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Estate of Hennis v. Balicki

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 18, 2019

THE ESTATE OF DAVID HENNIS, et. al., Plaintiffs,
WARDEN ROBERT BALICKI, et al., Defendants.


          Robert B. Kugler United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiffs, the Estate of David Hennis by and through its administrator, Patricia Hennis, and Ms. Hennis in her own right's (collectively “Plaintiff) Complaint, asserting violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and related state law claims. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 168), Third Party Defendant CFG Health Systems, LLC's (“CFG”) motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 183), and their respective motions to seal various exhibits (ECF Nos. 170, 187). The respective parties filed oppositions (ECF Nos. 174, 186), as well as replies (ECF Nos. 179, 190). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment, deny as moot CFG's motion for summary judgment, and grant the motions to seal as unopposed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As the parties are intimately familiar with the facts of this case, and because the Court has already set forth the background of this matter in an earlier Opinion (ECF No. 105), the Court will only state those facts necessary to address the instant motions.

         This case arises from the suicide of David Hennis, during his pretrial detention at the Cumberland County Jail. On or about July 22, 2014, Mr. Hennis received aggravated assault and related charges, and underwent an intake screening at the jail. Mr. Hennis did not appear despondent or exhibit any bizarre behavior during that screening.

         He then underwent a mental health screening with CFG staff where he denied having any thoughts or plans to commit suicide, depression, mental health treatment, psychiatric hospitalization, or any bizarre behavior. Additionally, Mr. Hennis did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and was neat, alert, clean, oriented, and had appropriate speech and mood. After intake, Officials placed Mr. Hennis in general population with a referral for substance abuse issues.

         On July 25, 2014, Mr. Hennis reported a shoulder injury from a fall, but his medical reports were normal. At some point, staff had placed Mr. Hennis into the medical segregation unit. On July 30, 2014, staff cleared Mr. Hennis to return to general population but he remained in the medical segregation unit either waiting for an x-ray or for the completion of lunch service.

         During the morning of July 30, 2014, Officer Rena Miller was responsible for watching the medical unit and conducted cell checks every twenty to thirty minutes. In particular, she conducted checks at 11:30 a.m. and 11:52 a.m., but Plaintiff alleges that “there were no inmates to check that morning, ” as all inmates had moved to a different area for construction work. (ECF No. 174-1, at ¶ 79).

         At around noon that day, Officer Miller began serving lunch and then either she or a nurse, discovered Mr. Hennis hanging with a sheet around his neck. Officer Miller rapidly called an emergency code and staff responded immediately for assistance. Staff quickly cut down Mr. Hennis, used a defibrillator, and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived minutes later. Officials took Mr. Hennis to the Inspira Health Center and was pronounced dead at 1:16 p.m.

         The Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office (“CCPO”) investigated the incident and found that Mr. Hennis had hung himself from a metal conduit located in the medical segregation unit. The jail had installed the conduit earlier that same day.

         Among the interviews, CCPO interviewed inmate David Ledbetter, who said that Mr. Hennis appeared stressed, feared returning to general population, and sought to stay in the medical unit or a transfer to a psychiatric hospital. Inmate Ledbetter overheard Mr. Hennis having a conversation with another inmate, where the other inmate discussed a prior transfer to a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. Consequently, the parties dispute whether an intentional or accidental suicide occurred, i.e., whether Mr. Hennis sought to stage a suicide attempt in order to receive a transfer to a psychiatric hospital.

         After a tortured procedural history set forth in the Court's earlier Opinion, (ECF No. 105, 5-19), the Court dismissed with prejudice CFG as a direct defendant on statute of limitations grounds. The Court also issued monetary sanctions against Plaintiffs counsel for his extreme carelessness and material misstatements with regard to CFG. (ECF No. 106).

         Defendants then filed a third-party complaint against CFG. (ECF No. 128). At the conclusion of discovery, Defendants and CFG filed their respective motions for summary judgment.


         A court should grant summary judgment “if the movant 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); see also Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Cotton, 572 U.S. at 657. The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). “[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, ” the moving party may discharge its burden “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 moving party meets its threshold burden, the opposing party must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (setting forth types of evidence that may show that genuine issues of material fact exist). The non-moving party must at least present probative evidence from which the jury might return a verdict in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. Where the non-moving party fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, ” the movant is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[Unsupported allegations . . . and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment.” Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990).


         Before discussing the merits, the Court must address the deficiencies within Plaintiffs opposition, which complicate the task before the Court and act to Plaintiff s great detriment. Under Rule 56(c)(1)(A), any party asserting that a fact is or is not in dispute must support that assertion by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” (emphasis added).

         When parties fail to follow Rule 56, a court may “(1) give an opportunity to properly support or address the fact; (2) consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion; (3) grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the ...

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