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David Johnston v. Genesee County Sheriff Maha

February 21, 2012

DAVID JOHNSTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENESEE COUNTY SHERIFF MAHA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, David Johnston, commenced this action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His seventeen-count complaint asserted an array of claims arising out of certain events that occurred during 2005, while plaintiff was being held at the Genesee County Jail ("Jail"), awaiting trial on pending state criminal charges.

In November 2008, this Court issued a Decision and Order, 584 F.Supp.2d 612, granting defendants' motion for summary judgment, and dismissing the complaint. On appeal by plaintiff, the Court of Appeals the Second Circuit on February 2, 2012 affirmed this Court's judgment dismissing Counts Four through Seventeen of the complaint, and vacated and remanded for further proceedings as to that portion of this Court's judgment that dismissed Counts One, Two and Three. __ Fed. Appx. ___, 2012 WL 313571.

DISCUSSION

I. Count Three

In Count Three of the complaint, plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by a correctional officer in July 2005, and that this assault violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. This Court dismissed this claim on the ground that plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

The Second Circuit, however, held that "the plaintiff was excused from the requirement of PLRA exhaustion as to Count Three, because the grievance process became unavailable to him when he was moved to a prison facility in a different jurisdiction less than two days after the alleged assault." 2012 WL 313571, at *3. As to the merits of this claim, the court also stated that "[b]ecause there are several clearly material issues of disputed fact regarding the events that gave rise to Count Three, we reverse the District Court's grant of summary judgment on this count and remand for a trial on the merits." Id.

In accordance with the Court of Appeals' decision, this Court denies defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Count Three. The factual issues relating to Count Three will have to be decided at trial.

II. Count One

Count One arises out of plaintiff's placement in isolation in February 2005 He alleges that his period in isolation, which was imposed without prior notice, and during which he was not given any opportunity to challenge that placement, violated his right to due process of law.

In my prior decision, I found that plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies as to this claim, but that defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the merits. Applying the standards for prisoner due process claim set forth in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995), this Court stated that "there is no basis upon which one could reasonably conclude that [plaintiff's] conditions of confinement were unusually harsh," during the three or four days that he spent in isolation.

In its decision, the Second Circuit held that this Court had "erred in applying Sandin v. Conner, a case applying the Eighth Amendment to claims brought by convicted prisoners, to Johnston, who in February and March 2005 was a pretrial detainee." 2012 WL 313571, at *2. The Court of Appeals stated that this Court "should instead have evaluated Count One ... under the Fourteenth Amendment, which governs the due process rights of pretrial detainees." Id.

The Court of Appeals went on to state that it would decline to resolve the Fourteenth Amendment issue in the first instance. Although it seems not implausible to us that these claims will survive summary judgment, the question presented here--whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's argument that he was twice placed in isolation as a form of punishment and was each time denied the opportunity to challenge his placement--must first be answered by the District Court.

The court therefore "vacate[d] the District Court's ruling as to Count One ... and remand[ed] for the application of the ...


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