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Duran v. Merline

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 8, 2013

Miguel DURAN, Plaintiff,
Warden Gary MERLINE, et al., Defendants.

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Former pre-trial detainee who sought to amend his complaint after expiration of deadlines set forth in district court's scheduling order failed to show that he acted diligently in filing motion, as required for showing of good cause to justify modification of scheduling order, in detainee's pro se civil rights action against county jail officials; detainee merely included what appeared to be proposed third amended complaint without any explanation for his one-year delay in filing it. Fed.Rules Civ.Proc.Rules 15(a)(2), 16(b), 28 U.S.C.A.

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Miguel Duran, pro se.

James T. Dugan, Esq., Atlantic County Department of Law, Atlantic City, NJ, for Co-defendants Warden Gary Merline, Capt. James D. Murphy, Yvonne Hickman, and John Solog.

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Jamie Nicole Labukas, Esq., Joseph Goldberg, Esq., Wendi D. Barish, Esq., Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Co-defendant CFG Health Systems, LLC.

Colleen M. Ready, Esq., Ian Mark Sirota, Esq., Peter S. Cuddihy, Esq., Margolis Edelstein, Mt. Laurel NJ, for Third-Party Defendant Aramark Correctional Services, LLC.


BUMB, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Miguel Duran brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He asserts various constitutional torts related to his pre-trial detention at the Atlantic County Justice Facility. Currently before the Court are three summary judgment motions brought by defendant CFG Health Systems LLC (" CFG" ) [Dkt. Ent. 266]; individual defendants Warden Gary Merline, Captain James D. Murphy, Principal Clerk Yvonne Hickman, and Case Worker John Solog (the " County Defendants" ) [Dkt. Ent. 267]; and defendant Aramark Correctional Services, LLC (" Aramark" ) [Dkt. Ent. 275]. Additionally, Plaintiff has included within his opposition brief a section that appears to be a motion to amend the complaint. [Dkt. Ent. 295.] For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES CFG's motion; GRANTS Aramark's motion; partially GRANTS and partially DENIES the County Defendants' motion; and DENIES Plaintiff's motion to amend without prejudice.


This case, with its long and protracted history, has besieged the Court. Plaintiff has filed a battery of motions, letters, and exhibits. He has also filed multiple appeals of this Court's orders and the Magistrate Judge's discovery orders to the Third Circuit, all of which have been dismissed as frivolous or for lack of appellate jurisdiction. [Dkt. Ents. 224, 230.] In short, this case has required a tremendous amount of judicial resources. The parties are familiar with this history, so the Court recites only the relevant portions here. Plaintiff initiated this action on August 1, 2007, as a pre-trial detainee at the Atlantic County Justice Facility (" ACJF" ) in Mays Landing, New Jersey. Plaintiff was incarcerated from June 23, 2007 to August 2007, and from September 17, 2007 to May 28, 2009. As the Court has previously noted, these are the only dates that are at issue in this litigation. [1] [Dkt. Ents. 155, 227.] On February 16, 2009, Plaintiff's pro bono counsel, who has subsequently withdrawn from the case, filed a second amended complaint (the " Complaint" ), which is the operative complaint in this matter. [2] [Dkt. Ent. 58.] The Complaint asserts claims against the County Defendants, Aramark, which provides food and sanitation services to the ACJF, and CFG, which provides medical services to ACJF inmates. All defendants have moved for summary judgment. Defendants' claims for injunctive relief have been dismissed as moot. [Dkt. Ents. 306, 341.] Only Plaintiff's claims for damages remain pending. When Plaintiff

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initially filed his oppositions to the defendants' motions, he sought permission to file an over-length brief, which the Court granted, extending the page limit from 40 to 60 pages. [ See generally Dkt. Ent. 279.] Plaintiff then attempted to submit approximately 2,000 to 2,500 pages of legal documents, including a 234-page brief in violation of the Court's Order. The Court deemed this submission withdrawn, again ordered Plaintiff to limit his brief to 60 pages, and permitted him an extension of time to do so. The Court also ordered Plaintiff not to attach his voluminous exhibits to his brief but instead to make clear and concise references to his exhibits with explanations as to why such exhibits are relevant. The Court subsequently permitted Plaintiff to submit the relevant exhibits, with instructions on how to file them in order to assist the Court in understanding their relevance to the multiple motions and claims. Plaintiff did not comply with the Court's Order. After more than six months of delays, Plaintiff finally submitted his exhibits with an index and description, as required.[3] [Dkt. Ent. 335 at pp. 26-32 & Dkt. Ents. 335-1-9.] These motions are finally ripe for adjudication.


Summary judgment shall be granted if " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is " material" if it will " affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law ...." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute is " genuine" if it could lead a " reasonable jury [to] return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

When deciding the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact, a court's role is not to weigh the evidence: all reasonable " inferences, doubts, and issues of credibility should be resolved against the moving party." Meyer v. Riegel Products Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n. 2 (3d Cir.1983). However, a mere " scintilla of evidence," without more, will not give rise to a genuine dispute for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. In the face of such evidence, summary judgment is still appropriate " where the record ... could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party ...." Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). " Summary judgment motions thus require judges to ‘ assess how one-sided evidence is, or what a ‘ fair-minded’ jury could ‘ reasonably’ decide.' " Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir.1989) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 265, 106 S.Ct. 2505).

The movant " always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘ the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes demonstrate

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the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). Then, " when a properly supported motion for summary judgment [has been] made, the adverse party ‘ must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The non-movant's burden is rigorous: it " must point to concrete evidence in the record" ; mere allegations, conclusions, conjecture, and speculation will not defeat summary judgment. Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir.1995); Acumed LLC v. Advanced Surgical Servs., Inc., 561 F.3d 199, 228 (3d Cir.2009) (" [S]peculation and conjecture may not defeat summary judgment." ).


Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Count I); (2) inadequate access to the courts (Count II); (3) interference with legal mail (Count III); (4) retaliation for exercising his constitutional rights (Count V); and (5) denial of medical care (Count IV). Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ..., subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....

Therefore, to succeed on his claims, Plaintiff must establish two elements: (1) a person deprived him or caused him to be deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988). Since the defendants do not dispute that they were acting under color of state law, the only issue before the Court is whether they caused Plaintiff to suffer deprivations of a constitutional magnitude. The Court considers each claim in turn.

A. Conditions of Confinement

Count I alleges a claim for unconstitutional living conditions against defendants Warden Gary Merline and Aramark. Both have moved for summary judgment.

1. Warden Gary Merline

As an initial matter, the Court notes that the Complaint does not specify whether Plaintiff sues Warden Merline in his official or personal capacity. This distinction is important because " [p]ersonal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law," while official-capacity suits " generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985) (internal citations and quotations omitted). To determine the nature of the liability the plaintiff seeks to impose, courts consider the complaints and the " course of proceedings" . Garden State Elec. Inspection Srvs. Inc. v. Levin, 144 Fed.Appx. 247, 251 (3d Cir.2005) (citing Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n. 14, 105 S.Ct. 3099 (in turn quoting Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 469, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985)) and Melo v. Hafer, 912 F.2d 628 (3d Cir.1990), aff'd, 502 U.S. 21, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991)); Billman v. Corbett, Civ. No. 10-2996, 2011 WL 605814, *2 n. 3 (E.D.Pa. Feb. 15, 2011).

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Here, Plaintiff's initial complaints indicated a desire to hold the municipality accountable. The original complaint listed Defendant Merline on the first line of the docket caption with " Atlantic County Justice Facility" written on the line directly below it [Dkt. Ent. 1]. The amended complaint expressly included ACJF as a defendant [Dkt. Ent. 5].[4]

The operative Complaint challenges the long-standing conditions of confinement at the ACJF, which, as discussed below, suggest a custom, for which Defendant Merline may be liable in his official capacity as warden. Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir.1998) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691-94, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)) (municipal liability arises when an official custom or policy causes a constitutional deprivation); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991) (suit against municipal official in official capacity is essentially suit against municipality); Anela v. City of Wildwood, 790 F.2d 1063, 1069 (3d Cir.1986) (long-standing detention conditions in city jail constituted " custom" for 1983 purposes). However, the Complaint also alleges Defendant Merline's personal involvement in the disputed conduct; for example, by directing that fire and building inspections not take place because of overcrowding; by accepting additional inmates from the State of New Jersey; and by replacing the law library with a procedure for inmates to obtain legal information through a caseworker. Compl. ¶¶ 39, 40, 54, 70, 86, 95, 104, 109. These allegations suggest an intent to hold Merline personally liable as well. A.M. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juv. Detention Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir.2004) (supervisor may be personally liable by (1) establishing and maintaining unconstitutional policy, practice or custom, or (2) participating in violating plaintiff's rights, directing others to violate them, or acquiescing in subordinates' violations).

The " course of proceedings" also indicates that the parties believed Defendant Merline had been sued in both his official and personal capacities. In his summary judgment papers, Merline asserts the protections of qualified immunity, a defense only available to officials sued in their personal capacity. Graham, 473 U.S. at 166-67, 105 S.Ct. 3099; Owen v. City of Indep., 445 U.S. 622, 650, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980). He also argues that he is not liable under a theory of respondeat superior, suggesting that he viewed this suit as an action against the municipality. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (holding that a municipality cannot be held liable under 1983 on a respondeat superior theory); Montgomery, 159 F.3d at 126. Plaintiff's opposition papers expressly argue that Merline should be held liable in his " official and individual capacity." Pl.'s Opp. Br. 20. Plaintiff also notes that Merline retired in 2009 and that Sean Thomas is his " successor", Pl.'s Opp. Br. 15, a fact only relevant if Plaintiff sued Merline in his official capacity as warden. Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25, 112 S.Ct. 358 (when officials sued in their official capacity die or leave office, their successors automatically assume their roles in the litigation); Graham, 473 U.S. at 166 n. 11, 105 S.Ct. 3099 (same). Viewing these facts together, the Court concludes that Plaintiff sued Merline in both his official and personal capacities.

As for the merits of Count I, Merline moves for summary judgment on three grounds: (1) that the conditions of confinement

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at the ACJF did not amount to punishment in violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process; (2) that Plaintiff's claims are based upon an impermissible theory of respondeat superior; and (3) that he is entitled to the protections of ...

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