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Santos v. Eye Physicians and Surgeons, P.C.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 22, 2019

NGOLA SANTOS, Plaintiff,
v.
EYE PHYSICIANS AND SURGEONS, P.C., Defendant.

          RULING AND ORDER ADOPTING RECOMMENDED RULING AND DENYING LEAVE TO AMEND

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On September 6, 2018, Ngola Santos (“Plaintiff”) sued Eye Physicians and Surgeons, P.C. (“Defendant”), alleging, inter alia, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (the “ADA”), and the False Claims Act, 29 U.S.C. § 3721. Complaint, dated Sept. 10, 2018 (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1.

         On October 1, 2018, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel recommended that Mr. Santos's Complaint be dismissed for failure to state a claim. See Recommended Ruling, dated Oct. 18, 2018 (“Rec. Ruling”), ECF No. 11.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court ADOPTS Judge Garfinkel's recommended ruling, DISMISSES the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) with prejudice, and DENIES both of Mr. Santos's pending motions to amend the Complaint, ECF Nos. 7 and 12, as futile.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations

         On August 31, 2015, Mr. Santos allegedly went to Eye Physicians and Surgeons' office in Orange, CT, where Dr. Sharpiro and an unknown technician (referred to in the Complaint as “Jane Doe”) examined his eyes. Compl. ¶ 7. Mr. Santos alleges that, after the eye exam, Dr. Sharpiro informed him that he saw cataracts in Mr. Santos's left eye and believed that Mr. Santos had diplopia (double vision) in the eye. Id. ¶ 8. Dr. Sharpiro allegedly instructed Mr. Santos to return after “several months” for another eye exam to determine whether surgery would be necessary to correct the cataracts and diplopia. Id.

         Mr. Santos alleges that he then “asked the Defendant” to complete his insurance company's short-term disability benefits forms. Id. ¶ 9.

         A few days later, Mr. Santos allegedly called Defendant's main office in Milford, CT, “after being instructed by a voicemail by Defendant, ” to get an update on the forms. Id. ¶ 10. Mr. Santos alleges that he “faced hostility and retaliation from a tech, Jane Doe 2[.]” Id. ¶¶ 10-16. When he asked her for an update on the form, she allegedly told him-without checking his records-that “[w]e are not giving you Disability.” Id. ¶ 12. Mr. Santos alleges that he tried to explain her that “Defendant's duty” was only to complete the form, and that his insurance company would determine whether he gets disability benefits or not. Id. ¶ 14. But Jane Doe 2 allegedly “wouldn't listen” and “would not cooperate and fill out the forms[.]” Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         Mr. Santos alleges that he then asked to speak with the manager, and that his call was then taken by Defendant's practice administrator, D. Breen. Id. ¶ 16. D. Breen allegedly “immediately” told him that they would not be giving him disability. Id. Mr. Santos alleges that after he explained “the process, ” D. Breen agreed to fill out the forms and submit them to the insurance company. Id. Mr. Santos alleges that “Defendant retaliated in anger by asking [him] why he didn't schedule the surgery, ” even though “surgery was not necessary for several months at that time, since only near sight was substantially affected, ” and that Defendant “did not want to support [him] being out of work on [s]hort term disability and other arbitrary reasons” unless Mr. Santos scheduled surgery. Id. ¶ 19.

         In November 2015, Mr. Santos alleges that his employer gave him an ADA accommodation sheet to be filled out in order to determine whether he was eligible for accommodation at work, ” Id. ¶ 20. Mr. Santos alleges that Defendant completed the sheet, but “sabotaged” it by not acknowledging that he had “any impairment, ” which resulted in the “misrepresentation” of Mr. Santos's impairments to his employer and prevented him from receiving accommodations, as his employer thought he was “not ill or impaired.” Id. ¶ 22; see ADA Accommodation Sheet, dated November 7, 2019, annexed as Ex. 2 to Compl.

         Mr. Santos alleges that, when he made future attempts to contact Eye Physicians and Surgeons for medical information, D. Breen would “call or send a letter” telling Mr. Santos that “they helped him enough and to never contact [the] office again.” Id. ¶ 24. Mr. Santos alleges that when he called to find out why he received the letter, and D. Breen “rudely talked over [Mr. Santos] and [hung] up the phone.” Id. ¶ 25.

         Mr. Santos alleges that the actions of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and its employees “resulted in [the] termination” of his employment. Id. ¶ 26.

         B. Procedural Background

         On September 6, 2018, Mr. Santos sued Eye Physicians and Surgeons, alleging multiple causes of action under federal and state law. See Compl. Mr. Santos alleged two federal claims, arguing that Defendant: (1) violated the False Claims Act by creating a false claim concerning Mr. Santos's accommodations at work, which created a false claim for Mr. Santos's accommodations at work, and resulted in him not receiving any accommodations, id. ¶¶ 37-38 (Count Three); and (2) violated the ADA by refusing to acknowledge Mr. Santos's disability and impairments for the sake of disqualifying him for accommodations and benefits, which resulted in him not receiving accommodations and eventually termination from his job, id. ¶¶ 45-46 (Count Four).

         Mr. Santos also alleged five state-law claims, arguing that Defendant: (1) committed medical malpractice by breaching patient/physician confidentiality, id. ¶¶ 27-29 (Count One); (2) committed fraud by intentionally and negligently submitting fraudulent and misleading information and denying knowledge of Mr. Santos's vision impairment, id. ¶¶ 30-34 (Count Two); (3) discriminated against him in violation of Connecticut General Statute §§ 46(a)-64 et seq., which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of race, color, ancestry, age, mental disability, and physical disability, id. ¶¶ 48-49 (Count Five); (4) orchestrated a “civil conspiracy” against him “in discriminating and denying the Plaintiff's accommodations and benefits for his disability, ” id. ¶¶ 50-51 (Count Six); and (5) breached its fiduciary duty to him, id. ¶¶ 52-57 (Count Seven).

         That same day, Mr. Santos moved for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis, dated Sept. 10, 2018, ECF No. 2.

         On September 11, 2018, the Court referred Mr. Santos's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis to Magistrate Judge Garfinkel. Order, dated Sept. 11, 2018, ECF No. 6.

         That same day, Mr. Santos moved to amend his Complaint. Motion to Perform First Relation Back of Amendment of Original Complaint (“First Mot. to Amend Compl.”), dated Sept. 11, 2018, ECF No. 7. Mr. Santos seeks to bring the following additional state law claims against Eye Physicians and Surgeons: (1) a claim for medical malpractice based on failure to recognize symptoms, id. ¶¶ 58-63; misreading or ignoring laboratory symptoms, id. ¶¶ 64-66; failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis, id. ¶¶ 67-69; disregarding or not taking appropriate patient history, id. ¶¶ 70-73; and poor follow-up or aftercare, id. ¶¶ 74-78; and (2) a claim for personal injury, id. ¶¶ 79-80.

         On October 1, 2018, Magistrate Judge Garfinkel granted Mr. Santos's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but recommended that Mr. Santos's Complaint be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Order, dated Oct. 1, 2018, ECF No. 8; Rec. Ruling.

         Judge Garfinkel recommended dismissing Mr. Santos's Americans with Disabilities Act claim because the Complaint: (1) “does not allege facts to support that the defendant discriminated against [him] as a result of a disability, ” id. at 3; (2) does not “allege what reasonable accommodation [Mr. Santos] required and was denied, or the nature of the discrimination that allegedly occurred, id.; and (3) “seeks only monetary compensation” when “the only remedy available [for such a claim] is injunctive relief[, ]” id. at 4. Judge Garfinkel also recommended that Mr. Santos's False Claims Act claim be dismissed because Mr. Santos: (1) “is not seeking to vindicate any rights belonging to the federal government, but instead seeking damages for injury to himself, ” id.; and (2) is a pro se litigant and therefore may not pursue a qui tam action under Second Circuit law, id. at 5.

         Judge Garfinkel therefore recommended that both federal claims be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. Id. at 5-6.

         On October 17, 2018, Mr. Santos moved for an extension of time to object to the recommended ruling. Motion for Extension of Time, dated Oct.17, 2018, ECF No. 10. On October 18, 2018, the Court granted that motion. Order, dated Oct. 18, 2018, ECF No. 11.

         On October 29, 2018, Mr. Santos moved to amend his Complaint to add a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress under Connecticut law. Motion to Perform Second Relation Back of Amendment of Original Complaint, dated Oct. 29, 2018 (“Second Mot. to Amend Compl. “), ECF No. 12, ¶¶ 81-85.

         That same day, Mr. Santos objected to Judge Garfinkel's Recommended Ruling. Motion of Objection to Recommended Ruling of Dismissal, dated Oct. 29, 2018 (“Pl.'s Obj.”), ECF No. 13. Mr. Santos argues, inter alia, that Judge Garfinkel's recommended ruling should be dismissed because: (1) Mr. Santos does have physical and mental disabilities and Dr. Sharpiro and the other staff at Eye Physicians and Surgeons were aware of these disabilities, id. at 2-6; (2) the cases used in Judge Garfinkel's recommendation were “plagiarized, ” and are too dissimilar from Mr. Santos's case to be used as comparisons, id. at 2, 4; and (3) Mr. Santos did not request compensation for monetary damages, id. at 6. In his objection, Mr. Santos responds to each paragraph in the recommended ruling. See Id. at 1-9.

         Mr. Santos requests that the Court “strike or dismiss” Judge Garfinkel's recommended ruling. Id. at 1, 9. In the alternative, if dismissal of his action “is unavoidable, ” he requests that the case instead be transferred to another court “in accordance with” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), in the interest of justice and to avoid problems of re-filing after the statute of limitations on his claims may have run. Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) requires the Court to dismiss a pro se litigant's case “at any time” if the Court determines that the action is “(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         To state a claim on which relief can be granted, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Plaintiffs must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         It is also well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons,470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006); see also Sykes v. Bank of Am.,723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman, 470 F.3d at 474); Tracy v. ...


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