Duran v. Merline

Decision Date08 February 2013
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 07–3589 (RMB/AMD).
Citation923 F.Supp.2d 702
PartiesMiguel DURAN, Plaintiff, v. Warden Gary MERLINE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Miguel Duran, pro se.

James T. Dugan, Esq., Atlantic County Department of Law, Atlantic City, NJ, for Co-defendants Warden Gary Merline, Capt. James D. Murphy, Yvonne Hickman, and John Solog.

Jamie Nicole Labukas, Esq., Joseph Goldberg, Esq., Wendi D. Barish, Esq., Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Co-defendant CFG Health Systems, LLC.

Colleen M. Ready, Esq., Ian Mark Sirota, Esq., Peter S. Cuddihy, Esq., Margolis Edelstein, Mt. Laurel NJ, for Third–Party Defendant Aramark Correctional Services, LLC.

OPINION

BUMB, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Miguel Duran brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He asserts various constitutional torts related to his pre-trial detention at the Atlantic County Justice Facility. Currently before the Court are three summary judgment motions brought by defendant CFG Health Systems LLC (“CFG”) [Dkt. Ent. 266]; individual defendants Warden Gary Merline, Captain James D. Murphy, Principal Clerk Yvonne Hickman, and Case Worker John Solog (the “County Defendants) [Dkt. Ent. 267]; and defendant Aramark Correctional Services, LLC (“Aramark”) [Dkt. Ent. 275]. Additionally, Plaintiff has included within his opposition brief a section that appears to be a motion to amend the complaint. [Dkt. Ent. 295.] For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES CFG's motion; GRANTS Aramark's motion; partially GRANTS and partially DENIES the County Defendants' motion; and DENIES Plaintiff's motion to amend without prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

This case, with its long and protracted history, has besieged the Court. Plaintiff has filed a battery of motions, letters, and exhibits. He has also filed multiple appeals of this Court's orders and the Magistrate Judge's discovery orders to the Third Circuit, all of which have been dismissed as frivolous or for lack of appellate jurisdiction. [Dkt. Ents. 224, 230.] In short, this case has required a tremendous amount of judicial resources. The parties are familiar with this history, so the Court recites only the relevant portions here. Plaintiff initiated this action on August 1, 2007, as a pre-trial detainee at the Atlantic County Justice Facility (“ACJF”) in Mays Landing, New Jersey. Plaintiff was incarcerated from June 23, 2007 to August 2007, and from September 17, 2007 to May 28, 2009. As the Court has previously noted, these are the only dates that are at issue in this litigation. 1 [Dkt. Ents. 155, 227.] On February 16, 2009, Plaintiff's pro bono counsel, who has subsequently withdrawn from the case, filed a second amended complaint (the “Complaint”), which is the operative complaint in this matter. 2 [Dkt. Ent. 58.] The Complaint asserts claims against the County Defendants, Aramark, which provides food and sanitation services to the ACJF, and CFG, which provides medical services to ACJF inmates. All defendants have moved for summary judgment. Defendants' claims for injunctive relief have been dismissed as moot. [Dkt. Ents. 306, 341.] Only Plaintiff's claims for damages remain pending. When Plaintiff initially filed his oppositions to the defendants' motions, he sought permission to file an over-length brief, which the Court granted, extending the page limit from 40 to 60 pages. [ See generally Dkt. Ent. 279.] Plaintiff then attempted to submit approximately 2,000 to 2,500 pages of legal documents, including a 234–page brief in violation of the Court's Order. The Court deemed this submission withdrawn, again ordered Plaintiff to limit his brief to 60 pages, and permitted him an extension of time to do so. The Court also ordered Plaintiff not to attach his voluminous exhibits to his brief but instead to make clear and concise references to his exhibits with explanations as to why such exhibits are relevant. The Court subsequently permitted Plaintiff to submit the relevant exhibits, with instructions on how to file them in order to assist the Court in understanding their relevance to the multiple motions and claims. Plaintiff did not comply with the Court's Order. After more than six months of delays, Plaintiff finally submitted his exhibits with an index and description, as required.3 [Dkt. Ent. 335 at pp. 26–32 & Dkt. Ents. 335–1–9.] These motions are finally ripe for adjudication.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment shall be granted if “the movant shows that 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). A fact is “material” if it will “affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law ....” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” if it could lead a “reasonable jury [to] return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

When deciding the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact, a court's role is not to weigh the evidence: all reasonable “inferences, doubts, and issues of credibility should be resolved against the moving party.” Meyer v. Riegel Products Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n. 2 (3d Cir.1983). However, a mere “scintilla of evidence,” without more, will not give rise to a genuine dispute for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. In the face of such evidence, summary judgment is still appropriate “where the record ... could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party ....” Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Summary judgment motions thus require judges to ‘assess how one-sided evidence is, or what a ‘fair-minded’ jury could ‘reasonably’ decide.' Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir.1989) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 265, 106 S.Ct. 2505).

The movant “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes demonstratethe absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). Then, “when a properly supported motion for summary judgment [has been] made, the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The non-movant's burden is rigorous: it “must point to concrete evidence in the record”; mere allegations, conclusions, conjecture, and speculation will not defeat summary judgment. Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir.1995); Acumed LLC v. Advanced Surgical Servs., Inc., 561 F.3d 199, 228 (3d Cir.2009) ([S]peculation and conjecture may not defeat summary judgment.”).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Count I); (2) inadequate access to the courts (Count II); (3) interference with legal mail (Count III); (4) retaliation for exercising his constitutional rights (Count V); and (5) denial of medical care (Count IV). Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ..., subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....

Therefore, to succeed on his claims, Plaintiff must establish two elements: (1) a person deprived him or caused him to be deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988). Since the defendants do not dispute that they were acting under color of state law, the only issue before the Court is whether they caused Plaintiff to suffer deprivations of a constitutional magnitude. The Court considers each claim in turn.

A. Conditions of Confinement

Count I alleges a claim for unconstitutional living conditions against defendants Warden Gary Merline and Aramark. Both have moved for summary judgment.

1. Warden Gary Merline

As an initial matter, the Court notes that the Complaint does not specify whether Plaintiff sues Warden Merline in his official or personal capacity. This distinction is important because [p]ersonal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law,” while official-capacity suits “generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165–66, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985) (internal citations and quotations omitted). To determine the nature of the liability the plaintiff seeks to impose, courts consider the complaints and the “course of proceedings”. Garden State Elec. Inspection Srvs. Inc. v. Levin, 144 Fed.Appx. 247, 251 (3d Cir.2005) (citing Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n. 14, 105 S.Ct. 3099 (in turn quoting Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 469, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985)) and Melo v. Hafer, 912 F.2d 628 (3d Cir.1990), aff'd,502 U.S. 21, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991)); Billman v. Corbett, Civ. No. 10–2996, 2011 WL 605814, *2 n. 3 (E.D.Pa. Feb. 15, 2011).

Here, Plaintiff's initial complaints indicated a desire to hold the municipality accountable. The original complaint listed Defendant Merline on the first...

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  • Part two: case summaries by major topic.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly No. 60, June 2014
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    ...counsel would not be exercised. (Johnson County Jail, Kansas) U.S. District Court DUE PROCESS LEGAL MAIL RETALIATION Duran v. Merline, 923 F.Supp.2d 702 (D.N.J.,2013). A former pretrial detainee at a county detention facility brought a pro se [section] 1983 action against various facility o......

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