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Abdul-Aziz v. Ricci

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 10, 2014

SHAROB ABDUL-AZIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELLE RICCI, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARY L. COOPER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Sharob Abdul-Aziz, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against defendants, Michelle Ricci ("Ricci"), former Administrator of New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"); Donald Mee ("Mee"), Assistant Administrator of NJSP; William Moleins ("Moleins"), former corrections captain at NJSP; and Clay McClain ("McClain"), a Sergeant at NJSP (collectively the "defendants"), claiming that his job was reassigned in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to file grievance reports against NJSP administrators and officers. (See dkt. entry no. 5, Am. Compl.)[1] The defendants now move for summary judgment in their favor and against the plaintiff, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56 as to the sole remaining claim of retaliation concerning the plaintiff's job reassignment. (See dkt. entry no. 82, Notice of Defs.' Mot.; dkt. entry no. 82-2, Defs.' Br.) The plaintiff opposes the Motion. (See dkt. entry no. 84, Opp'n Br.)

The Court will resolve the Motion on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78.1(b). The Court, for the reasons stated herein, will grant the Motion.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Motions for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56, which provides that the Court "shall grant summary judgment 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). The movant has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuinely disputed material fact relative to the claims in question. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). Material facts are those "that could affect the outcome" of the proceeding, and "a dispute about a material fact is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party." Lamont v. New Jersey , 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The burden on the movant may be discharged by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence supporting the nonmovant's case. See Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323.

If the movant demonstrates an absence of genuinely disputed material facts, then the burden shifts to the nonmovant to demonstrate the existence of at least one genuine issue for trial. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Williams v. Bor. of W. Chester, Pa. , 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. , 475 U.S. at 587 (internal quotation marks omitted). The nonmovant cannot, when demonstrating the existence of issues for trial, rest upon argument; the nonmovant must show that such issues exist by referring to the record. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Wishkin v. Potter , 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the nonmovant fails to demonstrate that at least one genuine issue exists for trial, then the Court must determine whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See McCann v. Unum Provident , 921 F.Supp.2d 353, 357 (D.N.J. 2013). "A movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if, at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." Id.

II. APPLICATION OF LOCAL CIVIL RULE 56.1

Local Civil Rule 56.1(a), a companion to Rule 56, (1) requires parties to present argument by reference to the materials in the record, and (2) allows the Court to deem the movant's factual assertions undisputed, where a nonmovant fails to present an argument by reference to the record. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e)(2); Carita v. Mon Cheri Bridals, LLC, No. 10-2517 , 2012 WL 3638697, at *1-2 (D.N.J. Aug. 22, 2012). In pertinent part, it provides that:

On motions for summary judgment, the movant shall furnish a statement which sets forth material facts as to which there does not exist a genuine issue.... The opponent of summary judgment shall furnish, with its opposition papers, a responsive statement of material facts, addressing each paragraph of the movant's statement, indicating agreement or disagreement and, if not agreed, stating each material fact in dispute and citing to the affidavits and other documents submitted in connection with the motion; any material fact not disputed shall be deemed undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion.

L.Civ.R. 56.1(a) (emphasis added).

A movant's statement of facts and a nonmovant's related response serve a vital purpose, in that they assist the Court in identifying whether material facts are truly in dispute. See Am. Plaza, LLC v. Marbo Cross Shop, LLC, No. 08-5963, 2010 WL 455349, at *2 (D.N.J. Feb. 3, 2010). Local Civil Rule 56.1(a) thus puts the onus on the parties, rather than the Court, to find evidence of record supporting their respective arguments. See Baker v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., No. 08-6382 , 2010 WL 2179150, at *2 n.1 (D.N.J. May 28, 2010) ("It is not the Court's responsibility to comb the record on behalf of Plaintiff's counsel."), aff'd, 440 Fed.Appx. 66 (3d Cir. 2011); N.J. Auto. Ins. Plan v. Sciarra , 103 F.Supp.2d 388, 408 (D.N.J. 1998) ("[I]t is the responsibility of each party to support its own contentions with a proper basis in the record of the case."). "Given the vital purpose that such rules serve, litigants ignore them at their peril." McCann , 921 F.Supp.2d at 358 (quoting Cabán Hernández v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. , 486 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2007)).

The defendants, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1(a), filed a statement of facts in support of the Motion. (See dkt. entry no. 82-1, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.' SOF").) The plaintiff filed a response to the defendants' SOF. (See dkt. entry no. 86, Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF.) The plaintiff also filed a Supplemental Statement of Material Facts. (See dkt. entry no. 84-3, Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material Facts ("Pl.'s Counter SOF").) The Court will consider the facts recited by the parties, and any material fact not disputed will be deemed undisputed for purposes of the Motion. The Court will incorporate the undisputed facts into the following findings of fact.

III. FINDINGS OF FACT

The plaintiff is currently incarcerated at NJSP and is serving a life sentence. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶¶ 1, 3; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶¶ 1, 3.) The plaintiff filed grievance reports alleging misconduct by NJSP administrators and officers on March 23, 2008, March 30, 2008, June 29, 2008, and August 23, 2008. (See Opp'n Br. at 7.) The plaintiff filed the initial Complaint on November 24, 2008. (See dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.)

The plaintiff began working as a forms room clerk in the North Compound vocational area of NJSP in 2007. (See Pl.'s Counter SOF at ¶ 1.) A limited number of inmates, including the plaintiff, have access to computers to aid in the performance of their work functions. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 29; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 29.) Inmates are not permitted to use their workstation computers for personal reasons and are not permitted to download and store personal music files or games on the computers. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶¶ 28-29; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶¶ 28-29.) The plaintiff was the only person who used his workstation computer. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 30; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 30.) The plaintiff knew music files were stored on his workstation computer and listened to the music that was stored on his computer on at least one occasion. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶¶ 32-33; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶¶ 32-33.)

On January 29, 2009, during a tour of the North Compound vocational area, Moleins observed speakers connected to the plaintiff's workstation computer and discovered music files stored on the computer. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 4; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 4.) Ricci was also present for this tour. (See dkt. entry no. 82-4, Decl. of Erin M. Greene, Ex. E, Ricci Dep. 37:4-10, May 20, 2013.) On February 2, 2009, the plaintiff received a disciplinary infraction for prohibited act *.009, which refers to "the misuse, possession, distribution, sale, or intent to distribute or sell, an electronic communication device, equipment or peripheral that is capable of transmitting, receiving, or storing data and/or electronically transmitting a message, image or data that is not authorized for use or retention." (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 5; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 5.) The charge was filed by Lieutenant Alaimo at the direction of Moleins. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 6; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 6; Decl. of Erin M. Greene, Ex. I, Abdul-Aziz Dep. 85:6-8, May 22, 2013.)

That same day, the plaintiff was laid-in from his work assignment as a forms room clerk because of the disciplinary infraction. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 7; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 7.) The plaintiff's disciplinary charge was dismissed because the plaintiff was not served with the charge within the forty-eight hour time limit provided by Title 10A of the New Jersey Administrative Code. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 50; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 50.) As such, the plaintiff was found not guilty of the *.009 charge. (See Defs.' SOF at ¶ 10; Pl.'s Am. Resp. to Defs.' SOF at ¶ 10.)

Inmate Baker also received a disciplinary infraction for prohibited act *.009 as a result of the search. (See Pl.'s Counter SOF at ¶ 12.) Like the plaintiff, Inmate Baker was laid-in from his work assignment and subsequently found not guilty of the disciplinary ...


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