Snell v. Mici

Decision Date11 September 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 16-cv-11643-DJC
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Emory G. Snell, Jr. ("Snell") has filed this lawsuit against Defendants Carol Mici ("Mici"), Stephanie Collins ("Collins"), Jeffrey Quick ("Quick"), Monserrate Quinones ("Quinones"), Douglas DeMoura ("DeMoura"), Lois Russo ("Russo"), Dale Bissonnette ("Bissonnette"), Gene Chaission ("Chaission"), Joann Lynds ("Lynds"), Thomas Neville ("Neville"), all in their individual and official capacities, and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections ("DOC") (collectively, the "DOC Defendants") and Dr. Patricia Ruze ("Ruze") (collectively, "Defendants"). D. 26. Snell is an inmate who was previously housed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord ("MCI-Concord"). Snell alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights and various statutes by denying him an accommodation allowing him to access a first floor library at MCI-Concord given various physical ailments that make it difficult for him to climb stairs.

Specifically, Snell alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights (Claim 1), his Fourteenth Amendment rights (Claim 2), his Fifth Amendment rights (Claim 3), his rights under Article of Amendment 114 to the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights pursuant to Mass. Gen. L. c. 151B, §1 and Mass. Gen. L. c. 93, § 103 (Claim 4) and that they retaliated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Claim 6). He further alleges that the DOC engaged in disability discrimination under Title II of the ADA (Claim 5) and violated his rights under the Rehabilitation Act (Claim 7). D. 26 at ¶¶ 93-144. The DOC Defendants and Ruze have separately moved for summary judgment. D. 113; D. 119. For the reasons set forth below, the Court ALLOWS Ruze's motion for summary judgment and ALLOWS the DOC Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. Standard of Review

The Court grants summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A fact is material if it carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law." Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). The movant "bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in her pleadings, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986), but "must, with respect to each issue on which she would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in her favor," Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010). "As a general rule, that requires the production of evidence that is 'significant[ly] probative.'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). "Neither party may rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated denials, but must identify specific facts derived from the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions and affidavits to demonstrate either the existence or absence of an issue of fact." Magee v. United States, 121 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1997). In conducting this inquiry, the Court "view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor." Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

III. Factual Background

The following facts are drawn primarily from the DOC Defendants' statement of undisputed material facts, D. 114, Ruze's statement of material facts, D. 121, Snell's responses to same, D. 131 and D. 130, and other supporting documents and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

Snell is currently incarcerated at MCI-Shirley. D. 130, ¶ 1; D. 131, ¶ 48. Snell was transferred to MCI-Shirley from MCI-Concord on November 8, 2018. D. 130, ¶ 2; D. 131, ¶ 48.

A. Accommodations Process at MCI-Concord

Medical providers at MCI-Concord evaluate inmates and can recommend that an inmate be granted a medical "restriction"1 or an accommodation based on a legitimate medical need. D. 130, ¶ 15. The DOC will consider the recommendations of medical personnel, along with other factors, in deciding whether to grant an inmate an accommodation. Id. During the time that Ruzetreated Snell at MCI-Concord, it was the practice that medical restrictions would expire after one year, at which time they would be reviewed by a medical provider. D. 130, ¶ 14. Snell disputes that this was the practice, however, because in 1998 he was granted what he characterizes as an "indefinite" bottom-tier housing restriction based on "problems with climbing stairs." Id. at ¶¶ 12-14.

Pursuant to DOC policy, an inmate may request a reasonable accommodation through either a verbal or written request to a staff member or completion of a Request for Reasonable Accommodation form. D. 131, ¶ 6. The Deputy Superintendent for Entry serves as the ADA Coordinator for MCI-Concord, receives accommodation requests from inmates, communicates with medical providers and reviews restrictions to evaluate whether an accommodation is medically necessary. D. 130, ¶ 11.

B. Snell's History of Medical Issues and Treatment During Incarceration

Snell was transferred to MCI-Concord on July 13, 2010. D. 130, ¶ 37. Ruze was then Snell's primary care physician at MCI-Concord for seven years. D. 130, ¶ 7; D. 131, ¶ 16. While incarcerated at MCI-Concord, Snell suffered from hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, degenerative joint disease, and intermittent pedal edema. D. 130, ¶ 9; D. 131, ¶ 17. Snell also experienced some injuries, including a rolled ankle, while at MCI-Concord. D. 130, ¶ 38. On May 31, 2011, when Snell rolled his ankle, Ruze examined an x-ray and determined that Snell had a "very tiny" fracture and issued him an air cast. D. 130, ¶ 38. Snell denied Ruze's offer of a cane at that time. Id. In January 2012, Ruze recommended that Snell be permitted to use an air cast for six months. D. 130, ¶ 39. In November 2012, a nurse practitioner at MCI-Concord evaluated Snell and recommended one-year restrictions for an air cast, knee sleeves, an elbow sleeve, and a low-back binder. Id. In October 2013, Snell met with another nurse practitioner at MCI-Concord who recommended that he exercise more and recommendedrestrictions for an air cast, knee sleeves, an elbow sleeve and back brace be renewed for one year. D. 130, ¶ 42.

On two occasions in December 2013, Snell complained of pain in his knees and back due to stair climbing. D. 130, ¶ 44. Ruze ordered x-rays of Snell's knees and spine and recommended one-year extensions of Snell's restrictions for knee sleeves. Id. In December 2013, Snell complained of increased leg swelling and stated that he was limping more than usual. D. 130, ¶ 45. Ruze ordered a cane for Snell, ordered a change in medication and referred him to a specialist. Id. In July 2014, Ruze recommended one-year extensions of Snell's restriction for a cane and bottom bunk. D. 130, ¶ 49. In November 2014, Ruze recommended a one-year extension for a back brace. D. 130, ¶ 54. Snell met with another medical provider at MCI-Concord in March 2015 who recommended restrictions for a bottom bunk, back brace, cane, knee sleeves, anti-embolism stockings, light work status, and waist chains. D. 130, ¶ 58. The following year, on June 23, 2016, Ruze renewed all of the restrictions that were issued the prior year. D. 130, ¶ 18. Although Snell disputes her conclusion, at this time, Ruze also noted that Snell "ambulates well with a cane" and "can negotiate stairs." D. 130, ¶ 18; D 131, ¶ 39. In July 2017, a medical provider at MCI-Concord renewed his restrictions with the exception of the light work restriction. D. 130, ¶ 19.

C. Snell's Use of the First Floor Library

From October 2011 through October 2012, Snell worked as a clerk in the law library on the second floor of MCI-Concord. D. 130, ¶ 23. Snell was fired from his job in this second floor law library. D. 130, ¶ 24. Snell began to use the first floor law library in July 2013. D. 131, ¶ 31. At the time, Snell did not have a medical restriction or accommodation that permitted him to use the first floor library instead of the general law library on the second floor. D. 131, ¶ 31. InOctober 2015, it came to the attention of Defendants Gaffney and Lynds that Snell was using the first floor library. D. 131, ¶ 32. DOC personnel informed Snell that he was no longer permitted to use the first floor library because he did not have a medical restriction or accommodation. D. 130, ¶ 26; D. 131, ¶ 32.

Snell wrote to Defendant Gaffney claiming that he was being arbitrarily deprived of his constitutional right to court access and stated that the "indefinite" restriction he received in 1998 regarding use of the stairs warranted his access to the first floor library. D. 131, ¶ 35. Defendant Gaffney responded that she was unaware of an accommodation that had been granted to Snell that would permit access to the first floor library, but would review his situation if he provided necessary documentation. D. 131, ¶ 36. In June 2016, Snell submitted a request for reasonable accommodation seeking access to the first floor library to Defendant Neville. D. 131, ¶ 40. Defendant Neville denied the request,...

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