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Troy D., and O'neill S v. Mickens

August 25, 2011

TROY D., AND O'NEILL S., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MICKENS, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiffs Troy D. ("Troy") and O'Neill S. ("O'Neill") initiated this action seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief, for injuries they suffered while in the custody of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission ("JJC").*fn1 Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to excessive room isolation and deprived of necessities such as medical care, mental health treatment, proper clothing, and nutrition, in violation of their substantive and procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.*fn2 Pending before the Court are Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, Motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 by the Mental Health Providers and by the JJC Defendants.*fn3

I.

A.

On February 25, 2009, Troy, then 15 years old, was adjudicated delinquent by the Superior Court of New Jersey and committed to the custody of the JJC.*fn4 (Am. Compl. ¶ 75.) Troy remained in custody until October 7, 2009, for a total of 225 days.*fn5 (Id. at ¶ 81.) For approximately 178 to 188 of those days, Troy was held in isolation under a special observation status requiring close or constant watch, purportedly for his own safety. (Id. at ¶ 82; JJC Defs' Br. in Support at 17-18.)

On February 27, 2009, O'Neill, then 16 years old, was adjudicated delinquent for conspiracy to distribute CDS*fn6 and committed to the custody of the JJC.*fn7 (Id. at ¶ 121.) Between June 2009 and October 2010, O'Neill was held in isolation for approximately 50 days, awaiting hearings for alleged disciplinary violations.*fn8 (Id. at ¶ 126.) The practice of isolating juveniles prior to disciplinary hearings is referred to as "pre-hearing room restriction." (Id. at ¶ 128.)

While Plaintiffs were placed in isolation for different reasons, the conditions they experienced were similar. Each was confined to a seven-foot-by-seven-foot room and allowed out only for hygiene purposes. (Id. ¶¶ 86, 170.) The rooms contained only a concrete bed slab, a toilet, a sink, and a mattress pad.*fn9

(Id. ¶¶ 87, 170.) Troy was allegedly held in extreme cold, while O'Neill was allegedly isolated for four days in extreme heat. (Id. ¶¶ 88, 155.) Both Plaintiffs were denied any educational materials or programming, and were prevented from interacting with their peers. (Id. ¶¶ 86, 170.)

In addition, Plaintiffs were allegedly denied mental health treatment during their periods in isolation. Troy was scheduled for twice a week treatment sessions as part of his delinquency adjudication for a sex offense. (Id. ¶ 96.) However, while Troy was under close or constant watch, he was given only approximately six of those treatment sessions and received only nine other individual therapy sessions. (Id. ¶ 97.) While a mental health clinician checked on Troy every day to assess his classification status as a part of daily rounds, these visits, conducted through the door of his cell, lasted an average of twelve minutes and involved only basic questions about Troy's mental state. (Id. ¶¶ 98-99.) Around the anniversary of his mother's death, Troy made requests for counseling that were denied.*fn10 (Id. ¶ 100.)

O'Neill was also deprived of therapeutic mental health treatment while in isolation. (Id. ¶ 171.) Between June 29, 2010 and July 2, 2010, O'Neill asked to speak to a counselor, but was told that counselors did not visit that part of the building. (Id. ¶ 154.) Like Troy, O'Neill was visited by mental health clinicians on daily rounds, but these visits only assessed whether O'Neill was experiencing distress.*fn11 (Id. ¶ 171.)

The Amended Complaint further alleges that both Plaintiffs were deprived of other necessary medical treatment. On several occasions, Troy was injured when JJC staff used force to restrain him, and his injuries were allegedly inadequately treated. (Id. ¶ 112.) O'Neill was similarly denied medical treatment, and on one occasion suffered for four days with a broken jaw before getting medical attention. (Id. ¶ 150.)

Both Plaintiffs sought to be removed from isolation. Troy frequently made requests to JJC staff that he be removed from close or constant watch. (Id. ¶¶ 100-101, 107.) Such requests were denied and Troy was told that additional requests would result in longer periods of isolation. (Id. ¶ 100.) The Amended Complaint alleges that there were no avenues available for Plaintiffs to file formal grievances and that attempts by O'Neill to obtain information on appeals procedures were met with threats of longer periods of isolation. (Id. ¶¶ 156, 175.)

O'Neill appealed some of the decisions to place him in isolation, but the treatment team upheld each decision that he appealed.*fn12 (Id. ¶¶ 157, 159, 164.) On March 10, 2010, an attorney with the Children's Justice Clinic at Rutgers School of Law--Camden wrote to Defendant Thomas, Superintendent of JMSF, that isolation was being used for O'Neill excessively and inappropriately. (Id. ¶ 147.) O'Neill also sought to address the conditions of his confinement before the Superior Court of New Jersey, but the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to consider the matter.*fn13 (Id. ¶ 176.)

The Amended Complaint alleges that the periods of prolonged isolation experienced by Plaintiffs were responsible for the deterioration of their mental states. (Id. ¶¶ 102-104, 170-172.)

Throughout his confinement, Troy attempted to commit suicide and engaged in other destructive behavior including: cutting himself using caulk or tile from the floor or walls, banging his head against the wall, urinating out of his cell, and smearing feces on the walls. (Id. ¶¶ 102-104, 106.) According to the Amended Complaint, "isolation was contra-indicated for Troy because he had a history of mental illness, psychiatric hospitalizations, self-harm and suicidal actions."*fn14 (Am. Compl. ¶ 109.)

On September 30, 2009, the Children's Justice Clinic of Rutgers School of Law-Camden filed a motion on behalf of Troy in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, in Cumberland County, seeking to have Troy immediately transferred to a psychiatric hospital. (Id. ¶ 116.) The motion argued that Troy's mental health problems were exacerbated by the excessive isolation, the lack of mental health treatment, and lack of educational materials. (Id.) On October 7, 2009, Troy was moved to Trinitas Psychiatric Hospital. (Id. ¶ 117.) In late October 2009, Troy was transferred to the Carrier Clinic, a Residential Treatment Center in Bell Meade, New Jersey, and is no longer in JJC custody.*fn15 (Id. ¶¶ 119-20.)

O'Neill remains in the custody of the JJC. (Id. ¶ 124.)

B.

On June 7, 2010, Troy initiated this action by filing the Complaint in this Court. On December 2, 2010, an Amended Complaint was filed, adding O'Neill as a Plaintiff, along with additional Defendants and causes of action.

Plaintiffs' First and Seventh Counts allege substantive due process violations for unconstitutional conditions of confinement, failure to protect and lack of medical care pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn16

The Second and Eighth Counts assert claims under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act against all Defendants, except Defendants Lawson and Plousis.

The Third and Eleventh Counts are facial constitutional challenges to N.J.A.C. §§ 13:101-6.17(e), 13:101-6.6(c), and 13:101-8.1(a), against Defendant Lawson in her official capacity. The Twelfth Count is against Defendant Plousis in his official capacity and alleges that the New Jersey Parole Board's policy of prohibiting attorneys at juvenile parole hearings is facially unconstitutional because it denies procedural due process.

The Fourth and Ninth Counts allege violations of procedural due process pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the use of pre-hearing room restriction, temporary close custody and special observation status.

The Sixth and Thirteenth Counts allege negligence against all Defendants.

On April 4, 2011, the JJC Defendants and the Mental Health Providers filed Motions to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motions for Summary Judgment. The Mental Health Providers have incorporated the arguments made by the JJC Defendants in their Motion.

II.

The Mental Health Providers and the JJC Defendants each move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and, because reference is made to documents outside the pleadings, for summary judgment.*fn17

Because the Court relies on documents outside of the pleadings, and Defendants have moved in the alternative for summary judgment, the Court will treat the pending motions as motions for summary judgment.

"[S]ummary judgment is proper 'if 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, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986).

"'With respect to an issue on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'" Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas, 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323).

The role of the Court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

III.

As will become evident in the Court's consideration of Defendants' arguments with respect to each of Plaintiffs' claims, summary judgment on many of the issues in this case is premature. The factual record is undeveloped and thus the Court is not able to undertake the fact-intensive inquiry demanded by Plaintiffs' constitutional claims. With this in mind, the Court will now turn to the specific arguments made by Defendants in support of their Motions.

A.

Defendants argue that O'Neill's § 1983 claims are barred by his failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA").*fn18 Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense which defendants bear the ...


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