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Ward v. Aviles

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 25, 2014

CHARLES WARD, Plaintiff Pro Se,
v.
OSCAR AVILES, et al., Defendant.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles Ward, appearing pro se, was an inmate at the Hudson County Correctional Center ("the Center") in Kearny, New Jersey. On October 23, 2011, he commenced this 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 action against Oscar Aviles, director of the Center, as well as two deputy directors of the Center, named as Mr. Barker and Mr. Eady, seeking (A) injunctive relief, (B) "damages if the ends of justice so require, " and (C) an "emergency order [for] time in the facility law library to do research and typing." (Complaint [ECF No. 1] at 6-7). His request for an "emergency order" was denied by District Judge William J. Martini, to whom this case was previously assigned. ( See Order [ECF No. 17]).

In the Complaint, Ward makes numerous allegations concerning allegedly unacceptable conditions at the Center, ranging from grievance resolution procedures to cleanliness and food quality. He most prominently alleges that he was not given adequate access to the law library at the Center.

On March 26, 2013, I granted Defendants' motion for leave to file a motion for summary judgment. [ECF No. 22]. Defendants' brief and other papers in support of summary judgment, submitted with their motion for leave [ECF 21], were deemed filed as a motion. In the interim, however, Ward had been transferred from the Center (where he was detained pending trial) to South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey (where he was to serve his sentence). [ See ECF No. 31]. After numerous extensions of time, Ward filed his opposition to the motion. [ECF No. 36]. Defendants submitted a reply, in which they argued that Ward's claims were moot as a result of his transfer to South Woods. [ECF No. 39]

I agree with Defendants that Ward's claims for injunctive relief as to conditions at the Center were mooted by his transfer to South Woods. The doctrine of mootness, however, would not bar claims for compensatory damages, and so I consider them under the standards for summary judgment.

For the reasons expressed herein, I GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The sole claim that I do not dismiss here is Ward's claim for damages arising from the alleged denial of access to the law library at the Center.

LEGAL STANDARDS AND DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard on Motion for Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pennsylvania, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, (1986). "[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving 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." Id. at 325.

If the moving party meets its threshold burden, the opposing party must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (setting forth types of evidence on which nonmoving party must rely to support its assertion that genuine issues of material fact exist). "[U]nsupported allegations... and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001) ("A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial.").

The summary judgment standard, however, does not operate in a vacuum. "[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 254 (1986).

B. Plaintiffs Claims for Injunctive Relief

It is well established that "the federal courts may not decide an issue unless it presents a live case or controversy." Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993). Case law firmly establishes that lain inmate's transfer from the facility complained of generally moots the equitable and declaratory claims." Griffin v. Beard, 401 F.Appx. 715, 716 (3d Cir. 2010) (not precedential). In particular, after a prisoner who seeks an injunction pertaining to prison library conditions is released, he "ha[s] no interest" in those conditions, and the injunction he seeks can no longer provide him any meaningful relief. See Abdul-Akbar, 4 F.3d at 206; see also Ghana v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91121, *1446 (D.N.J. Aug. 15, 2011) (Simandle, C.J.).

There is a venerable, narrow exception to this rule for conditions "capable of repetition, yet evading review." Southern Pacific Terminal Co. v. ICC, 219 U.S. 498, 515 (1911). That exception has two requirements: "(1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there [is] a reasonable likelihood that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again." Abdul-Akbar, 4 F.3d at 206 (quoting ...


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