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Muhammad v. Dep't of Corrections

November 12, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge



Plaintiff Kwasi Sekou Muhammad is an inmate who is presently confined at East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and who was previously confined at the Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility ("ACWYCF") and at South Woods State Prison ("South Woods"). Plaintiff's left leg was amputated below the knee prior to his incarceration, and he consequently uses a prosthesis to ambulate. Plaintiff filed two lawsuits against numerous defendants affiliated with the New Jersey Department of Corrections (the "DOC Defendants") and Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (the "CMS Defendants"), alleging that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and New Jersey common law by responding inadequately to his medical needs and failing to accommodate his disability over the course of his confinement.

The DOC Defendants and CMS Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims [Docket Items 96 and 97]. The principal issue to be decided is whether Congress validly abrogated the State's sovereign immunity in enacting Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12165, as the statute applies in the context of a disabled prison inmate who is denied access to handicapped-accessible bathing facilities. For the reasons explained below, the Court will (1) grant the motion for summary judgment of Defendants Reddy, Terry, and CMS as to all of Plaintiff's claims; (2) grant the DOC's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's ADA claim arising out of the provision of inadequate medical treatment; (3) deny the DOC's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's ADA claim arising out of the conditions of his confinement; and (4) deny Defendants Williams' and DeMaio's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims.


A. Facts

1. Medical Treatment at ACWYCF

Plaintiff is an inmate who is presently incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and who is serving a thirteen-year sentence. (Muhammad Aff. ¶ 1.) Prior to his incarceration, when he was fourteen years of age, Plaintiff's left leg was amputated below his knee; he has used a prosthetic leg since that time. (Id. at ¶ 2.)

Plaintiff was incarcerated at the ACWYCF beginning in September 2001. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff began to experience difficulties with his prosthesis shortly after his incarceration at ACWYCF -- his medical records show that his prosthesis was "ill-fitting" and had a broken foot, and that as a result of the poor fit, Plaintiff developed blisters on his leg. (Johnson Decl. Ex. B at 27-30.) Plaintiff informed CMS of the problems with his prosthesis on January 2, 2002, and he received his new prosthetic leg on June 7, 2002. (Id. at 30, 36.)

On October 30, 2002, Plaintiff made an appointment with CMS to see a doctor on an emergency basis in order to address the pain that the problem with his prosthesis was causing. (Muhammad Aff. ¶ 6.) For reasons that are not evident in the record, Plaintiff was unable to see the physician that day. (Id.) As he was returning to his housing unit from the infirmary, the foot on Plaintiff's prosthesis broke, causing Plaintiff to fall down two flights of stairs. (Id.; Johnson Decl. Ex. B at 42.) Shortly after the fall, Plaintiff was taken to St. Francis Medical Center for evaluation, and upon his return to ACWYCF later that day, Plaintiff was admitted to the infirmary, where he was given Motrin to manage the pain in his back and hip. (Johnson Decl. Ex. B at 53-54.) Plaintiff remained under observation in the infirmary until November 1, 2002, when he was discharged, (id. at 74); during his stay at the infirmary, Plaintiff was provided Motrin for pain management. (Id. at 67.) Plaintiff informed the infirmary staff that he did not like to take pain medication. (CMS Defs.' Br. Ex. 1 at 260.)

Between Plaintiff's discharge from the infirmary on November 1, 2002 and September 24, 2003, when he was transferred from ACWYCF to South Woods, Plaintiff continued to experience back pain as a result of his fall, for which he sought treatment from the medical unit at ACWYCF on numerous occasions.*fn1 (Johnson Decl. Ex. B at 126.) On November 7, 2002, Plaintiff complained to a nurse at the medical unit of continuing back and joint pain, for which he was given Motrin. (Id. at 78.) On November 12, 2002, Plaintiff was seen by a nurse practitioner for his ongoing complaints of pain, and the nurse practitioner provided Plaintiff with Naprosyn, an anti-inflammatory medication, for thirty days. (Id. at 79-81.) On November 25, 2002, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Channa Reddy, one of the CMS Defendants in this action, who admitted Plaintiff to the infirmary in order to conduct spinal and lumbrosacal x-rays. (Id. at 86-88.) On December 10, 2002, Plaintiff visited the medical unit and was seen by a nurse, who "instructed [Plaintiff] on alternative techniques to cope with his discomfort." (Id. at 89-91.) Two days later, on December 12, 2002, Dr. Reddy saw Plaintiff again and provided Naprosyn. (Id. at 90-91.) Plaintiff again visited the medical unit on January 22, 2003, where he was attended by a nurse, who noted Plaintiff's "easy calm manner," found that Plaintiff was not in "acute distress," and offered Motrin. (Id. at 97.)

On February 13, 2003, Plaintiff again visited Dr. Reddy.

(Id. at 102.) Plaintiff informed Dr. Reddy that he continued to experience pain in his back and asked Dr. Reddy to prescribe physical therapy. (Muhammad Aff. ¶ 9; Reddy Dep. at 35.) Dr. Reddy observed that Plaintiff "ambulated with no difficulty," determined that physical therapy would "not improve his present medical condition," and found that Plaintiff had "attained [a] point of max[imum] recovery." (Johnson Decl. Ex. B at 102-03.) Dr. Reddy provided Plaintiff with additional Naprosyn and observed that Plaintiff was "not happy with [his] advice." (Id. at 103.)

On June 26, 2003, Plaintiff returned to the medical unit to address a sore that had developed on his knee above his prosthesis. (Id. at 115.) Plaintiff was seen by a nurse who provided Triple A Ointment for the sore.*fn2 (Id. at 116.)

2. Medical Treatment at South Woods

Plaintiff was transferred from ACWYCF to South Woods on September 24, 2003 without having received the physical therapy that he desired. (Id. at 126.) That day, a nurse at South Woods performed a transfer admission assessment, in which the nurse designated in Plaintiff's medical records that he was to be restricted to lower bunks on account of his disability. (CMS Defs.' Br. Ex. 1 at 181.) Between his arrival at South Woods and March 27, 2004, Plaintiff visited the prison infirmary approximately ten times for treatment of ailments ranging from a fever to dry skin on his left knee above his prosthesis. (Id. at 149-175.) Plaintiff does not appear to have complained of back pain at any of these visits, and indeed, Plaintiff was repeatedly noted to have "deni[ed] any other problem or complaints at [the] time" of his visits. (Id. at 162, 167, 174.)

On March 27, 2004, Plaintiff visited the prison infirmary and, for the first time since being transferred to South Woods, complained that he was experiencing back pain. (Id. at 148.) Plaintiff was noted to be in no distress and was ambulatory with a steady gait. (Id.) Plaintiff was scheduled for a visit with a prison physician, and on March 31, 2004, Dr. Steven Hoey prescribed Plaintiff pain medication and ordered that an x-ray on Plaintiff's spine be performed. (Id. at 146.) Plaintiff returned to the infirmary on April 2, 2004, where he saw a nurse and again complained of back pain. (Id. at 140.) Plaintiff informed the nurse that he was not consistently taking his pain medications, and the nurse instructed him to take the medication. (Id.)

On April 7, 2004, the results from Plaintiff's spinal x-ray revealed that he suffered from "[m]ild degree scoliosis, no significant further abnormality." (Id. at 139.) The next day, Plaintiff was referred to a physical therapy consultation. (Id. at 138.) Plaintiff first visited Robert Capri, a physical therapist, on April 20, 2004 and continued with his physical therapy sessions on an intermittent basis until October 28, 2004.*fn3 (Id. at 103.) Plaintiff was not seen by CMS for complaints of back pain following the conclusion of his physical therapy program.

3. Conditions of Confinement at South Woods

When Plaintiff arrived at South Woods, in accordance with the lower bunk-only prescription in his medical records, (id. at 181), Plaintiff was assigned to a lower bunk in a handicapped-accessible cell on the first floor. (Muhammad Aff. ¶ 13.) As a result of Plaintiff's handicapped-accessible cell assignment, he was able to "access [his] bunk easily, without the need to climb a ladder," (id. at ¶ 14), and was also able to shower every day because his cell was across the hall from the handicapped-accessible restroom and shower facilities. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

On October 13, 2004, over protests from Plaintiff regarding his disability,*fn4 Defendant Corrections Officer Williams transferred Plaintiff to an upper-level bunk in a cell on the second floor "far away from the handicap[ped-]accessible shower." (Id. at ¶ 16.) According to Plaintiff, the inmate who replaced him on the lower bunk of the first-floor cell "had no reason for a handicapped cell as he had no physical disability." (Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff experienced "great pain in [his amputated] limb and back" when he attempted to climb in and out of the upper bunk, and also experienced "significant pain" as a result of "[c]limbing and descending the stairway [from the second floor] on a daily basis." (Id. at ¶ 18.)

The cell transfer also inhibited Plaintiff's ability to shower. While other inmates housed in cells on the second floor were able to use the second-floor shower facilities, those showers were not handicapped-accessible, and Plaintiff was thus unable to use the second-floor showers. (Id. a ¶ 21.) Instead, Plaintiff had to go to the first floor in order to use the handicapped-accessible shower. (Id.) However, because Plaintiff was not permitted to wait near the handicapped-accessible shower for it to become available, but was instead required to wait by his cell on the upper tier while other inmates -- including those without disabilities -- used the shower, and because non-disabled inmates on the second tier were able to rush down the twenty stairs to the handicapped-accessible shower more quickly than Plaintiff, Plaintiff had limited access to the shower following his transfer to the second-tier cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-21.) On those occasions when the shower did become available, as a result of having to wait and to walk with difficulty down the flight of stairs, Plaintiff had less than ten minutes to shower, which, he alleges, was "not an appropriate amount of time for [him] to complete [his] shower due to all the cleaning and handling [he had] to do with [his] prosthesis and stump." (Id. at ¶ 21.) The upshot of Plaintiff's cell transfer, he testified, was that he "wasn't able to take showers." (Muhammad Dep. at 45.)

Plaintiff raised his concerns over the pain he experienced accessing his upper-level bunk on the second floor and his difficulty showering with Defendants Williams and DeMaio, and requested that he be transferred back to a lower-level bunk on the first floor. (Muhammad Aff. ¶ 22.) Notwithstanding the fact that his lower bunk restriction was "clearly indicated throughout [his] medical file," (id. at ¶ 23), the officers refused to transfer Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff subsequently submitted a health services request to CMS in order to obtain a document evidencing his lower bunk restriction. (Id. at ¶ 25.) Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Nurse Loretta Terry, to whom Plaintiff explained that he needed documentation of his lower bunk restriction. (Id. at ¶ 27.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Terry "failed to provide [him] with this paperwork," (id. at ¶ 28), but instead "gave the plaintiff paperwork to clear the me[t]al detectors." (Compl. at 9.) Plaintiff remained housed on the upper bunk of the second-floor cell for five months, notwithstanding his complaints and requests to be transferred. (Id.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff, initially proceeding pro se, filed two lawsuits arising out of the above-described series of events on October 18, 2005. First, Plaintiff filed suit against the DOC, CMS, and Dr. Reddy, alleging that in failing to provide him with physical therapy, the Defendants had been deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment; that this inadequate medical treatment violated Title II of the ADA; and that Dr. Reddy had committed medical malpractice in violation of New Jersey law.*fn5 In its August 14, 2005 Opinion and Order [Docket Items 8 and 9], the Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, dismissed Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against the DOC and Plaintiff's ADA claim against Dr. Reddy. The Court permitted Plaintiff's ADA claims ...

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