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Francisco Didiano v. Karen Balicki

April 18, 2011

FRANCISCO DIDIANO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KAREN BALICKI, SOUTH WOODS STATE PRISON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION (Docket No. 6)

OPINION

This matter arises out of the alleged assault of a state prisoner by a fellow inmate. Presently before the Court is the motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Karen Balicki and South Woods State Prison ("SWSP"). (Doc. No. 6). During his incarceration at SWSP, Plaintiff was severely injured when his cellmate poured boiling water onto his face. As a result of that incident, Plaintiff asserted claims against the prison superintendent and the prison for violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), and deprivations of his Eighth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff claims that Defendants breached their duty to ensure that he was safe from unprovoked attacks by allowing an inmate with known psychological problems to remain in the general prison population. Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's claims because:

(1) both Balicki and SWSP are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution, and (2) Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust all available administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner's Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an inmate in the New Jersey Department of Corrections (the "Department") currently incarcerated at SWSP. Karen Balicki served as the Administrator of SWSP during the events giving rise to this dispute.

On December 19, 2008, Plaintiff's cellmate, Duan Howard, boiled water in a modified, prison-issued pot and poured the water onto Plaintiff while he was sleeping. As a result, Plaintiff sustained permanent injuries. At the time of the assault, prison officials classified Howard as a prisoner with special mental health needs. Plaintiff does not allege that Balicki was personally aware of Howard's mental condition. Immediately after the incident, Plaintiff was transferred to the South Jersey Regional Medical Center, where he received treatment for his injuries. After he was discharged from the hospital, Plaintiff was transferred to Northern State Prison ("NSP"). On January 29, 2009, Plaintiff was transferred back to SWSP.

A.The New Jersey Department of Corrections Grievance System

Plaintiff was incarcerated at NSP from December 19, 2008 through January 29, 2009. The Department requires all correctional institutions to provide inmates with a departmentally-approved procedure for resolving complaints. N.J. Admin. Code § 10:8-1.1 to -3.6. Pursuant to the New Jersey Administrative Code § 10A:8-1.1 to -3.6, NSP developed and issued an Inmate Handbook, which established an inmate administrative grievance procedure. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 3). The administrative grievance procedure provided inmates with a mechanism they could use to bring complaints, problems, and suggestions to the attention of correctional facility staff for resolution. (Id. ¶ 4). The inmate population at NSP learned the procedures for filing an administrative grievance through the Inmate Handbook. (Id. ¶ 5).

Prior to seeking judicial relief, inmates are required to use the Inmate Remedy System. To commence a grievance using the Inmate Remedy System, an inmate must complete the Inmate Remedy System Form and deposit the form into a collection box. (Id. ¶ 7; Defs. Br. Ex. A). Inmates in the Protective Custody Unit are required to give their completed forms to their social worker, area custody supervisor, or mental health worker for processing. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 8; Defs. Br. Ex. A). Pursuant to state regulations, SWSP is required to provide illiterate inmates with assistance for each step of the Inmate Remedy System. N.J. Admin. Code § 10A:1-4.4(j).

After the forms are consolidated, the Inmate Remedy System Coordinator distributes them to the appropriate department supervisor for investigation. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 12; Defs. Br. Ex. A). The department head investigates the report and issues a response. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 9; Defs.' Br. Ex. A). An inmate may appeal the response by completing the appeal section of the Inmate Remedy System Form no more than ten days after he receives the response. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 11; Defs. Br. Ex. C at 56). The Administrator renders appeals decisions. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 15; Defs. Br. Exs. B, C). An inmate who receives a response to his administrative appeal has exhausted his administrative remedies. (Pedalino Decl. ¶ 16; Defs. Br. Exs. B, C).

B.Plaintiff's Grievance

Plaintiff submitted three Inmate Remedy System Forms on April 16, 2009. Because Plaintiff has difficulty writing and speaking English, a "prison paralegal" assisted him with completing the Inmate Remedy System Forms. There is no evidence that the "prison paralegal" is an employee of the Department, or an employee of the State of New Jersey. In the Inmate Remedy System Forms, Plaintiff complained: (1) that he was severely injured by a fellow inmate; (2) that the prison officials were negligent in administering medical care and treatment; (3) that prison officials failed to "properly inspect and adhere to safety standards"; and (4) that prison officials should not have allowed Howard into the general population because of his status as a special needs inmate. (Pl.'s Br. Ex. A). After he submitted the Inmate Remedy System Forms, Plaintiff received a Corrective Action Form from the Department. The Corrective Action Form identified deficiencies in Plaintiff's Inmate Remedy System Form, and provided Plaintiff with specific instructions for correcting those deficiencies. The Corrective Action Form instructed Plaintiff to: (1) submit a Health Services Request Form; (2) resubmit the Inmate Remedy Form with more specific information; and (3) speak with the housing unit sergeant. (Pl.'s Br. Ex. B Corrective Action Form).

There is no evidence that Plaintiff complied with those instructions. Moreover, there is no evidence that Plaintiff asked a prison official to help him interpret the Corrective Action Form within ten days after he received the form. Instead, Plaintiff claims that the prison paralegal told him that the Corrective Action Form stated that prison officials wanted to meet with him, and counseled him to wait until the officials scheduled the meeting before taking action. (Didiano Decl. ¶ 11). No prison official contacted Plaintiff to schedule a meeting.

In early May or June 2009, Plaintiff met with a "prison health professional/psychologist" in the medical wing of SWSP. During Plaintiff's conversation with that official, Plaintiff informed the official that he submitted the Inmate Remedy System Forms and received a Corrective Action Form. Plaintiff then asked the prison psychologist to contact other prison officials to determine when they planned to schedule the meeting. That psychologist did not contact any other prison official to determine the time, date, and location of Plaintiff's meeting, or otherwise assist Plaintiff with pursuing his administrative claim.

C.The Pending Action

On July 30, 2010, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in state court against Defendants Karen Balicki and SWSP alleging that Defendants failed to protect him from an assault by a fellow inmate. On September 1, 2010, Defendants removed the matter to this Court. On October 28, 2010, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. The parties submitted their respective briefs and the motion is ripe for review.

II. STANDARD*fn1

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When the Court weighs the evidence presented by the parties, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255.

The burden of establishing the nonexistence of a "genuine issue" is on the party moving for summary judgment. Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, 1080 (3d Cir. 1996). The moving party may satisfy its burden either by "produc[ing] evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" or by "'showing' -- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that ...


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