Ruhlmann v. Ulster County Dept. of Social Services, No. 99-CV-0213.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
Writing for the CourtHurd
Citation234 F.Supp.2d 140
Decision Date26 November 2002
Docket NumberNo. 99-CV-0213.
PartiesRobert R. RUHLMANN, Plaintiff, v. ULSTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Ulster County Department of Mental Health, Marshall Beckman, Ernest Townsend, Benedictine Hospital, Ruth McGregor, Dr. Joel Ginsberg, Dr. Kevin Smith, and Dr. Diana Puglisi, Defendants.
234 F.Supp.2d 140
Robert R. RUHLMANN, Plaintiff,
v.
ULSTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Ulster County Department of Mental Health, Marshall Beckman, Ernest Townsend, Benedictine Hospital, Ruth McGregor, Dr. Joel Ginsberg, Dr. Kevin Smith, and Dr. Diana Puglisi, Defendants.
No. 99-CV-0213.
United States District Court, N.D. New York.
November 26, 2002.

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Chamberlain, Kaufman & Jones, Attorneys for Plaintiff, Albany, NY, Alan S. Kaufman, of counsel.

McCabe & Mack, LLP, Attorneys for Defendants Ulster County Department of Social Services, Ulster County Department of Mental Health, Marshall Beckman, and Ernest Townsend, Poughkeepsie, NY, David L. Posner, of counsel.

O'Connor, O'Connor, Mayberger & First, P.C., Attorneys for Defendants Dr. Kevin Smith and Dr. Diana Puglisi, Albany, NY, Jodie L. Sayers, of counsel.

Thuillez, Ford, Gold & Johnson, LLP, Attorneys for Defendants Benedictine Hospital, Ruth McGregor, Dr. Joel Ginsberg, and Dr. David Steres, Albany, NY, Debra J. Young, of counsel.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

HURD, District Judge.


INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Robert Ruhlmann ("plaintiff"), brings this suit against defendants Ulster County Department of Social Services ("DSS"), Ulster County Department of Mental Health ("DMH"), Marshall Beckman ("Beckman"), Ernest Townsend ("Townsend"), Benedictine Hospital ("Benedictine"), Ruth McGregor ("McGregor"), Dr. Joel Ginsberg ("Ginsberg"), Dr. Kevin Smith ("Smith"), Dr. Diana Puglisi ("Puglisi"), and Dr. David Steres ("Steres"), alleging six causes of action.

In his first, third, and fourth causes of action, plaintiff alleges, as against all defendants, that defendants caused his illegal arrest and involuntary confinement in Benedictine Hospital in violation of his due

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process rights and right to be free from false arrest/imprisonment under the federal and New York constitutions, and under New York law.

In his second and fifth causes of action, plaintiff alleges, as against DSS, that he was constructively discharged because of his disability in violation of the American with Disabilities Act and New York Executive Law.

In his sixth cause of action, plaintiff alleges, as against Benedictine, McGregor, Steres, Ginsberg, Smith and Puglisi, that defendants, as physicians and designee of the Director of Community Services, breached a duty of reasonable care to plaintiff in failing to use their knowledge, skill, and care to properly determine whether the arrest and confinement mandates of the New York Mental Hygiene Law were met.

Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on the first, third, fourth, and sixth causes of action.1 All defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims pending against them. Oral argument was heard on November 30, 2001 in Albany, New York. Decision was reserved.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts are very much in dispute. The following account of the facts represents a composite taken from the parties' submissions.

I. THE PARTIES

Plaintiff. Beginning in November of 1995, Plaintiff was employed at DSS. Plaintiff's direct supervisor was Maryanne Razey, and Razey's supervisor was Linda Sharpe. When plaintiff's employment at DSS ended is in dispute. Defendants contend plaintiff resigned on May 19, 1998. (See Joint Exhibit 73). Plaintiff maintains such resignation was involuntary, and that he was constructively discharged.

Defendants. Benedictine is a privately owned and operated hospital in Ulster County, New York. At all relevant times, McGregor, a psychiatric mental health nurse, was employed by Benedictine as coordinator of the psychiatric emergency room. As a result of a contract between Ulster County and Benedictine, McGregor was also Townsend's "designee" under Mental Hygiene Law § 9.45. Ginsberg and Steres worked as physicians in the emergency room at Benedictine, and Ginsberg was the director of emergency medicine at Benedictine. Smith, a psychiatrist, was medical director of mental health services at Benedictine. In that capacity, Smith was responsible for providing physicians to Benedictine. Smith was not employed by Benedictine, DSS, or DMH. Puglisi was a staff psychiatrist at Benedictine and was not employed by Benedictine, DSS, or DMH.

DSS and DMH are governmental entities of the State of New York, and are both located in Ulster County, New York. At all relevant times, Townsend was the commissioner of DMH and Beckman was the deputy director for administration of DMH. Townsend was also director of community services under New York Mental Hygiene Law § 9.45.

Townsend had a professional relationship with Smith. Ulster County began a contractual relationship with Benedictine in 1995. This contract essentially transferred responsibility for 24-hour emergency mental health services from DMH to Benedictine. After the contract was executed,

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most pick-up orders under Mental Hygiene Law § 9.45 were issued by Benedictine employees.

II. ALLEGED FACTS

A. Alleged Events Prior to March 24, 1998

Plaintiff came under the care of Dr. Surjit Dinsa, a licensed psychiatrist, in April of 1997. Dr. Dinsa's diagnosis of plaintiff through late January of 1998 was that he had "depressive disorder NOS [not otherwise specified]." In February of 1998, Dr. Dinsa diagnosed plaintiff with bipolar mood disorder, instructed plaintiff to begin taking prescription lithium, and gave him a note telling plaintiff's employer that plaintiff could not, at present, work. (See Joint Exhibit 72). Dr. Dinsa also recommended that plaintiff voluntarily enter a hospital. According to defendants, such recommendation to enter the hospital was for treatment. Plaintiff contends that it was so plaintiff could get rest and not have to attend to his own needs. Plaintiff did not voluntarily admit himself to a hospital.

Around the same time, plaintiff alleges that he told Linda Sharpe of his mental illness and that he was taking medication. According to plaintiff, Sharpe told him that if he had such a diagnosis and was on medication, then he was dangerous and should not be working at DSS. Plaintiff took a leave of absence from work from February of 1998 to early March of 1998. Plaintiff alleges the leave was taken so he could adjust to his new medication. Plaintiff claims that upon return from the leave of absence, Delores Miller, Deputy Commissioner of DSS, Razey, and Sharpe were trying to find an excuse to fire him.

B. Alleged Events of March 24, 1998

1. The alleged threat

Karen Hof, a DSS employee, claims she had a conversation with plaintiff the morning of March 24, 1998. Hof alleges plaintiff made a comment indicative of animosity towards certain DSS employees. Hof could not recall exactly what plaintiff's comment was, but intimated it was something to the effect of "there's people in here that better watch out." (Hof Depo. at 22). According to Hof, no mention was made of the words "gun," "administration," or "supervisors," and she felt the comment to be "benign and non-threatening." (See Hof Depo. at 22,38,41).

2. Hof-Hunlock conversation

According to plaintiff, Hof was then asked by Marijane Hunlock, a supervisor at DSS who happened to be passing Hof's desk when the conversation was taking place, what she and plaintiff had spoken about. Hof then recalled in more specificity the content of plaintiff's comment. Hunlock claims a scared Hof approached her cubicle and told her that plaintiff had made the comment, "it would be easy to take out the administration—no one would know," that plaintiff's comment involved the threat of "a potential violent act," and that it involved a "gun" and a "potential harm to the administration." (See Hunlock depo. at 6; Joint Exhibits 48 and 49). Hunlock's characterization of the conversation with Hof was embodied in two separate writings made a few days later, though plaintiff claims these writings were coerced. The parties disagree as to whether Hunlock viewed the statement as a valid threat, but both agree she characterized it as a potential safety concern. Later in the day on March 24, 1998, Hunlock decided to speak with Doris Dodig, Hof's supervisor, about the incident.

C. Alleged Events of March 25, 1998

1. Conversation between Hunlock-Dodig and Hof

On March 25, 1998, Hunlock called Hof to her office and asked her to repeat to

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Dodig the contents of plaintiff's comment. Hof complied. Hof claims she reiterated in that meeting that the comment was not a threat and that "if anything was said in that direction it was a joke and we were kidding around." (Hof depo. at 25). Hof did, however, indicate that she did not wish to be involved in the matter any further because she claims to have seen "witch hunts" at DSS, where persons were essentially driven out. (Hof depo. at 45, 47).

2. Conversation between Hunlock-Dodig and Reynolds

Dodig and Hunlock did not feel comfortable reporting the incident to DSS, so they contacted their union, which they believed would be fair. During the latter part of the day, Dodig and Hunlock reported the statement to Sandra Reynolds, a union official. They told Reynolds of their desire for anonymity. Though Reynolds could not recall the exact words relayed to her by Hunlock, she does claim it was something to the effect of "taking out" the administration at DSS. (Reynolds depo. at 21). Reynolds had no recollection of the mention of guns or a plan to shoot people, or of specific names.

3. Reynolds-DeCicco conversation

Reynolds thereafter called Deborah DeCicco, another union official, and relayed what Hunlock and Dodig told her. According to DeCicco, Reynolds told her that plaintiff "had a gun, a plan and his plan was to come in the [DSS] and shoot the Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner and Lee Cane." (DeCicco depo. at 18).

4. Conversation between Reynolds-DeCicco and Miller (plaintiff's version)

DeCicco then called Miller and relayed what Reynolds told her. DeCicco...

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20 practice notes
  • Tsesarskaya v. City of New York, 11 Civ. 4897 (AJP)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 14, 2012
    ...was a danger to himself or others justifying hospitalization under M.H.L. § 9.41); Ruhlmann v. Ulster Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 234 F. Supp. 2d 140, 170 (N.D.N.Y. 2002) (probable cause to arrest under the Mental Hygiene Law cannot be determined on summary judgment because "several jury qu......
  • Tsesarskaya v. City of N.Y., No. 11 Civ. 4897 (AJP).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 14, 2012
    ...was a danger to himself or others justifying hospitalization under M.H.L. § 9.41); Ruhlmann v. Ulster Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 234 F.Supp.2d 140, 170 (N.D.N.Y.2002) (probable cause to arrest under the Mental Hygiene Law cannot be determined on summary judgment because “several jury quest......
  • Schoolcraft v. City of N.Y., No. 10 Civ. 6005(RWS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • May 5, 2015
    ...had initially cleared a patient that had been hospitalized as an EDP, but reversed its clearance following pressured by state actors. 234 F.Supp.2d 140, 163 (N.D.N.Y.2002). Here, Dr. Bernier's opinion was not changed by direct conversations with state actors. Moreover, the extraordinary int......
  • Jordan v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 09 Civ. 8561 (ALC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 19, 2013
    ...public." Doe v. Harrison, 254 F. Supp. 2d 338, 343 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (quotingPage 22Ruhlmann v. Ulster County Dept. of Social Services, 234 F. Supp. 2d 140, 166 (N.D.N.Y. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Jordan does not allege that the power to determine what conclusions to include ......
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20 cases
  • Tsesarskaya v. City of New York, 11 Civ. 4897 (AJP)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 14, 2012
    ...was a danger to himself or others justifying hospitalization under M.H.L. § 9.41); Ruhlmann v. Ulster Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 234 F. Supp. 2d 140, 170 (N.D.N.Y. 2002) (probable cause to arrest under the Mental Hygiene Law cannot be determined on summary judgment because "several jury qu......
  • Tsesarskaya v. City of N.Y., No. 11 Civ. 4897 (AJP).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 14, 2012
    ...was a danger to himself or others justifying hospitalization under M.H.L. § 9.41); Ruhlmann v. Ulster Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 234 F.Supp.2d 140, 170 (N.D.N.Y.2002) (probable cause to arrest under the Mental Hygiene Law cannot be determined on summary judgment because “several jury quest......
  • Schoolcraft v. City of N.Y., No. 10 Civ. 6005(RWS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • May 5, 2015
    ...had initially cleared a patient that had been hospitalized as an EDP, but reversed its clearance following pressured by state actors. 234 F.Supp.2d 140, 163 (N.D.N.Y.2002). Here, Dr. Bernier's opinion was not changed by direct conversations with state actors. Moreover, the extraordinary int......
  • Jordan v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 09 Civ. 8561 (ALC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 19, 2013
    ...public." Doe v. Harrison, 254 F. Supp. 2d 338, 343 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (quotingPage 22Ruhlmann v. Ulster County Dept. of Social Services, 234 F. Supp. 2d 140, 166 (N.D.N.Y. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Jordan does not allege that the power to determine what conclusions to include ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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