POLLIS v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF SUSSEX, STATE OF NEW JERSEY et al
OPINION & ORDER granting in part and denying in part deft's 141 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Stanley R. Chesler on 6/5/2014. (nr, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS
OF THE COUNTY OF SUSSEX et al.,
Civil Action No. 09-3009 (SRC)
OPINION & ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment, pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, filed by Defendants Board of Chosen Freeholders of the
County of Sussex, Office of the Sussex County Sheriff, Robert Untig, Allison Murray, Ron
Duenskie, and Scott Manno (collectively, “Defendants”). For the reasons that follow, the motion
will be granted in part and denied in part.
On April 3, 2012, this Court entered an Opinion and an Order granting Defendants’
motion for summary judgment on the Third Amended Complaint in its entirety. Plaintiff
appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Third Circuit vacated that part of this
Court’s summary judgment decision which dealt with Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim for
failure to protect her from an attack by another inmate, and remanded the case for further
proceedings on that claim. Defendants now have moved for summary judgment on that claim.
Summary judgment is appropriate under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a) when the moving party
demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the
moving party’s entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of
the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “In considering a motion
for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any
weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence ‘is to be believed and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.’” Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241,
247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).
“When the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must show
affirmatively the absence of a genuine issue of material fact: it must show that, on all the
essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury
could find for the non-moving party.” In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting
United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991)). “[W]ith
respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof . . . the burden on the
moving party may be discharged by ‘showing’ – that is, pointing out to the district court – that
there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at
Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must
establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v.
Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for
summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that
creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer,
Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir. 1995). “[U]nsupported allegations .
. . and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment.” Schoch v. First Fid.
Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). “A nonmoving party has created a genuine
issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at
trial.” Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001).
If the nonmoving party has failed “to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence
of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof
at trial, . . . there can be ‘no genuine issue of material fact,’ since a complete failure of proof
concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts
immaterial.” Katz v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Celotex,
477 U.S. at 322-23).
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment
Because Plaintiff bears the burden of proof on her Eighth Amendment claim for failure to
protect, Defendants meet their initial summary judgment burden by pointing to the absence of
evidence to support Plaintiff’s case. The summary judgment burden then shifts to Plaintiff to
point to evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor at trial.
The parties agree that the key case setting forth the relevant law is Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994), which held that the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to
“take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates. . . .[P]rison officials have a
duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” The Third Circuit
has articulated the standards to be derived from Farmer as follows:
An Eighth Amendment claim against a prison official must meet two
requirements: (1) the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, sufficiently serious;
and (2) the prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind. In
prison conditions cases, that state of mind is one of “deliberate indifference” to
inmate health or safety. “Deliberate indifference” is a subjective standard under
Farmer--the prison official-defendant must actually have known or been aware of
the excessive risk to inmate safety.
Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 125 (3d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).
The present motion turns on the issue of the culpable state of mind. To succeed on this
claim, inter alia, Plaintiff must point to evidence sufficient to establish a defendant’s culpable
state of mind – that a defendant must have actually known or been aware of an excessive risk to
inmate safety. As to this issue, Plaintiff points only to evidence regarding Defendant Murray,
contained in the declaration of Denise Sebastiano, which states that, a day or two before Plaintiff
was attacked, Sebastiano overheard the alleged attacker telling Murray that “Pollis needs to go
down” and “I’m gonna take care of her.” (Patti Cert. Ex. A ¶ 6.) This is sufficient evidence to
allow a reasonable jury to find that Murray must actually have known about an excessive risk to
Plaintiff’s safety. This is sufficient to defeat the motion for summary judgment as to Defendant
Plaintiff points to no other evidence that any other defendant possessed the requisite
culpable state of mind. Plaintiff contends, however, that Murray’s violation of Plaintiff’s
constitutional rights somehow gives rise to a Monell claim against the governmental entity
defendants. Plaintiff argues vaguely for the existence of a policy or custom, but there is neither
evidence to support this nor even a clear theory of what policy or custom is implicated in
Murray’s alleged deliberate indifference. As Defendants note, Plaintiff’s Supplemental Rule
56.1 Statement points to no evidence regarding any policy or custom. There is thus no evidence
to support a Monell claim.
Plaintiff has succeeded in defeating the motion for summary judgment as to the Eighth
Amendment claim against Defendant Murray only, and the motion will be denied as to that
Defendant. As to all other Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to raise material factual issues, and
Defendants have shown that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. As to all
Defendants except Murray, the motion for summary judgment will be granted, and Judgment on
the Eighth Amendment claim against these Defendants shall be entered in their favor.
For these reasons,
IT IS therefore on this 5th day of June, 2014
ORDERED that Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Docket Entry No. 141) is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; and it is further
ORDERED that, as to Defendant Murray only, the motion for summary judgment is
DENIED; and it is further
ORDERED that, as to all Defendants except Murray, the motion for summary judgment
is GRANTED, and Judgment on the Eighth Amendment claim in the Complaint is hereby
entered in these Defendants’ favor.
/s Stanley R. Chesler
STANLEY R. CHESLER
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?