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Sanders v. Laplante

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 25, 2019




         Pro se plaintiff Steven Sanders, currently incarcerated at Carl Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield, Connecticut, has filed a complaint pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant Dr. Sharon LaPlante ("Defendant" or "Dr. LaPlante"). Sanders contends that Dr. LaPlante, now retired, was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs while he was in pretrial custody. As a result of the alleged violation, Sanders seeks damages and injunctive relief.

         The Court now reviews Sanders' Complaint to determine whether his claims may proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the following reasons, the Complaint is DISMISSED.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint and dismiss any portion that "(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). Although highly detailed allegations are not required, 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. This plausibility standard is not a "probability requirement," but imposes a standard higher than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         In undertaking this analysis, the Court must "draw all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor, assume all well-pleaded factual allegations to be true, and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, the Court is "not bound to accept conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions," id., and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do," Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Consequently, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Ultimately, "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

         With 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 Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ("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.'" (internal citations omitted)). This liberal approach, however, does not exempt pro se litigants from the minimum pleading requirements described above: a pro se 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). Therefore, 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) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), and the Court may not "invent factual allegations" that the plaintiff has not pleaded, id.


         On April 10, 2018, Sanders was seen by Nurse Lisa and Defendant at Hartford Correctional Center, where he was housed while awaiting trial. Doc. 1 ("Complaint") at 4. When Sanders told Defendant his name, she asked whether he was the inmate complaining about weight loss. Id. Sanders told her that he had lost weight between June and October 2017. Id. Even though he was eating double portion trays at all meals and supplementing the meals with food from the commissary, he had not gained weight. Id.

         While Defendant was weighing Sanders, he complained of frequent dizziness and constant urination, especially at night. Id. Defendant compared Sanders' current weight with his intake weight from September 2016 and stated that he had only lost ten pounds. Id. Defendant dismissed Sanders complaints as "a personal problem." Id. Sanders told Defendant about his family history of cancer, heart problems, and diabetes, and requested a blood test. Id. He also told her that he had been hospitalized prior to his incarceration for swollen lymph nodes. Id. Although a biopsy was negative, the oncologist wanted to keep a close eye on his condition. Id. Defendant denied Sanders' request for a blood test, stating that, unless Sanders was diagnosed with something, the test would waste money and her time. Id. Defendant told Sanders he seemed "fine" and dismissed him. Id.

         In December 2018, Sanders was transferred to MacDougall Correctional Institution. Id. at 5. At intake, he weighted 172 lbs. Id. On February 3, 2019, [1] Sanders saw Nurse Burns and told her about his issues. Id. She weighed him and noted that he had lost six pounds, one pound per week. Id. She ordered a blood test and lab work. Id. On March 3, 2019, Sanders was diagnosed with diabetes. Id. He was brought to the Chronic Illness and Disease exam room where a doctor informed him that his condition was serious and that he needed to start taking insulin and medication immediately. Id. Sanders now suffers from astigmatism in both eyes and has poor eyesight, 20/100. Id. He requires prescription glasses to see and drive. Id.


         Sanders contends that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need. A pretrial detainee's claim of unconstitutional conditions of confinement - including deliberate indifference to a detainee's medical needs - is governed by the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause rather than the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause. Darnell v. Piniero, 849 F.3d 17, 29 (2d Cir. 2017); see also Valdiviezo v. Boyer, 752 Fed.Appx. 29, 32-33 (2d Cir. 2018) (Darnell standard applies to claims for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs). The Second Circuit explained the rationale for this distinction in Darnell: "pretrial detainees have not been convicted of a crime, and thus may not be punished in any manner - neither cruelly and unusually nor otherwise." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Nonetheless, a pretrial detainee's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment are "at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a convicted prisoner." Id.

         To state a claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, a pretrial detainee must meet a two-prong test. The first prong is the same for claims by sentenced prisoners under the Eighth Amendment and pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment. The alleged deprivation of medical care must be "sufficiently serious." See Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 279 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). The second prong differs for sentenced inmates and pretrial detainees. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, the second prong, also known as the mens rea prong, is defined objectively. Darnell, 849 F.3d at 35. "[T]he pretrial detainee must prove that the defendant-official acted intentionally to impose the alleged condition, or recklessly failed to act with reasonable care to mitigate the risk that the condition posed to the pretrial detainee even though the defendant-official knew, or should have known, ...

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