Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

LODATO v. ORTIZ

April 16, 2004.

THOMAS LODATO, Plaintiff
v.
ALFARO ORTIZ, et. al., Defendants



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

OPINION

Introduction:

This Matter calls upon the Court to determine whether to grant the Motion for Summary Judgment brought by the Defendants, former Northern State Prison ("NSP") Administrator Alfaro Ortiz, former NSP Assistant Superintendent Russell Henry, and John Does defendants 1, 2, and 3 ("State Defendants"). The Plaintiff, Thomas Lodato ("Lodato"), an inmate in the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("DOC"), currently housed at Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, alleges that the State Defendants violated his first amendment rights when they placed him back into NSP's Administrative Segregation Unit after the Behavior Modification Unit program ("BMU") was discontinued. The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that: 1) Lodato failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; and 2) the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Facts:

 I. Transfer to Administrative Segregation:

  The BMU was a program instituted at NSP on March 20, 2002. It was designed to help reintegrate special needs inmates into the general prison population. Prisoners who were transferred from Administrative Segregation to the BMU were to serve a 30-day trial period. If they were accepted into the BMU program after this trial period, a recommendation was made to the Special Administrative Segregation Review Committee ("SASRC") that the remainder of their Administrative Segregation be suspended. The BMU program was discontinued on May 21, 2002, because of lack of staff.

  Lodato was placed in the BMU on March 22, 2002. On March 21, Defendant Ortiz authorized suspension of Lodato's Administrative Segregation time pending completion of his treatment in the BMU. Although Ortiz' memorandum authorizing this suspension indicated that it was copied to the SASRC, Lodato's classification file, and the Prison Psychology Department, the SASRC states that it initially found no record of the memo. On May 18, 2002, Lodato filed an Inmate Request Form complaining that a corrections officer used excessive force against another prisoner. The prison authorities indicated on the form that the incident was under investigation and that witnesses would be interviewed. About four days later, on or about May 21, 2002, the BMU was discontinued, and the SASRC placed Lodato back into Administrative Segregation. Lodato and his cell mate, Tormu Prall, were the only two prisoners to be transferred to Administrative Segregation after the BMU was discontinued. On June 6, 2002, Lodato filed his initial Complaint with this Court, alleging that he was transferred to Administrative Segregation in retaliation for exercising his first amendment rights, including the filing of grievances.*fn1 About one month later, on July 1, 2002, the SASRC placed Lodato back into the general prison population after it received a copy of Ortiz' memo.

 II. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:

  Lodato asserts that he filed a grievance regarding his transfer to Administrative Segregation, but Peggy Brooks, a prison official responsible for tracking reviews of inmate request forms and administrative request forms (the forms used to file grievances), cannot find a record of it. However, the database she used to check for these requests did not contain a record of two similar grievances filed by Tormu Prall, Lodato's cellmate, despite the fact that there is no dispute that Prall did submit these forms. (Plaintiff has submitted copies of Prall's inmate request forms that Brooks could not locate.) In addition, she relied on a system of numbering that may not actually track all the forms a prisoner submits. The Inmate Request and Administrative Remedy forms that Lodato later submitted in January 2004 do not contain any such number, suggesting that Ms. Brooks' search would not have located these forms either. On these 2004 grievance forms, the prison staff indicated "Reappeal Ad Seg Placement" and "Be advised that according to the records in the IRF dept, you have submitted (1) IRf regarding a classification issue."

  Lodato also asserts that Prall filed a grievance on his behalf, but the Defendants contend that this is not permitted by prison policy. It is uncontested that Lodato's cell mate, Prall, did file an inmate request form on June 23, 2002, in which he complained that both he and Lodato were wrongly placed in Administrative Segregation. The policy for administrative remedy/grievances states, "The ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDY FORM is to be prepared and signed only by the inmate submitting the complaint. Inmates are not to write forms for other inmates or as part of a `Class Action.'" Similarly, the policy regarding inmate request forms states that they are "to be prepared and signed only by the inmate submitting the problem/concern. Inmates are not to write request forms for other inmates."

  However, Lodato asserts that he was entitled to rely on Frail's submission because the prison did not notify inmates of this policy. These policy statements were not distributed to prisoners. Each explicitly states, as a restriction, that "[t]his policy is for exclusive use by staff members of the New Jersey Department of Correction and, [sic] shall at no time, be discussed, disseminated or shown to inmates, parolees or any unauthorized persons." The material regarding Administrative Remedies that was available to Lodato did not so clearly state that prisoners are not entitled to include their claims in grievances filed by other prisoners, although the Inmate Handbook does state that "[t]he Administrative Remedy Procedure is to be used for seeking a remedy that affects the individual personally."

  Moreover, Lodato submitted an inmate request form on May 18, 2002, complaining that a corrections officer used excessive force against another prisoner, and the prison officials did not reject the form on the grounds that Lodato filed it on behalf of another inmate. Nor did the officials provide Lodato with a "Staff Corrective Action Form," which, according to the posted policy, should be used to re-direct or provide information to inmates when they should be using a different, more appropriate form or action in accordance with other Departmental or Institutional policies and/or procedures. Rather, the prison authorities indicated on Lodato's inmate request form that the incident was under investigation and that witnesses would be interviewed.

 Analysis: I. Legal Standard:

  Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), a motion for summary judgment will be granted 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). In other words, "summary judgment may be granted only if there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party." Miller v. Indiana Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case, and an issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; In re Headquarters Dodge, 13 F.3d 674, 679 (3d Cir. 1993).

  All facts and inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Peters v. Delaware River Port Auth., 16 F.3d 1346, 1349 (3d Cir. 1994). The party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of production. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. This requires the moving party to establish either that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party must prevail as a matter of law, or to demonstrate that the non-moving party has ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.