United States District Court, D. New Jersey
B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff Sean
Turzanski's complaint against Defendants County of
Burlington, Lawrence Artis, and Sergeant Nunn, asserting
violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments,
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently before the Court is
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 42). For
the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT IN PART,
times relevant to the allegations in the complaint, Plaintiff
was a pre-trial detainee at the Burlington County
Correctional Facility. On or about December 9, 2013, the New
Jersey Superior Court had committed Plaintiff to pretrial
detention as he could not make bail after receiving charges
of theft and robbery.
thereafter, on or about December 24, 2013, Plaintiff fought
with two inmates, although the parties dispute who initiated
the fight. After a disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff received a
sanction of fifteen days in administrative segregation from
December 24, 2013, until January 7, 2014. During that time
period, Plaintiff was able to observe another inmate, Robert
Taylor.Plaintiff contends that he witnessed Mr.
Taylor's health decline over a No. of days until Mr.
Taylor laid on the floor in blood, feces, and urine, with
discolored extremities. According to Plaintiff, jail staff
ignored his and Mr. Taylor's cries for help, as well as
the unbearable smell, and threw away Mr. Taylor's meals
because Mr. Taylor could not get off the floor to eat them.
It was not until December 30, 2013, that jail staff checked
on Mr. Taylor and attempted to resuscitate him but found that
he had been dead for a significant period of time.
then mailed letters to the media and other persons detailing
the events and conditions leading to Mr. Taylor's death,
but testified that only one letter had reached its intended
recipient, the prosecutor's office. On January 26, 2014,
Plaintiff gave another letter to a soon to be released
inmate, Edward Forchion, who forwarded the letter to various
news and media outlets.
thereafter, on January 29, 2014, Plaintiff encountered
Defendant Lawrence Artis in the jail's recreational area.
According to Plaintiff, Defendant Artis told him to
“keep [his] fucking mouth shut” and that
Plaintiff did not “know what [he] saw, ”
ostensibly referring to Mr. Taylor. (ECF No. 42-4, at 13,
70:16-18). Defendant Artis then allegedly had officers
“put [Plaintiff] against the wall, told [Plaintiff] to
shut the fuck up, handcuffed and dragged [him] back to”
the segregation unit. (ECF No. 42-4, at 13, 70:20-24).
officials then charged Plaintiff with disrupting or
interfering with the security of a correctional facility and
conducted a disciplinary hearing on January 31, 2014.
Officials found Plaintiff guilty and sanctioned him to
fifteen days in administrative segregation from January 29,
2014, until February 12, 2014. According to Plaintiff, on an
unknown date during that period, an unidentified inmate
assaulted him, resulting in permanent injuries to his right
filed suit against three named Defendants, the County of
Burlington, former warden Lawrence Artis, and “Sergeant
Nunn, ” in their official and individual capacities.
Plaintiff's complaint brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983
claim for retaliation under the First Amendment (Count One)
and a § 1983 claim for unreasonable search and seizure
under the Fourth Amendment and a denial of due process under
the Fourteenth Amendment (collectively Count Two).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
should grant summary judgment “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 Tolan v. Cotton, 572
U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014). 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
Cotton, 572 U.S. at 657. 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 moving
party may discharge its burden “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.
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 v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see
also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (setting forth types of
evidence that may show that genuine issues of material fact
exist). The non-moving party must at least present probative
evidence from which the jury might return a verdict in his
favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. Where the
non-moving party fails to “make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial, ” the movant is entitled to
summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
“[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.”).
Municipal Liability Under § 1983
County of Burlington argues that summary judgment is
appropriate because Plaintiff has failed to establish his
claim against a local government entity under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. To succeed on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff
must allege two things: first, a violation of a right under
the Constitution, and second, that a “person”
acting under color of state law committed the violation.
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988);
Piecknick v. Com. of Pa., 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d.
Cir. 1994)). The Supreme Court has established that §
1983's definition of “person” includes
municipalities and other local government entities.
Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S.
658, 690 (1978).
plaintiff may not, however, hold a local government unit
“liable for the unconstitutional acts of its employees
on a theory of respondeat superior.”
Thomas v. Cumberland Cty., 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d
Cir. 2014). To hold such an entity liable under § 1983,
plaintiffs must demonstrate that a local government unit
adopted a policy or custom and that such policy or custom had
been “the moving force” behind the deprivation of
their constitutional rights. See Monell, 436 U.S. at
policy generally involves a “statement, ordinance,
regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by
[a local governing] body's officers.” Id.
at 690. A municipal custom, although lacking the formal
approval of a policy, refers to those official practices
which are “so permanent and well settled as to
constitute . . . the force of law.” Id. at
certain circumstances, a municipality's failure to
properly train its employees and officers can amount to a
“custom” under § 1983. See City of
Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989). When a
plaintiff alleges that a policy “concerns a failure to
train or supervise municipal employees, liability under
section 1983 requires a showing that the failure amounts to
‘deliberate indifference' to the rights of persons
with whom those employees will come into contact.”
Thomas, 749 F.3d at 222 (quoting Carter v. City
of Phila., 181 F.3d 339, 357 (3d Cir. 1999)). “A
pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained
employees is ‘ordinarily necessary' to demonstrate
deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to
train.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 62
(2011) (quoting Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty.,
Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 409 (1997)).
“first inquiry in any case alleging municipal liability
under § 1983 is . . . whether there is a direct causal
link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged
constitutional deprivation.” Canton, 489 U.S.
at 385. The County of Burlington may satisfy its burden for
summary judgment by showing “that there is an absence
of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.”
See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Assuming
arguendo that Plaintiff has properly alleged a
violation of a constitutional right, he has failed to show
that the County is a “person” acting under color
of state law and committed that violation. See West,
487 U.S. at 48.
alleges that a local government unit “committed”
a violation but fails to show that the County of
Burlington's policies or customs resulted in the alleged
violation. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. In fact,
Plaintiff fails to address Defendants' arguments on this
issue anywhere in their opposition. (ECF No. 48). Plaintiff
fails to identify any specific county policies or customs
that amount to deliberate indifference to the county's
inhabitants. See Carswell v. Borough ofHomestead,381 F.3d 235, 244 (3d Cir. 2004). Nor
does Plaintiff produce any evidence to demonstrate a pattern
of underlying constitutional violations. In fact, the only
mention of a potential policy or custom anywhere in
Plaintiffs opposition or complaint is that a policy required
Defendant Nunn to tour the correctional facility three times
per day which lacks any causal link to any of the alleged