Little v. Terhune

Decision Date11 February 2002
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 99-3165 (MLC).
Citation200 F.Supp.2d 445
PartiesHenry T. LITTLE, Plaintiff, v. Jack TERHUNE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey

James J. Ferrelli, Christopher J. Stanchina, Duane Morris LLP, Cherry Hill, NJ, for Plaintiff.

David M. Ragonese, Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, Trenton, NJ, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COOPER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on (1) motion of plaintiff Henry T. Little for partial summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 ("Rule 56") and (2) crossmotion of defendants Jack Terhune ("Terhune"), Roy L. Hendricks ("Hendricks"), and Ronald V. Paice ("Paice") for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. For the reasons stated below, we will deny plaintiff's motion, but grant defendants' cross-motion.

BACKGROUND

For more than fifteen years, plaintiff has been incarcerated in the administrative segregation unit at New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"). (Decl. of Henry T. Little Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746 at 2.) Plaintiff was sent to administrative segregation for disciplinary reasons. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that in the time he has been confined to administrative segregation, he has not been provided educational opportunities. (Am.Compl.¶ 15.)

In July 1999, plaintiff submitted to the Court a civil complaint and an application to proceed in forma pauperis. In August 1999, the Court entered an Opinion granting plaintiff's application. (Op. filed 8-6-99.) Among other things, the Opinion dismissed plaintiff's Eighth Amendment, equal protection, and parole claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and 1915A(b)(1), and allowed plaintiff's disciplinary due process claim to proceed. In September 1999, the magistrate judge granted plaintiff's motion for the appointment of counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1915. (Order filed 9-14-99.) In December 1999, plaintiff, through appointed counsel, filed an Amended Complaint. (Am. Compl. filed 12-8-99.)

The Amended Complaint omitted plaintiff's disciplinary due process claim in favor of seven new causes of action: three causes of action based on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, three based on the Equal Protection Clauses of the New Jersey Constitution, and one claim based on the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-1 et seq. (Id.)1

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that inmates, such as he, who are confined to administrative segregation at NJSP do not have access to meaningful educational and employment opportunities, nor the ability to attain an education. (Id. ¶ 11.) The Amended Complaint also alleges that other similarly situated inmates, including inmates in the general population at NJSP, inmates in administrative segregation at other New Jersey prisons, and inmates under the age of twenty-one in administrative segregation at NJSP, have access to those opportunities. (Id. ¶ 12.)

In December 1999, defendants Terhune, Hendricks, and Paice filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint. Defendants NJSP, New Jersey Department of Corrections, and The State of New Jersey filed an Answer in January 2000.

In September 2000, defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew his claims against NJSP, New Jersey Department of Corrections, and the State of New Jersey, and withdrew his claim under the NJLAD (Count VII) against all defendants. In March 2001, this Court entered a Memorandum and Order granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Mem. & Order filed 3-30-01.) The Court permitted plaintiff to proceed with equal protection claims against Terhune, Hendricks, and Paice.

In August 2001, plaintiff filed the instant motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, arguing that partial summary judgment should be granted on defendants' liability "because the undisputed material facts demonstrate that they are responsible for denying plaintiff access to educational opportunities offered to others similarly situated without any rational basis to justify the disparate treatment." (Pl.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Br.") at 5.) Terhune, Hendricks, and Paice also now cross-move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56.

DISCUSSION
I. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its initial burden, the nonmoving party must present evidence that establishes that a genuine issue of material fact exists, making it necessary to resolve the difference at trial. Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir.1985). A non-moving party may not rely on mere allegations; it must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The role of the judge at the summary judgment stage is not to weigh the evidence, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505. "By its very terms, the standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Material facts are only those facts that might affect the outcome of the action under governing law. Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Boyd v. Ford Motor Co., 948 F.2d 283, 285 (6th Cir.1991). "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (citation omitted).

II. Equal Protection

In order to state a valid civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant acted under color of state law to deprive the plaintiff of a right secured by the Federal Constitution or the laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir.1995); Shaw v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir.1990). There is no question that defendants are, in their personal capacities, amenable to suit under section 1983 because they were conducting themselves as employees of a government agency, the New Jersey Bureau of Prisons, when they allegedly denied educational programs to inmates confined in the administrative segregation unit of NJSP and thus were acting under color of state law. See, e.g., Annis v. County of Westchester, N.Y., 36 F.3d 251, 254 (2d Cir.1994). We will now determine whether there are genuine issues of material fact related to whether defendants have violated plaintiff's equal protection rights.

"[T]he purpose of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is to secure every person within the State's jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether occasioned by express terms of a statute or by its improper execution through duly constituted agents." Vill. of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564, 120 S.Ct. 1073, 145 L.Ed.2d 1060 (2000) (quoting Sioux City Bridge Co. v. Dakota County, 260 U.S. 441, 445, 43 S.Ct. 190, 67 L.Ed. 340 (1923) (quoting Sunday Lake Iron Co. v. Township of Wakefield, 247 U.S. 350, 352 38 S.Ct. 495, 62 L.Ed. 1154 (1918))); see also Ingenito v. Dep't of Corr., 568 F.Supp. 946, 955 (D.N.J.1983) (holding that equal protection applies to administrative behavior as well as to legislation and regulations). The unlawful administration by state officers of a state statute or regulation, resulting in its unequal application to those who are entitled to be treated alike, can deny equal protection if intentional or purposeful discrimination caused the disparity in treatment. See Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 8, 64 S.Ct. 397, 88 L.Ed. 497 (1944); see also Esmail v. Macrane, 53 F.3d 176, 179 (7th Cir.1995) (holding that denial of equal protection may be established where "the power of government is brought to bear on a harmless individual merely because a powerful state or local official harbors malignant animosity toward him"). Purposeful discrimination may appear on the face of the action taken, or it may be shown by extrinsic evidence of a discriminatory design. Snowden, 321 U.S. at 8, 64 S.Ct. 397; see also DeHart v. Horn, 227 F.3d 47, 61 n. 10 (3d Cir.2000) (opining that intent to discriminate can sometimes be inferred from relative disparity in treatment).

Plaintiff acknowledges that rational-basis review governs his equal protection challenge.2 (Pl.'s Br. at 5, 7.) To bring a successful claim under section 1983 for a denial of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment when the plaintiff does not allege membership in a suspect class or interference with a fundamental right, a plaintiff must show that he has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly...

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