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Carson v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 16, 2019

DAVID CARSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Hon. Susan D. Wigenton, United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on remaining Defendant Sherry Yates' motion for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 66). Plaintiff failed to respond to the motion or file a statement of material facts in dispute. (ECF Docket Sheet). Also before the Court is Plaintiff's motion seeking a preliminary injunction (ECF No. 60), to which Defendant has responded. (ECF No. 67). For the reasons set forth below, this Court will grant Defendant's summary judgment motion, will enter judgment in favor of Defendant Yates as to all of Plaintiff's remaining claims, and will deny Plaintiff's motion seeking a preliminary injunction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because Plaintiff David Carson[1] has failed to oppose or otherwise dispute Defendant's statement of material facts not in dispute submitted in support of Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Document 2 attached to ECF No. 66), this Court considers Defendant's statement of facts undisputed and admitted for the purposes of this opinion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2); Local Civil R. 56.1. The following facts are thus drawn from Defendant's statement of material facts and Plaintiff's statements during his deposition.

         Plaintiff is currently involuntarily civilly committed as a sexually violent predator (SVP) at the Special Treatment Unit (STU) in Avenel, New Jersey. (Document 2 attached to ECF No. 66 at 1). Plaintiff has been committed as an SVP since July 1999. (Id.). Although Plaintiff's prospects for release from the STU depend upon his completing treatment, Plaintiff is currently refusing treatment, and is therefore housed in the STU's South Unit. (Id. at 2). The section of the STU in which Plaintiff is housed - which is composed of a North, South, East, and West unit and houses a few hundred civil committees - has three washing machines and three dryers. (Id.; Document 6 attached to ECF No. 66 at 4-5). Beginning in 2014, those machines began to periodically break down. (Document 6 attached to ECF No. 66 at 7). Plaintiff contends that these breakdowns are indicative of “just negligence” on the part of the STU as the STU “wasted money on [repeated] repairs [rather] than outright just buying a new . . . machine.”[2] (Id. at 8). Plaintiff admits, however, that the facility continues to repair machines as they break down. (Id.; Document 2 attached to ECF No. 66 at 2). The longest period of time during which Plaintiff could recall one of the machines being broken was “three months straight, ” and Plaintiff testified that once briefly only two washing machines and one dryer were functional. (Id.; Document 6 attached to ECF No. 66 at 5). Generally, however, repairs to nonfunctioning machines occurred either within a couple of days of break downs or between ten and fifteen days in extreme cases. (Document 6 attached to ECF No. 66 at 18). During his deposition, Plaintiff testified that the laundry problems were exacerbated by his fellow SVPs who worked in the laundry room who showed favoritism towards some committees and ignored clothing from others when limited machines were available. (Id. 10-11). The longest period Plaintiff had gone without freshly laundered clothes as a result of these machine breakdowns and favoritism was “a week at the most.” (Id. at 15).

         In addition to washing machines operated by SVP attendants, Plaintiff explained during his deposition that many SVPs, himself included, also handwashed their clothes and then hung them to dry on hooks in their rooms. (Id. at 15-16). Although these hooks were temporarily removed by security personnel during room searches, Plaintiff placed his hooks back on the wall and began using them to dry his hand washed clothes once more. (Id. at 12). Regardless, Plaintiff contends that the laundry issues both caused him to occasionally have to wear dirty clothing and also resulted in dirty laundry being present in the STU, which contributed a rank smell to the facility. Smell aside, however, Plaintiff never suffered any illness or injury as a result of the laundry issues, and denied suffering any sever emotional distress, stating that if he said that he had suffered any such issue he'd “be lying, ” stating that he was simply “tired” of dealing with laundry issues. (Id. at 17).

         Following this Court's granting in part of Defendants' motions to dismiss, only a single named Defendant remains in this matter - Sherry Yates, who was the administrator of the STU at the time that the laundry issues about which Plaintiff complains took place. At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that Ms. Yates was the “administrator” of the STU who “respond[s] to . . . grievances and stuff like that, ” but whose main job was to “oversee all functions of the institution.” (Id. at 12). Plaintiff therefore contends she had a duty to “make sure everything is functioning properly.” (Id.). Yates, however, was not responsible for employing SVPs as laundry workers, and by Plaintiff's own admission did not assign the workers who Plaintiff believes improperly favored some of his co-residents. (Id.). Although Plaintiff never complained to her about the laundry issues or otherwise raise them to her attention, he believes she must have seen some of the dirty laundry during her tours of the facility “twice a week.” (Id. at 12-13).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 56, a court should grant a motion for summary judgment where the record “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). The moving party bears the initial burden of “identifying those portions of the pleadings depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A factual dispute is material “if it bears on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim, ” and is genuine if “a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party.” Blunt v. Lower Merion School Dist., 767 F.3d 247, 265 (3d Cir. 2014). In deciding a motion for summary judgment a district court must “view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, ” Id., but must not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, [however, ] there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsuhita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Once the moving party has met this initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party who must provide evidence sufficient to establish that a reasonable jury could find in the non-moving party's favor to warrant the denial of a summary judgment motion. Lawrence v. Nat'l Westminster Bank New Jersey, 98 F.3d 61, 65 (3d Cir. 1996); Serodio v. Rutgers, 27 F.Supp.3d 546, 550 (D.N.J. 2014). “A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial. However, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations, instead it must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial.” Serodio, 27 F.Supp.3d at 550.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)(2) and Local Civil Rule 56.1, where, as here, the moving party files a proper statement of material facts and the non-moving party fails to file a responsive statement of disputed material facts, this Court is free to consider the moving party's statement of material facts undisputed and therefore admitted for the purposes of resolving the motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Ruth v. Sel. Ins. Co., No. 15-2616, 2017 WL 592146, at *2-3 (D.N.J. Feb. 14, 2017). Even where the defendants' statement of material facts is deemed admitted and unopposed, a district court is still required to “satisfy itself that summary judgment is proper because there are no genuine disputes of material fact and that [Defendants are] entitled to judgment as a matter of law” in order to grant summary judgment. Id. At 2 (citing Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. Of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990)).

         B. Analysis

         The sole remaining Defendant in this matter, former STU administrator Sherry Yates, moves for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims. In his complaint, Plaintiff raised two claims - a claim that the laundry issues at the STU amounted to an unconstitutional condition of confinement in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and its state equivalent, and that Defendant had improperly used funds from a resident welfare fund to pay for laundry repairs. As Plaintiff himself denied that any resident welfare fund money was used to pay for those repairs, (Document 6 attached to ECF No. 66 at 14), there is clearly no ...


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