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Webster v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 29, 2018

ROBERT WEBSTER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Robert Webster, is a former prisoner that was incarcerated in the New Jersey State Correctional System. Plaintiff, through counsel, filed a second amended complaint asserting civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the New Jersey Law against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). Presently pending before the Court are two motions for summary judgment, one filed by the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Corrections (collectively the “State Defendants”) (ECF No. 91), and the other filed by Rutgers University and William Briglia, D.O. (collectively the “Medical Defendants”) (ECF No. 94). Both the State and Medical Defendants have also moved to seal certain exhibits submitted with their motion papers. (ECF Nos. 92, 95, & 110). Plaintiff opposes both motions for summary judgment, but not the motions to seal. For the following reasons, both the State and Medical Defendants' motions for summary judgment are denied. Additionally, the State and Medical Defendants' motions to seal are granted.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         As noted in this Court's previous opinion, this case centers around Plaintiff's allegations that during his incarceration he suffered a sudden yet persistent bilateral arm paralysis that went untreated for the entirety of his confinement. Upon being released from prison in July 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS”), which he contends was exacerbated by the Defendants' failure to treat his condition. Plaintiff also alleges that he was denied adequate living accommodations, harassed, and ridiculed on account of his paralysis.

         Plaintiff alleges that on February 8, 2011, while incarcerated at Bayside State Prison, he presented to the prison physician with a sudden onset of paralysis in both arms. (See ECF No. 46 at ¶ 25). Available medical records indicate that Plaintiff complained of shoulder pain and experienced a decreased range of motion in his hands in October 2011. (See ECF No. 93 at pp. 257-58). Additionally, medical staff observed a decreased range of motion in Plaintiff's shoulders in November 2011. (See Id. at p. 231). As a result of this observation, a lower bunk restriction was ordered.[1] (See Id. at pp. 232-33). Plaintiff also complained to medical staff that he was unable to lift his arms above shoulder height on December 29, 2011. (See Id. at pp. 201-02).

         The available medical records show that Plaintiff's medical condition became progressively worse. By April 2, 2012, Dr. Briglia noted chronic arthritic changes and muscle atrophy of Plaintiff's hands and shoulders as well as Plaintiff's inability to lift his hands to shoulder height. (See Id. at pp. 104-05). Following his evaluation by Dr. Briglia, Plaintiff continued to complain to the prison medical staff of his upper extremity weakness, limited mobility, and the inability to lift his arms above his head. (See Id. at pp. 48-53, 88-90, 100-02). At a physical therapy appointment on June 21, 2012, Plaintiff complained of muscle weakness, paresthesias, and tremors. (See Id. at p. 26). The physical therapy records also note that Plaintiff “states he has not been able to move his arms since winter 2010. Weakness has advanced … unable to lift arms up at all.” (See id.). It was further observed that Plaintiff presented with “severe bilateral [upper extremity] flaccid paralysis and hand contracture” and that he was “unable to move much, very limited function.” (See id.).

         Plaintiff claims that as a result of his arm paralysis, he required assistance to participate in daily living activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, brushing his teeth, and using the restroom. (See ECF No. 46 at ¶ 39). Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he requested assistance and accommodations from the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and medical staff on a regular basis. (See ECF No. 91, Ex. F at 39:20 to 40:12; ECF No. 100, Ex. D at 110:25 to 111:18). Despite these requests, Plaintiff alleges that the State and Medical Defendants failed to provide him with reasonable accommodations, such as an aide to assist him with daily functions. (See Id. at ¶¶ 36-37). As a result, Plaintiff contends that he was forced to pay other inmates to help him engage in these daily activities. (See Id. at ¶ 39).

         Plaintiff argues that the State and Medical Defendants were both aware of his disability and need for accommodations as his condition was obvious and apparent to all who observed him. In support of this contention, Plaintiff cites to his medical records and an adjudication of disciplinary charge report dated April 3, 2012, wherein a DOC hearing officer found Plaintiff not guilty of committing the prohibited act of possession or introduction of a weapon because he was unable to physically reach the top locker area where the item was found. (See ECF No. 91, Ex. P). Plaintiff also asserts that the medical records do not include all of the oral complaints he made to DOC and medical staff. In support of this contention, Plaintiff points to the testimony of Dr. Ralph Woodward, Rutgers' designee, wherein Dr. Woodward stated that not all informal communications and complaints generate documentation, thus indicating that the available medical records are not necessarily the entire extent of the communications between the inmate, medical personnel, and prison staff.[2] (See ECF No. 102, Ex. L at 97:22 to 98:8). Despite this knowledge, Plaintiff contends that the State and Medical Defendants failed to provide him with any reasonable accommodations to assist him in daily life activities.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint on February 7, 2013 in the Camden County Superior Court naming the State, the DOC, and numerous fictitious “John Does.” (See ECF No. 1, Ex. B). On December 1, 2014, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming Rutgers (incorrectly plead as University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey) as a defendant and replacing the John Doe defendants with the following individuals: Niranjana Shah, M.D.; Jennifer Stackhouse, RN; Judith Fidler, RN; Victoria D'Amico, RN; Natasha Auguste, RN; Rhonda Kuteyi, RN; Francis Meo, M.D.; Stephanie Smith, RN; Denise Schnee, RN; Sherita Latimore-Collier, M.D.; Roni J. Feldman, APRN; Assistant Warden Lanoza; Sergeant Rojas; Officer Ronald Long; Social Worker Eisinger; Sergeant Joynes; Corrections Officer Battle; Corrections Officer Urgo; and Associate Director Ronald Riggins. (See ECF No. 1, Ex. A). Mr. Lanoza was never served with the amended complaint. (See ECF No. 91 at p. 2).

         On February 27, 2015, the State Defendants removed Plaintiff's amended complaint from the Camden County Superior Court to the District Court of New Jersey. (See ECF No. 1). On March 24 and April 20, 2015, the State Defendants and the Medical Defendants, respectively, filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. (See ECF Nos. 3, 8). In an order and opinion dated September 15, 2015, this Court partially granted the Defendants' motions, dismissing Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment, NJLAD, and ADA claims without prejudice for failure to state a claim.[3] (See ECF Nos. 17, 18).

         On December 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint asserting violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the individual defendants (Count I); violations of the New Jersey Constitution against the individual defendants (Count II); violations of the NJLAD against the institutional Defendants, Mr. Lanoza, and Mr. Riggins (Count III); and violations of Title II and Title III of the ADA against the institutional Defendants (Count IV). (See ECF No. 46). The parties have consented to the dismissal of all claims against the individual Defendants except for Dr. Briglia and Mr. Lanoza. (See ECF Nos. 53, 105, 108, 113).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         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. Cnty. of Allegheny Pa., 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. See 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 Scheidemantle v. Slippery Rock Univ. State Sys. of Higher Educ., 470 F.3d 535, 538 (3d Cir. 2006) (“To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party needs to show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial.”).

         IV. ...


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