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Hargis v. Atlantic County Justice Facility

United States District Court, District of New Jersey

December 16, 2014

MARLON D. HARGIS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
ATLANTIC COUNTY JUSTICE FACILITY, ET AL., Defendants.

Salvatore J. Siciliano, Esq. SICILIANO & ASSOCIATES, LLC Attorney for Plaintiff Marlon D. Hargis, Jr.

James T. Dugan, Esq. Atlantic County Department of Law Attorney for Defendant Dennis Levinson (improperly pleaded as Dennis Levison)

OPINION

JEROME B. SIMANDLE Chief U.S. District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Marlon D. Hargis, Jr., a pretrial detainee admitted to the Atlantic County Justice Facility (“ACJF”) in 2009 with a gunshot wound, alleges that his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated as the result of being forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at ACJF, including sleeping on the floor of his cell next to the toilet and being diagnosed with a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (“MRSA”) infection allegedly contracted during his confinement.

This matter comes before the Court following supplemental briefing by the parties on Defendants Dennis Levinson (County Executive) and the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders’s second motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 94], which the Court allowed after granting in part and deferring in part Defendants’ motion. Summary judgment was granted in favor of Defendant Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Hargis v. Atl. Cnty. Justice Facility, Civ. 10-1006 (JBS), 2014 WL 1713461, at *6 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 2014). The Court deferred decision on Defendants’ motion to the extent it is based on Plaintiff’s claim that the conditions of confinement at ACJF constituted punishment under the Fourteenth Amendment for which the remaining defendant – the County Executive – could be held liable. Importantly, the Court permitted Plaintiff to retain an expert to offer an opinion regarding the cause of Plaintiff’s MRSA infection and the likelihood of contracting MRSA in light of the alleged conditions at ACJF. Both parties having retained experts and submitted supplemental briefs, and the Court having heard oral argument, the remaining aspect of Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is now ripe for adjudication.

For the reasons now discussed, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s claim that the conditions of confinement at ACJF constituted punishment under the Fourteenth Amendment for which the County Executive could be liable because Plaintiff has failed to identify a County policy or custom that caused his injuries sufficient to establish municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The sole claim remaining before the Court is Plaintiff’s assertion that Atlantic County, through its County Executive Dennis Levinson in his official capacity, is liable for the conduct of jail personnel who lodged Plaintiff in a three-man cell sleeping in a “boat” on the floor contrary to medical orders. The principal issue to be decided is whether Plaintiff has adduced evidence of an unconstitutional custom or policy of the County, as required for municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), sufficient to defeat Defendants’ summary judgment motion by raising a genuine dispute of material fact.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The facts of this case are recounted in detail in the Court’s July 10, 2013 opinion addressing Defendants’ first motion for summary judgment. See Hargis v. Aramark Corr. Serv., LLC, Civ. 10-1006 (JBS/JS), 2013 WL 3465189 (D.N.J. July 10, 2013). The following facts are those necessary to provide context for the instant motion.

Plaintiff was arrested on August 12, 2009 and at the time of his arrest was suffering from a gunshot wound to his right hip. Plaintiff was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center where he was treated for the gunshot wound. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was released into police custody and transported on the same day to ACJF with his gunshot wound bandaged.

When Plaintiff arrived at ACJF, he was examined by medical staff who provided specific instructions to sleep on a lower level/lower bunk, not a “boat” until further notice. A boat is a plastic bed frame with a mattress, sheets and blanket that sits on the floor and is used as a third bunk in cells during periods of overcrowding.

After four days in the medical wing of the jail, on August 16, 2009 Plaintiff was released into the general population with no medical restrictions and assigned to a cell with two other men already confined. Plaintiff was ordered to sleep in a boat in close proximity to the ...


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