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$596,475 in Fees and Damages Awarded Against NY DOCCS For Contempt in Denying Pain Medication to Blind Prisoner

U.S. District Court Judge Loretta A. Preska has ordered the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to pay up in a victim of contempt case.

Amy Jane Agnew, an attorney representing Anthony Medina a prisoner who is blind, filed a complaint on March 12, 2015 arguing that his civil rights were violated by medical staff failing to effectively treat his pain. In February 2017, the Court issued an order granting a preliminary injunction, directing the DOCCS to immediately reinstate Medina’s prescription of Tramadol (Ultram) or an alternate but equally effective pain medication for neuropathic pain.

The Court also ordered the DOCCS to dim or turn off Medina’s overhead cell light in accordance with past accepted requests regardless of his housing facility and unit.

On June 21, 2108, Medina moved the Court for a finding of civil contempt, requesting monetary damages for unnecessary pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees. The court gave a detailed ruling finding in Medina’s favor and ordering the parties to confer regarding fees and damages. See: Medina v. Buther, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23529.

The Court issued a decision on September 12, 2019, granting Medina’s request. The DOCCS was ordered to pay Medina $150,000 in compensatory damages, $388,069 in attorney’s fees with another $58,475.13 in costs, totaling $596,475.13.

In making this determination, the Court looked to the court of appeals’ decision in Weitzman v. Stein, 98 F.3d 717 (2d Cir. 1996), which held: “The sanctions for civil contempt serve two purposes: to coerce future compliance and to remedy any harm past noncompliance caused the other party.”

In granting the award, the Court made clear that civil contempt sanctions must be remedial and compensatory rather than punitive. The Court also recognized that “compensatory sanctions may include an award of attorney’s fees and costs if the court finds willful violation.”

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Related legal case

Medina v. Buther