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Prall v. Supreme Court

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 20, 2018

TORMU E. PRALL, Plaintiff,
v.
SUPREME COURT, et al., Defendants.

          TORMU E. PRALL, Plaintiff pro se 700294B/650734 New Jersey State Prison P.O. Box 861 Trenton, New Jersey 08625

          GURBIR GREWAL, Attorney General for the State of New Jersey BY: MARVIN FREEMAN, Deputy Attorney General Office of the Attorney General 25 Market Street Trenton, New Jersey 08625 Attorneys for Defendants Sgt. Stanley Judson, SCO Daniel Witzel, and SCO Edward Santiago

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, a prisoner confined at New Jersey State Prison, brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that various officers of the New Jersey Department of Corrections' Special Operations Group used excessive force to remove him from a courtroom and return him to prison following a court appearance while he was shackled.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Sgt. Stanley Judson, SCO Daniel Witzel, and SCO Edward Santiago motion for summary judgment. [Docket Entry 57]. Plaintiff Tormu Prall opposes the motion. [Docket Entry 60]. The motion is being considered on the papers pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b).

         The principal issues to be decided are (1) whether Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) prior to filing his complaint in federal court; (2) whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims that they used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment when removing him from a state courtroom, and (3) to the extent there may have been a violation, whether Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

         The Court finds that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies under the PLRA and is therefore precluded from filing suit. Alternatively, the Court determines that no reasonable jury could conclude Defendants used excessive force against Plaintiff on the record before the Court. Therefore, the Court will grant the summary judgment motion for the reasons stated below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On December 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint against numerous state officials based on his “conscientious object[ion] to New Jersey[‘s] criminal injustice system.” [Docket Entry 1 ¶ 26]. The Court granted Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application[1] and permitted the complaint to proceed on his claims of excessive force and failure to intervene in an alleged attack by corrections officers on April 4, 2013. [Docket Entries 7 & 8]. On November 25, 2014, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint. [Docket Entry 25].

         Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on March 23, 2018. [Docket Entry 57]. Plaintiff filed opposition on April 9, 2018. [Docket Entry 60]. On October 26, 2018, the Court gave notice to the parties that it may resolve factual disputes regarding Plaintiff's exhaustion of administrative remedies as part of Defendants' summary judgment motion pursuant to Paladino v. Newsome, 885 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2018) and Small v. Camden County, 728 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2013). [Docket Entry 62].

         B. Allegations in Pleadings

         The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was transported to state court proceedings in Mercer County Superior Court on April 19, 2011 by Defendants Judson, Witzel, Delvalle, [2]and Santiago. [Amended Complaint, Docket Entry 26 ¶ 10]. He alleges he was restrained through steel leg shackles, steel hand shackles, a belly chain, “and a black box through which the belly chain and hand shackles were bound.” [Id.].

         Plaintiff appeared before the Honorable Edward M. Neafsey, J.S.C. [Id. ¶ 11]. At some point, Judge Neafsey ordered Plaintiff to be removed from the courtroom. [Id. ¶ 12]. According to the complaint, “[d]efendants Judson, Witzel, Delvalle, and Santiago pulled Prall out of his chair, kicked his shoes off, stepped on his leg restraints and made him walk so fast that it caused him to fall to the ground, hit, slammed and pressed his head into the courthouse walls . . . .” [Id.]. Plaintiff further alleges he was made to walk in the rain with bare feet and that his face was scraped along the fence in the court parking lot. [Id.]. Plaintiff states that the shackles cut off circulation in his hands, arms, and legs. [Id. ¶ 13]. He reported the use of force to the New Jersey Department of Corrections and was informed an investigation would occur. [Id.]; see also [Docket Entry 1-2]. Plaintiff alleges no investigation ever took place. [Docket Entry 26 ¶ 13].

         C. Defendants' Statement of Material Facts

         Defendants state that Plaintiff was transported to the Mercer County Courthouse from New Jersey State Prison (“NJSP”) on April 19, 2011. [Defendants' Statement of Facts (“DSOF”), Docket Entry 57-1 ¶ 1]. At that time, Plaintiff was confined in NJSP's Management Control Unit. [Id. ¶ 2]. He was restrained using handcuffs, a black box, belly chains, and leg irons. [Id. ¶ 3].

         The Superior Court judge ordered Plaintiff from the courtroom. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants pulled him out of his chair by his chains. [Id. ¶ 4]. Plaintiff alleged that the leg irons cut off his circulation. [Id. ¶ 5]. He further alleged that an unknown officer stepped on his ankle chain, causing him to trip. [Id. ¶¶ 6-7]. He asserts “when Defendants stepped on his chains it was intentional because it happened more than once.” [Id. ¶ 8]. The officers were walking close to Plaintiff and “were physically holding him up as he walked at a fast pace.” [Id. ¶ 9]. Plaintiff alleges Defendants bumped his head against the elevator wall. [Id. ¶ 10].

         Plaintiff argues that he lost one shoe when they got outside due to the fast pace and had to continue walking with only one shoe and one sock. [Id. ¶ 12]. He claims that when he was put in the transport van, the officers told him “‘wait until we get back. You are going to see what is going to happen.'” [Id. ¶ 13]. When they arrived at NJSP, Defendants placed Plaintiff in a holding pen before taking him to his unit and leaving. [Id. ¶ 14]. The restraints were removed, and the numbness left Plaintiff's limbs. [Id. ¶ 15]. “Plaintiff stated that the physical injuries were temporary.” [Id. ¶ 16].

         Plaintiff was examined by Registered Nurse Bernice Anene immediately upon his return from Mercer County Courthouse. [Id. ¶ 17]. His medical records for that examination state that he was “‘seen on return from court trip. Denies any medical ...


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