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Edmonds v. New Jersey Dept. of Corrections

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


June 13, 2002

JOHN EDMONDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, MR. ELLIS, CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL STAFF OF MIDSTATE, OFFICER SEARS OF MIDSTATE, SERGEANT PHILLIPS OF MIDSTATE, JOHN J. FARMER, JR. AND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS ACTING COMMISSIONER, DEFENDANTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This action is before the Court upon the motion of remaining defendants Sergeant Phillips and Officer Sears for summary judgment on the claims against them contained in plaintiff's Complaint and Amended Complaint, pursuant to Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. P. Plaintiff's opposition to this motion for summary judgment, due on or before May 24, 2002, has not been received by the Court or filed with the Clerk of Court. Additionally, no request for an extension of time was received. This motion, therefore, will be considered as unopposed. For the reasons stated herein, defendants' motion will be granted and plaintiff's Complaint and Supplemental Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice as to the remaining defendants.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, John Edmonds ("Edmonds"), is a former New Jersey State inmate who was incarcerated at Midstate Prison in Wrightstown, New Jersey. Plaintiff initiated this action against a number of defendants, several of whom were previously granted summary judgment and dismissed from the case, *fn1 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the negligence of defendants caused him to slip and fall during a prison work detail, with resulting injuries. In his supplemental complaint, plaintiff alleged that his constitutional right to protection under the Eighth Amendment had been violated because defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Defendants Phillips and Sears seek summary judgment on the claims against them, asserting that plaintiff's negligence claim may not be asserted under Section 1983 and also that plaintiff has failed to show that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiff's purported serious medical need.

As discussed in greater detail in this Court's November 26, 2001 Opinion, plaintiff's injury occurred on September 9, 1999, when he allegedly slipped on a wet curb and fell as he was exiting a van which carried prisoners to their work detail. (Edmonds v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections, No. 00-5669, slip op. at 4-5 (D.N.J. Nov. 26, 2001)). Plaintiff claims that Officer Sears was negligent because he parked in a no parking zone and forced him to participate in the work detail after his fall. (Compl., ¶ 6.) Plaintiff, in his Supplemental Complaint, also alleges that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need because they made him work after his fall. (Supp. Compl. at 8-9.)

On July 11, 2001, plaintiff was deposed in this matter. Plaintiff indicated that he advised defendants Phillips and Sears that the fall caused pain and aggravated an old back injury. (Josephson Aff., Ex. A, Edmonds Dep., Jul. 11, 2001, Tr. 40:5-8.) Defendant Phillips advised plaintiff that he should not lift during the work detail. (Edmonds Dep., Tr. 40:2-14.) Plaintiff conceded that his pain decreased shortly after his fall and after he moved around a little bit, (Edmonds Dep., Tr. 94:22-95:3, 100:4-5), but also stated that he experienced some shooting pain as he worked (id. at Tr. 100:5-9.)

II. ANALYSIS

As indicated earlier, defendants' motion for summary judgment is unopposed. Pursuant to a scheduling order signed by the Honorable Joel B. Rosen on April 1, 2002, "[a]ny opposition by plaintiff to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [was] due on or before May 3, 2002." (Apr. 1, 2002 Order, Docket Item 63-1.)

A. Unopposed Summary Judgment Motion Standard of Review

On a motion for summary judgment, the court must determine whether "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment of law." Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c)). A party opposing summary judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to oppose the motion by evidence such as written objection, memorandum, or affidavits, the court "will accept as true all material facts set forth by the moving party with appropriate record support." Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Rev., 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Jaroma v. Massey, 873 F.2d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 1989)). If the nonmoving party has failed to establish a triable issue of fact, summary judgment will not be granted unless "appropriate," and only if movants are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(e); see Anchorage Assocs., 922 F.2d at 175.

B. Analysis

Plaintiff asserts that defendants Phillips and Sears negligently caused his fall and also that they committed a constitutional violation when they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, which he asserts arose from that fall. The Court will first address plaintiff's deliberate indifference claim and will then address plaintiff's negligence claim against the remaining defendants.

To properly state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for depravation of medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S. Ct. 285, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1976); Taylor v. Plousis, 101 F. Supp. 2d 255, 262 (D.N.J. 2000).

The Third Circuit has defined a serious medical need as one that "has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention." Monmouth County Correctional Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 346 (3d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1006, 108 S. Ct. 1731, 100 L. Ed. 2d 195 (1988). A medical need could also be deemed serious when a delay in treatment would result in the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103.

To establish deliberate indifference, plaintiff must demonstrate that the official knew of and disregarded plaintiff's serious medical needs. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837, 114 S. Ct. 1970, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1994)(requiring a level of culpability between the extremes of mere negligence and actual malice); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195 (3rd Cir. 1988)(holding that defendant must have some type of personal involvement in the incidents alleged to have violated plaintiff's rights). Essentially, "plaintiff must establish that each defendant knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate safety." Taylor, 101 F. Supp. 2d at 263 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 537, 114 S. Ct. at 1970).

Plaintiff asserts that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs because they refused to get him immediate medical attention after his fall.

Accepting as true all material facts set forth by the moving defendants in this case, with appropriate record support, however, this Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate on the Eighth Amendment issue. Plaintiff has failed to show that his medical condition was a "serious medical need" and also that defendants were "deliberately indifferent." Mr. Edmonds' back pain, by his own admission, began to decrease after the initial fall. (Edmonds Dep., Tr. 100:2-100:16.) Plaintiff's injury is not obviously classified as a serious medical need. But, even if this Court were to find that it was a serious medical need, plaintiff has failed to show that defendants Phillips and Sears were deliberately indifferent. It is undisputed that plaintiff was not given immediate medical attention after his fall. He did, however, submit a claim form to see a nurse immediately upon his return to Midstate from the work detail, and admittedly was seen and treated by a nurse within one day. (Edmonds Dep., Tr. 42:1-8.) Additionally, as discussed in this Court's earlier Opinion, plaintiff admitted that he received medical examinations, x-rays, and prescriptions on several occasions after his fall. (Compl. at 6-7; Supp. Compl. at 5-6; Edmonds v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections, No. 00-5669, slip op. at 14 (D.N.J. Nov. 26, 2001).)

Just because defendants determined that plaintiff did not require immediate medical attention after his fall does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference. Additionally, defendants properly point out that plaintiff was able to lift chairs and work even after Sgt. Phillips told him not to lift (Edmonds Dep., Tr. 40:9-14) and also that his pain decreased before he received any medical attention (id. Tr. 99:20-100:5), even though he still had some pain during the work detail (id. Tr. 100:5-9). These undisputed facts support the officers' decision that medical care for plaintiff could wait until he returned to Midstate later that day. Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims will therefore be dismissed with prejudice. *fn2

Based on the submissions of defendants, and the lack of any opposition to the motion, this Court finds that there are no genuine issues of material fact remaining as to the issues raised in plaintiff's Complaint and Supplemental Complaint, and that summary judgment in favor of defendants Phillips and Sears on those issues is therefore appropriate. Because defendants Phillips and Sears are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on the remaining claims asserted against them in plaintiff's Complaint and Supplemental Complaint, defendants' motion will be granted and plaintiff's claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

Next the Court will briefly address plaintiff's negligence claims against Sgt. Phillips and Officer Sears. As argued by defendants in the unopposed motion for summary judgment, negligence claims cannot serve as a basis for a claim pursuant to Section 1983. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 106 S. Ct. 662, 88 L. Ed.2d 662 (1986); Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 106 S. Ct. 668, 88 L. Ed.2d 677 (1986). None of plaintiff's allegations about defendants' alleged negligence with the parking of the van rise to a level that can reasonably be said to be the abusive type of conduct that the Due Process Clause was designed to prevent. Therefore, because defendants' actions, as alleged by plaintiff with respect to negligence, cannot be interpreted as intentional acts, plaintiff's negligence claims under Section 1983 will be dismissed with prejudice.

III. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated herein, defendants' motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims alleged against them in plaintiff's Complaint and Supplemental Complaint will be granted, and plaintiff's Complaint and Supplemental Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice.

ORDER

This matter having come before the Court upon the motion of defendants Sgt. Phillips and Officer Sears for summary judgment on the Complaint and Supplemental Complaint, pursuant to Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. P.; and this Court having considered the defendants' submissions; and this Court noting that plaintiff's opposition to this motion was due on May 24, 2002; and the Court noting that no opposition to this summary judgment motion has been filed by plaintiff as of this date; and for the reasons expressed in an opinion of today's date; and for good cause shown;

IT IS this 13th day of June 2002 hereby

ORDERED that the motion of defendants Sgt. Phillips and Officer Sears [Docket Item 65-1]for summary judgment be, and hereby is, GRANTED as unopposed; and

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the remaining claims in plaintiff's Complaint and Supplemental Complaint be, and hereby are, DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


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