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Lewis v. Viton

July 31, 2008


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


Plaintiff Andre Lewis ("Plaintiff" or "Lewis"), presently incarcerated at Northern State Prison, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was assaulted by several correctional officers while incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"). Defendants in this matter are Lazaro Viton, Giuseppe Mandora, Gregory Carbonaro, James Liik, Sr., Philip Lampitt, James D'Amore, and Anthony Degner, all correctional officers at NJSP; Sgt. Steve Alaimo, head of the Administrative Segregation Unit at NJSP at the time of the events in the Complaint; Ronald Cathel, Administrator at NJSP at the time, and Devon Brown, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (collectively, "Defendants"). Presently before the Court is a motion by Defendants to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is denied.*fn1

I. Background

According to the Complaint, on the morning of August 7, 2005, defendant correctional officers and Sgt. Alaimo, verbally harassed, threatened to kill, and brutally assaulted Plaintiff while he was being transported to the prison medical unit for his daily insulin shot. Plaintiff states that he had been handcuffed behind his back and had done nothing and said nothing to provoke the assault by Defendants. Lewis alleges that the officers kicked, punched, choked, strangled, and hit him repeatedly after he was slammed to the hard concrete floor. He also alleges that defendants repeatedly slammed his head into the concrete floor while Plaintiff was defenseless, handcuffed, and pinned to the ground. Lewis alleges that defendants Viton, Mandara, Degner and Alaimo verbally threatened plaintiff's life and safety and used racial slurs repeatedly. In particular, Lewis alleges that these defendants threatened to "kill" him in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaint against them in connection with an earlier assault that occurred in March 2005.*fn2 Defendants acknowledge that, as a result of this incident, Lewis sustained injuries that required treatment at a hospital outside the prison.

With respect to the alleged threats made against Plaintiff, Lewis claims that he repeatedly notified Defendant Cathel of these threats. Lewis also alleges that he and his family have repeatedly contacted Brown to complain about the assaults inflicted upon plaintiff in March and August 2005. Lewis alleges that neither Cathel nor Brown did anything to stop these abuses or to protect plaintiff from harm committed by defendant correctional officers who allegedly had a history of violence and abuse.

Defendants dispute Plaintiff's allegations. According to Defendants, while Plaintiff was being escorted to the clinic, Plaintiff made an aggressive move toward one of the officers and, as a result, the other officers were required to restrain Plaintiff. Declaration of Thomas Kemble ("Kemble Decl.") at Ex. B (Special Investigations Division report). As Plaintiff continued to resist, more officers were required to assist in bringing Plaintiff to the ground in order to control him. Id. According to Defendants, several officers responding to the incident received treatment for minor injuries at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, and Plaintiff was transported to Saint Francis Medical Center for treatment of lacerations and contusions.

On August 19, 2005, Plaintiff appeared before a disciplinary hearing officer for adjudication of the following charges stemming from the incident: (1) threat with bodily harm; (2) throwing bodily fluids; (3) conduct which disrupts; and (4) three counts of assault. The hearing officer found Plaintiff guilty of the first three charges. Plaintiff was found not guilty of the three assault counts.

On August 6, 2007, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint asserting claims of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment and common law tort claims of assault and battery against defendants Viton, Mandara, Degner, Liik, D'Amore, Lampitt, Alaimo and Carbonaro. Lewis also asserts an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim with respect to defendants Cathel and Brown.*fn3 All defendants are sued in their individual capacities only.

II. Analysis

A. Standard on a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

The Supreme Court clarified the standard for addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The Twombly Court stated that, "[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]" Id. at 1964-65 (internal citations omitted); see also Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir.2007) (stating that standard of review for motion to dismiss does not require courts to accept as true "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences" or "legal conclusion[s] couched as factual allegation[s]" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Therefore, for a complaint to withstand a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)...." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (internal citations and footnote omitted).

B. Summary Judgment Standard

A court shall grant summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The substantive law identifies which facts are critical or "material." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A material fact raises a "genuine" issue "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict" for the non-moving party. Healy v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 860 F.2d 1209, 1219 n.3 (3d Cir. 1988).

On a summary judgment motion, the moving party must show, first, that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party makes this showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present evidence that a genuine fact issue compels a trial. Id. at 324. In so presenting, the non-moving party may not simply rest on its pleadings, but must offer admissible evidence that establishes a genuine issue of material fact, id., not just "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

The Court must consider all facts and their logical inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The Court shall not "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter," but need determine only whether a genuine issue necessitates a trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. If the non-moving party fails to demonstrate proof beyond a "mere scintilla" of evidence that a genuine issue of material fact ...

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