Abdur-Raqiyb v. Erie County Medical Center

Decision Date21 February 2008
Docket NumberNo. 04-CV-6118L.,04-CV-6118L.
Citation536 F.Supp.2d 299
PartiesHasan Ali ABDUR-RAQIYB, Plaintiff, v. ERIE COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of New York

Hasan Ali Abdur-Raqiyb, Alden, NY, pro se.

Ruthanne Wannop, Sharyn G. Rogers, Damon & Morey LLP, Buffalo, NY, Tamara B. Christie, NYS Office of the Attorney General, Rochester, NY, for Defendants.


DAVID G. LARIMER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Hasan Ali Abdur-Raqiyb, appearing pro se, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") alleges that defendants have violated his rights under the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that in 2003, while he was incarcerated at Groveland Correctional Facility ("Groveland"), he was taken for treatment of certain ailments to defendants Wyoming County Community Hospital ("WCCH") and Erie County Medical Center ("ECMC"). During some of that time, he was under the care of defendant Pamela Reed, M.D.1

Plaintiff alleges that during this period, he was administered an overdose of morphine. He also alleges that he was, injected with certain drugs and substances derived from pork and shellfish products, in contravention of his Islamic religious beliefs. Plaintiff contends that these actions violated his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments. He seeks $10.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions are granted.

I. Eighth Amendment Claim
A. General Principles

To show that prison medical treatment was so inadequate as to amount to "cruel or unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, plaintiff must prove that defendants' actions or omissions amounted to "deliberate indifference to a serious medical need." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). The Second Circuit has stated that a medical need is "serious" for constitutional purposes if it presents "`a condition of urgency' that may result in `degeneration' or `extreme pain.'" Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702 (2d Cir.1998) (quoting Hathaway v. Coughlin, 37 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir.1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1154, 115 S.Ct. 1108, 130 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1995)). See also Harrison v. Barkley, 219 F.3d 132, 136-137 (2d Cir.2000) ("A serious medical condition exists where `the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'") (quoting Chance, 143 F.3d at 702).

Among the relevant factors for determining whether a serious medical need exists are "[t]he existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain." Chance, 143 F.3d at 702 (quoting McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059-60 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds, WMX Tech., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir.1997)).

As to the "deliberate indifference" component, the Supreme Court explained in Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991), that this standard includes both an objective and a subjective component. With respect to the objective aspect, the court must ask whether there has been a sufficiently serious deprivation of the prisoner's constitutional rights. With respect to the subjective element, the court must consider whether the deprivation was brought about by defendants in wanton disregard of those rights. Id. To establish deliberate indifference, therefore, plaintiff must prove that the defendants had a culpable state of mind and intended wantonly to inflict pain. See id. at 299, 111 S.Ct. 2321; DesRosiers v. Moran, 949 F.2d 15, 19 (1st Cir.1991); Ross v. Kelly, 784 F.Supp. 35, 44 (W.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 970 F.2d 896 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1040, 113 S.Ct. 828, 121 L.Ed.2d 698 (1992).

The Court in Estelle also cautioned that mere negligence is not actionable. "A [prisoner's] complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical, mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106, 97 S.Ct. 285. Rather, the plaintiff must allege conduct that is "repugnant to the conscience of mankind," id. at 102, 97 S.Ct. 285, or "incompatible with the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," id. at 105-06, 97 S.Ct. 285. It is clear, then, that allegations of malpractice alone do not state a constitutional claim. Id. at 106 n. 14, 97 S.Ct. 285; Chance, 143 F.3d at 703-04; Ross, 784 F.Supp. at 44.

Likewise, an inmate's "mere disagreement over the proper treatment does not create a constitutional claim. So long as the treatment given is adequate, the fact that a prisoner might prefer a different treatment does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation." Chance, 143 F.3d at 703; see also Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir.1977) ("The courts will not intervene upon allegations of mere negligence, mistake or difference of opinion").

B. Application to this Case

Applying these principles to the case at bar, I find that defendants are entitled to summary judgment. At most, plaintiff's allegations indicate that defendants were negligent. That does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment claim.

The gist of plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim, which appears to be asserted only against WCCH, is that when plaintiff was transported by ambulance from WCCH to ECMC, WCCH staff failed to adequately inform ECMC what drugs (specifically morphine) had been administered to plaintiff, and in what amounts, with the result that ECMC's administration of additional morphine resulted in an overdose. See, e.g., Dkt. # 123 at 4 (alleging that staff at "WCCH ... failed to communicate to ECMC emergency room medical staff all of the drugs they authorized to be administered to him by the ambulance technicians ..."); Plaintiff's Deposition Transcript ("Tr."), Christie Decl. (Dkt. # 99) Ex. A at 46 (stating that plaintiffs claim against Dr. Reed, who treated him at ECMC, was not based on the "treatment of the morphine," but on the administration of the pork-derived drug Heparin and a CT scan, to which he objected on religious grounds).

Assuming the truth of plaintiff's allegations, he cannot show that defendants acted with the requisite culpable state of mind to establish the subjective prong of an Eighth Amendment claim.2 Even if defendants did fail to communicate with one another about the medications that plaintiff had been given, or did give him an overdose of morphine, there is no evidence that they did so with the requisite intent to cause him pain or physical harm, or with "culpable recklessness, i.e., an act or a failure to act ... that evinces a conscious disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm." Hernandez v. Keane, 341 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir.2003) (quoting Chance, 143 F.3d at 703) (additional internal quotation marks omitted). See, e.g., Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1059 (9th Cir.2004) (allegation that physician disregarded serious and known risks of combining three particular drugs was an "accusation ... of negligence as opposed to deliberate indifference"); Cazares-Montes v. Kern County Sheriff's Dept, No. 1:06-cv-00031, 2007 WL 2156168, at *3 (E.D.Cal. July 25, 2007) ("Plaintiff's claim that he was overdosed with prescription medication due to staff negligence fails to state a claim under section 1983 for violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights"); Stasicky v. South Woods State Prison, No. CIV. 03-369, 2007 WL 1723467, at *9 (D.N.J. June 12, 2007) ("even if the Court were to assume Plaintiff's allegation that Dr. Kaldany `doubled' his medication, that allegation does not rise to more than negligence, and as held by the United States Supreme Court, a doctor's negligence is not an Eighth Amendment violation") (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106, 97 S.Ct. 285).

II. First Amendment Claim

Plaintiff's claim under the First Amendment is based on his allegations that while at ECMC, he was administered the, drugs Heparin and Lovenox, both of which are pork-derived, and that he was given a CT scan, in which a shellfish-derived dye was injected into his bloodstream. Plaintiff alleges that he was, not informed in advance of the nature of the substances involved, and that these actions violated his Muslim beliefs.

Plaintiff testified, however, that "in a case of life and death, situations the rules change," and that in emergencies Islam permits the administration of otherwise forbidden substances. Tr. at 101-02, 129, 161. Plaintiff does not deny that at the time in question, he had been complaining of chest pains, nor has he refuted defendants' assertions that he was given these tests and drugs to rule out or avoid a possible heart attack. See Reed Deck, Dkt. # 100, ¶¶ 3-7.

Under the circumstances here, defendants could have exposed themselves to liability had they not administered the tests and medications in question. I see no basis whatsoever for a § 1983 claim in this case.

Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity in any event. Qualified immunity shields public officials "from civil damages liability insofar as their conduct `does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,' Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), or insofar as `it [is] objectively reasonable for them to believe that their acts d[o] not violate those rights,' Velardi v. Walsh, 40 F.3d 569, 573 (...

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    ...objectionable substance when the plaintiff presents for treatment with medical complaints. In Abdur-Raqiyb v. Erie Cnty. Med, Ctr., 536 F.Supp.2d 299 (W.D.N.Y. 2008), for example, the court rejected a claim that a Muslim inmate's First Amendment rights were violated by the administration of......
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