United States District Court, D. New Jersey
FREDA L. WOLFSON, District Judge.
Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants George W. Hayman, William Hauck, Helen Adams, and Richard Salvatore (collectively "Defendants" or "Administrator Defendants") on Plaintiff Tammi Rand's ("Plaintiff's") Eighth Amendment and related state law claims against them. Generally, Plaintiff contends that the Administrator Defendants failed to protect her from an attack by a fellow inmate, and that they denied her medical treatment for her injuries. While many plaintiffs sue lower-ranking correctional officers when asserting a failure to protect claim, here, Plaintiff has chosen the more formidable path of seeking to hold the administrators liable instead. Guided by the Third Circuit's most recent pronouncement on Eighth Amendment claims against supervisors, Barkes v. First Correctional Medical, Inc., 766 F.3d 307, 323 (3d Cir. 2014), the Court concludes that Plaintiff has partially succeeded in withstanding summary judgment on these difficult-to-sustain claims.
For the reasons explained herein, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion. Summary judgment is granted on the official capacity claims against all Defendants, and on Plaintiff's denial of medical care claim against Defendant Salvatore. The Court also grants summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment and state law claims against Defendants Hayman and Salvatore, but denies summary judgment on these same claims against Defendants Hauck and Adams because there exist genuine issues of material fact. Finally, the Court concludes that Defendants Hauck and Adams are not entitled to qualified immunity at this juncture, and the Court denies summary judgment on Plaintiff's punitive damages claims against these defendants.
II. FACTUAL BACKROUND
Because the Court is considering the facts in the context of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
On February 6, 2010, Plaintiff was a prisoner at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women ("EMCFW"), serving a sentence for first-degree robbery. (Ex. A to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts at T.RAND 4059 (hereafter "SOMF").) While in a common area of the EMCFW, Plaintiff was assaulted by inmate Tyleaka Price, who boiled a mixture of water, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce in a microwave for 10 minutes to an hour, depending upon the account ( see Pl. Ex. B), and then proceeded to hurl the scalding water at Plaintiff, who sustained second-degree burns from the attack and is permanently scarred. After the attack, Inmate Price was criminally charged for the incident and subsequently plead guilty. (SOMF ¶ 40; Dkt. No. 37-18 [Ex. O, Plea Transcript for Tyleaka Price].)
The events leading up to the assault are as follows. In January 2010, Plaintiff was assigned to the medium custody compound at EMCFW and was housed in Hillcrest. (SOMF ¶ 21 [T.Rand53].) At that time, Price was newly assigned to medium custody and was also assigned in Hillcrest. (SOMF ¶ 22 [Ex. E, Deposition of Plaintiff Tammi Rand ("Pl. Dep. Tr."), 29:17-24].) Hillcrest is further divided into two separate housing units, Hillcrest North and Hillcrest South; inmates assigned to one are not permitted to enter the other. (SOMF ¶ 23 [Ex. I Decl. Hauck].) At the time of the attack, Plaintiff was assigned to Hillcrest South and inmate Price was assigned to Hillcrest North. (SOMF ¶ 24 [Pl. Dep. Tr. at 90:18-25].)
Although inmates assigned to one housing unit are not permitted to enter other housing units, inmates assigned to the medium/maximum compound may still interact with one another, regardless of housing and custody status, in several common areas. These areas include the dining hall, recreation yard, gym, chapel or religious services, classrooms, as well as the hallways to and from classrooms. (SOMF ¶ 11 [Ex. I, Decl. Hauck, ¶20].) Price's assault on Plaintiff occurred in a common area.
Plaintiff and Price had no interactions with one another prior to January 2010, (SOMF ¶ 25 [Pl. Dep. Tr. 22:24-25, 23:1-10].), but inmate Price began to threaten Plaintiff approximately three weeks prior to the February attack. (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 25:10-15.) Price's threats against Plaintiff were precipitated by the fact that Plaintiff had become romantically involved with another inmate with whom Price was also romantically involved. (Id. at 22:24-25; 23:1-10.)
Although her testimony is not a model of clarity, Plaintiff testified that Price specifically threatened to attack her:
Q: Okay. Did Miss Price, when she was walking around saying things, did she ever say she was going to attack you?
A: Yes. She said: I am a ticking time bomb, I don't have nothing to live for, I'm dying, if I take another bitch with me, then it's all the more because I'm going to get her, I'm going to get her. And not only did I inform the officers, but other people on her wing was informing them, Patricia Crawford, Paula Calhoun, Valerie Sills. They all came in and told the officers like: she's walking around here every day threatening the girl.
Q: Okay. Did she ever refer to you by name or referring to -
A: Yes, she did. She calls me Star. That's my nickname.
Q: She said I am going to get Star?
(Pl. Dep. Tr. 28:3-21.) Plaintiff further testified that when she walked by Price, Price would make threats such as "Bitch, like I am going to get your ass." (Pl. Dep. Tr. 29:25-30:8.)
The parties dispute whether Price had a longstanding history of violence prior to the assault on Plaintiff. Plaintiff contends that Price was a "legend" among inmates, officers, and administrators at EMCFW (Pl. Dep. Tr. 17:5-18:14; Dkt. No. 43, Br. at 11), and had a reputation as a violent inmate who had committed numerous assaults on other inmates while incarcerated at EMCFW. (Id. ) Plaintiff personally witnessed only one fight that involved Price that occurred six months after Plaintiff's arrival at EMCFW. (Id. at 17:25-18:14.)
Officer Vincent Grossi, who was on duty when Price assaulted Plaintiff but is not named as a defendant in the instant suit, testified that officers had concerns about Price's potential for violence but indicated no administrators had ever talked to him about Price's violent potential. (Grossi Dep. Tr. 27:22-28:3.) When asked if it was "common knowledge" among the inmates and officers that Price "was violent and had injured other inmates" prior to the assault on Rand, Grossi acknowledged that "[t]here were rumors of her being that way." (Grossi Dep. Tr. 100:22-101:2.) Plaintiff's prison psychologist Aron Steward, who is also not named as a defendant, testified that "it was stated around the institution from correctional officers and inmates that [Price] had a violent history, " but she could not recall which inmates or correctional officers had made such a statement, or whether administrators had made that statement as well. (Steward Dep. Tr. 40:2-21.)
In this vein, Plaintiff further contends that Price should not have been housed with the general population at EMCFW due to her violent propensities. In support of this position she testified that when she told Steward about her fear of Price before the assault, Steward shared with Plaintiff the fact that she told the administration that Price was not ready to be in the general population (Pl. Dep. Tr. 82:3-13.) Steward, however, testified that she did not recall having any conversations with Plaintiff about Price, or about making any recommendations about Price's housing assignment. (Steward Dep. Tr. 22:9-24:12.) Steward further testified that she did not transmit information directly to prison administrators or participate in classification meetings but instead made recommendations to her supervisors who would then transmit those recommendations to the classification committee. (Steward Dep. Tr. 22:9-24:12; 27:18-25; 28:1-16.) Additionally, Inmate Calhoun testified that an unnamed nurse at EMCFW that treated Calhoun's burns after the assault also told her that it was "messed up" that Price was allowed in the regular population at EMCFW and that Price had previously harmed other inmates. (Calhoun Dep. Tr. 28:6-29:13.)
As noted above, the only individual Defendants in this suit are administrators and former administrators at EMCFW. In February 2010, Defendant Hayman had just retired as Administrator of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. Defendant Hauck was the Administrator at EMCFW, Helen Adams was the Assistant Administrator at EMCFW, and Defendant Salvatore was the Associate Administrator EMCFW. ( See Defendants' individual answers to interrogatories, ¶ 5.)
With the exception of Defendant Salvatore, Defendants deny having any knowledge of prior assaults by Price. Defendant Salvatore recalls only one other incident involving inmate Price in which she attacked another inmate with a can of beans, and recalled that "inmate Price was provoked in a significant way (that is, taunted using racial epithets)" by the inmate she attacked. (SOMF ¶ 34. [Ex. M Salvatore Answers to Interrogatories ¶ 19]) Defendant Hayman retired on January 15, 2010, prior to the assault on Plaintiff. He avers that he has no knowledge of the incident, nor of any prior violent history of Inmate Price. ( See SOMF ¶ 35 [Ex. K, Hayman's Answers to Interrogatories]). Defendants Hauck and Adams likewise aver that they had no prior knowledge of any assaults by Inmate Price. ( See SOMF 36 [Ex. L, Adam's Answers to Interrogatories; Ex. N, Hauck's Answers to Interrogatories].)
Plaintiff testified at her deposition that she told everyone at the prison, from officers to the administrators, that Price was a "ticking time bomb, " a term Price used to describe herself. (Pl. Dep. Tr. 87:2-9.) Importantly, Plaintiff testified that she had the opportunity to talk directly with Adams and Hauck about her fears because they regularly walked around the compound and interacted with inmates. (Pl. Dep. Tr. 27:2-24.) Another inmate, Lisa Johnson, also testified that both Adams and Hauck walked around the prison and interacted with the inmates. (Johnson Dep. Tr. 42:1-43:14.)
According to Plaintiff, during two of her interactions with Adams, Plaintiff informed Adams that she feared Price, and that Price was threatening her:
Q: Did you say you spoke with Miss Adams?
A: Yes, I spoke to Miss Adams twice before the incident.
Q: And what did you tell her?
A: I told her that I did not want to be in there. I told her that I was scared of [Price], I didn't know what was going to happen, that [Price] kept threatening me.
And my - my response from all of them at that time was: Tammi until she does anything our hands are tied. We are going on your word and your words alone.
(Pl. Dep. Tr. 32:25-33:11.) Plaintiff further testified that she had a conversation with Adams about Price in which they discussed Price's alleged HIV status. (Pl. Dep. Tr. 87:10-23.) During that conversation, Adams told Plaintiff that "[Price] is dealing with a lot of personal issues right now. She'll be all right, just leave her alone, stay away from her." (Pl. Dep Tr. 32:25-33:11.)
Plaintiff testified that Hauck also walked around the prison and met with inmates and that she also spoke directly with Hauck about her fear of Price, but that Hauck and Adams both told her that "they could not do anything until [Price] did something. Their hands were tied." (Pl. Dep. Tr. 78:10-23.) Plaintiff testified that she told Hauck that Price should not be in the general population at Hillcrest:
Q: What did Hauck tell you about - or tell you in response to your complaint that Tyleaka Price should not be placed in the general population at Hillcrest?
A: He said something ...