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Estate of Lewis v. Cumberland County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 20, 2019

THE ESTATE OF ROBERT WAYNE LEWIS, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Robert B. Kugler United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiffs, the Estate of Robert Wayne Lewis by and through its administrator, Tammy Wilson, and Ms. Wilson in her own right's (collectively “Plaintiff) Second Amended 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 Defendant Balicki and Cumberland County's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 120), Defendant CFG Health Systems, LLC's (“CFG”) motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 118), Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 119), and the County Defendants' motion to seal (ECF No. 122). The parties filed their respective oppositions (ECF Nos. 128, 129, 130), and all parties, with the exception of Plaintiff, filed replies (ECF Nos. 136, 137). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motions for summary judgment, deny as moot Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment, and grant the motion 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. 80), the Court will only state those facts necessary to address the instant motions.

         This case arises from the suicide of Robert Lewis, during his pretrial detention at the Cumberland County Jail. On October 27, 2015, Mr. Lewis underwent an intake screening at the jail. Mr. Lewis did not appear despondent, exhibit any bizarre behavior, or appear to be under the influence of drugs during that screening. Mr. Lewis denied having any cuts or open wounds, and the intake officer did not observe any scars or wounds. The intake officer testified that if he had seen any scars or wounds, he would have recorded that information and notified medical staff.

         Mr. Lewis then underwent a mental health screening with a CFG intake nurse, where he denied having any thoughts or plans to commit suicide, prior suicide attempts, mental health issues, psychiatric history, or drug issues. Additionally, Mr. Lewis did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and was neat, alert, clean, oriented, and conducted himself appropriately. Approximately two months prior, Mr. Lewis was admitted to the jail, but on that occasion, responded that he had heroin issues and a prior suicide attempt.

         On this occasion, Plaintiff alleges that the nurse did not check Mr. Lewis' prior medical history, or his wrists, which had scars from a prior suicide attempt. After intake, officials placed Mr. Lewis in general population without a mental health referral.

         On October 29, 2015, officials conducted a cell check at 10:30 p.m. with no issues to report. At approximately 10:56 p.m., staff discovered Mr. Lewis hanging by a sheet in the shower area of that part of the jail. Approximately two minutes later, officers attended to Mr. Lewis and performed CPR until medical staff took over.

         Paramedics arrived and transported Mr. Lewis to Inspira Hospital and was pronounced dead in the morning of October 30, 2015. The Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office and the jail completed investigations of the incident.

         As discussed in the Court's earlier Opinion, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint against Defendants raising § 1983 and related state law claims. (ECF No. 26). CFG filed a motion for partial summary judgment with regard to Plaintiff's failure to serve a proper affidavit of merit. (ECF No. 38). The Court granted that motion in part and permitted Plaintiff's negligence claims against CFG to proceed only under the common knowledge exception. (ECF No. 80). At the conclusion of discovery, all parties filed their respective motions for summary judgment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         Additionally, when plaintiffs move for summary judgment, they bear a heavier burden. See, e.g., Dunkin Donuts Franchising LLC v. Claudia III, LLC, No. 14-2293, 2015 WL 4243534, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 14, 2015). As plaintiffs have the burden of proof at trial, they must produce on a motion for summary judgment, “evidence satisfying each element of [their] claims and show there is ‘no genuine dispute as to any material fact that would prevent the court from rendering judgment in the movant's favor.'” Id. (quoting Moore's Federal Practice § 56.40(1)). Indeed, a plaintiffs evidence “must be so powerful that no reasonable jury would be free to disbelieve it.” (Id.).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiffs Failures to Comply with Rule 56(c)(1)(A)

         Before discussing the merits of these motions, the Court must address the deficiencies within Plaintiffs oppositions, which complicate the task before the Court and act to Plaintiffs 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 movant is entitled to it; or (4) issue any other appropriate order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         Local Civil Rule 56.1(a) supplements the federal rule and provides in relevant part:

The opponent of summary judgment shall furnish, with its opposition papers, 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; any material fact not disputed shall be deemed undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion.

(emphasis added).

         Additionally, an “opponent may . . . furnish a supplemental statement of disputed material facts, in separately numbered paragraphs citing to the affidavits and other documents submitted in connection with the motion, if necessary to substantiate the factual basis for opposition.” Id. (emphasis added).

         Stated differently, expressing a general disagreement “without identifying the facts disputed and without [citing] to evidence in the record that raises an issue of fact regarding that point, is insufficient to survive summary judgment.” Malik v. Hannah, 799 F.Supp.2d 355, 358 (D.N.J. 2011) (emphasis added); see, e.g., Juster Acquisition Co., LLC v. N. Hudson Sewerage Auth., No. 12-3427, 2014 WL 268652, at *5 n. 4 (D.N.J. Jan. 23, 2014) (admonishing the defendant for falsely claiming that facts were in dispute, and noting that “any statement that is not explicitly denied with a proper citation to the record in a responsive Rule 56.1 statement is deemed admitted.”); Walters v. Carson, No. 11-6545, 2013 WL 6734257, at *9 n.11 (D.N.J. Dec.19, 2013).

         With those principles in mind, Plaintiff's responsive statement of material facts as to the County Defendants only denies or partially denies 13 of the 100[1] paragraphs with any citations to the record. (ECF No. 130-1). The rest of Plaintiff's denials, “attempt[] to dispute a fact asserted and supported from the record by Defendants, without supporting [her] position with a citation to the record.” See Soto-Muniz v. Corizon, Inc., No. 10-3617, 2015 WL 1034477, at *3 n.3 (D.N.J. Mar. 10, 2015), aff'd sub nom. Soto-Muniz v. Martin, 665 Fed.Appx. 226 (3d Cir. 2016).

         Moreover, in 10 of the 13 remaining paragraphs in “dispute, ” Plaintiff is “attempting to deny a fact not actually asserted by Defendants” or mischaracterizes the cited evidence. Id.; (See ECF No. 130-1, at ¶¶ 13, 15, 27, 33, 40, 60, 72, 80, 81, 90 (misnumbered)). In these instances, Plaintiff submits a denial, and then cites to, at best, supplemental related information. Although the Court will consider this supplemental information, such evidence is insufficient to dispute their respective facts in question. See, e.g., Soto-Muniz, 2015 WL 1034477, at *3, Juster, 2014 WL 268652, at *5 n. 4. Accordingly, the Court will regard the entirety of the County Defendants' statement of facts, with the exception of paragraphs 31, 34, and 69, as undisputed for the purpose of the County Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Additionally, as Plaintiff did not file a supplemental statement of facts under Local Rule 56.1(a), the Court will only consider the alleged facts in Plaintiff's brief that have proper citations to the record. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), 56(e); Malik, 799 F.Supp.2d at 358. That said, Plaintiff's entire brief contains only four citations to the record, two of which, appear to cite to the entirety of an expert's deposition. (ECF No. 130). Astonishingly, County Defendants emphasized these failures in their reply, and yet Plaintiff appears to have made no effort to remedy these deficiencies.

         Similarly, as to CFG's motion, Plaintiff's responsive statement of material facts only denies or partially denies 22 of the 100 paragraphs with any citations to the record. (ECF No. 129-1). Once again, the rest of Plaintiff's denials, “attempt[] to dispute a fact asserted and supported from the record by Defendants, without supporting [her] position with a citation to the record.” See Soto-Muniz, 2015 WL 1034477, at *3 n.3.

         Furthermore, in 19 of the 22 remaining paragraphs in “dispute, ” Plaintiff is “attempting to deny a fact not actually asserted by Defendants, ” mischaracterizes the cited evidence, or fails to cite evidence with any particularity. Id.; (See ECF No. 129-1, at ¶¶ 18-29, 79, 80, 83, 85, 86, 89, 99). Critically, in paragraphs 18 through 29, Plaintiff appears to have copied and pasted a conclusory denial, and then cited to the entirety of her statement of facts from her motion for summary judgment.[2] (ECF No. 129-1, ΒΆΒΆ 18-29). ...


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