New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
LASSITER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-054-025, Claim No. 129415

Synopsis

inmate med mal claim requires medical evidence, no jurisdiction over federal claims, correction officer's presence does not violate HIPAA

Case information

UID: 2019-054-025
Claimant(s): DONNELL LASSITER
Claimant short name: LASSITER
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 129415
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: WALTER RIVERA
Claimant's attorney: DONNELL LASSITER
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: `HON. LETITIA JAMES
Attorney General for the State of New York
By: Thomas J. Reilly, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: May 16, 2019
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant alleges that during his incarceration at Eastern NY Correctional Facility, he was not given proper medical treatment and his federal constitutional rights and his rights to privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) were violated.

Claimant testified at trial and his medical records were received in evidence (Claimant's Ex. 1). Claimant recounted that on May 24, 2015, while on a telephone call with his sister, she passed away from breast cancer. According to claimant, he suffered a panic attack and experienced difficulty breathing. He ended the telephone call and alerted a correction officer of his symptoms. The correction officer escorted claimant to his cell.

Later that night, claimant alerted a correction officer that claimant had difficulty breathing. Claimant was thereafter escorted to the infirmary by a correction officer. According to claimant, the nurse examined claimant and found that he had a diminished capacity for breathing; however a sergeant who was present in the infirmary told the nurse that claimant was physically fit and suggested that claimant had sustained a pulled muscle.(1) Therefore, according to claimant, the nurse relied upon the sergeant's assessment of claimant and gave claimant ibuprofen and sent him back to his cell.

Claimant had a restless night. In the morning, he returned to the infirmary, where he was again given ibuprofen and told to return in the afternoon for an x-ray. Later, claimant was told that the x-ray technician did not come in that day. Claimant continued to complain of difficulty breathing. On May 27, 2015, an x-ray was taken in the infirmary by the technician. Thereafter, claimant passed out and was taken to an outside hospital due to a collapsed right lung.

At the conclusion of claimant's case, defendant moved to dismiss the causes of action for medical malpractice and medical negligence due to claimant's failure to present any expert medical evidence. Defendant also moved to dismiss the allegation in the claim that claimant's right of privacy was violated by the correction officer's presence during claimant's physical examination at the infirmary. Defendant argued that an officer's presence was required for security purposes and that there is no cognizable cause of action based upon an alleged HIPAA violation. The Court reserved decision on the defendant's motion to dismiss and the trial continued.

Defendant presented the testimony of Registered Nurse Michele Lee Deni, who treated claimant in the infirmary on May 24, 2015. Deni testified that claimant complained of chest pain. Deni found claimant's vital signs, including his breathing and blood pressure, to be normal. She noted that he was anxious and that his chest pain could have been due to his sister's passing. Deni testified that no one, such as a correction officer or a sergeant, could direct Deni's treatment of any patient.

At the conclusion of the trial, defendant renewed its motion to dismiss. Additionally, defendant moved to dismiss the alleged federal constitution claims. The Court reserved decision on the motions.

Analysis

Upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court makes the following findings. While claimant testified in a forthright and credible manner, claimant's testimony and medical records alone are insufficient to establish that defendant departed from the applicable standard of medical care and treatment. Without the aid of competent medical evidence, either from a treating physician or medical expert, to support claimant's allegations of inadequate or improper medical care, the Court cannot find a causal connection between any alleged negligence and claimant's alleged injuries as such conclusions require expert medical evidence and are not within the knowledge and ordinary experience of a lay person (see Matter of Robinson v State of New York, 35 AD3d 948 [3d Dept 2006]; see Mosberg v Elahi, 176 AD2d 710 [2d Dept 1991], affd 80 NY2d 941 [1992]).

Additionally, to the extent that claimant alleged a cause of action based upon a federal constitutional violation, a federal statutory violation and a violation of his rights under HIPAA, such claims are also dismissed because this Court does not have jurisdiction over such causes of action involving federal law (see Martinez v Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 83-84 [2001]). Moreover, it has been held that a correction officer's presence during a medical examination is legitimately related to penological interests regarding security (see Warren v Corcoran; US Dist Ct, SD NY, Oct. 20, 2011, Baxter, J.).

Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, made at the conclusion of trial is now GRANTED and the claim is dismissed. All other motions not previously ruled upon are DENIED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 129415.

May 16, 2019

White Plains, New York

WALTER RIVERA

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. Claimant's testimony was not clear as to whether the escorting correction officer and the sergeant were the same individual.