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Castillo v. J. Hogan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2018

MICHAEL CASTILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
J. HOGAN, et al., Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Michael Castillo (“Plaintiff”), currently incarcerated at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution, in Uncasville, Connecticut, and proceeding pro se, has sued various individual employees of the Connecticut Department of Correction for denying him appropriate medical treatment under the Eighth Amendment and retaliation under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment.

         For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations[1]

         On January 31, 2011, Mr. Castillo submitted a request to receive medical treatment. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt., ¶ 12, ECF No. 54; Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E, ECF No. 53 at 96. He complained that his nose had been congested for three weeks and he was having trouble breathing. Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E, ECF No. 53, at 96. Mr. Castillo stated that he thought that he might have a nasal infection. Id. On February 3, 2011, a nurse examined Mr. Castillo and referred Mr. Castillo to see a physician for further evaluation. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt., ¶ 8, ECF No. 48-2.

         On February 11, 2011, Mr. Castillo completed and submitted a Health Services Review request regarding diagnosis of and treatment for his nasal congestion and symptoms associated with that condition. Id., Attach. 3 at 6-7, ECF No. 48-6. In it, he noted that the decongestant and allergy tablets that the nurses had given to him had not relieved his symptoms. Id. at 7.

         On February 14, 2011, in response to Mr. Castillo's complaint that he had not been seen by the medical department for almost two weeks, Lieutenant Bernard asked a nurse in the medical department whether Mr. Castillo was scheduled to see a physician. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt., ¶¶ 10-12, ECF No. 54. A nurse informed Lieutenant Bernard that Mr. Castillo had been examined by the nursing staff and was on the list to see a physician on February 17, 2011. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt., ¶ 13, ECF No. 54.

         On February 15, 2011, Nurse/Medical Grievance Coordinator Vickie Garcia received Mr. Castillo's Health Services Review request dated February 11, 2011. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47; Attach. 3 at 6-7, ECF No. 48-6. She noted that Mr. Castillo was on the list to be seen by a physician on February 17, 2011. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47. Mr. Castillo did not go to his medical appointment on February 17, 2011. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt., ¶ 13, ECF No. 54. Medical staff re-scheduled Mr. Castillo's appointment to see a physician. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt., ¶ 12, ECF No. 48-2.

         The same day as the originally scheduled appointment, prison officials placed Mr. Castillo in the restrictive housing unit due to an investigation into gang activity at Cheshire. Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt., ¶ 15, ECF No. 54; Pl.'s Aff., ¶ 16, ECF No. 53-1; Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt., Attach. 1 at 60-61, ECF No. 47. On February 24, 2011, Officers Hogan and Johnson and Lieutenant Smith questioned Mr. Castillo in connection with the investigation. Pl.'s Aff., ¶ 24, ECF No. 53-1. Mr. Castillo refused to answer any questions or cooperate with the investigation. Id. During his week-long confinement in the restrictive housing unit as well as during the interrogation, Mr. Castillo informed Officers Hogan and Johnson and Lieutenant Smith that Mr. Castillo was ill and in need medical treatment, but they allegedly refused to arrange for treatment. Id., ¶¶ 17, 24-25. Prison officials released Mr. Castillo from the restrictive housing unit on February 24, 2011. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt., Attach. 2 at 6, ECF No. 48-5.

         On March 7, 2011, Dr. Ruiz examined Mr. Castillo in response to his complaints of sinus congestion, nasal discharge, and a bad smell in his nose. Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 13, ECF No. 48-2; Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47; Attach 3 at 7, ECF No. 48-6. Dr. Ruiz noted that Mr. Castillo had been treated for a nasal fracture in 2002 at Hartford Hospital. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47. Dr. Ruiz ordered that Mr. Castillo undergo x-rays of his sinuses and indicated that he would follow-up with Mr. Castillo. Id., Attach. 1 at 62, ECF No. 47; Attach. 3 at 7, ECF No. 48-6.

         On April 11, 2011, Dr. Ruiz noted that the x-rays of Mr. Castillo's sinuses were negative and showed no air fluid levels. Dr. Ruiz prescribed a nasal spray to be used twice a day for ninety days, medication for pain to be used for ninety days, and referred Mr. Castillo for lab work. Id., Attach. 1 at 59, ECF No. 47.

         On May 5, 2011, a nurse examined Mr. Castillo for an injury to his jaw. Id. On June 3, 2011, a nurse examined Mr. Castillo due to his complaints of hives on his body. Id. at 58. The nurse prescribed Benadryl to treat Mr. Castillo's symptoms. Id.

         On July 3, 2011, Dr. Ruiz examined Mr. Castillo due to his complaints of sinus congestion. Id., Ex. D, ECF No. 53 at 91. Dr. Ruiz observed nasal discharge and that Mr. Castillo moved air well through his nose. Id. He referred Mr. Castillo for sinus x-rays to determine the existence of air fluid levels in Mr. Castillo's nasal passages. Id. He noted that, if air fluid levels were present, he would prescribe an antibiotic. Id. He recommended that Mr. Castillo return to be seen by a physician in a week. Id.

         On May 14, 2012, in response to Mr. Castillo's inmate request, Nurse Boiano examined Mr. Castillo due to his complaints of nasal congestion and nasal discharge. Id., Attach. 3 at 3, ECF No. 48-6. Nurse Boiano noted that Mr. Castillo had requested that a physician renew his prescription for nasal spray. Id., Attach. 1 at 57, ECF No. 47. Nurse Boiano distributed allergy tablets to Mr. Castillo, placed him on a list to see a physician and left a note for Dr. Ruiz to renew the prescription for nasal spray. Id.

         On May 15, 2012, a nurse examined Mr. Castillo in response to his claim that he was experiencing an allergic reaction to medication. Id. The nurse concluded that Mr. Castillo had not suffered from an allergic reaction. Id. at 56-57. The nurse noted a bruise on the back of one of Mr. Castillo's thighs and advised Mr. Castillo to contact the medical department if the bruise did not resolve. Id. On May 17, 2012, Dr. Ruiz renewed the prescription for nasal spray for ninety days. Mem. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, ECF No. 53, at 78. At the end of May 2012, Dr. Ruiz prescribed Claritin to Mr. Castillo for ninety days. Id. at 82.

         On June 6, 2012, Mr. Castillo submitted a Health Services Review request regarding the diagnosis of and treatment for his nasal condition. Id., Ex. B, ECF No. 53 at 54-55. He stated that a nurse had examined him on May 14, 2012, had diagnosed him as suffering from allergies and had put him on the list to see a physician. Id. Mr. Castillo indicated that he was filing a grievance because it had been almost three weeks and he had not been examined by a physician. Id. Mr. Castillo indicated that he was experiencing nasal discharge, headaches, and congestion in his ears. He sought treatment from an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Id.

         In response to the Health Services Review request, Medical Grievance Coordinator Sheryl Estrom met with Mr. Castillo on June 21, 2012. Id. She explained the difference between allergies and a sinus infection and noted that she would refer Mr. Castillo to a physician for diagnosis and treatment. Id.

         On July 19, 2012, Dr. O'Halloran examined Mr. Castillo. Id. Mr. Castillo stated that he had experienced a foul smell and taste in his mouth and thick sinus discharge for more than a year and that antihistamines had only resulted in drier secretions. Id. The results of Mr. Castillo's sinus x-rays were not available. Id. Dr. O'Halloran prescribed an anti-biotic to be taken for fourteen days to treat Mr. Castillo's sinus symptoms. Id. The anti-biotic alleviated Mr. Castillo's sinus congestion and associated symptoms. Pl.'s Aff., ¶ 34, ECF No. 53-1.

         B. Procedural Background

         Mr. Castillo filed a Complaint with this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting multiple claims against forty-nine employees of the Department of Correction. See Compl., ECF No. 1. On March 9, 2015, Mr. Castillo filed an Amended Complaint, naming Correctional Officers J. Hogan, Johnson, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, Lieutenants Smith, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, Warden Jon Brighthaupt, Deputy Warden Powers, Nurses Vickie Garcia, Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3, Nursing Supervisor C. Durato, Medical Supervisor B. Stewart, Medical Grievance Coordinator Sheryl Estrom, Dr. Ricardo Ruiz and Health Services Administrator S. Brown as defendants. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 10.

         On April 30, 2015, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), the Court dismissed all claims against Brighthaupt and Powers and concluded that the Eighth Amendment claims of deliberate indifference to medical needs and the state law claims of negligence/malpractice would proceed against all other defendants and the Fifth Amendment retaliation claim would proceed against defendants Smith, Hogan and Johnson. See Initial Review Order, ECF No. 11. On February 22, 2016, the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss as to all state-law claims and denied the motion as to the federal claims. See Ruling, ECF No. 27.

         On May 31, 2016, Mr. Castillo filed a Second Amended Complaint to re-assert his claims against defendants Correctional Officers Hogan and Johnson, Lieutenant Smith, Dr. Ruiz, Nursing Supervisor Durato, Medical Supervisor Stewart, Medical Grievance Coordinator Estrom, Health Services Administrator Brown and Nurse/Medical Grievance Coordinator Garcia[2] and to identify the Doe defendants as: Correctional Officer Mack, Correctional Officer Bartley, Correctional Officer Waterford, Lieutenant Guzman, Lieutenant John Bernard, Captain Bouffard, Nurse Pauline Husband and Nurse Kathy Saraceno. See Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 35. The Second Amended Complaint is the operative complaint.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment.[3]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” based on it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         When a motion for summary judgment is supported by documentary evidence and sworn affidavits and “demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” the nonmoving party must do more than vaguely assert the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Thus, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.

         In reviewing the record, the court must “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Gary Friedrich Enters., L.L.C. v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302, 312 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). If there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable factual inference could be drawn in favor of the opposing party on the issue on which summary judgment is sought, however, summary judgment is improper. See Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

         Where one party is proceeding pro se, the court reads the pro se party's papers liberally and interprets them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Despite this liberal interpretation, however, “[u]nsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact” and cannot overcome a properly supported motion or summary judgment. Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants assert three arguments in support of their motion. They contend that: (1) the retaliation claim and the medical treatment claim are barred by the statute of limitations; (2) the medical treatment and retaliation claims are not exhausted; and (3) they were not deliberately indifferent to Mr. Castillo's serious medical need.

         A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Defendants argue that Mr. Castillo failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies as to the retaliation claim because he filed a grievance more than thirty days after the alleged retaliatory conduct occurred. Mr. Castillo argues that Defendants waived their claim that he did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies. The Court agrees.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), requires an inmate to exhaust all “administrative remedies as are available” before bringing an “action . . . with respect to prison conditions.” The Supreme Court held that this provision requires an inmate to exhaust administrative remedies before filing any type of action in federal court, see Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002), regardless of whether the inmate may obtain the specific relief he desires through the administrative process. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001).

         Furthermore, the PLRA requires “proper exhaustion” which includes complying with all “procedural rules, ” including filing deadlines, as defined by the particular prison grievance system. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006). Thus, “untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies do not satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirements.” Ruggiero v. County of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 176 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Woodford, 548 U.S. at 83-84).

         In Ross v. Blake, __U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 1850 (2016), the Supreme Court rejected the judicially created special exceptions to the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA. See Id. at 1362 (“Courts may not engraft an unwritten ‘special circumstances' exception onto the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.”). The Court concluded that the PLRA includes a single “textual exception”-that an inmate must only exhaust remedies that are “available.” Id. at 1858. Thus, aside from the availability of remedies to a prisoner, there are “no limits on an inmate's obligation to exhaust-irrespective of any ‘special circumstances.'” Id. at 1856. The Supreme Court described three scenarios in which administrative procedures are officially adopted by a prison facility but are not capable of use to obtain relief for the conduct complained about, and therefore are unavailable. Id. at 1859. First, an administrative remedy may be unavailable when “it operates as a simple dead end-with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates.” Id. Second, “an administrative scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use” because an “ordinary prisoner can[not] discern or navigate it” or “make sense of what it demands.” Id. (citations omitted). Third, an administrative remedy may be unavailable “when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Id. at 1860.

         Failure to exhaust administrative remedies under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) is an affirmative defense. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007). Thus, Defendants have the burden to prove that Mr. Castillo has not exhausted his claim prior to filing this action. See Johnson v. Mata, 460 Fed. App'x 11, 15 (2d Cir. 2012) (“The defendants have the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to exhaustion that would preclude summary judgment.”).

         The administrative remedies for the State of Connecticut Department of Correction are set forth in Administrative Directive 9.6, entitled Inmate Administrative Remedies. See Defs.' L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt., Attach. 4, ECF No. 48-7 (Administrative Directive 9.6, Effective January 31, 2009). The type of remedy available to an inmate depends on the nature of the issue or condition experienced by the inmate or the decision made by correctional personnel. For all matters relating to any aspect of a prisoner's confinement that are subject to the Commissioner's authority and that are not specifically identified in Sections 4(B) through 4(I) of Administrative Directive 9.6, the applicable remedy is the Inmate Grievance Procedure set forth in subsection (6). Thus, claims regarding conditions of confinement are subject to the Inmate Grievance Procedure.

         Under Administrative Directive 9.6(6), an inmate must first attempt to resolve the matter informally. The inmate may attempt to verbally resolve the issue with an appropriate staff member or supervisor. See Id. at 9.6(6)(A). If attempts to resolve the matter orally are not effective, the inmate must make a written attempt using a specific form and send that form to the appropriate staff member. See Id. If all ...


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