for
pro se litigants); Boykin v. KeyCorp., 521
F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) ("A document filed pro
se is to be liberally construed and a pro se
complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.") (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007)); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed
Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (Where the
plaintiff proceeds pro se, a court is "obliged
to construe his pleadings liberally.") (quoting
McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir.
2004)); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir.
2007) ("In reviewing a pro se complaint, the
court must assume the truth of the allegations, and interpret
them liberally to "raise the strongest arguments [they]
being subject to liberal interpretation, a pro se
plaintiff's complaint still must "state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Mancuso v.
Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). See also Harris v.
Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) ("[O]nly a
complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a
motion to dismiss . . . .")(citation and internal
quotation marks omitted).
even in a pro se case, "threadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice." Chavis v.
Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). Nor may the Court
"invent factual allegations that [the plaintiff] has not
alleges that on October 28, 2016, he had a scheduled
appointment to be examined by a physician at UCONN Hospital.
See Doc. 1 ("Complaint"), at 3, ¶ 1.
On that date, Plaintiff was incarcerated at Corrigan
Correctional Institution ("Corrigan"). Id.
at 6, ¶¶ 34-35. Correctional Officers Ayotte and
Olsen placed physical restraints upon Plaintiff in
preparation for his transport to UCONN Hospital.
Id., at 3, ¶ 2.
Officers Ayotte and Olsen loaded Plaintiff into the prison
van, Plaintiff asked the officers to buckle his seatbelt for
him because he was unable to do so while wearing restraints.
Id., ¶ 3. Ayotte allegedly replied that
Plaintiff "really didn't need a seatbelt" in
view of the fact that the hospital was only "a short
distance" from the prison. Id., ¶ 4.
Moreover, Ayotte added, perhaps in jest, "Why would you
need a seatbelt; you don't believe in my driving."
Id., ¶ 5. Neither Ayotte, nor Olsen buckled
approximately 7:00 a.m., Officers Ayotte and Olsen began the
drive to UCONN Hospital. Id., at 4, ¶ 6. During
the trip, Plaintiff observed that the two officers were
allegedly "constantly sharing, and showing each other
video clips on their personal cell phones. Id., at
4, ¶ 7. Concerned for his safety, Plaintiff requested
that they cease this distracting activity while driving the
van, but Ayotte and Olsen "simply ignored" these
requests. Id., ¶¶ 8-9.
and the two officers arrived in the van at UCONN Hospital at
approximately 8:00 a.m. Id., ¶ 10. Ayotte and
Olsen escorted Plaintiff into the hospital for his
appointment. Id., ¶ 11. After the appointment
concluded, at approximately 11:15 a.m., Ayotte escorted
Plaintiff back to the prison van. Id., ¶ 12.
Ayotte once again did not buckle Plaintiff's seatbelt
after placing him in the back of the van. Id., at 5,
¶ 21. Ayotte then started up the van and
"continue[d] to ingauge [sic] in his personal cell phone
[use]" while waiting for Olsen to return to the van.
Id., at 4, ¶¶ 13-14.
Ayotte and Plaintiff waited in the prison van, John Doe, who
was allegedly working "first shift" as a truck
driver for UCONN Hospital, drove a UCONN truck into the area
of the loading dock where the prison van was parked.
Id., at 2; at 4, ¶ 15. Plaintiff noticed that
John Doe began to back his truck up toward the loading dock
where the prison van was parked. Id., at 4, ¶
16. Meanwhile Ayotte continued to use his cell phone so
failed to see Doe backing the truck towards the van.
Id., ¶ 18. Plaintiff yelled a warning to the
"distracted" Ayotte, informing him that the prison
van was "going to [be] hit" by the truck.
Id., at 5, ¶ 19.
Ayotte could take any evasive action, Doe ran the truck into
the right side of the prison van. Id., at 5, ¶
20. Plaintiff was unable to brace himself for the impact due
to his physical restraints and lack of a seatbelt.
Id., ¶ 21. Consequently, he bounced
"uncontrollably" around the van, thereby causing
injury to his lower back. Id., ¶¶ 21-22,
and at 6-7, ¶¶ 40-43.
Doe parked the truck and exited from it. Id., at 5,
¶ 24. Someone called the Farmington Police Department.
Id., ¶ 25. Officer Olsen then arrived at the
van and was informed about the collision. Id.,
¶ 26. Olsen then asked Plaintiff if he needed medical
attention, and Plaintiff indicated that he did. Id.,
¶¶ 27-28. Although Olsen noted at that time that he
saw "nothing wrong with the Plaintiff, " he and
Ayotte escorted Plaintiff to the emergency room at UCONN
Hospital. Id., ¶¶ 28-29. Both officers
blamed Plaintiff for making them late in returning to
Corrigan. Id., ¶ 31. At about 12:40 p.m., the
two officers decided not to wait any longer for Plaintiff to
be seen by a physician in the emergency room. Id.,
at 6, ¶ 32. They loaded him into the prison van and once
again refused to buckle his seatbelt for the ride back to
Corrigan, "in violation" of the Department of
Corrections ("DOC") "Administrative Directive
6.4." Id., at 6, ¶¶ 33-34.
returning to Corrigan at around 2:30 p.m., Plaintiff was
taken to the medical unit for examination. Id.,
¶ 35. Plaintiff explained to medical personnel that he
felt discomfort in his lower back and neck. Id.,
¶ 37. Staff instructed Plaintiff to submit a request to
return to the medical unit if he felt "more
discomfort" in the next several days. Id.,
days later, on November 1, 2016, Corrigan prison officials
transferred Plaintiff to MacDougall-Walker. Id.,
¶ 39. Plaintiff immediately submitted a request to be
seen in the medical department due to "discomfort in his
lower back and neck." Id., ¶ 40. A medical
staff member met with Plaintiff and referred him to be seen
by a physician. Id., ¶¶ 41-42.
appointment with the physician at MacDougall-Walker,
Plaintiff stated that he felt pain in his lower back and neck
ever since the accident in the prison van on October 28,
2016. Id., at 7, ¶ 43. The doctor prescribed
Tylenol, Baclofen and a muscle rub. Id., ¶ 44.
Plaintiff states that he has been taking and/or utilizing
these prescribed medications since November 2016.
Id., ¶ 45. The physician did not prescribe
physical therapy, but a nurse instructed Plaintiff to do
exercises in the gym and "outside recreation therapy
exercises." Id., ¶¶ 46-47. Plaintiff
alleges that the exercises have not relieved his pain.
sues all defendants in their individual capacities only. For
relief, he seeks monetary damages. In his Complaint, he
attempts to state the claims described below.
Section 1983 Claims
Claims Against Ayotte and Olsen
Deliberate Indifference to Safety
42 U.S.C. § 1983, an injured party may bring an action
to impose liability against "[e]very person" who,
acting under color of state law, violates another
person's federally protected rights. Plaintiff brings
his § 1983 claims against Officers Ayotte and Olsen,
asserting that his constitutional rights have been violated
by these two state actors "under color of state
law." State officials are "persons" under
§ 1983 who may be held personally liable when sued as
individuals for actions they take under "color
of state law."
case at bar, Plaintiff alleges that Officers Ayotte and Olsen
violated his Eighth Amendment right to protection "from
cruel and unusual punishment." Doc. 1, at 3, ¶ D.
The Eighth Amendment imposes constitutional boundaries on
conditions of imprisonment so that the "unnecessary and
wanton infliction of pain" upon a prisoner constitutes
"cruel and unusual punishment." Boddie v.
Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 861 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing
Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986)). A
prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when the
following two requirements are met: (1) the alleged
conditions or "punishment" are "objectively,
sufficiently serious, " and (2) the official possesses a
"sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
particular, with respect to health and safety, "[t]o
succeed on an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim,
a plaintiff must satisfy two requirements[:] [h]e must show
both that the danger posed by the indifference he alleges is
'sufficiently serious' and that the defendant has
acted with 'deliberate indifference to inmate health or
safety' in failing to address this danger."
Smith v. Fischer, 500 Fed.Appx. 59, 61 (2d Cir.2012)
(citing Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185 (2d
Cir.2002)). See also Young v. Choinski, 15 F.Supp.3d
172, 182 (D. Conn. 2014). The question under the Eighth
Amendment is thus "whether prison officials, acting with
deliberate indifference, exposed a prisoner to a sufficiently
substantial risk of serious damage to his future
health." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843 (quoting
Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993).
the subjective element of the claim - a prison official's
subjective intent - "a plaintiff must show something
more than mere negligence." Cuoco v. Moritsugu,
222 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir.2000) (quotations omitted). "An
official acts with the requisite deliberate indifference when
that official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to
inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of
facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also
draw the inference." Cuoco, 222 F.3d at 107
(quotations and citations omitted).
general, the prisoner is not required to have suffered actual
physical injury before obtaining court-ordered correction of
objectively inhumane conditions. Farmer, 511 U.S. at
845. As the Supreme Court stated, it would be "odd"
to deny relief to inmates "who plainly proved an unsafe,
life-threatening condition in their prison on the ground that
nothing yet had happened to them." Id. (citing
Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993)). The
deliberate indifference standard in a "failure to
protect" context does not include an actual injury
requirement, regardless of whether the complaining prisoner
is seeking injunctive relief or damages. See, e.g.,
Jackson v. Goord, 664 F.Supp.2d 307, 316 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)
("A prisoner need not show actual injury, as 'the
Eighth Amendment protects against sufficiently imminent
dangers as well as current unnecessary and wanton infliction
of pain and suffering.'") (quoting Helling,
509 U.S. at 34); Smolen v. Fischer, No. 12 CIV. 1856
PAC AJP, 2012 WL 3609089, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2012)
(same). See also Altayeb v. Chapdelaine, No.
3:16-CV-00067 (CSH), 2016 WL 7331551, at *3 (D. Conn. Dec.
16, 2016) ("In assessing whether [inmate] Altayeb faced
an excessive risk of serious harm, this Court must look at
the facts and circumstances of which the official was aware
at the time he acted or failed to act. The focus is on the
existence of a substantial risk of serious harm, rather than
the actual injuries suffered in an attack.") (citations
and internal quotation marks omitted); Medina v.
Black, No. 3:15-CV-1371 (VLB), 2016 WL 386030, at *5 (D.
Conn. Feb. 1, 2016) ("[A] prisoner seeking 'a remedy
for unsafe conditions [need not] await a tragic event [such
as an] actua[l] assaul[t] before obtaining relief.'
") (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at
Eighth Amendment claims do not have an explicit injury
component, in a § 1983 action, '[i]t is well-settled
that '[a]bsent a showing of causation [of the
plaintiffs' injuries by the defendants'
unconstitutional acts] and actual injury, a plaintiff is
entitled only to nominal damages.'" Warren v.
Pataki, 823 F.3d 125, 141 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting
Miner v. City of Glens Falls, 999 F.2d 655, 660 (2d
Cir.1993)), cert. denied sub nom. Brooks v. Pataki,
137 S.Ct. 380, 196 L.Ed.2d 300 (2016); Jackson v.
Goord, 664 F.Supp.2d 307, 317 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (in
context of inmate's claim of deliberate indifference to
inmate health or safety, court "note[d] that plaintiffs
in section 1983 actions are 'entitled to an award of
nominal damages upon proof of a violation of a substantive
constitutional right even in the absence of actual
compensable injury.'") (quoting Amato v. City of
Saratoga Springs, 170 F.3d 311, 317 (2d Cir.1999) and
case at bar, Plaintiff contends that Officers Ayotte and
Olsen neglected to buckle his seatbelt prior to driving him
in the prison van to and from UCONN Hospital. In addition,
Plaintiff was not buckled up when the UCONN Hospital truck
hit the side of the prison van as it idled in the loading
dock at the hospital. Plaintiff states that the failure to
buckle his seatbelt in these situations constituted
deliberate indifference to his safety in violation of the
Eighth Amendment. He also alleges that Officers Olsen and
Ayotte "denied the Plaintiff [a] seatbelt" in
violation of State of Connecticut Administrative Directive
6.4." Id., at 6, ¶ 33.
Supreme Court has held that prisoners have no right to be
housed in comfortable surroundings. See Rhodes v.
Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1980) (harsh or restrictive
conditions are part of the penalty criminal offenders pay for
their crimes). A prisoner's conditions of confinement,
however, must meet "minimal civilized measures of
life's necessities." Wilson v. Seiter, 501
U.S. 294, 298 (1991). This means that prison officials are
required to provide for inmates' basic human needs -
e.g., food, clothing, shelter, ...