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Tinsley v. Main

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 31, 2019



          Madeline Cox Arleo, District Judge


         This matter having been opened to the Court by Defendants Merrill Main, Ph.D., R. Van Pelt, and Christopher Beaumont, Ph.D.[1] ("the DHS Defendants") (ECF No. 195) on a motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff Russell Tinsley's ("Plaintiff) First Amendment retaliation claims against Defendants Main and Beaumont in connection with Plaintiffs submission of grievances, complaints, and/or lawsuits. For the reasons explained in this Opinion, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment as to Defendant Beaumont and will deny the motion for summary judgment as to Defendant Main. The Court will also deny Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration of the Court's prior decision granting summary judgment to Defendants Van Pelt and Sherry Yates, and deny without prejudice Plaintiffs motion to remove his counsel.


         In May 2010, Plaintiff was civilly committed to the Special Treatment Unit ("STU") as a sexually violent predator ("SVP") under New Jersey's Sexually Violent Predator Act ("SVPA").[2]Merrill Main, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Clinical Director at the STU and supervised the treatment of Plaintiff during the relevant time period. (ECF No, 195-2, Defendants' Statement of Material Facts "DSMF" at ¶ 1.) Christopher Beaumont, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in the STU and treated Plaintiff during the relevant time period. (DSMF at 119-10.)

         It appears undisputed that Plaintiff has submitted numerous grievances, complaints, and lawsuits related to his confinement in the STU. The grievances, complaints, and lawsuits challenge Plaintiffs civil commitment, the inadequacy of his sex offender treatment, the failure to promote him to the next stage of treatment, and the restrictive nature of his confinement on the South Unit of the STU. In his grievances, complaints, and lawsuits, Plaintiff also alleges misconduct by STU staff, including alleged retaliatory conduct by Defendants Main and Beaumont.[3]

         Defendant Beaumont has worked directly with Plaintiff as a front-line therapist. (DSMF at *"¶ 9-10.) Specifically, Defendant Beaumont has facilitated two process groups (that is, Treatment Orientation ##2 and 18) and one psycho-educational module (that is, Relapse Prevention 1A.B) with Plaintiff. Defendant Beaumont asserts that while he was working with Plaintiff as one of his front-line therapists, he encouraged Plaintiff to process salient therapeutic issues during the group process while also focusing on sex-offender-specific dynamics. (DSMF at ¶¶ 10-11.)

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff submitted several Remedy Forms expressing dissatisfaction with Defendant Beaumont during the relevant time period. (ECF No. 199-2, Plaintiffs Cert., Exhibit L at 129-135.) On September 9, 2014, Plaintiff also submitted a "Complaint" contending that on September 8, 2014, Defendants Beaumont "brushed off evidence of [Plaintiffs] successful completion" of certain treatment modules and recommended that Plaintiff repeat the modules despite his high scores.[4] Plaintiff further asserted that other residents were moved off the South Unit and/or advanced to the next module, and he believed that his failure to advance was the result of complaints Plaintiff has brought against Defendant Beaumont and his other therapists, resulting in an investigation by the DHS and the Newark Board of Psychologists.[5] (Id. at 135.) There is no record evidence of a complaint to the Newark Board of Psychologists. Plaintiff did, however, submit a Complaint to the New Jersey State Board of Psychological Examiners in 2014, asking them to investigate Defendant Beaumont and Dr. Burley's decision not to advance him in treatment.[6] (Plaintiffs Cert., Exhibit M at 139-140.) Plaintiff has not provided the date he first submitted his Complaint about Defendant Beaumont to the New Jersey State Board of Psychological Examiners, but it appears that the Complaint against Defendant Beaumont was filed prior to September 9, 2014. (See ECF No. 195-4, Beaumont Cert, at ¶ 7, Exhibits A-B.)

         Defendant Beaumont asserts that his role as Plaintiffs therapist did not require him to respond to resident grievances because they are administrative in nature; consequently, Defendant Beaumont asserts that he neither received grievances submitted by Plaintiff nor was ever made aware of one submitted by him regarding any treatment as one of his front-line therapists. (DSMF at ¶¶ 12-13.) Because he neither received nor was made aware of any grievances from Plaintiff, Defendant Beaumont asserts that his treatment decisions did not have anything to do with Plaintiffs grievances and that his treatment decisions were based on his professional evaluation and judgment of Plaintiffs psychological needs.[7] (DSMF at ¶ 14.) Defendant Beaumont appears to concede that he was aware of Plaintiff s Complaint filed with the New Jersey State Board of Psychological Examiners and has attached to his certification his letter responses to the September 9, 2014 and October 7, 2014 letters from the State Board of Psychological Examiners. (Beaumont Certification at ¶ 7, Exhibits A-B.)

         It also appears undisputed that Defendant Main was aware of Plaintiff s frequent filing of grievance, complaints, and lawsuits.[8] (See ECF No. 195-3, Main Certification at ¶ 5, Ex. A and B; Plaintiffs Cert., Ex. A at 7-14.) Plaintiff asserts that on or about October 11, 2014, Defendant Main told Plaintiff he would never advance in treatment if he continued to file grievances and lawsuits. To support his allegation, Plaintiff has submitted a Remedy Form dated October 29, 2014, in which he states: "On Thursday October 11, 2014[, ] after the Community Meeting with DHS staff[, ] Merrill Main, STU Clinical Director made statements to me that may be Retaliatory ...."[9] (Plaintiffs Cert., Exhibit A at 8 (emphasis added).) Defendant Main responded personally to this grievance, but his response is illegible.[10] (See id.) In response to the DHS Defendants' summary judgment motion, Plaintiff has submitted a sworn certification stating that Merrill Main told him on or about October 11, 2014, that no matter how much progress Plaintiff made in treatment, that his complaints and lawsuits would "only hurt any and all chances for [Plaintiff] to ever get discharge[d] and [Plaintiff] will never get off the South Unit."[11] (Plaintiffs Cert, at ¶ 8.)

         Defendant Main disputes that he made this statement, and asserts that he would never tell any resident that he could not advance in treatment if he continued to file grievances. (DSMF at ¶ 6.) Defendant Main also appears to dispute that the October 11, 2014 conversation occurred.[12] He avers that October 11, 2014 was a Saturday, and that he did not work on that day. (DSMF at ¶ 2.) Defendant Main also contends that he and Plaintiff would not have spoken directly with each other around that time because Defendant Main would have been available to speak with him only during monthly resident-community meetings, and Plaintiff did not attend these meetings. (See DSMF at ¶ 3.)

         In letters to Plaintiff dated October 7, 2014 and November 17, 2014, Defendant Main cautioned Plaintiff that his grievances, lawsuits, and legal arguments were interfering with his treatment. (Main Cert. ¶ 5, Exhibits A, B.) Defendant Main asserts that his concerns about Plaintiffs protected activities were exclusively motivated by legitimate treatment concerns. (Main Cert. ¶5.)


         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine only if there is "a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party," and it is material only if it has the ability to "affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. County of Bucks,455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino ...

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