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Belin v. O'Neill

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 21, 2019

PATRICIA BELIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES O'NEILL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on two motions to dismiss Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint. This case emanates from the death of Jaquan Williams in the intensive care unit of a hospital after a physical altercation with another inmate in his jail cell. Plaintiff, Patricia Belin, is the administratrix of Williams' estate. The motions to dismiss are brought by the County of Somerset (ECF No. 38) and the five supervising Defendants: Warden Charles O'Neill, Deputy Warden Roger Delin, The Estate of Chief Gary Hoats, Captain John Quinn and Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano. (ECF No. 37).

         The Second Amended Complaint (SAC) sets forth seven separate causes of action. They are: (1) failure to protect (Count I); (2) failure to provide medical care (Count II); (3) failure to train/supervisory liability (Counts III, VIII, IX); (4) wrongful death (Counts IV, X); (5) conspiracy to interfere with civil rights (Count V); (6) violations of civil rights under the New Jersey Constitution (Counts VI, XI); and (7) negligence (Counts VII, XII). (ECF No.. 32). The Court has subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I.

         On January 11, 2017, the incident giving rise to this case occurred. Williams was having difficulty breathing and a "Code White" issued. (Id. at ¶ 43). Approximately ten minutes later, the Somerville Rescue Squad and the Mobile Intensive Care Unit arrived. (Id. at ¶ 45-46). Williams was transported to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where he went into cardiac arrest. Williams was pronounced dead at 9:45 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 47-51).

         Plaintiff alleges that Williams' death was caused by an altercation between Williams and another inmate, James Kyser. The SAC alleges that two unidentified inmates observed the incident. One witness "observed Kyser throwing [Williams] around in his cell, and could hear the thud . . . of Williams' body hitting metal inside the cell." (Id. at ¶ 77). The SAC alleges the fight lasted about twenty minutes. (Id. at ¶¶ 74, 75). The official incident report indicated that the two inmates who witnessed the altercation stated that Williams initiated the fight. (Id. at ¶ 55).

         After the altercation ended, two inmates pushed an intercom button to alert corrections officers (CO) about Williams' injuries. Upon arrival, the COs entered the pod, and one CO allegedly looked into Williams' cell and then "kept it moving" without tending to Williams' injuries. (Id. at ¶¶ 68, 81). About one hour later, another inmate walked by the cell, saw Williams, and called the COs. (Id. at ¶ 82).

         The SAC alleges there were prior incidences or notices that the supervisory defendants had knowledge that Williams' health and safety were at risk within the corrections institution. Most notably, the SAC alleges that on or about ten separate times, Williams was noted to be a "confirmed gang member" by institution officials, and as such, his safety was at risk. (SAC ¶¶ 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 32, 33, and 35).

         In addition, the SAC alleges two other prior incidents giving corrections officials notice that Williams was a safety risk. In one prior confinement, Williams was not identified as a gang member by County officials, and when Williams was moved to a new cell, Williams was harassed by another inmate, causing Williams to lodge a complaint against the other inmate. (SAC ¶ 12-19).

         During another period of incarceration, a CO, responding to a call by Williams, found him with lacerations on his face. Williams claims that he had fallen out of bed, but he later admitted that he had been in a fight. (Id. at ¶¶ 22, 27). As a result, Williams was charged with several violations of prison rules relating to the fight.

         The SAC alleged that the "Somerset County jail had policies and practices" for video surveillance of the pods (SAC ¶ 129), and to provide the inmate with ... medical attention. (SAC ¶ 130); however, supervisory employees "were deliberately indifferent to the obvious consequences... that directly caused constitutional harm to decedent." (SAC ¶ 137). Despite these allegations, there are no facts alleging that any of the supervisory defendants knew that Williams was in jail or involved in a fight.

         II.

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept as true all allegations in the Complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While a court will accept well-pleaded allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; see also Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A complaint should be dismissed only if the well-pleaded alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium, 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss, there is a three part test: "(1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Within the SAC, there are a number of conclusory statements, which focus on the supervisory employees bringing this motion, and Somerset County. More specifically, they are:

118. Defendants, Charles O'Neill; Roger Delin; Gary Hoats; John Quinn; Frank J. Provenzano, Sr.; and John Doe Correctional Officers 1-10 knew or should have known that Decedent was subjected to a malicious beating as made evident by reports of Decedent being heard hitting metal inside of his cell, asking for help, and gasping for air by fellow inmates.
119. Defendants, Charles O'Neill; Roger Delin; Gary Hoats; John Quinn; Frank J. Provenzano, Sr.; and John Doe Correctional Officers 1-10 knew or should have known that Decedent required medical treatment when a correctional officer came to the pod directly after the fight to see what was happening.
120. Defendants, Charles O'Neill; Roger Delin; Gary Hoats; John Quinn; Frank J. Provenzano, Sr.; and John Doe Correctional Officers 1-10 knew that Decedent required immediate medical treatment, and intentionally refused to provide it to him, as made evident by a correctional officer doing rounds and not taking action to check on Decedent's condition and seeking treatment for Decedent.
121. Defendants, Charles O'Neill; Roger Delin; Gary Hoats; John Quinn; Frank J. Provenzano, Sr.; and John Doe Correctional Officers 1-10 delayed Decedent from receiving necessary medical treatment for non-medical reasons, as made evident by at least approximately one hour ...

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