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NY Federal Court Denies Summary Judgment on Claims of Improper Medication Seizure, Evidence Fabrication, Improper Frisk During Prison Visit

Lisa Bobbit arrived at Green Haven Correctional Facility, a maximum-security New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) prison, to visit a prisoner in 2015. She was carrying Lamotrigine pills and a small vial of Tramadol, which was wrapped together with a small piece of bread in plastic wrap. She did not declare the medications at the gate when she was issued a visitor’s pass.

DOCCS guard Monica Marzan claimed she noticed a bulge in Bobbit’s sock while performing a scan of her and asked her to remove it, revealing the medications. Bobbit said she removed it from her pocket. Marzan detained Bobbit and reported the incident to her supervisor who called the New York State Patrol (NYSP).

NYSP Trooper Robert Murtha arrested Bobbit and frisked her. She was eventually released from custody and given desk appearance tickets for violating N.Y. Penal Law § 205.20 and N.Y. Public Health Law § 3345.

Based in part on Mazan’s version, the prosecutor pressed charges. Bobbit had to appear in court at least three times before her defense attorney could explain her version and supporting documents to the prosecutor. This resulted in an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal requiring the charges to be dismissed if Bobbit stayed out of trouble for a year.

Bobbit filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging, among other claims, that Marzan fabricated evidence by creating false information, Murtha excessively groped her breasts during the frisk search, and the DOCCS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA) by denying her a reasonable accommodation when she explained she needed the medication because she suffers from epileptic seizures, which she treated with Lamotrigine, and severe sciatic pain, which she treated with Tramadol.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted with respect to all of the other claims and defendants except those outlined above. The court noted that, whereas DOCCS policy requires that medication be declared at the gate and securely stored by DOCCS personnel until needed, it also contains an accommodation for visitors who inadvertently bring medication into a prison and does not require that law enforcement be notified in such cases.

Bobbit allegedly informed DOCCS staff of her need for the medication and offered to take them immediately, but this was not allowed. As a result, she felt lightheaded and nauseous, her legs started twitching, and the symptoms lasted until she was able to return home and take medication. She also alleged one DOCCS official mocked her and made light of her epilepsy, saying it was not a serious condition.

Much of the prosecutor’s initial attitude toward Bobbit was colored by Marzan’s claim that the medication was hidden in a sock. Thus, although she could not claim the false statements led to her arrest, she could maintain a claim they caused additional deprivations of liberty, such as the three court appearances, related to her prosecution.

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Related legal case

Bobbit v. Marzan