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Flores v. Cook

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 8, 2019

MICHAEL FLORES, Plaintiff,
v.
ROLAND COOK, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          STEFAN R. UNDERHILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Michael Flores, currently confined at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, Connecticut and proceeding pro se, filed the instant action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), 1986, and 1988 against Commissioner Roland Cook, Warden Hannah, Captain Hurdle, and Correctional Officer John Doe (collectively, “Defendants”). Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 1-12. In his complaint, which was received by the court on August 2, 2019, Flores asserts claims for (i) deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs under the Eighth Amendment; (ii) violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3), 1986, and 1988; (iii) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (iv) negligence. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 8, 34-45, 46-51. Flores seeks compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory relief, and attorneys' fees. Id. at ¶¶ 51-53.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that 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). Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based. See Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). In addition, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, and conclusory allegations will not suffice, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude afforded to pro se litigants).

         I. Allegations

         Flores was first diagnosed with epilepsy over twenty years ago. Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 21. Because of that diagnosis, the medical department at Garner Correctional Institution (“Garner”) issued Flores a bottom bunk pass. Id. Flores' condition, along with his prescribed medications, is well-documented in his medical records. Id. at ¶ 22.

         On February 1, 2019, Officer Doe instructed Flores to re-locate to cell number 119 in the Gulf Unit and directed Flores to sleep on the top bunk. Id. at ¶ 23. Flores told Officer Doe that Flores could not take the top bunk because he suffered from a medical condition, which precluded him from sleeping on the top bunk. Id. at ¶ 23. Flores also informed Officer Doe that he had a bottom bunk pass. Id. at ¶ 24. Officer Doe responded that “he didn't care, ” and told Flores to address his problem with the unit manager, Captain Hurdle. Id. at ¶ 24.

         After a few days of sleeping on the top bunk - an experience that “petrified” Flores - Flores spoke with Captain Hurdle about his “medical concerns” with sleeping on the top bunk. Id. at ¶ 25. Captain Hurdle nonetheless refused to move Flores to another cell; instead, Captain Hurdle told Flores to “stop crying” and “deal with it.” Id. at ¶ 26. Captain Hurdle also told Flores that Flores was welcome to transfer to segregation, where several beds were available - an offer which Flores declined. Id. at ¶ 27. Flores then submitted several Inmate Request Forms to the medical unit, as well as the Deputy Warden of Operations, which explained Flores' concern with sleeping on the top bunk. Id. at ¶ 28. Flores did not receive a response. Id.

         Several days later, on February 8, 2019, Flores suffered a seizure while sleeping on the top bunk. Id. at ¶ 19. He fell to the floor, sustaining “serious” injuries to his neck, lower back, arm, leg, ankle, foot, and head. Id. A “code white, ” or medical emergency, was called, to which several officers and medical staff members responded. Flores was then brought to the medical unit, where he remained for several hours. Id. at ¶¶ 30, 31. Once he returned to the housing unit, the medical staff “made sure that the officers in the unit put [Flores] on the bottom bunk.” Id. at ¶ 31.

         II. Analysis

         A. Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need

         Flores alleges that Hurdle and Doe, by assigning Flores to a top bunk when he needed a bottom bunk because of his epilepsy, were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need. Id. at ¶¶ 37, 38. Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs exists when an official “knows that [an] inmate[] faces a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 137-38 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994)).

         The deliberate indifference standard “embodies both an objective and a subjective prong.Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1994). Objectively, the alleged deprivation must be “sufficiently serious, ” meaning that the condition must be “one that may produce death, degeneration, or extreme pain.” See Hathaway v. Coughlin, 99 F.3d 550, 553 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). Subjectively, the defendants must have been “actually aware of a substantial risk” that the plaintiff would suffer serious harm as a result of their conduct. See Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 280-81 (2d Cir. 2006). Further, when the defendants are custody staff, the plaintiff must allege that the officers “both kn[e]w of and disregard[ed] ‘an excessive risk to the inmate's ‘health or safety.'” Young v. Choinski, 15 F.Supp.3d 194, 199 (D. Conn. 2014) (citing Phelps v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 186 (2d Cir. 2002)). “Such knowledge may be inferred from circumstantial evidence.” Id. (citing Phelps, 308 F.3d at 186) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, with respect to the objective prong, Flores suffers from epilepsy, a medical condition that courts have recognized as sufficiently serious. See Boomer v. Lanigan, 2001 WL 1646725, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 17, 2001) (noting that “[e]pilepsy, or an epileptic seizure, is a serious condition”) (internal citation omitted). With respect to the subjective prong, Flores' complaint indicates that Flores raised his medical concerns about sleeping on the top bunk with both Hurdle and Doe. See Id. at ¶¶ 23, 25. The complaint further asserts that Flores had a valid bottom bunk pass because of his epilepsy. Id. at ¶ 24. Hurdle and Doe nonetheless declined to re-assign Flores to a bottom bunk, leaving Flores with the top bunk. Id. at ¶¶ 24, 26. Those allegations are sufficient for me to infer that both Hurdle and Doe understood the risk that their actions posed to Flores.

         For the foregoing reasons, I conclude that Flores has stated a plausible claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need against Hurdle and Doe, and will therefore permit his claim to proceed at this time.

         B. Supervisory Liability

         Flores also names Commissioner Cook and Warden Hannah as defendants, whom he describes as parties responsible for the “overall operation” of the Connecticut Department of Corrections and of Garner, respectively. See id. at ΒΆΒΆ 9, ...


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