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Belskis v. Somerset County

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 15, 2017

JOSEPH EDWARD BOVIN BELSKIS, Plaintiff,
v.
SOMERSET COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE RECOMMENDED DECISION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         A former prison inmate whose toe was amputated because a County Jail and its employees refused to allow him to wear diabetic shoes has survived a motion for summary judgment against jail personnel who were aware of his medical condition and failed or refused, despite his requests, to provide him with proper footwear and against the jail itself, which adopted policies that prohibited him from wearing proper footwear while incarcerated.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         A. Procedural History

         On March 6, 2015, Joseph Edward Bovin Belskis filed a complaint in this Court against various federal, county, and individual actors, including a medical contracting business and several of its employees, alleging that they violated his civil rights while he was a federal prisoner housed at the Somerset County Jail. Compl. (ECF No. 1).[1] Mr. Belskis began this legal action acting pro se; however, once he survived a motion to dismiss and motion for judgment on the pleadings and faced motions for summary judgment, the Court asked Attorney Jon Haddow to represent Mr. Belskis and on March 31, 2017, Attorney Haddow entered his appearance on Mr. Belskis' behalf. Notice of Appearance (ECF No. 253).

         On November 21, 2016, the so-called County Defendants[2] filed a motion for summary judgment, County Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 215), together with a statement of uncontested material facts. County Defs.' Statement of Uncontested Material Facts (ECF No. 216). On March 2, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision on the County Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Recommended Decision on County Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 240) (Rec. Dec.). On March 9, 2017, Mr. Belskis, acting pro se, objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision. Pl.'s Obj. to Recommended Decision (ECF No. 241) (Pl.'s Obj. to Rec. Dec.). On March 13, 2017, Mr. Belskis, still acting pro se, filed a supplemental objection to the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision. Pl.'s Suppl. Objection to County Recommended Decision (ECF No. 249). On March 14, 2017, the County Defendants also filed an objection to the Magistrate Judge's Recommended Decision. Somerset County Defs.' Partial Obj. to Recommended Decision on Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 246) (County Obj. to Rec. Dec.). On March 16, 2017, the County Defendants filed a response to Mr. Belskis' objection to the Magistrate Judge's Recommended Decision. Somerset County Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Obj. to Recommended Decision (ECF No. 248). After Attorney Haddow entered his appearance on behalf of Mr. Belskis, he filed a notice of consent to the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision. Pl.'s Notice of Consent to Recommended Decision on County Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 264). This left only one matter pending on the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision, the County Defendants' partial objection.

         I. THE RECOMMENDED DECISION

         In his recommended decision, the Magistrate Judge recommended that this Court dismiss Mr. Belskis' Complaint against three of the Somerset County Defendants and deny the motion as regards the remaining Somerset County Defendants.[3] Recommended Decision at 22. The Magistrate Judge's recommended decision addresses the three issues that the Somerset County Defendants contended entitled them to summary judgment: (1) whether Mr. Belskis' claims were barred because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, (2) whether the doctrine of qualified immunity protects them from liability, and (3) whether Mr. Belskis had established that Somerset County had adopted a custom, policy or practice or that a decision made in a supervisory capacity, either of which led to the deprivation of a constitutional right. Id. at 1-2.

         The Magistrate Judge rejected the motion for summary judgment based on an asserted failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Id. at 13-16. The record reflected that Mr. Belskis had gone through Level 1 and Level 2 grievances. Id. at 15. The County Defendants contended that he had failed to appeal to Level 3, the final level of administrative review. Id. The Court observed that an inmate is required to file a letter of appeal to the Department of Corrections only after receiving a response to the Level 2 grievance. Id. Mr. Belskis denied receiving a response to the Level 2 grievance and the Magistrate Judge concluded that his denial created a factual issue as to whether Level 3 “was available to Plaintiff.” Id. at 16.

         The Magistrate Judge next addressed the issue of qualified immunity. The Magistrate Judge recited the “deliberate indifference” objective and subjective standards as they apply to the provision of medical care to an inmate. Id. at 16-17. The Magistrate Judge concluded that the record failed to establish evidence that Defendants Delong, Lancaster, or Giggy, “individually or in a supervisory capacity, was involved in the care Plaintiff received at the Somerset County Jail.” Id. at 20. Yet, the Magistrate Judge concluded that for the remaining Somerset County Defendants, “the same facts would raise a genuine issue whether a reasonable officer in their position would have appreciated that such acts or omissions violated clearly established law.” Id.

         The Magistrate Judge also discussed Mr. Belskis' official capacity claims against Somerset County. Id. at 21. Here, he concluded that the record “contains sufficient facts to support a claim based on a policy of the County.” Id. More specifically, he wrote, “a factfinder could conclude Plaintiff was deprived of his diabetic shoes and thus denied the required care because of the County's contraband policy as applied to Plaintiff's diabetic shoes.” Id. at 21-22.

         II. THE COUNTY'S OBJECTION

         On March 14, 2017, the Somerset County Defendants filed a partial objection to the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision. County Obj. to Rec. Dec. at 1-6. The Somerset County Defendants obviously did not object to the recommended decision to the extent it recommended dismissal of Mr. Belskis' claims against some of them. Id. at 1 n.1. But they did object to the extent the Magistrate Judge recommended against summarily dismissing others from Mr. Belskis' case. Id. at 1-5. Nor did they object to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation about the failure to exhaust defense.

         First, the individual Somerset County Defendants complain that the Magistrate Judge “failed to consider whether despite their knowledge [of Mr. Belskis' condition], these Defendants responded properly by providing Belskis with continued medical care, allowing him to ...


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