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Dickson v. County of Gloucester New Jersey

March 27, 2007

ROBERT DICKSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF GLOUCESTER NEW JERSEY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, Senior District Judge.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [16] pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Oral argument on the motion was heard November 21, 2006, and the record of that date is incorporated here. For the reasons stated below, as well as those given during the discussion of November 21, 2006, the motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 27, 2003 at 8:30 a.m., while incarcerated in Gloucester County Jail ("GCJ"), plaintiff Robert Dickson was assaulted by Sha-Ron Jennings ("Jennings"), a fellow prisoner. The assault caused plaintiff severe and permanent physical and psychological injuries. (Pl. Compl. at ¶ 4.)

The altercation between the plaintiff and Jennings arose out of a dispute over tier sanitation. (Def. Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 41.) The plaintiff and Jennings had entered into an agreement regarding a tier sanitation assignment. (Def. Facts at ¶ 47.) Officer Raymond Smith ("Smith"), a correctional officer on duty, told the plaintiff that his tier sanitation assignment was not being performed in an acceptable manner and he risked losing his assignment. (Def. Facts at ¶53.) In the presence of Smith, the plaintiff informed Jennings that their previous agreement regarding the tier sanitation assignment would no longer be honored. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 20-21.) Jennings did not respond. Approximately ten seconds elapsed, and then Jennings assaulted the plaintiff. (Def. Facts at ¶ 56.) The assault occurred in the presence of Smith. In order to strike the plaintiff, Jennings had to lunge past Smith. The blow knocked the plaintiff unconscious. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 24.) The plaintiff alleges that the correctional officer failed to intervene or prevent the assault. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 35.)

After the assault, Jennings ran back to his cell and Smith notified other correctional officers of the incident. Smith then secured the area of the assault and moved the plaintiff out of his cell. At that point, plaintiff complained of his injuries and requested to see a nurse. (Def. Facts at ¶ 57-60.) Within 15 minutes of the incident, Smith took the plaintiff to see a nurse. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 38.) The plaintiff complained of extreme pain. The nurse gave the plaintiff a gauze for his bloody nose and told him to get rest. He received no medication or ice for the pain. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 26.) After resting, the plaintiff was still in extreme pain and noticed that his cheek bone was significantly distorted. (Pl. Facts at ¶39.)

During the lunch hour, the plaintiff complained to corrections officers about the pain he was suffering and requested to go to a hospital. The officers ignored the plaintiff's requests. Over the next day and one-half, the plaintiff made approximately 15 requests to correctional officers for ice and medicine for the pain and medical attention. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 44.) The officers ignored his requests and responded with derogatory remarks. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 44.)

On January 28, 2003 at approximately 5:45 p.m., one of the officers responded to the plaintiff's request for medical attention and took him to see the medical staff in the jail. At approximately 7:00 p.m., the plaintiff was taken to the emergency room at Underwood Memorial Hospital. A CT scan disclosed that the plaintiff had suffered a concussion, a crushed sinus, and a fractured orbital socket. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 45-46.) The plaintiff was released from the hospital on January 28, 2003 and instructed to see a specialist on facial reconstruction within 48 hours. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 46-47.) The plaintiff was released from Gloucester County Jail on January 29, 2003. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 46-47.)

On February 2, 2003, the plaintiff saw Dr. Patrick Hall who concluded that the plaintiff suffered a malar complex fracture as a result of the assault. The plaintiff underwent surgery on February 2, 2003 to correct the fracture. Two plates and 14 screws were placed in the plaintiff's face. Plaintiff asserts, according to the doctor's diagnosis, that the delay of 36 hours from receiving medical attention caused a severance of a nerve in the cheekbone area, which resulted in permanent numbness on the left side of his face. (Pl. Opp. at ¶ 48-49.)

The policy of GCJ for emergency situations is as follows: "To provide emergency first aid, and the fast and secure evacuation of the injured party if necessary; to insure preservation of the crime scene and through investigation of the incident whether accidental or deliberate; to notify the next of kin as soon as possible." (GCJ General Order Ch. 72 section 35, Def. Exh. G.) Sheriff Gilbert Miller testified in his deposition that according to County protocol, if an inmate continually complained about his injuries after an initial examination by the medical staff, the inmate would be allowed to see the medical staff again. (Def. Facts at ¶ 78.)

The plaintiff alleges that Gloucester County through its employees failed to prevent the assault and failed to provide medical attention for approximately 36 hours, thereby exacerbating his injuries. He further asserts GCJ lacked a policy to specifically address his serious medical need, which led to the 36-hour delay in medical treatment. The plaintiff filed a complaint on January 27, 2005 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, alleging violations of the Fourth, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. This case was removed from Gloucester County Superior Court on March 14, 2005 to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. An Order denying plaintiff's Motion to Amend/Correct Complaint was handed down by the Honorable Ann Marie Donio on September 20, 2005.

Defendant Gloucester County moves for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to point to a policy that caused the plaintiff's injury and that the existing policy through its application adequately provides for the safety of the inmates.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment ...


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