996 F.Supp. 343 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), 97 Civ. 3205, Okunieff v. Rosenberg

Docket Nº:97 CIV. 3205(RWS).
Citation:996 F.Supp. 343
Party Name:Rhoda OKUNIEFF, Plaintiff, v. Richard ROSENBERG, M.D., personally, Anne Skomorossky, M.D., personally, Loraine Innes, M.D., personally, Stan Acrow, M.D., personally, Elizabeth Mirabello, M.D., personally, Jane Doe, personally, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Herbert Pardes, in his official capacity of head of the Department of Psychiatry of C
Case Date:May 07, 1998
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Southern District of New York

Page 343

996 F.Supp. 343 (S.D.N.Y. 1998)

Rhoda OKUNIEFF, Plaintiff,


Richard ROSENBERG, M.D., personally, Anne Skomorossky, M.D., personally, Loraine Innes, M.D., personally, Stan Acrow, M.D., personally, Elizabeth Mirabello, M.D., personally, Jane Doe, personally, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Herbert Pardes, in his official capacity of head of the Department of Psychiatry of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Defendants.

No. 97 CIV. 3205(RWS).

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

May 7, 1998

Page 344

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 345

Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, Mental Disability Law Clinic (William M. Brooks, of Counsel), Huntington, NY, for Plaintiff.

Shapiro, Beilly, Rosenberg, Albert & Fox, (Lewis Rosenberg, Barry I. Levy, Angela Thompson-Tinsley, of Counsel), New York City, for Defendant Richard Rosenberg, M.D.

Martin, Clearwater & Bell (Peter T. Crean, Gregory J. Radomisli, Tiffany L. Bauman, of Counsel), New York City, for Remaining Defendants.


SWEET, District Judge.

Defendants Anne Skomorossky, M.D., Lorraine Innes, M.D., Stan Arcow, M.D., Elizabeth Mirabello, M.D., Presbyterian Hospital in the City of New York, s/h/a Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and Herbert Pardes, M.D. (collectively, the "Hospital Defendants"), and Defendant Richard Rosenberg, M.D. (individually, "Rosenberg," together with the Hospital Defendants, the "Defendants") have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P., in this action filed by Plaintiff Rhoda Okunieff ("Okunieff") on the grounds that they are not state actors, and therefore Okunieff's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must fail. Defendants also seek an Order dismissing Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

For the reasons set forth below, (1) Defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted, and (2) Plaintiff's state law claims are dismissed.

Page 346


At the time relevant to this action, Rhoda Okunieff was enrolled in a Masters Degree program in Biostatistics at Columbia University and a Masters Degree program in Mathematics at New York University.

Defendant Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center ("CPMC") is a private medical institution doing business as a private corporation.

Defendant Anne Skomorossky, M.D. was, at the time relevant to this action, a resident at CPMC.

Defendants Lorraine Innes, M.D., Stan Arcow, M.D., and Elizabeth Mirabello, M.D., are private attending physicians with privileges at CPMC.

Herbert Pardes is the head of the Department of Psychiatry at CPMC.

Defendant Rosenberg is a private physician with privileges at CPMC.

Prior Proceedings

Okunieff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on May 2, 1997. The complaint was amended on May 19, 1997. This action arises out of the involuntary psychiatric hospitalization of Okunieff. The complaint alleges violation of Plaintiff's civil rights as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Okunieff also has filed pendent state law claims, including false imprisonment, and violations of Plaintiff's rights to informed consent, to determine Okunieff's own course of treatment, and to confidentiality.

The instant summary judgment motion by Rosenberg was filed on October 10, 1997, and the motion by the Hospital Defendants was filed November 10, 1997. Argument on both motions was heard on March 12, 1998, at which time the motions were considered fully submitted.


On April 30, 1996, Okunieff went to Rosenberg's office on Fort Washington Avenue for a general physical exam. Rosenberg, at that time, maintained private offices at 161 Fort Washington Avenue and 903 Park Avenue, New York, New York. Okunieff was independently referred to Rosenberg through her insurance company, Oxford Health Plans (the "Oxford Plan"). Rosenberg participated as a primary care physician under the Oxford Plan. This was Okunieff's first visit to Dr. Rosenberg.

Rosenberg's examination of Okunieff revealed that she had been under a lot of stress for a significant period of time, relating to her job and educational responsibilities as well as her personal life. She had also been experiencing depression and crying spells. During the examination, Okunieff began exhibiting symptoms indicative of psychotic behavior. According to Rosenberg, Okunieff told Rosenberg that her parents (who live in Michigan) had been entering her New York apartment and had placed things such as salad dressing and ketchup around her apartment. Okunieff also advised Rosenberg that her employer had suggested she seek psychiatric help.

It was Rosenberg's medical opinion that Okunieff needed immediate psychiatric treatment. Rosenberg arranged for Okunieff to meet with Dr. Judith Lewis, a private psychiatrist, on May 2, 1996. At that point, Okunieff left Rosenberg's office.

Okunieff failed to keep the appointment with Dr. Lewis because she did not know Dr. Lewis and her fees were high. Dr. Lewis contacted Rosenberg on May 2 or 3, 1996, informing him that Okunieff had failed to appear for her appointment. Rosenberg's secretary called Okunieff on the morning of May 3, 1996, asking Okunieff to come to Rosenberg's office. Okunieff agreed, as she wanted to obtain results of her blood test. She, however, was concerned that she would be late for another appointment she had with a gynecologist. Upon Okunieff's arrival, Rosenberg observed that her psychological condition had severely deteriorated since he last saw her on April 30, 1996.

When Rosenberg asked Okunieff to discuss her situation, she appeared frightened to enter his office and ran away as Rosenberg attempted to speak with her in the hallway. It was Rosenberg's medical opinion that Okunieff was experiencing a paranoid psychotic episode and presented a potential danger

Page 347

to herself. Rosenberg then called Dr. Lewis to discuss Okunieff and her behavior. Dr. Lewis recommended that Rosenberg try to locate Okunieff and have her escorted by hospital security to the psychiatric emergency room for an evaluation. Rosenberg wrote a medical order authorizing hospital security to transport Okunieff to CPMC. Rosenberg is not an employee of CPMC. He merely has privileges there.

Okunieff reappeared momentarily. Again, when Rosenberg attempted to speak with Okunieff, she became agitated and ran out of the office. Rosenberg then alerted security, suspecting that Okunieff would return. According to Okunieff, she left Rosenberg's office because she did not want to discuss her blood test results in the waiting room, and she did not want to be late for her gynecological appointment. She maintains that at no time did she appear agitated in the presence of Rosenberg, nor was she a threat to herself or others.

When Okunieff once again returned to Rosenberg's office, security officers had arrived. Rosenberg advised Okunieff that she would be escorted to the psychiatric emergency room so that she could be evaluated. According to Rosenberg, Okunieff's delusions became so severe that she accused him of being an impostor. Okunieff again ran away and was later found lying on the floor of the adjacent hospital building. The supervising nurse of the hospital building requested that Rosenberg sign an order permitting the use of four-point restraints, if necessary. Rosenberg signed the order, but such restraints proved unnecessary. Okunieff was escorted to CPMC without them.

At the CPMC psychiatric emergency room, Okunieff met with Drs. Anne Skomorossky and Lorraine Innes. Both physicians certified Okunieff for involuntary commitment after concluding that she was dangerous and no adequate alternate forms of treatment existed at the time, as is required under the New York Mental Hygiene Law ("MHL") § 9.27 (McKinney 1996). For Okunieff's commitment to meet the MHL requirements, a staff physician must confirm the two physicians' evaluation. Dr. Stan Arcow executed such confirmation. Okunieff was committed on May 5, 1996. Pursuant to the MHL, Okunieff challenged her confinement and requested a hearing. On May 16, 1996, CPMC was directed to release Okunieff. It did so later that day.

None of the physicians above is a state employee, and CPMC is a private hospital that is licensed to provide emergency psychiatric services and treat mentally disabled persons. 1


I. Standard for Summary Judgment

Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court shall grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits ... show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See Silver v. City University, 947 F.2d 1021, 1022 (2d Cir.1991).

"The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the undisputed facts establish her right to judgment as a matter of law." Rodriguez v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1051, 1060 (2d Cir.1995). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Brady v. Town of Colchester, 863 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir.1988). If there is any evidence in the record regarding the issues on which summary judgment is sought from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is improper. See Knowles v. New York City Dept. of Corrections, 904 F.Supp. 217, 220 (S.D.N.Y.1995).

Page 348

A party seeking to defeat a summary judgment motion cannot "rely on mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of facts to overcome the motion." Lipton v. Nature Co., 71 F.3d 464, 469 (2d...

To continue reading