Hamiltonv.Leavy

United States District Court, D. DelawareJul 27, 2001
Civil Action No. 94-336-GMS (D. Del. Jul. 27, 2001)

Civil Action No. 94-336-GMS

July 27, 2001


I. INTRODUCTION


Gregory M. Sleet, District Judge.

On June 20, 1994, Jerome K. Hamilton filed this civil rights action, pro se, against several employees of the Delaware Department of Corrections. These defendants include: Faith Levy, Pamela Faulkner, and William Queener, who are members of the Multi-Disciplinary Team at the Gander Hill prison facility in Wilmington, Delaware (the "MDT defendants"); Frances Lewis, chairperson of the Delaware Department of Corrections Central Institutional Classification Committee ("CICC"); and George M. Dixon, Jack W. Stephenson, Deborah L. Craig, Joanne Smith, Dennis Loebe, Francis Cockroft, Jerry Borga, Richard Schockley and Eldora C. Tillery, who were all members of the CICC ("CICC defendants"). In his complaint, Hamilton alleges that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right against the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment by knowingly disregarding an excessive risk to his personal safety. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For these alleged wrongs, Hamilton seeks compensatory, punitive, and special damages. Presently before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Because of the defendants have failed to demonstrate that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court will deny the defendants' motion. The reasons for the court's decision are set forth in detail below.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The court can grant summary judgment only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" if, given the evidence, a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. See, e.g., Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-51 (1986)). A fact is "material" if it bears on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim. See, e.g., Abraham, 183 F.3d at 28. In order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must demonstrate the existence of a material fact supplying sufficient evidence, not mere allegations, for a reasonable jury to find for the nonmovant. See Steelman III v. Carper, 124 F. Supp.2d 219, 222 (D.Del. 2000) (citing Olson v. General Elec. Astrospace, 101 F.3d 947, 951 (3d Cir. 1996)).

On summary judgment, the court cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. International Union, United Auto., Aerospace Ag. Implement Workers of America, U.A.W. v. Skinner Engine Co., 188 F.3d 130, 137 (3d Cir. 1999). Instead, the court can only determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Abraham, 183 F.3d at 287. In doing so, the court must look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all reasonable doubts in favor of that party. See Pacitti v. Macy's, 193 F.3d 766, 772 (3d Cir. 1999).

Next, the court will describe the facts giving rise to the defendants' motion.

III. BACKGROUND

On August 5, 1992, Jerome Hamilton was assaulted by another prisoner while incarcerated at Gander Hill Prison ("Gander Hill"). Hamilton alleges that this assault occurred because of the defendants' deliberate indifference to his safety. Specifically, he alleges that the defendants failed to place him in protective custody even though they knew that his life was possibly in danger as a result of his cooperation in an official investigation into drug trafficking at a local prison which led to the arrest of both prison guards and prison inmates.

It has been remarked that:

Hamilton has a long history of being assaulted throughout the Delaware prison system. He has been transferred out of the State of Delaware twice, and has been placed in protective custody on numerous occasions. While an explanation for each of Hamilton's violent clashes throughout the prison system is absent from the record, the fact that Hamilton's safety has been an ongoing concern is not in dispute.

Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742, 744 (3d Cir. 1997) (reversing the court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants on a prior motion in this action).

Because Hamilton's experiences in prison prior to August of 1992 have already been described in detail, see 117 F.3d at 744-45, the court will only describe the facts relating to the assault that occurred on August 5, 1992.

On September 4, 1990, Hamilton was transferred to Virginia pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact. Hamilton was transferred to Virginia out of concern for his safety. In Hamilton v. Leavy, the Third Circuit stated that, "there appeared to be no safe place for Hamilton in the Delaware prisons." See id. at 745. In December of 1991, Hamilton was returned to Delaware and temporarily placed in Gander Hill Prison ("Gander Hill") for the purpose of prosecuting two actions in Delaware state court. See id.

A. Orders Concerning Hamilton's Return to Delaware

On December 13, 1991, the Delaware Superior Court held a replevin hearing in Hamilton v. Redman, C.A. No. 86c-SE-38. Jerome Hamilton appeared pro se at this hearing. John J. Polk, a deputy attorney general, appeared on behalf on the defendant. At the hearing, the court stated that Hamilton would be held in a Delaware prison in order "for him to have access to the lawbooks and get out his discovery and so on while he's up here." See Appendix, D.I. 186, at A45. The court then convened for a short period of time so that the State could determine whether the "prison people" could maintain the "special precautions" involved in detaining Hamilton in Delaware. See id. at A44. After the recess, Polk stated that the deputy administrator for the Delaware Department of Corrections Compact indicated that "a one to two-month stay by Mr. Hamilton in Delaware is something they can accommodate." Id. at A45. Polk also stated he emphasized with the Department of Corrections representative that "Hamilton is in need of protective custody," and that he was told that Hamilton "can be accommodated in Gander Hill or SCI." Id. at A46. Polk then stated that "[m]y request of the Department — and I don't think that there would be a problem adhering to this — is that he be housed here in Gander Hill." Id. At the end of the hearing, Judge

Taylor specifically stated:

Let's leave it that way, then. So, you'll — you [Hamilton] are to be detained up here at the State Gander Hill Prison for a length of time up to two months, and it will be dependent upon what reports I get back from the Deputy Attorney General, from you and what progress is made toward resolving this thing without further trial. At that point, then we can chart, of course, which we can only speculate about today. So, we'll leave it that way. Prison will have you up to two moths and during that time Mr. Polk will cooperate with you and try to work something if possible, and will keep the Court informed immediately after the December 27th response."

Id. at A49.

On March 5, 1992, Judge Taylor wrote a letter to Polk which stated that Polk did not supply Hamilton with discovery as ordered and that Hamilton was "ordered held at the Gander Hill Prison for two months pending resolution of this matter." Id. at A36. The Judge further explained that the Interstate Corrections Compact Administrator "has contacted my office to see if [Hamilton] can be returned to the prison from which he had been transferred for the purpose of resolving this case." Id. Judge Taylor then stated that Polk had "failed to comply with my order of December 13, 1991. If Gander Hill Prison needs action, they you should take immediate action to comply with the order of December 13, 1991. Until you comply with this Order, there is no alternative but to keep petitioner at the Gander Hill facility. IT IS SO ORDERED." Id.

Judge Taylor retired on June 30, 1992. On August 5, 1992 (ironically, the same day as the assault), Judge Haile Alford wrote a letter to Jerome Hamilton in response to his June 23, 1992, letter requesting court intercession on his behalf. In the letter, Judge Alford explained that Judge Taylor had ordered Hamilton held at Gander Hill until Polk attempted to resolve the matter without trial. See id. at 34. Also, and most significantly, Judge Alford construed Judge Taylor's prior orders in the case:

The letter from the Court dated March 5, 1992, does not order that you are to be held at Gander Hill until the completion of your case. Because this case is not set down for trial, the conditions that caused you to be incarcerated at Gander Hill have changed, and there is no longer a reason in [this] matter for you to remain at that specific facility. This letter takes no position on your continued incarceration at Gander Hill with respect to the other matters you have pending before Delaware courts. . . .

Id. (emphasis added).

B. Snitching Incident

On March 25, 1992, Hamilton submitted an "Emergency Grievance" against Correctional Officer Simpson for calling him "a good telling mother f_____g snitcher in a day room around other inmates who heard the same above threat[en]ing statement." This incident was confirmed by other witnesses. An April 11, 1992, report on the incident written by Lieutenant McCreanor, stated that "C.O. Simpson, after being provoked, exercised poor judgment by calling IM [inmate] Hamilton a snitch." After the incident, the "Resident Grievance Resolution Committee" of five prison officials recommended "a thorough investigation" to Deputy Warden George Martino ("Martino") because "statements of calling inmates `snitches' the Committee believes that comments of this nature has the potential of a major disturbance and requires immediate action." On June 15, 1992, Martino concluded that Simpson did make the statement; his ruling on the matter was: "Grievance upheld. C.O. Simpson's response to offender Hamilton was inappropriate." In addition, Martino directed that "C.O. Simpson's supervisor is to discuss appropriate and professional demeanor [with Simpson]."

On June 18, 1992, the Gander Hill Multi-Disciplinary Team ("MDT") consisting of defendants, Faith Levy, Pamela Faulkner, and William Queener, reviewed Hamilton's file on their own initiative and issued a unanimous written recommendation which summarized Hamilton's situation and recommended that he be placed in protective custody. In particular, the MDT's recommendation explains that:

Per Deputy AG John Polk, the reason Hamilton was sent to VA [Virginia] was because he had worked with IA [Internal Affairs] in a drug investigation involving officers and inmates. Prior to this Hamilton had been off and on protective custody and administrative segregation and classified to MSU [Maximum Security Unit] and close custody. He has reportedly been involved in . . . [misconduct] as well as victimized in an assault(s). Subsequently, Hamilton claims that protective custody concerns still exist `throughout the state.'

D.I. 186, A164-166.

On June 24, 1992, the Institutional Classification Committee ("ICC"), which had the authority to put Hamilton in protective custody, reviewed and considered the MDT's recommendation. The ICC decided to take no action. Defendant Frances Lewis, chairperson of the ICC, acknowledged in deposition testimony that an MDT protective custody recommendation is a "serious matter," and agreed that the MDT "is in the best position to make enlightened decisions" about assigning inmates to the proper programs and security levels. D.I. 186, at A150.

In Hamilton v. Leavy, the Third Circuit noted that Lewis had previously personally approved transfers of Hamilton into protective custody on November 16, 1998 and February 8, 1989. These transfers resulted from Hamilton being labeled a snitch. See id. at 745.

On July 24, 1992, Steven M. Clayton was placed in the Gander Hill Facility following his July 9, 1992 escape and recapture from the Sussex Work Release Center. Sometime thereafter, Clayton was placed in the same cell with Hamilton. On August 5, 1992, Clayton assaulted Hamilton. According to Hamilton, Clayton accused Hamilton of being a snitch during the assault. Clayton, who pleaded guilty to the assault, stated that he committed the offense because Hamilton was "a snitcher on inmates and officers at [Gander Hill]." See Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d at 745. As a result of the assault, Hamilton required surgery to repair two jaw fractures. See id. On August 12, 1992, Frances Lewis then requested an emergency change of Hamilton's classification and transfer to Protective Custody.

C. Litigation Resulting From the August 5, 1992 Assault 1. Hamilton v. Martino

As a result of the August, 1992 assault, Hamilton filed a civil rights against Deputy Warden Martino, Warden Elizabeth Neal, and Bureau Chief Hank Risley in this court on September 8, 1993. This matter was captioned Hamilton v. Martino, CA 93-93-439-LON. A subsequent suit filed by Hamilton against Colleen Schotzberger was consolidated with the Martino case on December 1, 1993. In the Martino action, the court construed Hamilton's complaint as

asserting two claims against each of these defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, the plaintiff charges that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in failing to protect him from the August 25, 1992 [sic] assault. Second, plaintiff charges that defendants did not transfer him to protective custody, where he would have received protection from other inmates, on the basis of his race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff subsequently amended his complaint in the lead action to assert failure to protect claim[s] against another defendant, Correctional Officer Simpson.

D.I. 186, at A70.

In a June 10, 1997 Order, the court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss which it considered as one for summary judgment because the parties attached matters outside of the pleadings. Applying Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, the Martino court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants because "[t]here is no evidence to establish that any of the defendants knew or should have known that Clayton posed a substantial risk of serious harm to plaintiff." Id. at A76. Hamilton attempted to appeal the court's decision, however, on August 8, 1998, his appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because it was untimely filed.

2. Hamilton v. Leavy

Hamilton filed the present action on June 20, 1994. In his complaint, Hamilton named Faith Leavy, Pamela Faulkner, William Queener and Frances Lewis as defendants. D.I. 2. On August 25, 1994, Hamilton filed a motion for appointment of counsel. On September 2, 1994, the defendants filed a motion pursuant to FRCP Rule 20(a) that their case be "joined with the case of Hamilton v. Martino, et. al., Case No. 93-439-LON. D.I. 15. On that same date, the defendants also filed a motion to dismiss. D.I. 16. On September 13, 1994, the defendants followed up their "Motion of Joinder of Defendants" with a Motion to Consolidate the case with Hamilton v. Martino. D.I. 20.

On November 3, 1994, the court issued an Order granting summary judgment in favor of MDT defendants, Levy, Faulkner, and Queener. The court granted summary judgment to the MDT defendants because "they recommended that Hamilton be placed in protective custody, and were without authority to effectuate that recommendation." See Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d at 745. As to defendant Lewis, the court stated that: "the only issue of fact remaining in the case is whether defendant Lewis was either informed by plaintiff or was otherwise specifically aware that plaintiff was facing a substantial risk of serious harm while housed in the general population at the MPCJF." D.I. 47, at ¶ 5. In addition, the court's November 3, 1994 Order denied Hamilton's request for appointment of counsel, prevented him from pursuing additional discovery, and did not allow him to amend his complaint to add new defendants. Id. The Order also denied the defendants' motions for joinder and consolidation. The parties then submitted further briefing on the one remaining factual issue in the case. See D.I. 53 56. On May 26, 1995, the court entered summary judgment in favor of defendant Lewis and the case was dismissed. Specifically, the court granted summary judgment in Lewis's favor on the ground that the facts did not establish that she was aware of the risk to Hamilton, and that a reasonable factfinder could not find otherwise. Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d at 745.

Because the defendants attached affidavits to their motion to dismiss, the court decided the motion as one for summary judgment.

In June of 1997, the Third Circuit reversed the court's decision in Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742 (3d Cir. 1997). Specifically, the circuit court determined that the district court erred in "failing to acknowledge the MDT's recommendation that Hamilton should be placed in protective custody as evidence that he faced a substantial risk of serious harm." Id. at 747. The court also determined that "a factfinder could infer that Lewis knew that the threat to Hamilton's safety was imminent." Id. As to the MDT defendants, the court held that a there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the MDT defendants acted reasonably following the rejection of their recommendation. Id. at 748. Finally, the Third Circuit instructed the district court on remand to appoint counsel for Hamilton, allow him to pursue discovery, and permit him to amend his complaint. Id. at 749-50. With this background in mind, the court will turn to the substance of the defendants' arguments.

After the Third's Circuit's decision, this case was reassigned to Judge Gregory M. Sleet on September 28, 1998.

IV. DISCUSSION

In their motion for summary judgment, the defendants argue that they are shielded from suit because they are entitled to sovereign, absolute, "absolute quasi-judicial immunity," and qualified immunities. The defendants also contend that Hamilton is precluded from asserting any Eighth Amendment claims as a result of an adverse judgment in Hamilton v. Martino. In addition, the defendants maintain that Hamilton's claims against certain defendants cannot proceed because of procedural errors. Specifically, they allege that claims against certain defendants are time barred, and that Hamilton has failed to properly serve other defendants. Finally, the defendants assert that Hamilton's claims under Delaware statutes fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The court will address these arguments in turn

A. Immunities From Suit 1. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The defendants first assert that they are immune from suit in their official capacities pursuant to the doctrine of sovereign immunity according to the Eleventh Amendment. The court agrees and will dismiss all claims for monetary damages brought against the defendants in their official capacities because they enjoy sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974). However, to the extent that Hamilton seeks to recover from the defendants in their individual capacities, such claims are within the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

In his second amended complaint, Hamilton attempts to sue the defendants in their individual and official capacities.