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Johnson v. Harron

November 13, 2008


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



This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendants Richard P. Harron, Warden of Cape May County Jail, John F. Callinan,*fn1 Sheriff of Cape May County, and Cape May County ("Defendants"), against Plaintiff Jacob Johnson ("Plaintiff") [Docket Item 31]. Plaintiff, formerly an inmate at Cape May County Jail ("Cape May"), seeks a remedy for the poor conditions he asserts he endured while in jail and Defendants' alleged refusal to permit him to file a grievance. Defendants' motion is unopposed. As set out in detail below, the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants as to Plaintiff's federal claims under the Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those state law claims presented in his complaint.


A. Facts

Plaintiff brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New Jersey common law based on the treatment he allegedly received while held at Cape May County Jail from August 12, 2006 through February 1, 2007. (Pl. Dep. at 13.) Specifically, he asserts that Defendants forced him to live in conditions that violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment, that Defendants prevented him from filing grievances in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that Defendants were both negligent and reckless in their treatment of Plaintiff and thus liable under tort law. (Compl. at 2-6.) Because this Court reviews the facts on a motion for summary judgment, it will assumes Plaintiff's evidence to be true and make all reasonable inferences in his favor.*fn2

Plaintiff, eighteen years old at the time, arrived at Cape May on August 12, 2006 to serve a criminal sentence. (Pl. Dep. at 29; Defs. Ex. D.) Officers placed Plaintiff in Dorm 6, a room with twelve bunks that was holding about sixteen people when Plaintiff arrived. (Pl. Dep. at 29.) He spent his first night in jail lying on the concrete floor, along with several others, with a sheet provided by Cape May officers. (Id.) He did not sleep at all that night. (Id.) After twenty-four hours, officers transferred Plaintiff to Dorm 12 where he slept on a bunk for three days. (Id. at 30.)

Finally, officers brought Plaintiff to House 6, a pod with twelve cells and originally designed for twelve people. (Id.) At the time Plaintiff arrived in House 6, there were twenty-four inmates held there. (Id.) Each cell had only one bunk, so half of the inmates had to sleep on the floor. (Id.) Jail personnel assigned Plaintiff to sleep on the floor of Cell D and he used the three-inch thick mattress given to him in Dorm 12. (Id. at 31, 33, 54, 60.) The unit had only three tables, with four chairs to each table, so that only half the population could eat at a table. (Id. at 54.) The inmates rotated who had to eat in their cells, and thus at some points during his incarceration Plaintiff was eating on his mattress on the floor of his cell. (Id.)

After about a month in Cell D, officers moved Plaintiff at his request to Cell J, because of a conflict with his cell-mate. (Id. at 32-33.) The mattress came with him and again personnel assigned Plaintiff to the floor. (Id. at 54.) Jail personnel gave him a sheet, a little blanket, and one pillow with a pillowcase. (Id. at 54-55.) About once a week he received a clean sheet and pillowcase. (Id. at 55.) The mattress did not prevent Plaintiff from feeling the hard concrete beneath him and he was only able to sleep for about four hours a night. (Id. at 41.)

The logistics of fitting two people in one cell at Cape May were as follows: Cell J was approximately eight feet long and five feet wide. (Id. at 38.) The bunk hung off the wall twelve inches above the ground. (Id. at 39.) If Plaintiff wanted to sleep during the day, he had to crawl under the bunk and stay in one position, and then crawl out again. (Id.) Because of the close-quarters, one night around Thanksgiving Plaintiff's cell-mate climbed out of his bunk in the middle of the night and stepped on Plaintiff's right elbow, exacerbating an old injury and causing throbbing pain so that Plaintiff couldn't sleep for two days. (Id. at 10, 14, 39.) There was a toilet attached to the back wall of the cell, facing the door of the cell. (Id. at 39-40.) Plaintiff, afraid of having his head smashed between the gates of the cell when they were opened, preferred to sleep with his head towards the back wall. (Id. at 40.) Because of the size of the cell, Plaintiff was forced to sleep close to the toilet. (Id. at 38.) Approximately twelve times during his time at Cape May, Plaintiff was awoken in the middle of the night by his cell-mates urine, splashing on him while his cell-mate used the toilet. (Id.) After the first time Plaintiff was urinated on, he turned around and risked his head towards the door, but he could still feel the urine on his feet. (Id. at 40, 44.) Plaintiff's feet were basically touching the toilet. (Id. at 44.)

Prisoners were responsible for cleaning the day area and the bathroom as well as their cells. (Id. at 51-52.) Every morning officers gave the inmates a mop and a bucket with a little bit of bleach to share amongst themselves and the inmates took turns cleaning the day area. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that, no matter what they did, the jail was still filthy from built-up dirt, mildew, and mold over the years. (Id. at 53.) While Plaintiff was at the jail, inmates began getting cysts from the unsanitary conditions, and so twice while Plaintiff was at Cape May he along with all the inmates in his dorm were moved to another room for the day, while jail personnel cleaned the dorm with bleach. (Id. at 28.) Due to the outbreak of cysts, inmates were also provided with cleaning products for their mattresses. (Id. at 55.) Plaintiff himself never developed sores from his mattress. (Id. at 29.)

On two occasions, jail personnel asked Plaintiff to participate in a work program, to work off days of his sentence and, with the first offer, was promised a bunk. (Id. at 34-37.) Plaintiff declined both offers because he had already been granted parole for February 1st and could not earn any more days off his sentence. (Id. at 37.) Plaintiff asserts that did not believe that he would actually be given his own bunk and, in fact, when his friend Johnny Perkins took the job, he did not get a bunk and remained in the same unit as Plaintiff. (Id. at 58.)

Plaintiff attempted to file a grievance six or seven times to complain about sleeping on the floor and the unsanitary living conditions. (Id. at 21.) Each time he asked an officer for a grievance form or expressed his concerns, the officer would put him off - saying there was nothing they could do or suggesting they would help later. (Id. 21-22, 25-26.) According to a handbook prison officials gave Plaintiff, there was meant to be a formal grievance procedure at Cape May, but none of the officers helped Plaintiff file his grievances. (Id. at 20-22, 25-26.) In addition, at some point Plaintiff along with numerous other inmates spoke with a lieutenant and complained about being forced to sleep on the floor, but the lieutenant said there was nothing they could do about it. (Id. at 46.) However, Plaintiff never complained to any officer about being urinated on. (Id. at 44-45.)

Plaintiff twice saw Defendant Harron walking around Cape May, but did not have a chance to speak to him about his concerns. (Id. at 49.) There is nothing in the record to suggest that Plaintiff had any contact with Defendant Callinan.

Plaintiff states that since he left Cape May, he has seen pictures of the facilities that show there are now ...

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