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Hargrove v. Santiago

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 5, 2017

SHARODD HARGROVE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANGEL SANTIAGO, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Sharodd Hargrove brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against several employees of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, in their individual capacities (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleges that: certain Defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights, by placing him in temporary closed custody (“TCC”); certain Defendants subjected him to an involuntary strip search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment; and that the conditions of TCC violated his rights to due process and to equal protection under the law. Plaintiff also raises several state law claims. Defendants now move for summary judgment on all Counts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). Because Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, their motion is GRANTED and the action is DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Since 2005, Defendant Sharodd Hargrove has been civilly committed to the Special Treatment Unit (“STU”) in Kearney, New Jersey, a facility jointly run by the New Jersey Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and the New Jersey Department of Health Services (“DHS”) for the purpose of incapacitating and rehabilitating “Sexually Violent Predators.” N.J.S.A. § 30:4-27.26. The events giving rise to this action relate to Hargrove's suspected participation in a smuggling operation along with several other STU residents and former DOC employee Bobby Singletary. On January 3, 2013, a grand jury indicted Plaintiff Hargrove for bribery in the second degree and indicted Singletary for bribery, misconduct and conspiracy. The three other residents of STU were indicted and plead guilty in exchange for their testimony against one or more defendants. Immediately following the indictment, the DOC's Special Investigations Division (“SID”) requested that the offending residents be placed in Temporary Close Custody (“TCC”), a form of administrative segregation.[1] He was again placed in TCC in September 2013 while his trial for bribery was ongoing. Hargrove was ultimately acquitted. Singletary was found guilty.

         i. The Alleged Strip Search of Hargrove

         On January 4, 2013, before being placed in TCC, Hargrove and the other indicted residents were strip searched. Hargrove steadfastly refused to consent to the search and demanded that the officers provide probable cause, in accordance with STU guidelines. Hargrove Dep. 60:16-24. According to the Complaint, Hargrove was then handcuffed and taken into a separate room, where Defendants Troman and Salancho demanded that he remove all of his clothing for visual bodily inspection. Compl. ¶ 5.3. According to the Complaint, Defendants Jones, Troman, and Salancho all threatened Hargrove with physical violence. Compl. ¶ 5.5. Hargrove alleges he ultimately submitted to the strip search because he feared for his safety. Defendants deny that Hargrove was strip searched, though concede that the Court must assume that the strip search took place for the purposes of summary judgment. Defendants claim that Hargrove was searched only by use of a B.O.S.S. chair, a device which scans the body for hidden metal objects. No contraband was recovered. Hargrove does not allege that he sustained any physical injuries as a result of being searched.

         ii. First Placement in TCC (January 2013)

         Based on a recommendation from the DOC's Special Investigations Division (“SID”), Defendant Santiago ordered that Hargrove and the other indicted residents be placed in TCC. Hargrove remained in TCC for roughly one and a half weeks. Lynch Decl., Ex. A, 70:13-20; Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 9. Normally, defendants are processed at a county jail. In this case, however, the requirement that the DOC separate SVPs from other inmates created practical impediments to transferring Hargrove to county jail. Lynch Decl., Ex. A 77. During his stay in TCC, investigators from SID visited Hargrove in order to elicit a written confession regarding the bribery charge. Hargrove was read his Miranda rights and declined to sign a written confession.

         Hargrove alleges that, while in TCC, Defendants deprived him of soap and other toiletries, that he was permitted to shower only twice, and that he was denied legal phone calls and access to legal resources. He alleges that he requested legal phone calls every day but was denied, and that some of the guards stationed outside his cell harassed him and called him a “snitch.” Id. at 73:22-23; 77:24-25. He also lost his work assignment, as he was unable to leave his cell.

         iii. Second Placement in TCC (September 2013)

         On September 12, 2013, Defendant Kennedy of DOC's Central Transport Unit, was preparing to transfer Hargrove from STU to court for trial. Resident Fitzpatrick, scheduled to testify for the prosecution, was awaiting transportation in the same holding area as Hargrove. Officer Kennedy overheard Hargrove tell Fitzpatrick “to keep his dam[n] mouth shut [in court].” Hargrove does not deny making this statement, but insists that he made it jokingly. According to Hargrove, Fitzpatrick “tried to tell the judge . . . that it wasn't no problem amongst me and him.” Hargrove Dep. 96:20-23. Upon learning of the incident from Officer Kennedy, Investigator Wise nonetheless recommended that Hargrove be placed in TCC until the trial ended in order to prevent witness-tampering. Lynch Decl. Ex. H., Ans. #9. As a result, Hargrove was placed in TCC for a second time on September 12, 2013 until his trial ended on September 27, 2013. During this time, Hargrove was permitted to shower and communicate with his attorney every day. Nonetheless, Hargrove asserts that he was placed in TCC only because certain officers believed he intended to testify against Officer Singletary at trial, and that his placement was therefore retaliatory.

         iv. Procedural History of this Action

         Hargrove filed a complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on July 30, 2014. On March 1, 2016, the Court denied Hargrove's application for pro bono counsel in light of his demonstrated ability to engage in motion practice. On September 7, 2016, the Court denied Defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice and granted Plaintiff's motion for completion of limited discovery to the extent of 25 written deposition questions to Defendant Tromans pursuant to Rule 31. The Court denied Hargrove's request for additional discovery. Defendants now move for summary judgment.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides for summary judgment “if the pleadings, the discovery [including, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file] and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 ...


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