MCGILL v. LANIGAN
OPINION. Signed by Judge John Michael Vazquez on 10/3/17. (DD, ) N/M
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT Of NEW JERSEY
JOHN W. MCGILL,
Civil Action No. 13-7386 (JMV)
John Michael Vazguez, U.S.D.J.
In this case, Plaintiff alleges that pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Commissioner of the
New Jersey Department of Corrections is responsible for prison conditions that caused Plaintiff to
develop Bell’s palsy. This matter comes before the Court on motions for summary judgment filed
by Defendant Gary Lanigan, D.E. 37, and Plaintiff John W. McGill, D.E. 39. Both motions are
brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.1 The Court reviewed submissions made
in support of the motions and considered the motions without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R.
Defendant’s brief in support of his motion for summary judgment will be referred to hereinafter
as “Def. Br.” D.E. 37; Plaintiffs brief in support of his motion for summary judgment will be
referred to hereinafter as “P1. Br.” D.E. 39; and Defendant’s opposition brief will be referred to
hereinafter as “Def. Opp. Br.” D.E. 44. In addition, Plaintiffs amended complaint will be
referred to hereinafter as “P1. Am. Compi.” D.E. 2. Defendant’s answer will be referred to
hereinafter as “Def. Answer” D.E. 15.
The Court will refer to D.E. 39 as Plaintiffs brief in support of his motion for summary
judgment (“P1. Br.”) because Plaintiffs papers take the form of a Rule 56 motion. However,
Plaintiffs brief functionally operates as anopposition brief to Defendant’s brief in support of his
motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff reiterates many of his claims, however he chiefly rebuts
Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff has not shown that exhausted his administrative remedies.
P1. Br. at 3-5.
Civ. P. 78(b) and L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED, and Plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
A. Factual Background
i. Bell’s Palsy Diagnosis
On December 4, 2011, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison, he
noticed that the left side of his face had become immobilized. P1. Am. Compi. at 6. Thinking he
had suffered a stroke, Plaintiff reported his condition to the medical department and was diagnosed
with Bell’s palsy. Id; P1. Am. Compi., Ex. 2. The Plaintiff was treated with medications and drops
to lubricate his left eye, which would not close due to the facial paralysis. P1. Am. Compl. at 6-7.
Plaintiff alleges that he has numerous physical symptoms including distorted hearing in one ear,
difficulty talking, partial facial paralysis, and inability to breathe normally due to his left nostril
not being able to flair. P1. Am. Compl. at 7. Plaintiff states that his physical symptoms have had
a negative impact on his social life and ability to interact with others. P1. Am. Compi. 7-8.
In the time leading up to his diagnosis, Plaintiff was living in an area called the “2-up
dormitory” within the prison. P1. Am. Compl. at 9. Plaintiff claims that large patches of black
mold and a pink fungus or bacteria-like substance grew on shower walls and that green mold
sometimes covered the entire ceiling in the showers. P1. Am. Compl. at 8. Prison staff was unable
to control the growth despite “using bleach, power spraying, painting and scrubbing the affected
areas.” P1. Am. Compl. at 9. Plaintiff also alleges that birds would roost in the attic of the
dormitory and that when it rained, water contaminated with bird feces entered the dormitory’s
living area because the roof leaked. P1. Am. Compl. at 9. Plaintiff contends that Defendant was
shown these living conditions while on a tour of 2-up dormitory and that Defendant did not correct
them.2 P1. Br. at 2; Def. Br. Ex. D. (McGill feb. 16, 2016 Deposition).
Plaintiff believes that these conditions led to his Bell’s palsy diagnosis.3 To support his
claims, Plaintiff points to a number of fellow inmates who also contracted Bell’s palsy,4 P1. Am.
Compl. at 8, as well as one staff member, P1. Br. at 2. Defendant does not dispute any of the
However, Defendant argues that, among other things, Plaintiff has not
demonstrated that the alleged conditions in 2-up dormitory were the cause of his Bell’s palsy
diagnosis. Def Br. at 11-12.
Plaintiff claimed in his deposition testimony that the Defendant took a tour of Plaintiffs
housing unit and the people guiding Defendant’s tour “point[ed] out the conditions [of the 2-up
housing unit] to [Defendant].” Def. Br. Ex. D. (McGill feb. 16, 2016 Deposition).
Plaintiff also describes what he alleges is a history of conduct by the staff of East Jersey State
Prison and personnel of the Department of Corrections that “disregard[ed] inmates [sic] health
and safety.” P1. Am. Compi. at 9. Plaintiff claims that he and “dozens of other prisoners
contracted a contagious stomach virus from food that was served in the messhall [sic] and no
preventative measures were taken to halt the spread of the disease.” P1. Am. Compi. at 9.
Plaintiff adds that during the mid-i 990s, plaintiff and other inmates were involved in an “illegal
asbestos removal project” without being “given adequate training or safety equipment.” P1. Am.
Compl. at 9-10. Plaintiff also alleges that the Department of Corrections had test results showing
the Plaintiff has Hepatitis-C and but did not inform Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiff learned that he
had Hepatitis-C from an independent test 14 years later. P1. Am. Compl. at 10-il. Plaintiff
lastly alleges that the Department of Corrections engaged in unhealthy dental practices in its
prisons. P1. Am. Cornpl. at 10. None of these claims, except for the asbestos, are directly
relevant to this case, but appear to have been provided by Plaintiff as proof of a course of
conduct that neglects the well-being of the inmates. As to the asbestos, Plaintiff testified during
his deposition that he did not know whether it contributed to his Bell’s palsy.
Plaintiff alleges that an imnate “known as Imam Shariff once had the same ailment,” “an
inmate known as Nat” had Bell’s palsy twice, an “inmate known as Omega” has similar
symptoms, and an “inmate named David Huff who slept two beds away from the plaintiff
contracted the same disease.” P1. Am. Compi. at 8. Huff submitted a signed declaration in
support and indicated that he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy afier being assigned to clean the
showers. P1. Am. Compl., Ex. 6 (Huff Declaration).
ii. Grievance Process
If and when Plaintiff used various remedial methods within the prison system between the
date of his diagnosis (Dec. 4, 2011) and the filing of first complaint (Dec. 9, 2013) are also
disputed. Defendant states that during this period, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at East Jersey
State Prison and Northern State Prison, Plaintiff filed no grievance forms related to his Bell’s palsy
symptoms or diagnosis.
Def. Br. at 7-9.
Defendant first asserted that while Plaintiff was
incarcerated at Northern State Prison, Plaintiff filed no grievances on any matters.5 Def. Br. at 7;
Def. Br., Ex. B (Rivera Declaration). However, Defendant later clarified that Plaintiff did not file
any grievances at Northern State Prison related to his Bell’s palsy symptoms or diagnosis. Def.
Opp. Br. at 3-4. Defendant alleges that while Plaintiff was incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison,
Plaintiff filed eight grievances on a variety of subjects, but none related to his Bell’s palsy
diagnosis. Def. Br. at 2-9; Def. Br., Ex. A (Parker-Foreman Declaration (unsigned)); D.E. 38
(Parker-Foreman Declaration (signed)).
Plaintiff responds that he made numerous complaints about his medical condition and its
connection to the conditions in the prison, but Plaintiff contends that “his complaints were either
Jaqueline Rivera, who serves as the Inmate Remedy Coordinator at Northern State Prison,
stated that Plaintiff “was at Northern State Prison from March 13, 2009 through November 1,
2010.” Def. Br., Ex. B (Rivera Declaration). further, Rivera stated that she “conducted a search
at Northern State Prison for Inmate Remedy Forms filed by [Plaintiff]. There was no record that
McGill filed any Inmate Remedy Forms while at Northern State Prison.” Def. Br., Ex. B (Rivera
Declaration). Plaintiff claims, however, that Rivera’s statement is refuted by documents that he
attached to his brief in support of summary judgment that appear to show that Plaintiff filed
complaints (unrelated to his Bell’s palsy) on an Inmate Remedy System Form on March 29, 2009
and on July 30, 2009. P1. Br. Ex. Defendant responds that “Rivera’s search was for IRFs filed
after [Plaintiffs diagnosis] and her statement that plaintiff did not file any IRFs while at
Northern State Prison related only to that timeftame.” Def. Opp. Br. at 3-4. Plaintiff was
diagnosed with Bell’s palsy on December 4, 2011. P1. Am. Compl. at 6. Defendant further notes
that Plaintiffs attachments nevertheless do not relate to his Bell’s palsy.
ignored, or he was redirected by prison officials to use a method of problem resolution other than
the prison’s inmate remedy system.” P1. Br. at 2. Plaintiff also indicates that he mailed a Notice
of Tort Claim form to the Department of Corrections on March 2, 2012. N. Am. Compi. at ii; P1.
Am. Compi., Ex. 11, 12. Plaintiff claims that he never received a response. P1. Am. Compi. at 11.
B. Procedural History
On December 9,2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint. D.E. 1. On February 19, 2014, Plaintiff
filed an Amended Complaint. D.E. 2. On July 27, 2011, Plaintiffs request to proceed informa
pauperis was granted, and Plaintiffs Amended Complaint was filed. D.E. 3.
On January 23, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, D.E. 10, and on March 9, 2015,
Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition.
On June 22, 2015, Judge Wigenton denied
Defendant’s motion without prejudice. D.E. 14. On July 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Answer to the
Amended Complaint. D.E. 15.
On february 10, 2017, Defendant filed the current motion for summary judgment. D.E.
37. On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. D.E. 39. On June
5, 2017, Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiffs cross motion for summary judgment. D.E. 44.
Plaintiff asserts a violation of the Eighth Amendment pursuant to Section 1983. Defendant
argues that summary judgment is appropriate because Plaintiff has not exhausted his
administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), because Plaintiff has
failed to show that Defendant was personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations,
because Plaintiff has failed to show any causal link between the alleged conditions in the prison
and Plaintiffs Bell’s palsy, and because that Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff
argues that summary judgment is appropriate because the Defendant knew about the conditions in
the prison and did nothing to ameliorate the problems—problems that ultimately caused Plaintiffs
Bell’s palsy. Because the Court finds the causation issue dispositive, it does not reach the other
arguments that were raised except to address the exhaustion issue.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
A moving party is entitled to summary judgment where “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 in dispute is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law” and is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 24$ (1986).
Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude granting a motion for summary
judgment. IcL “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 nonmoving
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)). A court’s role in deciding a motion for summary judgment is not to evaluate the evidence
and decide the truth of the matter but rather “to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the basis for its
motion and must demonstrate that there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Coip. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After the moving party adequately supports its motion,
the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits,
or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). To
withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify
specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
250. “[I]f the non-movant’s evidence is merely ‘colorable’ or is ‘not significantly probative,’ the
court may grant summary judgment.” Messa v. Omaha Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 122 F. Supp. 2d
523, 528 (D.N.J. 2000) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50)).
Ultimately, there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact” if a party “fails to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case.” Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “If reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence,”
however, summary judgment is not appropriate. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51.
Plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C
§ 1983. Section 1983 provides in relevant
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation,
custom, or usage, of any State or Territory. 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[.]
Section 1983 does not provide substantive rights; rather, Section 1983 provides a vehicle
for vindicating violations of other federal rights. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989).
In order to state a valid claim for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must first allege a violation
of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, a plaintiff must
allege that the violation was caused or committed by a person acting under color of state law. West
v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Without explicitly citing it, Plaintiff makes an allegation that his Eighth Amendment rights
The Eighth Amendment provides protections for convicted and sentenced
prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. Hitbbard v. Taylor, 399 U.S. 150, 164 (3d Cir.
2005). Though “[t]he Constitution ‘does not mandate comfortable prisons,” prison conditions
must be humane. Farmerv. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452
U.S. 337, 349 (1981). “[P]rison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing,
shelter, and medical care and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at $32 (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526—27 (1984)).
To state an Eighth Amendment claim based on conditions of confinement, “an inmate must
allege both an objective element—that the deprivation was sufficiently serious—and a subjective
element—that a prison official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, i.e., deliberate
indifference.” Nami v. Faitver, 82 F.3d 63, 67 (3d Cir.1996) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294
(1991)). A deprivation is “sufficiently serious” when an inmate is denied “the minimal civilized
measure of life’s necessities.” Fortune v. Hamberger, 379 F. App’x 116, 122 (3d Cir. 2010)
(quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at $34). “A prison official demonstrates deliberate indifference if he
knows of and disregards an excessive risk to the inmate’s health or safety.” Ham v. Greer, 269 F.
App’x 149, 151 (3d Cir. 2008). A court may find deliberate indifference based on the obvious
nature of a risk. See Beers Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 133 (3d Cir. 2001) (finding that
“subjective knowledge on the part of the official can be proved by circumstantial evidence to the
Plaintiff does not mention the Eighth Amendment in any of his papers, however it is clear to
the Court that the Plaintiff is describing Eighth Amendment claims. See Haines v. Kerner, 404
U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (describing how the Court holds “the allegations ofthepro se complaint..
to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafied by lawyers.”).
effect that the excessive risk was so obvious that the official must have known of the risk”)
(quoting farmer, 511 U.S. at 842).
A. Exhaustion of Available Administrative Remedies Under the PLRA
Defendant first argues that summary judgment is appropriate because Plaintiff failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”),
before filing this Section 1983 claim in federal court. Def. Br. at 5-9. Plaintiff contends that he
exhausted his administrative remedies because he filed grievances related to his Bell’s palsy and
the prison officials lost or did not respond to them. P1. Br. at 4. Plaintiff alleges that prison officials
used “diversion tactics,” including their discretion to “redirect [Plaintiff] to use a procedure that is
outside of the Inmate Remedy System.”7 P1. Br. at 4.
42 U.S.C. Section 1997e(a) provides:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under
section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner
confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such
administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.
Exhaustion is a mandatory requirement under the PLRA. Ross v. Blake, 136 5. Ct. 1850,
1857 (2016) (finding that “mandatory exhaustion statutes like the PLRA establish mandatory
exhaustion regimes, foreclosing judicial discretion”). “[T]he PLRA’s exhaustion requirement
applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or
particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v.
Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). “[T]o properly exhaust administrative remedies, prisoners must
‘complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules’
Plaintiff refers to N.J.A.C. 1OA:1-4.3(b)1, which states that the “IRSF-103 Staff Redirection
Form” “is available by accessing the Department of Corrections computer network (DOCnet).”
P1. Br. at 4.
by the prison grievance process itself.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 217 (2007)
(quoting Woodfordv. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 at $8 (2006)).
must exhaust available remedies, but [an inmate] need not exhaust
unavailable ones.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S. Ct. at 185$ (emphasis added). In Ross, the Supreme
Court described three circumstances under which remedies are “unavailable.” First, a remedy is
unavailable under the PLRA if the remedy “operates as a simple dead end—with officers unable
or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates,” even if “regulations or
guidance may promise” that the procedure is available. Id. at 1859; see Booth v. Chttrner, 532
U.S. 731, 736, 738 (2001). Second, a remedy is unavailable when “an administrative scheme
might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use.” Ross, 136 S. Ct. at
1859. Lastly, a remedy is not available if “prison administrators thwart inmates from taking
advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Id. at
The Third Circuit has made clear that the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement applies to
institutional grievance procedures described in the New Jersey Department of Corrections Inmate
Handbook. Concepcion v. Morton, 306 F.3d 1347, 1355 (3d Cir. 2002). Therefore, inmates must
exhaust any remedies available in their handbooks. Id; see Paladino v. Newsome, 2013 WL
3270987, at *6 (D.N.J. June 27, 2013) (finding that “to properly exhaust administrative remedies,
a prisoner must comply with any grievance procedures described in inmate handbooks.”). In New
Jersey, the NJDOC Inmate Remedy Form (“IRF”) process includes (1) the opportunity to submit
an “Inmate Grievance Form” or “Inmate Inquiry Form” and (2) an opportunity to appeal a final
decision or finding. N.J.A.C. 1OA:1-4.4(c). Under N.J.A.C. IOA:1-4.4(d), “an ‘Inmate Inquiry
Form,’ and/or ‘Inmate Grievance Form,’ and an ‘Administrative Appeal’
must be utilized and
fully exhausted prior to an inmate filing any legal action regarding information requests, issues,
concerns, and/or complaints.” N.J.A.C. 1 0A: 1-4.4(d)
“[F]ailure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PERA,” meaning that the burden
is placed on the defendants and “inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate
exhaustion in their complaints.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d
287, 295 (3d Cir. 2002) (“We thus join the many other circuits that have held that failure to exhaust
is an affirmative defense to be pleaded by the defendant.”). However, when a failure to exhaust
administrative remedies is shown, summary judgment maybe granted. See Terrell v. Benfer, 429
Fed.Appx. 74, 77 (3d Cir. 2011) (holding that “summary judgment was appropriate because there
was no genuine issue of material fact as to [an inmate’s] failure to exhaust administrative
remedies”). “The availability of administrative remedies to a prisoner is a question of law to be
determined by a judge.” Shumanis v. Lehigh County, 675 Fed.Appx. 145, 147 (3d Cir. 2017)
(quoting Drzppe v. Tobelinski, 604 F.3d 778, 782 (3d Cir. 2010)); Small v. Camden Cry., 728 F.3d
265, 269 (3d Cir. 2013) (holding that “exhaustion is a question of law to be determined by a judge,
even if that determination requires the resolution of disputed facts”).
Courts in this District have split on whether to find a genuine issue of material fact when a
plaintiff contends that they exhausted their remedies, but the defendant claims that there is no
record of such exhaustion. See Watkins
Merriel, 2015 WL 5722819, at *81o (D.N.J. Sept. 29,
2015) (finding that there were genuine issues of disputed facts regarding whether an inmate filed
IRf appeals when there was “at least some record evidence suggesting that Plaintiff did not receive
responses from prison officials related to some IRFs he submitted”); Paladino v. Newsome, 2013
WL 3270987, at *8 (D.N.J. June 27, 2013) (holding that “Defendants have not met their burden of
establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Plaintiff exhausted
administrative remedies”); Ortiz v. Hayman, 2008 WL 1319203, at *4 (D.N.J. Apr. 10, 2008)
(holding that summary judgment is inappropriate when there was a dispute of fact whether plaintiff
actually submitted an IRF when the plaintiff claims he sent an IRF and the defendants claim they
never received anIRf); but see Miller v. Ricci, 2013 WL 1987255, at *2..3 (D.N.J. May 13, 2013)
(granting summary judgment based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies when there was
no evidence to support plaintiffs claim that he appealed his grievances).
Here, Defendant offers a written declaration signed by the Executive Assistant of East
Jersey State Prison and a written declaration signed by the Inmate Remedy Coordinator at Northern
State Prison, each stating that Plaintiff filed no Inmate Remedy forms related to his Bell’s palsy
Def. Br., Ex. A (Parker-foreman Declaration
while incarcerated at each respective prison.
(unsigned)), Def. feb. 15, 2017 Letter, D.E. 38 (Parker-Foreman Declaration (signed)), Def. Br.,
Ex. B (Rivera Declaration). Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that the remedy process was not
“available” under the PLRA because the prison used “diversion tactics,” including losing or not
responding to Plaintiffs grievances. P1. Br. at 4.
Obviously, the parties present different evidence as to the exhaustion issue. However, the
Court does not reach the issue because Defendant’s motion for summary judgment may be granted
on other grounds.
Defendant alternatively argues that summary judgment is appropriate because Plaintiff has
failed to submit any appropriate evidence as to the causal connection between the conditions in 2up dormitory and Plaintiffs Bell’s palsy. Def Br. at 11-12. Defendant argues that Plaintiff
admitted that he “does not know if the alleged conditions at the prison caused him to get Bell’s
palsy.” Def. Br. at 11. Plaintiff did not respond to this specific argument in Plaintiffs motion for
“Proximate cause is an essential element of a claim seeking to establish liability under
1983.” Ta//man v. Barnegat3d. ofEthic., 43 F. App’x 490, 498 (3d Cir. 2002). Proximate cause
under Section 1983 “simply incorporates the causation principles of common-law torts.” Tat/man,
43 F. App’x at 499 n.6 (citing Stevenson v. Koskey, 877 F.2d 1435 (9th Cir. 1989) and Farrett v.
City of Connersville, 737 F.2d 690 (7th Cir. 1984)). “Although the question of proximate cause
must often be submitted to the trier of fact, summary judgment is proper if the record cannot
reasonably support a finding of proximate cause, and in prior
§ 1983 cases, [the Third Circuit has]
upheld summary judgment on this basis.” Ta//man, 43 F. App’x at 498—99 (citing Best v. Essex
County, 986 F.2d 54 (3d Cir. 1993) and Commonwea/th Bank & Trust Co. v. Russell, 825 F.2d 12
(3d Cir. 1987)). Summary judgment is appropriate when a court cannot infer that the conditions
of an inmate’s confinement proximately caused the inmate’s health problems. See Edwards
Northampton County, 2016 WL 7654661, at *56 (ED. Pa. Apr. 29, 2016) (granting summary
judgment when the court was “unable to infer, absent expert testimony, that the conditions of
[Plaintiffs] cell caused his MRSA infection.”); Hargis v. At/. Cty. Justice faci/ity, 2014 WL
1713461, at *8 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 2014) (“Without expert testimony substantiating a causal link
between the allegedly unconstitutional conditions at ACJF and Plaintiffs MRSA diagnosis,
Plaintiff is unable to show a cognizable injury.”); Ma/les v. Lehigh Cty., 639 F. Supp. 2d 566, 581
(E.D. Pa. 2009) (dismissing a prisoner’s Section 1983 Eighth Amendment claims against prison
officials when “[t]here is indeed no evidence that more rigorous cleaning or any other measures
would—or could—have prevented or reduced the likelihood of infection”).
Here, the Court is unable to make a reasonable inference, absent expert testimony, that the
specific conditions of 2-up dormitory as described in Plaintiffs Amended Complaint and motion
for summary judgment were the proximate cause of Plaintiffs Bell’s palsy. In fact, Plaintiff
testified in his deposition that he did not know what actually caused his Bell’s palsy. Def. Br. Ex.
D. (McGill Feb. 16, 2016 Deposition). In response to a question asking whether Plaintiff is
alleging that the prison conditions caused his Bell’s palsy, Plaintiff replied by stating:
It’s outside of my expertise to say exactly if it was the green
mold, the black mold, the orange bacteria, the bird feces. It’s outside
of my expertise to say exactly which one of these substances caused
Bell’s palsy. I don’t know if it was the asbestos that caused Bell’s
palsy. I don’t know if it was another contagious element that caused
Bell’s palsy. I’m saying that I have Bell’s palsy. Numerous other
people inside of this prison have Bell’s palsy.
attributing the Bell’s palsy to the conditions inside of this prison,
because there’s such a large amount of people inside of this prison
that have Bell’s palsy.
Def. Br. Ex. D. (McGill Feb. 16, 2016 Deposition). Summary judgment is appropriate “against a
party who fails 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.” Celotex Corp.,
477 U.S. at 322. “[A] plaintiff cannot resist a properly supported motion for summary judgment
merely by restating the allegations of his complaint, but must point to concrete evidence in the
record that supports each and every essential element of his claim.” Orsatti v. New Jersey State
Police, 71 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322). Causation is an
essential element of Plaintiffs Section 1983 Eighth Amendment claim that the conditions of his
confinement caused his Bell’s palsy. The causal nexus between prison conditions and an alleged
resulting injury is generally proven through expert testimony. See Hargis v. Ati. Cty. Jitstice
Facility, 2014 WL 1713461, at *7 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 2014) (finding that how a pretrial detainee
“acquired MRSA, how it manifested, how it is transmitted, and how it may affect him in the future”
are “issues of expert opinion for a medical expert in the field of infectious disease.”); Shaver v.
CFGHealthcare, 2011 WL38822$7, at *7 (D.N.J. Sept. 2,2011) (finding that “[w]ithout an expert
witness or report or some other credible evidence, a jury cannot reasonably conclude that an inmate
contracted or suffers from TB or MSRA merely because that inmate is incarcerated in a prison
with many other inmates and the prison may not satisfy some amorphous, undefined standard of
health and cleanliness.”). Plaintiffs conjecture about the potential causes of his Bell’s palsy is not
enough to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. Plaintiff has pointed
to several other persons who have been afflicted with Ball’s palsy, however this evidence is not
sufficient to prevent summary judgment on the issue of causation. Plaintiff did not cite any
precedent to support his position8 nor could the Court find any. Here, Plaintiff has not produced
the necessary expert testimony to support his beliefs as to causation. Therefore, Defendant’s
motion for summary judgment is granted.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendant’s motion for summary judgnient (D.E.37) is
GRANTED and Plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment (D.E. 39) is DENIED. An
appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
October 3, 2017
John Michael VazqL1fzkJ.D.J.
By Plaintiffs position, the Court means that causation can be sufficiently established through
Plaintiffs lay opinion that the circumstances caused his Bell’s palsy and the fact that several
other individuals (in proximity to Plaintiff) also suffered from the condition.
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