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Tri Thanh Nguyen v. Franklin County and Sheriff Dane Anthony

April 20, 2012

TRI THANH NGUYEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FRANKLIN COUNTY AND SHERIFF DANE ANTHONY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

(MAGISTRATE JUDGE BLEWITT)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt, recommending that the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. As the Court finds no constitutional violation pursuant to the state-created danger doctrine, the Court agrees that Plaintiff's Monell claim must fail. Therefore, the Court will adopt Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation and grant summary judgment in the Defendants' favor.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Tri Thanh Nguyen was a protective custody inmate at the Franklin County Jail.*fn1 On October 21, 2010, Nguyen was escorted by Franklin County Sheriff's Deputies to the Franklin County Courthouse for a court appearance. He was placed in a holding cell with general population inmates from the Franklin County Jail. While inside the Courthouse holding cells, inmates remain secured at all relevant times through leg chains and handcuffs with a waist chain connected to a leather belt, and there had never been any previous incident of violence between inmates within the holding cells. Nevertheless, one of the inmates in the cell that day, Brent Thomas, was able to free one of his hands from his handcuff and assaulted Nguyen while the Sheriff's Deputy was away. Before the Deputy returned, Inmate Thomas reapplied his handcuffs and the Deputy did not notice that anything had transpired. When the Deputy left again, Inmate Thomas once again freed himself and assaulted Nguyen. Nguyen called for help, the two inmates were separated, and Nguyen was given medical assistance. There are differing accounts as to the extent of Nguyen's injuries. At no point before calling the Deputy for help did Nguyen advise anyone that he was potentially threatened or that he felt concerned for his safety.

On September 7, 2010, Nguyen filed this pro se civil rights action with the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). In it, Nguyen claims that he was assaulted due to the "lax transportation practices of the Franklin County Sheriffs, which was known to and ratified by the defendants." (Compl. at ¶ 34, Doc. 1.) Specifically, Nguyen argues that the Defendants had customs and policies in place that disregarded an excessive risk to inmates in protected classes, and that despite being on notice of their deficient polices, the Defendants failed to properly train and supervise deputies with respect to inmate safety. These shortcomings pertained to improper handcuff application, failure to separate dangerous and vulnerable inmates, and declining to verify an inmate's status as protected or disciplinary prior to transit. On September 30, 2010, Magistrate Judge Blewitt screened Plaintiff's Complaint and issued a Report and Recommendation recommending, in pertinent part, that all of Nguyen's claims under the Fifth Amendment and Eighth Amendment be dismissed with prejudice; that Franklin County be substituted as a Defendant in place of Franklin County Sheriff's Department and that Franklin County Sheriff's Department be dismissed; and that all of Nguyen's claims against Deputies Stroble, Carter, and Hall, as well as the Unknown (John Doe) Deputies be dismissed without prejudice. On December 13, 2010, the Court adopted Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation which left remaining Nguyen's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Defendants Franklin County and Sheriff Anthony.

On September 22, 2011, the remaining Defendants moved for summary judgment, and Magistrate Judge Blewitt issued a Report and Recommendation on December 16, 2011 recommending that the Defendants' Motion be granted. Nguyen filed an objection to the Report and Recommendation, and the Defendants filed their response. This issue is now ripe for the Court's review.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards

A. Legal Standard for Reviewing a Report and Recommendation

Where objections to the Magistrate Judge's report are filed, the court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the report, Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c)), provided the objections are both timely and specific, Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6--7 (3d Cir. 1984). In making its de novo review, the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Owens v. Beard, 829 F. Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the court to rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675--76 (1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7; Ball v. United States Parole Comm'n, 849 F. Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa. 1994). Uncontested portions of the report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the court should review uncontested portions for clear error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F. Supp. 375, 376--77 (M.D. Pa. 1998). As such, the Court reviews the portions of the Report and Recommendation to which the Petitioner objects de novo. The remainder of the Report and Recommendation is reviewed for clear error.

B. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party ...


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