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Reuben A. Jacobs, Sr v. Cumberland County Department of Corrections

December 8, 2010

REUBEN A. JACOBS, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
AND COUNTY OF CUMBERLAND BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

SIMANDLE, District Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. [Docket Item 25.] This dispute arises out of a brutal attack suffered by pro se Plaintiff Reuben Jacobs at the hands of other inmates of the Cumberland County Jail while Mr. Jacobs was being held as a pre-trial detainee. The violence of Plaintiff's attack and the apparent half-hearted response by Defendants' employees is concerning to the Court. However, because Plaintiff has not come forward with sufficient evidence to create a material factual dispute regarding either his compliance with the requirements of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. 59:1-1, et seq. ("TCA"), evidence that defendants acted with the requisite deliberate indifference, or evidence of a policy or custom on the part of the named Defendants that caused Plaintiff's injuries, the Court must grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 4, 2007, Plaintiff was being held in the Cumberland County Jail on charges that were subsequently dismissed prior to trial.*fn1 On that date, Plaintiff was assaulted by three or four other inmates in the jail. The assault continued until prison guards arrived at the scene approximately five to ten minutes after it began. Plaintiff sustained severe injuries in the assault including potentially permanent damage to his right eye and left ear, for which he argues Defendants are responsible.

In the evening of August 4, 2007, Plaintiff returned from dinner to the A-Block, a maximum security section of the jail to which he had been assigned earlier in the day. (Jacobs Dep. 12:19-13:11.) He was sitting in a cell talking with another inmate when he was handed a note by an inmate he did not recognize. (Id. at 13:22-25.) The note appeared to be addressed to an inmate named Darius Hudgon and consisted of an instruction to members of the Bloods street gang housed in A-Block: "that Reuben Jacobs is food to all bloods and is to be eaten by the bloods residing in A-Block." (Compl. Supp. Statement at 3.) Shortly after Plaintiff read the note, Darius, its intended recipient, approached Plaintiff and asked whether Plaintiff had a letter for him. (Jacobs Dep. 16:21.) Plaintiff responded by handing Darius the note. (Id. at 16:22.) Plaintiff then stepped from the cell into the A-Block common area, where he was attacked minutes later by Darius and two or three other inmates. (Id. at 17:18-25.)

There were no guards present in the common area when the fight began, but within five to ten minutes, guards arrived at the scene, putting an end to it. (Id. at 18:5-19:17.) The record is devoid of competent evidence that would establish what caused the guards to arrive when they did, but Plaintiff speculates that they came because they could hear the fight from where they were positioned outside of A-Block. (Id. at 19:20-21.) Plaintiff did not apparently call for help from the guards before the attack began. (Id. at 19:18-21.) There is evidence suggesting that the guards did not respond to the fight as quickly as they could have, but instead "took their time to respond to the screams and hollering". (Campbell Statement.) To enter the A-Block common area where the fight took place would require a guard to open multiple locked gates. (Id. at 22:16-22.)

During the course of the fight, Plaintiff sustained several injuries. He was kicked in the right eye, causing sufficient damage to break facial bones, requiring a surgically implanted metal plate and resulting in ongoing vision problems. (Compl. 6; Jacobs Dep. at 19:11-12, 24:12-25.) Additionally, one of the assailants bit off part of Plaintiff's ear, which doctors were unable to subsequently reattach. (Compl. 6; Jacobs Dep. at 24:7.) Plaintiff also states that the attack has left him with frequent headaches and difficulty sleeping. (Compl. 6.)

After the assault, Plaintiff was taken to the Cumberland County Jail infirmary, where he was seen by a nurse who did not reattach the severed portion of his ear. (Compl. Supp. Statement at 3; Jacobs Dep. at 25:14-18.) Plaintiff alleges that he heard the unidentified nurse state that the severed portion of the ear had been improperly stored by one of the prison guards. (Id.) Plaintiff was subsequently sent by ambulance to two separate hospitals to treat his injuries that evening, but his ear was never reattached, allegedly because of the storage of the severed portion of the ear. (Jacobs Dep. at 25:18-27:3.) The record contains only Plaintiff's testimony relating these statements about the storage of his ear; there is no testimony or affidavits from the declarants themselves.

Plaintiff filed his pro se Complaint on January 12, 2009, which was docketed on March 23, 2009. [Docket Items 1 & 9.] Plaintiff named only the Cumberland County Department of Corrections and the County of Cumberland Board of Chosen Freeholders, who were both served on October 30, 2009. [Docket Item 14.] Defendants answered on November 24, 2009. [Docket Item 16.] Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on May 10, 2010. On September 2, 2010, Plaintiff requested an extension of time to file opposition and complained that additional discovery was required to adequately oppose. [Docket Item 30.] The Court granted Plaintiff an extension to file opposition until September 30, 2010 and ordered Defendants to respond to Plaintiff's discovery requests. [Docket Items 31 & 35.] Due to Plaintiff's changes in address, the Court granted both parties further time to comply with the Court's orders; Defendants served the requested discovery material on Plaintiff on November 4, 2010. [Docket Item 40.] On November 22, 2010, the Court again extended Plaintiff's deadline to file opposition, this time to November 29. [Docket Item 42.] Plaintiff's opposition, dated November 25, was received by the Court on December 3, 2010.

The record contains Plaintiff's pro se Complaint and Supplementary Statement; Plaintiff's deposition, taken on April 12, 2010 (attached as Exhibit C to Defendant's motion for summary judgment); the certification of counsel Steven Rothman, attached to Defendant's motion for summary judgment; the certifications of Captain Michael Palau of the Cumberland County Jail and Nurse Genean Pierce of the Cumberland County Department of Corrections, which were included in Defendants' response to the Court's order for additional discovery on November 4, 2010; the signed statement of William R. Campbell, an inmate who witnessed the attack on August 4, 2007 which was attached to Plaintiff's opposition; and the prison log book for A-Block on August 3 and 4, 2007, attached to Plaintiff's opposition.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of ...


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