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Brown v. County of Atlantic

June 11, 2010


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


This case concerns plaintiffs' claims that defendants violated their federal and state constitutional rights, as well as acted negligently, when they were allegedly exposed to Tuberculosis (TB)*fn1 at Atlantic County Justice Facility (ACJF) in October 2006. Shortly after the lead case was filed by several plaintiffs in February 2007, numerous additional complaints were filed pro se by other inmates claiming the same damages.*fn2 Pro bono counsel was appointed to all the pro se plaintiffs who wished to be represented by such counsel. During the pendency of these cases, which were consolidated for discovery purposes, many actions were either settled*fn3 or dismissed. Presently, 28 cases remain (35 plaintiffs in total), all of which are the subject of defendants' motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs have opposed defendants' motions. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be granted.


Plaintiffs, inmates at ACJF in October 2006, allege that they were exposed to TB when inmate and fellow plaintiff, Mateen Dennis, entered ACJF on October 7, 2006 with active TB, and remained in the general population until October 27, 2006, when he was transferred to Shore Memorial Hospital. During this time, Dennis was housed in the area of the jail identified as F Left.

Dennis's medical records indicate that when he entered ACJF he informed the medical staff that he had suffered from TB in the past, he had been treated for TB, but he had "run out of meds." Nonetheless, Dennis was cleared to enter the general population because a TB test was read as "negative" and because a physical examination revealed his health to be "normal." During the three weeks he was housed in F Left, however, Dennis exhibited "bad cold"-like symptoms, and was "coughing up dark sputum." On October 26, 2006, Dennis was given a chest x-ray, which revealed active TB.

Dennis and numerous other inmates ultimately filed suit against ACJF officials and staff and the County of Atlantic. They claim that defendants violated the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment (applicable to convicted inmates), the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of adequate medical care to pretrial detainees, as well as the analog New Jersey state constitutional protections. Plaintiffs also claim that defendants are liable for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment in their favor on several bases. In addition to arguing that plaintiffs' claims are barred as a matter of law, specifically with regard to the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, overridingly, defendants argue that plaintiffs have not, and cannot, prove that they suffered any damages. Plaintiffs counter that the issue of damages is for the jury to decide.

To facilitate the analysis of the numerous plaintiffs' claims, the parties have agreed to a categorization of each plaintiff's status relative to Mateen Dennis:

Category A - Plaintiffs who were never incarcerated at any time in F Left.*fn4

Category B - Plaintiffs who were incarcerated in F Left, but not during the period of time that Mateen Dennis was incarcerated and allegedly contagious.*fn5

Category C - Plaintiffs who were incarcerated in F Left with Mateen Dennis.*fn6

Category D - Plaintiffs who were incarcerated in F Left with Mateen Dennis, but who prior to that incarceration previously had been diagnosed has having latent TB.*fn7

As noted above, despite these categorizations, it is undisputed that none of the remaining plaintiffs contracted TB, in either its active or latent form, while at ACJF.


A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs have brought their claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as pursuant to the New Jersey constitution and New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

B. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

C. Analysis

All the remaining plaintiffs claim that their constitutional rights were violated, and they suffered emotional distress, by their exposure to TB at ACJF, except for Mateen Dennis, who claims constitutional and tort law violations concerning how ACJF handled his active TB status when he arrived and while he was ...

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