Roland III v. McMayle et al
OPINION AND ORDER re: 99 MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Jed Saul, Daniel McMonagle, Justin Taft. Daniel McMonagle, Justin Taft, Jed Saul, Joseph Horos, and Michael McCooey (collectively "Defendants") move for partia l summary judgment on Roland's First and Fourteenth Amendment claims. For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. With respect to Roland's due process claim, the motion is GRANTED as to Defendants Horos and McCooey, but DENIED as to Defendants McMonagle, Saul, and Taft. With respect to Roland's retaliation claim, the motion is DENIED as to all five Defendants. The Clerk of Court is directed to close the motion at Docket Number 99. (Signed by Judge J. Paul Oetken on 10/9/2015) (kko)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
THOMAS M. ROLAND III,
DANIEL McMONAGLE, JUSTIN TAFT,
JED SAUL, JOSEPH HOROS,
and MICHAEL McCOOEY,
OPINION AND ORDER
J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge:
Thomas M. Roland III brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he
was forcibly medicated and physically assaulted in violation of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendment rights. Daniel McMonagle, Justin Taft, Jed Saul, Joseph Horos, and Michael
McCooey (collectively “Defendants”) move for partial summary judgment on Roland’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment claims. (Dkt. No. 99.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’
motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Roland is currently incarcerated at Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York.
(Dkt. No. 79-A at ¶ 2.) This case arises out of events that occurred when Roland was imprisoned
at Sullivan Correctional Facility (“Sullivan”) in Fallsburg, New York. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Roland
alleges that Defendants coerced him to take a sedative and then physically attacked him in
retaliation for grievances he filed against Sullivan staff.
Roland’s History of Grievances
Roland filed a number of grievances at Sullivan. (Dkt. No. 117-2, Roland Dep. 189:811.) He submitted two complaints in the summer of 2009, approximately eight weeks before the
alleged beating. On July 27, 2009, Roland reported that an unnamed Correctional Officer
(“CO”) threatened to kill him. (Dkt. No. 110-3 at 1.) The next day, Roland filed another
grievance describing threats against his life. (Id. at 2.) The second grievance named “C.O.
Craiter,” an individual Roland now identifies as Sergeant W. Carter. (Id. at 2; Dkt. No. 109,
Pl.’s Opp’n Summ. J. at 1.)
Sergeant Carter and another officer, Sergeant T. Aceto, investigated Roland’s grievances.
(Dkt. No. 110-3 at 3-4.) Sergeant Carter concluded that he was “unable to make any sense of
[Roland’s] written complaint.” (Id. at 3.) Sergeant Aceto reported that Roland no longer had
“any issues or problems.” (Id. at 4.) On August 10, 2009, the State Commission of Correction
wrote a letter to Sullivan’s Superintendent to highlight the “seriousness” of Roland’s allegations
against Sullivan staff. (Id. at 5.)
The parties dispute whether Defendants were aware of Roland’s grievances. (Dkt. No.
101, Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. at 11; Dkt. No. 109 at 2.) Roland had not filed a grievance against
any of the Defendants prior to the alleged beating and one of his complaints against a Sullivan
employee was never processed. (Dkt. No. 100, Defs.’ R56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 19-20; Dkt. No. 111,
Pl’s R.56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 19-20.) However, one of the Defendants, Sergeant Daniel McMonagle,
lived with the two officers involved in Roland’s July 2009 complaints. (Dkt. No. 117-1,
McMonagle Dep. 68:24-77:11.) Roland contends that Sergeant McMonagle “orchestrate[d] [an]
attack” on him in retaliation for his grievances against Sullivan employees. (Dkt. No. 109 at 2.)
Alleged Forced Medication and Assault
At approximately 6:45 p.m. on September 20, 2009, Sergeant McMonagle and COs Jed
Saul and Justin Taft escorted Roland from his cell to a disciplinary hearing room for urinalysis
testing. (Dkt. No. 100 at ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 111 at ¶ 6.) Shortly thereafter, Nurse Diane Stefanuk
entered the hearing room and offered Roland a psychotropic medication. (Dkt. No. 105,
Stefanuk Decl. at ¶ 4.) The medication, Vistaril, was a sedative that nurses give to prisoners “as
needed . . . for anxiety or agitation.” (Dkt. No. 110-1, Stefanuk Dep. 49:10-17; Dkt. No. 109 at
4.) The parties agree that Roland initially refused the medication and ultimately ingested it.
(Dkt. No. 117-2 at 67:18-24; Dkt. No. 100 at ¶ 9.) They contest whether Defendants medicated
Roland by force.
Defendants claim that Roland “hesitated at first but then accepted the . . . medication
without incident.” (Id.) Roland reports that the officers “surrounded [him] and said [he] had to
take th[e] medication.” (Dkt. No. 117-2 at 68:2-13.) Roland concedes that the officers did not
touch him, but asserts that they intimidated—and thus forced—him into swallowing the pill.
(Dkt. No. 117-2 at 67:22-68:13; Dkt. No. 109 at 5.) Nurse Stefanuk reports that she did not
administer medication over Roland’s objection, and that if she had, she would have documented
it. (Dkt. No. 105 at ¶¶ 5-7). She states that Roland ingested the sedative voluntarily. (Id.)
After Roland took the medication, Nurse Stefanuk and another medical provider decided
to transfer him to the Residential Crisis Treatment Program (“RCTP”), a section of the prison’s
Mental Health Unit. (Dkt. No. 105 at ¶ 2.) Nurse Stefanuk’s progress notes indicate that she
initiated the transfer “due to paranoia, assaultive behavior, and for patient safety.” (Dkt. No.
110-1 at 53:6-11.) At a later deposition, Nurse Stefanuk was “not sure” why she made this
assessment of Roland’s behavior. Id. Progress notes from several hours earlier describe Roland
as “quiet and calm.” (Id. at 48:4-5.)
Three of the Defendants—Sergeant McMonagle and COs Taft and Saul—escorted
Roland to the RCTP. (Dkt. No. 117-1 at 113:12-13; Dkt No. 117-8, Taft Dep. 99:4-18; Dkt. No.
117-7, Saul Dep. 39:3-23.) Two additional officers, Joseph Horos and Michael McCooey, joined
the other Defendants during the transfer. (Dkt. No. 117-4, McCooey Dep. 18:3-20:21; Dkt. 117-
5.) Together, the Defendants took Roland to a cell that was unmonitored by cameras. (Dkt. No.
117-4 at 76:4-5; Dkt No. 117-8 at 99:13-18.)
The parties offer conflicting descriptions of events inside the RCTP cell. Roland claims
that, once he was in the cell, the five officers began to physically assault him. (Dkt. No. 106-B,
Roland Dep. 82:21-85:7.) He contends that the COs punched him in the face, kicked him,
taunted him with racial slurs, and told him to “crawl up under the bed” to escape the beating.
(Id.) Roland also testifies that, during the attack, one of the COs said to him, “[O]h you like
filing grievance[s].” (Id. at 85:9-10.) Defendants claim that Roland went into the cell without
incident, but they offer varied testimony on their route through the prison and whether any
officers entered the RCTP cell. (Dkt. No. 117-7 at 39:18-23; Dkt No. 117-8 at 99:4-103:22.)
It is undisputed that Roland suffered injuries on September 20, 2009. Medical records
from that day state that Roland was “found . . . on [the] floor unresponsive” by medical staff.
(Dkt. No. 117-9 at 1.) Records from the next day list Roland’s injuries as a swollen eye and a
“subcong hematoma cornea,” a term that likely describes a broken blood vessel. (Id. at 2.)
Sergeant McMonagle contends that Roland injured himself by “banging his head on the walls
and door, and punching the walls and door” of his cell. (Dkt. No. 117-5.) Defendants also assert
that Roland “received injuries in [a] fight” with another prisoner the day before the alleged
attack. (Dkt. No. 101 at 2; Dkt. No. 117-5.) Roland concedes that he had an altercation with
another prisoner on September 19, 2009, but states that he suffered only “very minor” injuries
during that incident. (Dkt. No. 106-B at 40:8-41:25; Dkt. No. 109 at 2.) He claims that
Defendants caused the injuries documented in his medical records.
Roland was transferred out of Sullivan on September 22, 2009, two days after the alleged
attack. (Dkt. No. 117-9 at 2.) After exhausting his administrative remedies, he filed this suit.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A fact is
material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if, considering the record as a
whole, a rational jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S.
557, 586 (2009) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87
The initial burden on summary judgment rests with the movant, who must provide
evidence illustrating his entitlement to relief on each element of his claim or defense. Vt. Teddy
Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004). If the movant makes this
showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts demonstrating a
genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. R. 56; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51. To meet its burden,
the non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings,” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
324 (1986), and may not rely on mere “conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation,” Kulak
v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587). The
court views the evidence “in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all
reasonable inferences in its favor.” Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation
omitted). “It is well established that ‘[c]redibility assessments, choices between conflicting
versions of the events, and the weighing of evidence are matters for the jury, not for the court on
a motion for summary judgment.’” Curry v. City of Syracuse, 316 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir. 2003)
Defendants argue that Roland has failed to establish triable issues of fact on his due
process and retaliation claims. 1 Defendants also contend that they are entitled to qualified
The Fourteenth Amendment limits when prisoners may be forcibly medicated. Under the
Due Process Clause, all prisoners possess “a significant liberty interest in avoiding the unwanted
administration of antipsychotic drugs . . . .” Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221 (1990).
Forcing such drugs on a prisoner is unconstitutional “absent a finding of overriding justification
and a determination of medical appropriateness” by a medical professional. Riggins v. Nevada,
504 U.S. 127, 135 (1992); see Harper, 494 U.S. at 231.
Defendants do not dispute that Roland had a liberty interest in avoiding forced
medication. 2 (Dkt. No. 99 at 5-6.) Instead, they offer three arguments for why no due process
violation occurred. (Id. at 2.) First, Defendants contend that Roland voluntarily ingested the
medication. (Id.) Second, they argue that Defendants cannot be liable because Nurse Stefanuk,
rather than an officer, actually administered the Vistaril. (Id.) Defendants’ third argument is
that, even if they forcibly medicated Roland, they acted in reasonable reliance on the judgment
of a medical professional. (Id.)
Defendants have not moved for summary judgment on Roland’s Eighth Amendment claim.
This Court has jurisdiction over the instant motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
Defendants refer to Vistaril as a “psychotropic medication” and stipulate that forced
administration of Vistaril requires a documented finding of medical necessity. (Dkt. No. 101
at 6; Dkt. No. 100 at ¶ 16.) Defendants do not argue that Harper and Riggins are inapplicable.
To support their first argument, Defendants emphasize that none of the officers touched
Roland when he was in the hearing room. (Id. at 8.) While this fact is uncontested, physical
contact is not required for a due process violation. Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 206
(1960) (“Since Chambers v. State of Florida, this Court has recognized that coercion can be
mental as well as physical . . . . A number of cases have demonstrated, if demonstration were
needed, that the efficiency of the rack and the thumbscrew can be matched . . . by more
sophisticated modes of ‘persuasion.’”) (citations omitted). The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits
prison officers from using the threat of violence to compel an inmate to ingest a drug,
particularly where no medical professional has authorized forced medication. 3 Roland claims
that Sergeant McMonagle, CO Taft, and CO Saul made such threats; Defendants aver that they
did not. Thus, there remains a genuine dispute about whether the Defendants intimidated Roland
into taking Vistaril. The resolution of that dispute falls to the trier of fact.
Defendants’ second argument also fails. In their motion for summary judgment,
Defendants appear to argue that a prison official cannot violate due process when a nurse, rather
than a CO, “offer[s] and administer[s]” a pill. (Dkt. No. 101 at 6.) It is true that a defendant
must proximately cause a plaintiff’s injuries to be liable under § 1983. Gierlinger v. Gleason,
160 F.3d 858, 872 (2d Cir. 1998) (“[A]s in all § 1983 cases, the plaintiff must prove that the
defendant’s action was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.”). However, defendants in §
1983 suits “are responsible for the natural ‘consequences of their actions, including
consequences attributable to reasonably foreseeable intervening forces, including the acts of third
parties.” Richardson v. Pratcher, 48 F. Supp. 3d 651, 671 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (quoting Kerman v.
City of New York, 374 F.3d 93, 126 (2d Cir. 2004)). “[A] reasonably foreseeable independent
It is not necessary to address, nor does the Court decide, what modes of force are permissible
upon a finding of medical necessity.
decision that harms the victim does not break the chain of causation.” Id. at 671 (citing Zahrey
v. Coffey, 221 F.3d 342, 351-54 (2d Cir. 2000)). The fact that Nurse Stefanuk gave Roland the
pill does not preclude Defendants’ liability as a matter of law. Viewed in the light most
favorable to the Plaintiff, the evidence permits a finding that Defendants’ conduct proximately
caused Roland to ingest a drug against his will. Summary judgment is inappropriate in such
Defendants’ final argument is that any force used was reasonable because the officers, as
“non-medical security officials,” could “rely on . . . the medical judgment of the mental health
nurse if she found it medically necessary to medicate [Roland].” (Dkt. No. 101 at 7).
Defendants may be entitled to rely on Nurse Stefanuk’s judgment, but they stipulate that she
made no medical necessity determination in this case. (See Dkt. No. 100 ¶¶ 16-17 (stating that
Nurse Stefanuk did not authorize medication over Roland’s objection.)) Defendants’ third
argument is irrelevant given the uncontested facts.
The five Defendants in this action move for summary judgment together. However, only
three of those Defendants—McMonagle, Taft, and Saul—were present when Roland ingested
Vistaril. The parties agree that officers Horos and McCooey joined the other Defendants during
Roland’s transfer to the RCTP. Because Horos and McCooey were not in the hearing room,
there is no genuine dispute about whether they forced Roland to take medication against his will.
Accordingly, while summary judgment on Roland’s due process claim is unwarranted as to
Defendants McMonagle, Saul, and Taft, it is appropriate as to Defendants Horos and McCooey.
Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995) (“It is well settled in this Circuit that
personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an
award of damages under § 1983.”) (citation omitted).
To prevail on a retaliation claim, a prisoner must show “first, that the plaintiff engaged in
constitutionally protected conduct and, second, that the conduct was a substantial or motivating
factor for the adverse actions taken by prison officials.” Bussey v. Phillips, 419 F. Supp. 2d 569,
585 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (citing Bennett v. Goord, 343 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir. 2003)); see also
Espinal v. Goord, 558 F.3d 119, 129 (2d Cir. 2009). Defendants concede that “an inmate’s
grievance can be protected conduct” and that the use of force “can constitute a retaliatory
adverse action.” (Dkt. No. 101 at 9.) The question is whether Roland can connect his
grievances to the alleged attack.
Defendants claim that there are “no convincing indicia” that the incident on September
20, 2009 was retaliatory. (Id. at 10.) They note that Roland had not filed a grievance against any
of the Defendants prior to that date. (Id. at 11.) Accordingly, Defendants argue, none of the
officers named in this suit would have had reason to retaliate against Roland, nor would they
have known about complaints involving other prison employees. (Id.) Defendants also cite the
two-month period between Roland’s grievances and the alleged beating to counter Roland’s
retaliation claim. (Id.)
As a general matter, “it is difficult to establish one defendant’s retaliation for complaints
against [a third party].” Hare v. Hayden, No. 09-cv-3135 (RWS), 2011 WL 1453789, at *4
(S.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 274 (2d Cir. 2009)). But see Espinal,
558 F. Supp. 3d at 130 (making the “legitimate inference” that one officer could have retaliated
on behalf of another). However, summary judgment is unwarranted if the evidence can support
an inference of causation. Under Second Circuit precedent, plaintiffs alleging retaliation may
rely on circumstantial evidence to establish a causal link between protected activity and adverse
action. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995). A good disciplinary record in
prison, vindication at a disciplinary hearing, “temporal proximity” between protected conduct
and alleged retaliation, or “statements by the defendant concerning his motivation” can all be
invoked to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Burton v. Lynch, 664 F. Supp. 2d 349,
367 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (citing Colon, 58 F.3d at 872-73).
Roland has presented circumstantial evidence of retaliation. He has offered proof of his
grievances and a letter of concern from the State Commission of Correction from two months
before the alleged beating. Defendants argue that the gap between Roland’s grievances and the
alleged retaliation is too long to permit an inference of causation. However, while the Second
Circuit “has not drawn a bright line to define the outer limits” of temporal proximity in
retaliation cases, courts have found support for causation in cases involving longer periods than
the two months at issue here. Gorman-Bakos v. Cornell Co-op Ext. of Schenectady Cty., 252
F.3d 545, 554 (2d Cir. 2001); see also Espinal, 558 F.3d at 129 (“[T]he passage of only six
months between the dismissal of [plaintiff’s] lawsuit and an allegedly retaliatory beating . . . is
sufficient to support an inference of a causal connection.”). The time between Roland’s
grievances and the alleged attack does not bar his claim, and is consistent with a permissible
inference of causation.
Moreover, the Court need not look to temporal proximity alone. Roland has presented
evidence that one of the Defendants lived with the officers involved in his July 2009 grievances.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, this evidence supports Roland’s claim that
Defendants were aware of his history of complaints. Finally, and most significantly, Roland
testified that a Defendant mocked him for filing grievances during the alleged attack. The
credibility of Roland’s testimony, like that of the Defendants, is a question for the factfinder. At
this stage, Roland has raised a genuine and material question as to whether Defendants retaliated
against him for constitutionally protected conduct.
The doctrine of qualified immunity protects prison officials from liability if “their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.” Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d 149, 154 (2d
Cir. 2013) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). To resolve qualified
immunity claims, courts first consider whether the plaintiff has “shown facts making out
violation of a constitutional right.” Id. at 154. Courts then assess whether the right at issue was
“clearly established,” and even if it was, whether it was “objectively reasonable” for the official
to believe his conduct was lawful. Id.
For the reasons outlined above, Roland has presented enough evidence to create a
genuine dispute as to whether there was in fact a violation of his First and Fourteenth
Amendment rights. The remaining question is whether those rights were clearly established on
September 20, 2009. A right is clearly established when its contours are “sufficiently clear that a
reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Id. (citing
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). In qualified immunity analysis, courts ask if
the law was “defined with reasonable clarity” by a court with binding authority at the time of the
incident in question. Id. at 161 (citing Young v. Cty. of Fulton, 160 F.3d 899, 903 (2d Cir.
1998)). Courts also consider whether a reasonable defendant would have known his conduct
was unlawful. Id.
The right to avoid forced administration of antipsychotic drugs was clearly established at
the time of the alleged attack. As of 2009, the Supreme Court had recognized a liberty interest in
freedom from involuntary medication. See Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 178-79 (2003);
Riggins, 504 U.S. at 134-35; Harper, 494 U.S. at 222. The Supreme Court had also held that
medical professionals may authorize forced medication in certain circumstances. Harper, 494
U.S. at 227, 231 (“[T]he Due Process Clause permits the State to treat a prison inmate who has a
serious mental illness with antipsychotic drugs against his will . . . if the inmate is dangerous to
himself or others and the treatment is in the inmate's medical interest.”) At the time of the
alleged beating, these precedents were reflected in Sullivan policies prohibiting non-medical
staff from authorizing medication and requiring documentation of any forced medication. (See
Dkt. No. 100 ¶¶ 13-16.) No reasonable correctional official would have believed that it was
lawful to force a prisoner to take medication by threatening physical violence. The Defendants
involved in the alleged forced medication are not entitled to qualified immunity on Roland’s
Fourteenth Amendment claims.
The right to submit grievances, and to be free from retaliation for doing so, was also
clearly established in 2009. Colon, 58 F.3d at 872 (2d Cir. 1995) (“Prisoners . . . have a
constitutional right . . . to petition the government for the redress of grievances, and prison
officials may not retaliate against prisoners for the exercise of that right.”) (citing Franco v.
Kelly, 854 F.2d 584, 589 (2d Cir. 1988)). Defendants’ sole argument for qualified immunity on
Roland’s First Amendment claim is that there is “no evidence that defendants . . . used excessive
force against the plaintiff in retaliation for the multiple grievances he filed against [prison]
employees.” (Dkt. No. 113 at 7). This is a contested assertion of fact, not a basis for extending
immunity. On September 20, 2009, no reasonable official would have believed it lawful to
physically assault an inmate for filing complaints against prison staff.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted in part
and denied in part. With respect to Roland’s due process claim, the motion is GRANTED as to
Defendants Horos and McCooey, but DENIED as to Defendants McMonagle, Saul, and Taft.
With respect to Roland’s retaliation claim, the motion is DENIED as to all five Defendants.
The Clerk of Court is directed to close the motion at Docket Number 99.
Dated: October 9, 2015
New York, New York
J. PAUL OETKEN
United States District Judge
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