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Tyler v. Cruz

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 13, 2019

MACK TYLER, Plaintiff,
v.
JACQUELINE CRUZ et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Mack Tyler (“Tyler” or “Plaintiff”), is proceeding pro se with a complaint alleging claims for civil rights violations, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Presently before the Court is an unopposed motion by defendants Evan Feibusch (“Feibusch”), Teresa McQuaide (“McQuaide”), and Bruce Booth (“Booth”) (collectively, “Movants”), [1] for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Mot., ECF No. 48.) For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED insofar as summary judgment is granted to Movants. Furthermore, Tyler shall show cause within 45 days why his claims as against the other defendants, Jacqueline Cruz, Lawrence Rossi, Lee Acuff, Maria Champagne, Karen Johnson, and John Does and Jane Does 1-19 (collectively, “the Unserved Defendants”) should not be dismissed for his failure to effect timely service.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Underlying Facts[2]

         In December 2011, Tyler was civilly committed to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (“TPH”) under State v. Krol, 344 A.2d 289 (N.J. 1975), and New Jersey Statutes Annotated § (“N.J.S.A.”) 2C:4-8, after he was found not guilty of unspecified criminal charges by reason of insanity. (See Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, ECF No. 48-1 ¶ 2.) On December 26, 2011, another TPH patient, whom Movants refer to as “S.R.1, ” attacked Tyler while he was using a payphone. (Id. ¶ 3.) TPH staff intervened and took S.R.1 away to calm him down. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) Staff members apparently “counseled [S.R.1] about avoiding physical confrontation and released [him] under 1:1, direct supervision.”[3] (Id. ¶ 6.) Tyler suffered injuries to his face and hand, which a TPH doctor classified as minor, and TPH staff administered Tyler a painkiller. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.)

         Three months later, on March 19, 2012, S.R.1 again attacked Tyler while they were in a restroom. (Id. ¶ 9.) S.R.1's one-to-one supervisor, Lloyd Mahi (“Mahi”), was present, and he subsequently stated that Tyler fought back against S.R.1 and that Mahi tried to stop the fight while also calling for help. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Another TPH employee arrived and helped separate the two patients, who were then “counseled to refrain from assaulting each other.” (Id. ¶¶ 12- 13.) Tyler again suffered injuries to his face and hand, which a TPH doctor deemed moderate, [4]and Tyler again received a painkiller. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Tyler was released from TPH on May 14, 2014. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         B. Procedural History

         On April 27, 2015, Tyler, acting pro se, filed a Complaint claiming that the failure by Defendants-all of whom are TPH administrators or employees-to prevent the attacks against him violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (See ECF No. 1.) He alleged that, during the December attack, S.R.1's unidentified one-to-one supervisor “just stood there and watched” and “took no reasonable steps to . . . protect plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 15.) He also alleged that defendant Bryant and other staff were present, but “just watched until the incident was over.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Tyler asserted that Feibusch, McQuaide, Rossi, and Acuff, all TPH administrators, were aware of S.R.1's violent propensities, as he had previously “assaulted approximately thirty to fifty different individuals and on numerous occasions the same persons and significantly causing bodily injuries ranging from broken bones to lacerations and other injuries, which required hospitalizations.” (Id. ¶ 18.) Despite this, Tyler alleged that administrators failed to adequately treat S.R.1 and “turned a blind eye to his behavior.” (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) Tyler alleged that the March attack occurred because S.R.1's one-to-one supervisor “failed to check the bathroom to make sure no one was inside” and failed to intervene while the assault occurred. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         The Complaint asserted one count against all Defendants for failure to protect Tyler from a known risk of harm in violation of his due-process rights, based on a failure to intervene and alleged failure to follow or enforce existing policies that would have provided protection. (See Id. ¶¶ 24-39.) Tyler sought declarative relief, injunctive relief, and compensatory damages. (Id. ¶¶ 40-44.)

         Although summonses were issued for all named Defendants, proper service was effected only upon Movants and Bryant; the summonses addressed to the Unserved Defendants were returned unexecuted. (See ECF Nos. 3, 6, & 7.) The docket bears no indication of any attempt by Tyler to locate or again attempt service on any of the Unserved Defendants.

         Movants and Bryant first filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). (See ECF No. 12.) After receiving no opposition to the motion, the Court ordered Tyler to provide notice of whether he intended to proceed with the action. (ECF No. 13.) Tyler thereafter opposed the dismissal motion. (ECF No. 14.)

         On January 13, 2017, I issued an Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part the dismissal motion. (ECF Nos. 17 & 18.) Specifically, I dismissed without prejudice Tyler's claims for injunctive relief as against all defendants, as he had been released from TPH and had not adequately pleaded a likelihood that he would be subjected to the same conditions again. (ECF No. 17 at 8-10.) I found that the moving defendants had failed to show that the Complaint should be barred as untimely, because New Jersey law tolls the applicable statute of limitations while a plaintiff is suffering from a mental disability that prevents commencing an action. (Id. at 10-13.) Furthermore, I held that Tyler had, at that early stage of the action, adequately pleaded claims for failure to protect against Feibusch, McQuaide, and Booth, but had failed to plead allege personal involvement by Bryant. (Id. at 13-22.) Accordingly, I dismissed the claims against Bryant without prejudice, but granted Tyler leave to file, within 45 days, an amended pleading stating a claim against her. (Id. at 22; ECF No. 18.)

         Tyler never made any attempt to file an amended pleading. After Movants answered the Complaint, discovery was overseen by Magistrate Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni. On April 13, 2017, Judge Bongiovanni ordered Tyler to show cause why the action should not be dismissed due to his failure to appear for a required scheduling conference. (ECF No. 25.) Tyler apparently appeared for the required show-cause hearing and consented to electronic service, and Judge Bongiovanni set a discovery schedule requiring the parties to complete all fact discovery by October 31, 2017. (See ECF Nos. 26-28.) Judge Bongiovanni subsequently ordered Tyler to respond to all discovery requests, answer interrogatories and document requests, and serve his own discovery requests no later than August 13, 2017. (ECF No. 31.) Following a December 8, 2017, telephone conference with the parties, Judge Bongiovanni again ordered Tyler to provide responses to discovery requests, this time by December 15, 2017, and she further ordered Tyler to provide relevant HIPAA authorizations, warning that his failure to do so “may result in Plaintiff's inability to rely upon such treatment as a basis of damages.” (See ECF No. 38.) Tyler apparently failed to provide any discovery responses or HIPAA authorizations, and, on January 12, 2018, based on Tyler's repeated failures to comply with orders concerning discovery, Judge Bongiovanni ordered that he was “precluded from producing and relying upon any information which has not already been produced.” (ECF Nos. 40 & 41.)

         On April 12, 2018, Movants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Mot., ECF No. 45.) Tyler never filed any response to that motion. The Court, however, denied the motion without prejudice, as Movants had failed to include with the motion a statement of undisputed material facts, as required by Local Civil Rule 56.1. (ECF No. 47.) Movants subsequently filed a proper motion for summary judgment, which is presently pending before the Court. (ECF No. 48.)

         III. THE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Movants now seek summary judgment as to the claims against them.[5] (Id.) Upon the motion's filing, a copy was transmitted to Tyler at the email address he provided the Court when he consented to receive documents electronically.[6] (See ECF Nos. 27 & Receipt for ECF No. 48.) Tyler has filed no opposition to the motion, nor any other subsequent communications with the Court.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 permits a court to award a party summary judgment only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is genuine if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 422-23 (3d Cir. 2006). A fact is material if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Kaucher, 455 F.3d at 423. In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts “in the light most favorable to the [non-movant].” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         A movant for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). While a defendant moving for summary judgment must support assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), the movant is not required to “support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim, ” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Instead, “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 movant has shown an absence of material factual dispute, the non-movant then bears the burden to “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, the non-movant may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the pleadings. Id. at 324; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994), aff'd 67 F.3d 291 (3d Cir. 1995). The non-movant must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. A mere “scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         Local Civil Rule 56.1 requires that a motion seeking summary judgment include a statement of material facts not in dispute and that an opponent of summary judgment shall file “a responsive statement of material facts, addressing each paragraph of the movant's statement, indicating agreement or disagreement and, if not agreed, stating each material fact in dispute and citing to the affidavits and other documents submitted in connection with the motion.” L. Civ. R. 56.1(a). The rule further provides that “any material fact not disputed shall be deemed undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion.” Id. Although a motion for summary judgment may not be granted by default, merely because it goes unopposed, Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990), the motion may be granted if the ...


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