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Sanders v. County of Camden

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 4, 2017

CRAIG SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF CAMDEN, et al., Defendants.

          HARTMAN DOHERTY ROSA BERMAN & BULBULIA, LLC By: Tal Z. Cushmaro, Esq. Counsel for Plaintiff

          HOLTZMAN & McCLAIN, P.C. By: Stephen D. Holtzman, Esq. Jeffrey S. McClain, Esq. Counsel for Defendant CFG Health Systems, LLC

          PARKER MCKAY, P.A. By: Elizabeth M. Garcia, Esq. Counsel for Defendant Peter Farlow Sr.

          THE VIGILANTE LAW FIRM, P.C. By: Jacqueline M. Vigilante, Esq. Counsel for Defendant John Vernon

          THE OFFICE OF CAMDEN COUNTY COUNSEL By: Anne E. Walters, Assistant County Counsel Counsel for Defendants County of Camden, Camden County Correctional Facility, Correctional Officer Nnakuru R. Chukudi, and Warden Eric M. Taylor

          OPINION

          HILLMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Craig Sanders, who was at all relevant times, incarcerated in the Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF), brings this § 1983 suit alleging that, as a pretrial detainee in the CCCF, he was beaten by three corrections officers, Defendants Vernon, Farlow, and Chukudi. Sanders further asserts that he was denied adequate medical treatment from Defendant CFG Health Systems for the injuries he asserts resulted from the alleged beating, which allegedly resulted in a 10-day hospital stay and three surgeries on Sanders' right leg.

         Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment [Docket Nos. 71, 75, 78, 79]. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant CFG's motion will be granted in its entirety; the corrections officers' motions will be granted in part, denied as moot in part, and denied in all other respects; and the remaining Camden County Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         Between midnight and 1 a.m. on January 27, 2013, Plaintiff Sanders was involved in a physical altercation with Defendant Corrections Officers Vernon, Farlow, and Chukudi. (Pl's Ex. 9, Camden County Department of Corrections General Incident Report; Vernon Dep. p. 69)

         The incident occurred in Sanders' cell, which he shared with inmate William Cooper. (Pl's Ex. 9; Sanders Dep. p. 17, 24, 89, 91, 136-37; Cooper Dep. p. 45-46) Both Sanders and Cooper were asleep when all three Defendants Vernon, Farlow, and Chukudi entered the cell. (Pl's Ex. 9, Sanders Dep. p. 15, 17; Cooper Dep. p. 45)[1] It is undisputed that Vernon was yelling as he entered the cell.

         Sanders and Cooper testified that Vernon was yelling profanities in a “vicious” or “degrading” manner. (Sanders Dep. p. 89; Cooper Dep. p. 45) Vernon testified that he was “yelling” but he could “not specifically” recall what he said. (Vernon Dep. p. 74) Defendant Farlow testified that Vernon was “definitely agitated.” (Farlow Dep. p. 76)

         Defendant Farlow further testified:

[Defendant Vernon] went right to the cell, he opened the door. He walked in. I believe Chukudi followed, I stood at the door, and he was yelling as he entered [Sanders'] cell. And as he walked towards the center of the cell, Mr. Sanders [who was on the top bunk] turned over with his hands and feet flailing toward Lieutenant Vernon, at which point Lieutenant Vernon grabbed him and threw him to the floor. Chukudi assisted him. They were in front of me.

(Farlow Dep. p. 75)[2]

         Defendant Vernon testified:

A: As I enter the cell, Inmate Sanders swings his feet off the [top] bunk and kicks me.
Q: Did it look like Sanders had been sleeping at the time you walked in?
A: I couldn't tell.
Q: Was he lying down?
A: When I saw him he was in a somewhat reposed position. His legs were extended, but kind of, he was sitting up. . . . Like in an L position.
. . . .
Q: How did he swing his legs at you? What was the motion? Was it a kick or was it just sort of flailing?
A: It was a kick.
. . . .
A: When Inmate Sanders kicked me, I then reached up and grabbed him, because him being in a higher position, that kind of give him an advantage, you know, to kick me again. I pulled him off the bunk to the floor.
. . . .
A: . . . After I pulled him off the bunk, ‘Place your hands behind your back.' At that time he failed to comply. He was kind of struggling and flailing about.
Q: Do you recall if Mr. Sanders had hit his head on anything on his way from the bunk to the floor?
A: I thought he hit his head . . . . So when I pulled him, on his way down, I thought his head hit the [steel] table [welded into the wall] on the way down and then onto the floor.

(Vernon Dep. p. 80-82)

         Sanders testified that “all three [Defendants] grabbed [him] and removed [him] from the bed” (Sanders Dep. p. 177), “[his] head hit the stool that's constructed coming out of the wall, ” on the way down to the floor, and he lost consciousness for an indeterminate period of time. (Id. at p. 17, 21) Cooper also testified that Sanders “was in and out of consciousness” at that time. (Cooper Dep. p. 50)

         Cooper testified that he witnessed Defendant Vernon “punch” Sanders while Sanders was on the ground. (Cooper Dep. p. 46) Chukudi testified that he “saw Vernon throw a fist on one of the inmates, ” but could not say who the inmate was. (Chukudi Dep. p. 85-86; 89) Farlow testified that he “did not see” Vernon punch Sanders (Farlow Dep. p. 100); and Vernon testified, “I don't recall punching [Sanders].” (Vernon Dep. p. 83)

         Sanders testified that Defendant Vernon “kicked” him in the face, “hit” him in the head with a radio, and “repeatedly kicked . . . and stomped” his side, legs, head, and back. (Sanders Dep. p. 19, 22-23) Cooper similarly testified that Defendant Vernon “hit” and “stomped” Sanders “in his face” “multiple, multiple times through the whole thing, ” (Cooper Dep. p. 56), and “used [Vernon's] radio” to hit Sanders. (Id. at p. 58)

         Sanders testified that Defendant Farlow was holding him down at this time (Sanders Dep. p. 18, 173), and that Farlow “kicked” him, and Chukudi “was stomping” him. (Id. at p. 174, 206) Sanders further testified that “somebody” “punched [him] with . . . keys” in the back. (Id. at p. 208)

         Cooper testified that he saw “Vernon hitting on [Sanders] and Chukudi holding [Sanders].” (Cooper Dep. p. 50, 55) Defendant Farlow testified that Vernon and Chukudi were “struggling” “to get [Sanders] handcuffed and under control.” (Farlow Dep. p. 94) Defendant Chukudi testified that Farlow instructed Chukudi to “cuff [Sanders] down immediately and send him downstairs.” (Chukudi Dep. p. 89)[3]

         Sanders and Cooper both testified that Sanders was compliant through the entire altercation. (Sanders Dep. p. 212; Cooper Dep. p. 50) Defendant Vernon testified that Sanders “wasn't complying” with orders. (Vernon Dep. p. 82-83)

         Sanders testified that he suffered the following injuries:

My left eye was gashed open, my teeth went through my bottom lip, my teeth was [sic] loose, I had a hole in my back where somebody punched me with keys, bruises, contusions about my body. My face was disfigured. My leg, I couldn't stand up.

(Sanders Dep. p. 92-93; see also Id. at p. 221)

         Cooper testified that immediately after the incident Sanders “complained” “my leg, my leg, my leg.” (Cooper Dep. p. 62)

         Vernon testified that he saw that Sanders' “eye was bleeding, ”[4] so he sent Sanders “down to get taken a look at by Medical.” (Vernon Dep. p. 83)

         The medical records maintained by Defendant CFG Health Systems on behalf of the Camden County Correctional Facility reflect the following. Shortly after the incident, at approximately 12:45 a.m., a nurse examined Sanders. (Pl's Ex. 12 at C. Sanders CCCF 52) She observed that he had “stable gait, ” clear speech, a laceration to the left eye with new and old bruising, and swelling. (Id.) The nurse cleaned the wound, applied “steri-strips, ” and referred Sanders to see a doctor “in [the] a.m.” (Id.)

         Sanders did not see a doctor the next morning, but did the following day, on January 28th. (Pl's Ex. 12 at C. Sanders CCCF 50) The doctor recorded, in relevant part, “stable gait, ” soreness, swelling and discoloration to the left periorbital area and right scapula tenderness. (Id.) The doctor also observed that four of Sanders' teeth were loose and a referral to dental was made and an x-ray ordered. (Id. at C. Sanders CCCF 26) There is no record of any complaints of injury to the lower back or lower extremities. (Pl's Response to CFG's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, hereafter “Pl's R. CFG SUMF, ” ¶ 19)

         Sanders' medical file further documents the following sequence of events:

• On March 7, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip complaining of headaches and pain in the lower back down the right leg to the foot and it was noted by a nurse that Sanders was on Neurontin and he would follow-up with a doctor. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 20)
• Sanders submitted a sick call slip dated March 10, 2013 complaining of chronic headaches and pain in the back and legs and a nurse, on March 12, 2013, noted that Sanders had already been seen by a provider on March 11, 2013. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 21)
• Sanders was seen by Dr. Ronsayro on March 11, 2013 with complaints of headache, pain in right buttock shooting down right leg. Dr. Ronsayro's assessment was of sciatica in the right lower extremity and right foot drop and orders were placed for an ace bandage and Indocin for 90 days. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 22-23)
• On March 25, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip complaining of pain in the right foot and leg as well as swelling of the leg, foot and ankle; a nurse noted that Sanders had been seen by the doctor on March 11, 2013 and that medications were ordered for the Plaintiff and he was given an Ace® bandage. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 24)
• On or about March 31, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip complaining of swelling to the right leg, ankle and foot, as well as pain and, on April 1, 2013, a nurse noted swelling to the right ankle, non-pitting, no redness, no ecchymosis. The nurse also noted that Sanders denied any injury and referred Sanders to a doctor. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 25-26)
• Sanders was seen by medical director Dr. Juan Utreras on April 2, 2013 who noted Sanders' complaint of right ankle tenderness as well as full range of motion with occasional right foot dragging. Dr. Utreras noted minimal edema, normal gait, normal sensation, that Sanders was seeking more pain medication, threatening to contact his lawyer, and pain medication, Indocin, was given based on objective findings. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 27-28)
• On April 12, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip seeking renewal of unspecified medications and, on April 15, 2015, a nurse entered an order for Neurontin for Sanders. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 29)
• On April 27, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip seeking renewal of unspecified medications and a nurse noted that Sanders' prescription for Neurontin was good through July 14 and his prescription for Indocin was good through June 9, 2013. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 30)
• On May 10, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip complaining of swelling to his right leg, foot and ankles and a nurse referred Sanders to a doctor for this ongoing issue, and noted that Sanders was to be seen on May 14, 2013. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 31)
• On May 11, 2013, Sanders submitted a sick call slip complaining of swelling to his right leg, foot and ankle, and pain and, on May 12, 2013, Sanders was seen by a nurse who referred Sanders to the doctor to be seen on May 14, 2013. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 32)
• Sanders was seen by medical director Dr. Juan Utreras on May 14, 2013 for complaints of bilateral lower extremity edema for 2 weeks. Dr. Utreras ordered an EKG, chest x-ray and lab work and prescribed Lasix with a follow-up in 7 days. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 33-34)
• Sanders was seen in follow-up by medical director Dr. Utreras on May 21, 2013. Dr. Utreras noted Sanders' complaint of continuing bilateral lower extremity edema, injury history and drop foot, and lab results were noted to be within normal limits. Dr. Utreras noted reduced edema and the plan was to continue Lasix. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 35-37)
• On June 8, 2013, Sanders was seen by a nurse who noted that Sanders complained of a knot in the groin, thigh and calf, indicating that he woke up with these complaints. The nurse noted tenderness in right thigh, negative Homan's sign and negative findings of a palpable lump or mass, skin was warm and dry with no visible lesions. The nurse noted that Sanders was on Indocin and Lasix and Sanders was referred to the doctor. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 38-40)
• On June 9, 2013, Sanders was seen by Dr. Estrella Ronsayro who noted Sanders' complaint of diffuse swelling upon waking up that morning. Dr. Ronsayro noted diffuse swelling of the right lower extremity with erythematous purplish discoloration and an erythematous palpable cord along medial side of the right thigh, positive tenderness on palpation, positive Homan's sign, and increased temperature. Dr. Ronsayro ordered Plaintiff transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital to rule out cellulitis and to rule out deep vein thrombosis. (Pl's R. CFG SUMF ¶ 41-43)

         Sanders testified that throughout this time “my leg kept swelling up. . . . It would swell, go down, swell, go down. I felt a lump in my calf, my thigh, my groin area, and it would come, it would go. Then some days I could walk on it, some days I couldn't.” (Sanders Dep. p. 114)

         Sanders received in-patient treatment at the hospital for 10 days. (Sanders Dep. p. 123; Pl's Ex. 14) He was diagnosed with severe cellulitis, abscess of leg, and necrotizing fasciitis, and underwent three surgeries during his hospital stay. (Pl's Ex. 14) Sanders testified:

Q: Have any of your physicians ever told you that the surgery you received . . . back in June of 2013 was related to the ...

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