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Abrams v. Waters

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 26, 2018

DAVID A. ABRAMS, No. 241224, a/k/a ABRAHAMS, Plaintiff,



         I. BACKGROUND

         Pending before the Court is a preliminary injunction motion by Plaintiff [Doc. 6], which the Court will analyze and resolve in this Ruling. The condensed procedural and factual history of the case is as follows.

         On October 10, 2017, pro se plaintiff David A. Abrams, an inmate currently incarcerated at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution ("Corrigan") in Uncasville, Connecticut, brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various prison officials at Cheshire Correctional Institution ("Cheshire C.I."), where he was previously housed. Doc. 1 ("Complaint"). On February 2, 2018, upon performing its initial screening duties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this Court dismissed Abrams's claims against all but three defendants: Corrections Officer Phillips, Corrections Captain Nunez, and Corrections Captain John Watson. Doc. 17 ("Initial Review Order"). The remaining three Eighth Amendment "cruel and unusual punishment" claims in this action include: (1) "excessive force" against Phillips regarding his conduct in subduing Abrams after his cellmate, Kashawn Brown, attacked him on August 4, 2017; (2) "failure to protect" against Nunez for placing Brown, "a high security" risk inmate, in Abrams's cell, despite Brown's history of attacking cellmates; and (3) exposure to "hazardous conditions of confinement" against Watson for placing Abrams in a segregation cell with black mold on the vent and not remediating said mold upon receiving notice of the problem. Id., at 12-19.

         In addition, the Court decided to permit Abrams's state law claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress to proceed against Phillips in conjunction with his Eighth Amendment "excessive force" claim. Id., at 35. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over these state law claims, which derive from a common nucleus of operative fact with the federal claim against Phillips. As of this date, defendants Phillips, Nunez, and Watson have not yet responded to the Complaint.

         On October 27, 2017, shortly after filing his Complaint, Abrams moved for a preliminary injunction against the Defendants, requesting the Court to grant him an injunction "directing the defendant [Waters, and the named prison officials at Corrigan] to assign [him] single-cell status as a result of [Waters's] failure to protect the plaintiff after the plaintiff was assaulted on two different occasions by his cellmates." Doc. 6-1 ("Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction"), at 1. In so moving, Plaintiff asserts that he has twice been assaulted by cellmates at other facilities, and consequently, suffers from sleeplessness, "receiv[ing] less than 3 hours [of] sleep nightly because [he is] always on guard anticipating another attack." Doc. 6 ("Motion for Preliminary Injunction"), ¶ 17. He also claims that he has been evaluated by "a mental health doctor who stated that it['s] normal for [him] to be on alert and paranoid due to the trauma [he] suffered." Id., ¶ 18. As a result, the doctor allegedly recommended that [he] obtain single cell status." Id., ¶ 19.

         Defendants filed a memorandum in opposition to Abrams's preliminary injunction motion. Doc. 13. In that opposition, Defendants argue that (1) Abrams's transfer from Cheshire C.I. to Corrigan moots any claim for injunctive relief, (2) Abrams has failed to show that he will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of the requested relief, and (3) Abrams has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of his claims. Id., at 3-8. In support of their memorandum, Defendants attached an affidavit of Dr. Craig Burns, a psychiatrist who provides mental health services for Connecticut prison inmates.[1] Doc. 13-1 ("Burns Affidavit, " dated December 4, 2017).

         On November 22, 2017, Burns reviewed Abrams's Department of Correction ("DOC") medical files "to evaluate his mental health, to determine the treatment most suitable to address any mental health needs and to assess whether there was any mental health related reason to support his request for a single cell." Id., ¶ 8. In reviewing Abrams's prior psychiatric records, Burns noted that during his seventeen years of confinement, Abrams "has been a well-adjusted inmate." Id., ¶ 9. Moreover, when assessed by a prior clinician on October 23, 2017, that doctor found no indication that Abrams "was in any way psychiatrically impaired" or that he "needed the accommodation of a single cell."[2] Id., ¶ 10. In addition, upon speaking with the Corrigan custody staff, Burns found that Abrams had no "issues that would indicate a possible need for a single cell." Id., ¶ 11.

         After repeated attempts to interview Abrams - with Abrams at first declining to be interviewed - Burns set up an interview date of December 5, 2017. Id., ¶¶ 12-14. In anticipation of the interview, Burns reviewed his research on Abrams's history at Corrigan. He noted that Abrams appears to be a "relatively well-adjusted inmate at Corrigan, " classified as "Mental Health 2, " an inmate with "a history of mental health disorder that is not currently active or needing treatment, " or one who "has a current mild mental health disorder, not requiring treatment by a mental health professional." Id., ¶ 16. Moreover, for the majority of his incarceration, Abrams was a "Mental Health 1" inmate, one who was "emotionally stable, " with "no mental health history or current need" for treatment. Id., ¶ 17.[3] As of December 4, 2017, Burns found there was no "sufficient evidence to suggest in any way that there [was] a mental health or any other related reason to recommend that [Plaintiff] requires the accommodation of a single cell." Id., ¶ 18. Burns expressed his intention to update his findings following his scheduled interview with Abrams. Id., ¶ 19.

         In response to Defendants' opposition, Abrams filed a reply, disagreeing with Burns's conclusions regarding his mental health and arguing that he is in "actual danger" of future harm from another inmate. Doc. 15, at 3-6. Abrams reiterated that he has twice been assaulted by other inmates and, therefore, does not trust the staff at Corrigan to protect him from future harm. Id., at 4-5.

         Defendants replied, updating their submission in opposition to the motion by filing the "Supplemental Affidavit of Dr. Craig Burns" [Doc. 16], describing Burns's findings after interviewing Abrams on December 5, 2017. In that affidavit, Burns stated that after "a nearly two and a half hour evaluation and a review of my previous evaluation of Mr. Abram's issues[, ] to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, it is my opinion that there is not a psychiatric reason to provide Mr. Abrams with 'single cell' status at this time." Id., ¶ 11 (emphasis in original). He perceived Abrams as "well-nourished, " "well groomed, " and "articulate." Id., ¶ 12. Abrams "neither reported nor appeared to be experiencing any physical or obvious emotional distress." Id. Overall, Abrams appeared "to be a high functioning, intelligent, educated, articulate, [and] motivated individual, " who did not meet the criteria for any emotional or stress-related disorder. Id. Furthermore, he demonstrated "intellectual adroitness" that would not be expected in one with cognitive impairment. Id., ¶ 14.

         Although Abrams self-reported "mood related" symptoms, such as sleeplessness and decreased frustration tolerance, he "did not meet criteria for a Mood Disorder, " such as depression. Id., ¶ 13. For example, rather than exhibiting signs of hopelessness, Abrams was noted to be working diligently to "us[e] the courts to seek a reduction in his sentence that might result in a discharge from DOC far in advance of his current sentence." Id.

         In addition, although Abrams self-reported traumatic experiences in his life, he "ha[d] not met criteria for the trauma and stress related diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."[4] Id., ¶ 15. Rather, he "remains highly functional" with the capability of engaging in "appropriate[ ] levels of self-reflection" and "reality testing." Id., ¶ 16.

         Burns reiterated that Abrams was a Mental Health 1 prisoner for 17 years before becoming a Mental Health 2 in October of 2017, id., ¶ 20, following his transfer from Cheshire to Corrigan (which occurred in August 2017). "Neither of these classifications [1 or 2] require the individual, so designated, to have contact with a mental health professional." Id., ¶ 21. Nonetheless, having observed that Abrams is experiencing some level of distress due to the "tragic death of his son and the two assaults that he experienced in DOC, " Burns recommended that the optimal approach to managing Abrams's current issues would be to raise his Mental Health score to a Mental Health 3 . . . and to place him on the case load of one of the therapists at Corrigan." Id., ¶¶ 22, 25. Such treatment would be far superior to "placing him in a single cell, " which "might provide temporary relief from having to worry about a cell mate assaulting him, " but "would not resolve his underlying issues." Id., ¶ 25.

         In sum, Burns concluded:

Remaining at Corrigan with his cellmate, with regular contact with a therapist, dealing with his issues instead of by-passing them, in my opinion would provide an affirmative way to impact the very self-efficacy and adaptive functioning that would be most helpful to Mr. Abrams. The door remains open for the potential reassessment for a single cell, if, after a period of therapy, it was thought to be clinically indicated. However, at the present time, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, with all of the supports available to Mr. Abrams at Corrigan, it is my opinion that there is not a psychiatric reason to provide Mr. Abrams with "single cell" status at this time.

Id., ¶ 29 (emphasis in original).


         A. Standard for Preliminary Injunction

         Preliminary injunctive relief is "one of the most drastic tools in the arsenal of judicial remedies." Hanson Trust PLC v. SCM Corp., 774 F.2d 47, 60 (2d Cir. 1985). As the United States Supreme Court has stated, "a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion." Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997) (per curiam) (quoting 11A Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2948, at 130 (2d ed. 1995)) (emphasis omitted). "The purpose of a preliminary injunction is to preserve the status quo until a trial on the merits." Lopez v. McEwan, No. ...

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