United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 23, 2005.
MICHAEL ALFORD Plaintiff
DAVID OWEN, et al. Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDA WOLFSON, Magistrate Judge
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] OPINION
This matter comes before the Court on Defendant David Owen's
Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.
Plaintiff Michael Alford alleges violations of his Fourteenth
Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for inadequate
medical care at Camden County Correctional Facility ("CCCF") and
Defendants' failure to protect him from other inmates. This Court
has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons
discussed herein, the Court grants Defendant's Motion in its
entirety, and will grant summary judgment sua sponte to
Officers Joe Doe (1-10).*fn1 I. BACKGROUND
Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the Camden County
Correctional Facility ("CCCF") in Camden, N.J., on April 21,
2001, the date of the incident that is the subject of Plaintiff's
Complaint. Deposition of Michael Alford, Exhibit 4 to Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. Exh.") at 6:16-24. Plaintiff
shared a cell in the 5 South "E" block with two other inmates,
Roger Thornton and Miguel Figueroa. Certification of Sergeant
Kenneth Cunningham, Def. Exh. 5, at ¶ 4. The cell contained a
bunk bed, which was occupied by Thornton and Figueroa; Plaintiff
slept on a mattress on the floor. Id. at 19:3-13. At the time
of the incident, Plaintiff had lived in this cell for
approximately a month. Id. at 18:4-16. Plaintiff got along well
with Thornton and Figueroa, and was teaching Thornton how to
read. Id. at 19:23-20:5; 21:1-18.
On the morning of April 2, 2001, Thornton awoke early to watch
television in the day room adjacent to the cell. Id. at
21:21-22:6. Plaintiff claims that Thornton often woke up early,
but that he and Figueroa slept until around lunch time. Id. at
22:1-2. Plaintiff alleges that on that morning he was having
trouble sleeping because of the noise of the television. Id. at
22:6-12. Plaintiff claims that he asked Thornton to turn the
volume on the television down, but that Thornton became very
defensive and refused to lower the volume. Id. at 22:9-23:17.
Plaintiff tried to fall back asleep, but a few minutes later got
up from bed, went into the day room, lowered the volume, and
returned to bed. Id. at 23:19-22. A few minutes later Thornton
raised the volume again and then argued with Plaintiff about the
television. Id. at 23:22-24. At no time during these events did
Plaintiff attempt to complain to any of the prison guards or
staff. Id. at 88:2-14; 90:2-24.
Once the volume was turned up, Plaintiff decided to get up
because he was unable to sleep. Id. at 25:17-19. Plaintiff
washed up, got dressed, and then sat down in a chair in the day
room to watch television with Thornton. Id. at 23:19-25;
24:1-16; 25:19-26:8. Plaintiff alleges that Thornton then left
the day room and went back into the cell, without speaking to
Plaintiff. Id. at 27:16-19. A few minutes after Thornton left,
Plaintiff lowered the volume on the television and continued to
watch it. Id.
Thornton returned to the room where Plaintiff was watching
television, walked directly up to him, and began punching
Plaintiff repeatedly. Id. at 28:1-30:23. Plaintiff wrapped his
arms around Thornton and pushed him into the wall under the
television. Id. at 31:1-20. With his head in Thornton's chest,
still fighting, Plaintiff heard a gritting sound and felt
Thornton bite down on his ear. Id. at 31:21-34:21.
Plaintiff cried out in pain, causing the other inmates to watch
what was happening. Id. at 38:15-25. Inmates banged on the
doors to get a correctional officer to come break up the fight.
Id. at 39:5-9. Approximately two to three minutes later,
Officer Manuel Rolon came to the cell and separated Plaintiff and
Thornton. Id. at 39:12-23. As Rolon approached the cell, other
inmates told Plaintiff that Thornton had bitten his ear off.
Id. at 40:17-41:3. Plaintiff felt his ear, saw he was bleeding,
and discovered that Thornton had bitten part of his ear off.
Id. at 41:4-6; 41:24-42:2.
Plaintiff began looking down to search for the piece of his ear
that was missing. Id. at 41:7-11. Officer Rolon grabbed
Plaintiff by the arm and told him that he needed to be taken to
medical department. Id. at 42:18-43:3. Plaintiff pushed away
from Rolon, saying that he needed to search for his ear. Id. at 43:15-18. Rolon grabbed Plaintiff
again, this time not letting him go, and insisted that Plaintiff
go to the medical department. Id. at 44:14-45:1. After
continuing to look down for his ear for a minute or two,
Plaintiff went with Officer Rolon to the medical department.
Id. at 46:1-6.
After being examined by a doctor in the medical department,
Plaintiff was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden.
Id. at 51:20-53:2. At the hospital, the remaining part of his
ear was stitched up. Id. at 53:7-12. The doctor who treated
Plaintiff at the hospital recommended that he see Dr. Scott Busch
the next day for his injuries. Id. at 55:21-22; 56:8-12. The
officer accompanying Plaintiff informed the doctor that there is
a required procedure to be followed before making an appointment.
Id. at 56:13-15. Plaintiff was taken back to CCCF that day and
housed in the medical block. Id. at 57:8-14. Plaintiff was
given a disciplinary report as a result of the incident. Id. at
57:15-17. He attended a disciplinary hearing a few days later,
where he was found guilty of having an "altercation." Id. at
Sergeant Kenneth Cunningham was on duty the day of the incident
and was informed by Officer Rolon that he was taking Plaintiff to
the medical department. Def. Exh. 5 at ¶ 2. After another
sergeant who was on duty told him the details of the incident,
Cunningham went to the block where the incident took place and
found Figueroa outside his cell searching for the ear. Id. at ¶
3, ¶ 4. Figueroa told Cunningham that Thornton had "bit off
Michael's ear and ate it." Id. at ¶ 5. Cunningham asked
Thornton about it and searched his mouth for signs of the ear.
Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. He then searched the cell area, the day room,
and the area between the security grates and the windows in the
day room with Rolon and two investigators from the Internal
Affairs department. Id. at ¶ 8-13. None of them found any sign
of Plaintiff's ear. Id. Several days later, Plaintiff was taken to Dr. Busch. Def. Exh.
4 at 64:15-19. Dr. Busch said that cartilage would be taken from
Plaintiff's ribs and used to construct a new ear, but that the
ear needed to heal for a month before any reconstructive surgery
could be done. Id. at 64:21-65:10. Busch told Plaintiff that
the reconstruction process would take up to a year. Id. at
65:10-11. Plaintiff went back to Dr. Busch to have the stitches
in his ear removed approximately nine or ten days later. Id. at
66:20-67:4. Plaintiff was told by Dr. Busch that the work that
would be done depended on how much county insurance would cover.
Id. at 67:16-19.
Plaintiff had his first surgery at Cooper Hospital
approximately a year after the incident in 2002. Id. at
69:13-14; 69:14-18. A second surgery was performed the same year,
and a third surgery was performed around a year after the first.
Id. at 71:1-72:10. Following the surgeries, Plaintiff has
undergone daily treatments where the ear is flushed with peroxide
and saline to prevent infection. Id. at 76:6-18. Plaintiff has
had infections in his ear since the surgeries. Id. at
72:25-73:8. Because infected sections of the ear continuously
have to be removed, there is a possibility that future surgeries
will be required. Id. at 73:9-11.
Prior to his surgeries, Plaintiff had intense pain in his ear,
but no problem hearing out of the ear. Id. at 75:8; 81:18-82:4.
Following the surgeries, Plaintiff's pain has not been as
intense. Id. However, Plaintiff claims that the daily treatment
is painful. Id. at 75:21-24. Additionally, he gets occasional,
intense headaches that feel like a throbbing in his ear. Id. at
76:24-77:7. He cannot sleep on his side without pain from the
ear. Id. at 75:14-18; 78:4-9. Plaintiff also complains of a
constant ringing sound from the affected ear. Id. at 74:8-75:8.
Plaintiff also claims that he suffered emotional injuries prior
to his surgery because of the embarrassment of having only one
ear and ridicule from the other inmates. Id. at 82:9-83:14. II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on February 24, 2003,
naming as Defendants Joe Doe (1-10), Officers at CCCF; and David
S. Owen, Jr., Warden of CCCF.*fn2 On March 12, 2003, the
Court granted Plaintiff's application for in forma pauperis
status. Defendants initially filed their Motion for Summary
Judgment on July 30, 2004. On January 19, 2005, the Court denied
without Prejudice Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment because
Defendants had failed to provide Plaintiff with documents
requested in discovery. Defendants filed the instant Motion for
Summary Judgment on March 30, 2005.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A genuine issue of
material fact is one that will permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). To show that a genuine issue of material fact exists, the
nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations, but must
present actual evidence in support thereof. Id. at 249 (citing
First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Svc. Co., 391 U.S. 253,
290 (1968)). In evaluating the evidence, the Court must "view the
inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the light
most favorable to the [nonmoving] party." Curley v. Klem,
298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Bartnicki v. Vopper,
200 F.3d 109, 114 (3d Cir. 1999)).
Because Plaintiff is appearing pro se, his pleadings are to
be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972). However, even though pro se pleadings are entitled to
liberal construction, the Plaintiff must still set forth facts
sufficient to survive summary judgment. Kaiser v. Bailey, 2003
WL 21500339, at *3 (D.N.J. July 1, 2003).
B. Fourteenth Amendment Claims*fn3 The Court liberally construes the allegations in the complaint
as two separate violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due
process rights pursuant to § 1983: (1) that the Camden County
Department of Corrections ("CCDC") exhibited deliberate
indifference to his medical needs; and (2) that the CCDC and
individual officers failed to protect him from a substantial risk
of harm from other inmates.*fn4
1. Inadequate Medical Care
Pretrial detainees' Fourteenth Amendment claims for inadequate
medical care are analyzed under the "deliberate indifference"
standard employed in Eighth Amendment cases. See Natale v.
Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 581-582 (3d
Cir. 2003) ("In previous cases, we have found no reason to apply
a different standard than that set forth in Estelle. . . . We
therefore evaluate Natale's Fourteenth Amendment claim for
inadequate medical care under the standard used to evaluate
similar claims under the Eighth Amendment."); Simmons v. City of
Philadelphia, 947 F.2d 1042, 1067 (3d Cir. 1991), cert.
denied, 503 U.S. 985 (1992); Brown v. Borough of
Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 278 (3d. Cir. 1990); Taylor v.
Plousis, 101 F. Supp.2d 255, 262 n. 3 (D.N.J. 2000). See
also Hubbard, 399 F.3d at 166, n. 22.
The Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual
punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates with
adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 1999). In
order to set forth a cognizable claim for a violation of his
right to adequate medical care, an inmate must demonstrate: (1) a
serious medical need; and (2) behavior on the part of prison
officials that constitutes deliberate indifference to that need.
Estelle, 492 U.S. at 106; Natale, 318 F.3d at 582.
To satisfy the first prong of the Estelle inquiry, the inmate
must demonstrate that his medical needs are serious. "Because
society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified
access to health care, deliberate indifference to medical needs
amounts to an Eighth Amendment violation only if those needs are
`serious.'" Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). A
serious medical need has been defined by the Third Circuit as (1)
"one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring
treatment;" (2) "one that is so obvious that a lay person would
recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention;" or (3) one for
which "the denial of treatment would result in the unnecessary
and wanton infliction of pain" or "a life-long handicap or
permanent loss." Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 272-273 (3d
Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted); see
also Lanzaro, 834 F.2d at 347. Here, Plaintiff's missing ear
here is clearly a serious need, that if untreated would have
resulted in a permanent physical loss. In addition, Plaintiff had
been diagnosed by Dr. Busch as requiring reconstructive surgery.
The second element of the Estelle test requires an inmate to
show that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to
his serious medical need. "Deliberate indifference" is more than
mere malpractice or negligence; it is a state of mind equivalent
to reckless disregard of a known risk of harm. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837-38 (1994). A prisoner's subjective
dissatisfaction with his medical care does not in itself indicate
deliberate indifference. Andrews v. Camden County,
95 F.Supp.2d 217, 228 (D.N.J. 2000). Similarly, "mere disagreements over medical judgment do not state Eighth Amendment claims." White v.
Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 110 (3d Cir. 1990). Deliberate
indifference has been established where prison officials: (1)
know of a prisoner's need for medical treatment but intentionally
refuse to provide it; (2) delay medical treatment for non-medical
reasons; or (3) prevent a prisoner from receiving needed or
recommended treatment. See Rouse, 182 F.3d at 197.
Here, Plaintiff has not demonstrated deliberate indifference.
Plaintiff was taken to the hospital immediately after the
incident, where he had his ear stitched up; he was taken to Dr.
Busch for an evaluation several days later, and then again to
have his stitches removed. Plaintiff has had three reconstructive
surgeries and continuous treatment since the injury, and receives
daily treatments for his ears to prevent infection. Although
Plaintiff argues that his surgery was unreasonably delayed, he
has failed to demonstrate that the surgery needed to be done
sooner or that he suffered unnecessary pain because of it.
Plaintiff admits that no doctor associated with his surgery told
him that having the surgery a year after the injury had any
effect on the severity of his current pain. Def. Exh. 4 at
78:20-80:20. Plaintiff's disagreement with prison medical
authorities about the timing of his surgery does not indicate
that CCDC knew of a need for earlier surgery and refused to
provide it.*fn5 The Court therefore grants summary judgment
to Defendants based on Plaintiff's claim of inadequate medical
care. Plaintiff also has argued that he suffered emotional injuries
because he was subjected to humiliation by the other inmates
because he was missing an ear for a year while awaiting his first
reconstructive surgery. In a § 1983 action, damages "may include
not only out-of-pocket loss and other monetary harms, but also
such injuries as `impairment to reputation . . ., personal
humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering.'" Allah v.
Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 250 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Memphis
Community Sch. Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 307 (1986)).
However, damages may only be awarded to compensate for actual
injury suffered as the result of the violation of a
constitutional right. Id. Thus, because Plaintiff has not
demonstrated that CCDC was deliberately indifferent to his
medical needs as a result of the delay in surgery, he is unable
to recover damages based upon "emotional distress" resulting from
2. Failure to Protect
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants failed to protect him
from attacks from other prisoners. Because Plaintiff was a
pretrial detainee at the time of the incident, his claims are
analyzed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
under the standard set forth in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520
(1979): whether pretrial detainees are adequately protected from
"punishment," as opposed to protection from punishment that is
"cruel and unusual" under the Eighth Amendment. Hubbard,
399 F.3d at 166. Again, however, as a practical matter, courts have
analyzed claims of failure to protect under the "deliberate
indifference" standard set forth in Eighth Amendment
jurisprudence, as the due process rights of a pretrial detainee
are at least as great as the Eighth Amendment rights of a
convicted prisoner. See, e.g., Turner v. Cupp,
238 F.3d 424, 2000 WL 1141423, at *2 (6th Cir. Aug. 4, 2000)
(unpublished decision); Lopez v. LeMaster, 172 F.3d 756, 759 n.
2 (10th Cir. 1999); Doe v. Washington County, 150 F.3d 920,
922 (8th Cir. 1998); Ervin v. Mangum, 127 F.3d 1099, 1997 WL
664606, at *4 (4th Cir. Oct. 27, 1997) (unpublished
Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials have a duty to
provide humane conditions of confinement, including personal
safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). Prison
officials must take reasonable measures "to protect prisoners
from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Id. at 833
(internal quotations omitted). "Being violently assaulted in
prison is simply `not a part of the penalty that criminal
offenders pay for their offenses against society.'" Id. at 834
(quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).
Negligence, or a lack of due care under the circumstances, is
insufficient to support a claim that Defendants failed to protect
Plaintiff. Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347 (1986).
Plaintiff must show that he is "incarcerated under conditions
posing a substantial risk of harm," and that prison officials
knew of and disregarded "an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833, 837. "[T]he official must
both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn
that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also
draw the inference." Id. at 837. A prison official or jailor,
when faced with the knowledge of a substantial risk of serious
harm to a prisoner, must take "reasonable measures to abate it"
or his inaction will constitute deliberate indifference to that
risk. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847.
Plaintiff's failure to protect claim is based upon allegations
that (1) the overcrowded conditions at CCCF increased the risk of
altercations between the prisoners; (2) that he is a sex offender
who should not have been placed in the general prison population;
and (3) that despite Plaintiff's calls for help in an area
staffed by four corrections officers, none of them came to his
immediate assistance. Plaintiff has failed to present any evidence that overcrowded
conditions posed a substantial risk of harm to the prisoners,
simply stating that his deposition that "it's just [his] belief."
Def. Exh. 4 at 97:5-8. With respect to his allegation that he was
a sex offender who should not have been placed in the general
prison population, Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that
prison officials knew that this placed him at substantial risk of
serious harm. To the contrary, Plaintiff said that prior to the
assault, he and Thornton "got along pretty good. I was trying to
help him learn to read," and that he "got along . . . fine" with
his other cellmate, Figueroa." Def. Exh. 4 at 20:1-5. Prior to
April 2, nothing happened between Plaintiff and Thornton, or
between Plaintiff and Figueroa to make him concerned about his
safety. Id. at 20:62-1:18.
Plaintiff also fails to demonstrate that the guards were aware
of the incident with Thornton and failed to protect him by coming
to his assistance any sooner than they did. Plaintiff did not
alert them to the dispute between him and Thornton during the
period in which they were each adjusting the volume on the
television. Def. Exh. 4 at 88:2-14; 90:2-24. Officers were first
alerted to the dispute when Plaintiff screamed in pain as
Thornton bit off his ear, and when other inmates began beating on
the doors to get their attention immediately thereafter. Id. at
38:15-25; 39:5-11. Plaintiff estimates that two minutes passed
from the bite to when Officer Rolon entered the cell. Id. at
39:12-23. In the absence of any other evidence, a two minute
delay in response does not support Plaintiff's claim that the
guards were aware of a substantial risk and failed to respond.
The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff has failed to create a
genuine issue of material fact that Defendants failed to protect
him from harm, and grants summary judgment to Defendants. III. CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted. An appropriate order will follow.