Assaults by one inmate on another occur in correctional facilities. However, government entities in New Jersey are only liable for the conduct of their employees if a constitutional violation is the result of a municipal policy or custom that violated an inmate’s constitutional rights, or that it applied a policy or custom in a manner that violated an inmate’s constitutional rights.In the case of Adriane Williams v. County of Burlington, Docket No. A-3241-18T1, Decided February 29, 2020, the New Jersey Appellate Division, in an unpublished decision, affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Burlington County because Plaintiff could not provide evidence of a claim under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
Plaintiff alleged that another inmate threw hot liquid at her and punched her several times while she was incarcerated. Ms. Williams claimed that the County failed to train its employees and failed to enact appropriate policies concerning prisoner placement and safety. At the end of discovery, the County moved for summary judgment arguing that it was entitled to immunity under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act and that there were no issues of material fact. The trial court found that there was no prior notice that the other inmate posed a threat to other inmates and that the County complied with classification rules.
The panel noted that the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-2 (c) (NJCRA) was modeled after the federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1983 and that it did not, like the federal statute, create any substantive rights. Rather, a plaintiff must prove the violation of a constitutional right. In this case, the plaintiff failed to prove that a custom or policy violated her constitutional rights or that a policy or custom was applied in a manner that violated her constitutional rights. The Court noted that the classification process used by the County to determine an inmate’s placement within a correctional facility was used at all adult correctional facilities in New Jersey. Further, there was no evidence of a prior history of violence between Plaintiff and the other inmate and no prior notice that the other inmate was likely to start a fight with the Plaintiff.
The job of confining inmates within a correctional facility is fraught with a myriad of challenges. In this case, the Court correctly applied the law to the facts and found that correctional officials did not violate Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. For further information, contact Joe Gallo in our Florham Park office at (973) 822-1110 or at Jgallo@mkcilaw.us.com.