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Febres v. Yale New Haven Hospital

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 23, 2019




         Plaintiff Joshua Febres (the “Plaintiff, ” or “Febres”), proceeding pro se, filed this action in Connecticut Superior Court on July 16, 2019 against Yale New Haven Hospital and Drs. Leila Haghighat and Raquel Ferrer Harrison (collectively, the “Yale Defendants”) and Corrections Officer Ware[1] (“Officer Ware, ” or “Defendant Ware” and, together, with the Yale Defendants, the “Defendants”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint stems from an incident that occurred in the emergency room at Yale New Haven Hospital during which Febres was allegedly sexually assaulted by an unknown woman. Febres alleges that Defendants violated his civil rights guaranteed by the Connecticut and United States Constitutions and other federal and state laws in connection with the assault. He asserts his claims against the Defendants in their individual capacities. On August 2, 2019, the Yale Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (ECF No. 1) and on August 16, 2019, Febres filed an objection, which the Court construed as a motion to remand. (ECF No. 10.) On October 8, 2019 the Court denied the motion to remand-holding that because the complaint asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the action necessarily arises under federal law and therefore supports the Court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 17.)

         Now before the Court are the Yale Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(4) for insufficient process and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 14), as well as Defendant Ware's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 21.) Febres did not respond to either motion and the time within which to do so has passed. For the reasons set forth below, the Yale Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED for failure to state a claim for relief and Defendant Ware's motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, as Febres has stated a plausible claim for a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.


         The following allegations are taken from Febres's complaint (ECF Nos. 1-1, 1-2) and are accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Bagley v. Yale Univ., 42 F.Supp.3d 332, 357 (D. Conn. 2014).

         Febres was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital on October 1, 2018 for a plastic surgery consultation. Because the surgeon who was scheduled to meet with Febres was unavailable, Febres was directed to the Emergency Room, where he was eventually assigned a room with a curtain divider. While Febres and Officer Ware were waiting for Febres to see an Emergency Room doctor, a woman approached from the other side of the curtain. She appeared to be highly intoxicated or mentally unwell. She began speaking to Febres and Officer Ware and asked Officer Ware who Febres was. Officer Ware responded “in a joking manner that [Febres] was a rapper.” The woman proceeded to touch Febres inappropriately before being escorted out of the room. She soon returned and sexually assaulted Febres-again touching him inappropriately-before she was escorted from the room a second time.[2] After the incident, the Emergency Room doctors apologized to Febres but he was not permitted to file a complaint. According to Febres, the hospital staff “turn[ed] this assault into a joke because I['m] a prisoner” and he “never felt this disrespect[ted] and discriminated in my life.”

         Febres alleges that Defendants discriminated against him and acted under color of law and that they acted knowingly and purposefully to deprive Febres of his constitutional rights. He alleges that he has “exhausted his administrative remedies to no avail.”

         Standard of Review

         As indicated, on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and must draw all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 306 (2d Cir. 2015). The complaint, however, “must ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” setting forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Kolbasyuk v. Capital Mgmt. Servs., LP, 918 F.3d 236, 239 (2d Cir. 2019) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “Accordingly, ‘[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.'” Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Although a pro se complaint must be liberally construed “to raise the strongest arguments it suggests, ” pro se litigants are nonetheless required to “state a plausible claim for relief.” Walker v. Shult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013) (brackets and internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


         Yale Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 87-88 (2d Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and citations omitted). The Yale Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to allege the second element-i.e., conduct under color of state law.

         “As a general rule, private hospitals do not act under color of state law for § 1983 purposes.” Thomas v. Beth Israel Hosp. Inc., 710 F.Supp. 935, 940 (S.D.N.Y. 1989); see also White v. St. Joseph's Hosp., 369 Fed. App'x 225, 226 (2d Cir. 2010) (summary order) (“[P]rivate actors and institutions, such as the hospitals . . . named as defendants in [the plaintiff's] original complaint, are generally not proper § 1983 defendants because they do not act under color of state law.”). Similarly, “[p]rivate physicians are generally not state actors, especially where the physician is ‘not performing a function traditionally reserved for the State and where [the physician] was not under contract with the State to provide medical services.'” Koulkina v. City of New York, 559 F.Supp.2d 300, 320 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (quoting Vazquez v. Marciano, 169 F.Supp.2d 248, 253-54 (S.D.N.Y. 2001)); see also Chance v. Machado, No. 08-CV-774 (CSH), 2009 WL 3416422, at *2 (D. Conn. Oct. 22, 2009) (dismissing Section 1983 claims against doctors employed by Bridgeport Hospital, which is privately owned, for failure to allege state action).

         Here, while “it is conceivable that Yale New Haven Hospital receives some public funding, and is accordingly tied to the State in some way . . . such a general tie to the State is insufficient to support” a Section 1983 claim. Davis v. Yale New Haven Hosp., No. 3:16-CV-01578 (VLB), 2017 WL 6459499, at *5 (D. Conn. Dec. 11, 2017); accord White, 369 Fed. App'x at 226 (“[T]he presence of state funding or regulation, in the absence of some concerted action with state officials, does not transform a private party's actions into state action”). Moreover, the mere fact that the Plaintiff was in state custody when he was treated by the Yale Defendants does not transform the physicians' conduct into state action. See Brown v. Pangia, No. 11-CV-6048 (AT), 2014 WL 2211849, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 27, 2014). ...

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