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IN RE BAYSIDE PRISON LITIGATION

March 13, 2002

IN RE: BAYSIDE PRISON LITIGATION


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Orlofsky, District Judge

OPINION

This § 1983 prison litigation is, incredibly, still in its initial phases almost four-and-a-half years after the first complaint was filed on October 17, 1997. This prolonged first act is the result of the hundreds of constantly evolving Plaintiffs, the impossibility of maintaining the case as a class action, and the shifting contours of the law applicable to Plaintiffs' claims. This latest, and presumably last Motion to Dismiss, presents this Court with two novel questions.

First, I must address whether Plaintiffs are required to meet a pleading standard more demanding than the one set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a),*fn1 for claims against individual government officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Second, I must decide whether the "grievance procedure" described in the Bayside Prison Inmate Handbook could or did constitute an "available administrative remedy" for purposes of the exhaustion requirement contained in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (2000) ("PLRA").

For the reasons that follow, I conclude that the Supreme Court's recent reiteration of the purpose of the simplified pleading system embodied in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates the conclusion that Plaintiffs can not be held to a "heightened pleading standard" for their § 1983 claims. I further conclude that the while administrative remedies described in internal prison documents that are not promulgated pursuant to a state administrative procedure act may constitute an "administrative remedy" under the PLRA, the procedures codified in the Bayside Prison Inmate Handbook were not sufficiently clear, expeditious, or respected by prison officials to constitute such an administrative remedy.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs in this case are hundreds of inmates incarcerated at the Bayside State Correctional Facility ("Bayside") in Leesburg, New Jersey, between July 30, 1997 and November 1, 1997. Plaintiffs allege that following the fatal stabbing of Corrections Officer Fred Baker by Inmate Steven Beverly on July 30, 1997, a "lock down" was ordered at Bayside, during which they suffered a panoply of injuries at the hands of Defendants, in violation of their constitutional rights. See Sixth Amended Compl. at ¶ 4. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Fifth Amended Complaint*fn2 marks the end of this lengthy prelude to substantive discovery,*fn3 thus, a brief summary of the case's procedural history is in order.

Plaintiffs' initial complaint was filed on October 17, 1997. An Amended Complaint followed quickly thereafter on October 31, 1997. Pursuant to a Court Order, Plaintiffs' counsel conducted a series of interviews with Bayside inmates, in order to determine the composition of the Plaintiff class. See Order of Nov. 16, 1997. Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint and Plaintiffs cross-moved to file a Second Amended Complaint on February 6, 1998. In an Opinion dated September 29, 1998, I granted in part and denied in part both motions. See White v. Fauver, 19 F. Supp.2d 305 (D.N.J. 1998), abrogated in part by Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65 (3d Cir. 2000) and Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2000). Specifically, this Court held: (1) the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) ("PLRA"), did not encompass complaints of excessive force; (2) the PLRA did not encompass claims of false disciplinary charges or retaliation for filing suit; (3) the PLRA's requirement that inmates exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit did not apply to claims for compensatory and punitive damages where monetary relief was not available under a state's inmate grievance procedure; (4) allegations of mere threats do not state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (5) prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity with respect to allegations of unconstitutional prison conditions. I granted Plaintiffs' Motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, except with regard to the retaliation claim in Count V, which was denied without prejudice for Plaintiffs' failure to exhaust administrative remedies. See White, 19 F. Supp.2d at 322.

Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint in response to White on December 22, 1998, and, due to inadvertent omissions, filed a Third Amended Complaint two days later, on December 24, 1998. Magistrate Judge Rosen consolidated the separately filed cases for case management purposes only on December 31, 1998, and amended the caption to read: "In re: Bayside Prison Litigation." See Order of Dec. 31, 1998.

Plaintiffs moved to certify a class action on September 3, 1999, seeking to name Plaintiffs Laverna White, Carlos Martinez and Michael Shontz as class representatives. I denied that motion in an Order dated April 25, 2000, finding that the Complaint alleged that Plaintiffs suffered widely varying types of injury at different times and at the hands of many different defendants, thus, "individual issues overwhelm[ed] those that might be viewed as common." See Order of Apr. 25, 2000, at 6-8; Memorandum Op., In re: Bayside Prison Litigation, Civ. A. No. 97-5127 (D.N.J. Apr. 25, 2000).

Defendants filed a Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint on March 22, 1999. While that motion was pending, Plaintiffs moved for leave to file a Fourth Amended Complaint on July 29, 1999 in order to add approximately 656 new plaintiffs and 228 new defendants. That motion was granted on September 10, 1999. See Order of Sept. 10, 1999 (Rosen, J.). On December 2, 1999, this Court ruled on Defendants' Motion to Partially Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint, which, due to the interim filing of the substantially similar Fourth Amended Complaint, was treated as a Motion to Dismiss the Fourth Amended Complaint. See Order of Dec. 2, 1999, at 4 (Orlofsky, J.). Specifically, I: (1) denied Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' allegations of derogatory name calling and inadequate medical care; and, (2) granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the due process claims of Plaintiffs which alleged that they were coerced into pleading guilty to disciplinary charges because a writ of habeas corpus is the sole remedy for such claims. Id. at 7.

After filing a Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint on January 31, 2000, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint in its entirety on July 12, 2000. Defendants argued that recent opinions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, i.e., Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65 (3d Cir. 2000) and Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2000), dictated the dismissal of Plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In a Bench Opinion, dated November 29, 2000, I recognized that both Nyhuis and Booth impacted the In re: Bayside Prison Litigation, because they established, respectively, that there is no "futility exception" to the PLRA's administrative exhaustion requirement, and that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement applied to claims of excessive force. See Bench Op. of Nov. 29, 2000. I denied both motions on November 29, 2000, however, because of the changing state of the law governing the issues in the case, and granted Plaintiffs leave to file a Fifth Amended Complaint that: (1) alleged that each Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies; (2) removed references to the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and (3) removed references to malicious destruction of personal property. See Order of Nov. 29, 2000.

I shall now consider Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Fifth Amended Complaint. Because the Sixth Amended Complaint is substantially identical to the Fifth Amended Complaint, and because Defendants have requested that this Court treat their pending Motion to Dismiss the Fifth Amended Complaint as their Answer to the Sixth Amended Complaint, see Letter from Roselli to Magistrate Judge Rosen of Jan. 11, 2002, I shall treat the pending motion as one to dismiss the Sixth (and final) Amended Complaint.

I have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1343. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny in part and grant in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Specifically, I will: (1) grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the § 1985(3) conspiracy claims, contained in Count IV of Plaintiffs' Sixth Amended Complaint and in Count III of Williams's Fifth Amended Complaint, of all Plaintiffs, except those identified in Part III.A.4. infra; and, (2) deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in all other respects.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) governs motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. "In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may dismiss a complaint if it appears certain the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of its claims which would entitle it to relief." Mruz v. Caring, Inc., 39 F. Supp.2d 495, 500 (D.N.J. 1999) (Orlofsky, J.) (citing Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3d Cir. 1988)). "While all well-pled allegations are accepted as true and reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiff's favor, the Court may dismiss a complaint where, under any set of facts which could be shown to be consistent with a complaint, the plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Id. (citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 636 (1980); Schrob v. Catterson, 948 F.2d 1402, 1405 (3d Cir. 1991); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990)); see also Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Finally, Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on a dispositive issue of law. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989).

B. What Matters Not Contained in the Pleadings May Be Considered on a Motion to Dismiss Without Conversion to a Motion for Summary Judgment

Ordinarily, if, on a motion to dismiss, a party presents matters outside the pleadings, the District Court must convert the Motion to Dismiss into a Motion for Summary Judgment, and give all parties a reasonable opportunity to present all material pertinent to such a motion under Rule 56. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b); Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 340 (3d Cir. 1989). However, in this Circuit, a District Court may also consider: (1) matters attached to the complaint, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); Arizmendi v. Lawson, 914 F. Supp. 1157, 1160-61 (E.D.Pa. 1996); (2) matters incorporated into the pleadings by reference, see In re Westinghouse Sec. Litig., 832 F. Supp. 948, 964 (W.D.Pa. 1993), rev'd on other grounds, 90 F.3d 696 (3d Cir. 1996); (3) matters of public record, see Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. White, 998 F.2d 1192, 1196-97 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1042 (1994); Caldwell Trucking PRP Grp. v. Spaulding Composites Co., 90 F. Supp. 1247, 1252 (D.N.J. 1995); and (4) matters integral to or upon which plaintiff's claim is based. See In re Donald J. Trump Casino Sec. Litig., 7 F.3d 357, 368 n. 9 (3d Cir. 1993); Caldwell Trucking, 890 F. Supp. at 1252.

"The primary purpose of Rule 12(b)'s conversion provision is to protect plaintiffs against, in effect, summary judgment by ambush." See Bostic v. AT&T of the Virgin Islands, 166 F. Supp.2d 350, 354-55 (D.V.I. 2001) (Orlofsky, J.)(citing Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196). Incorporation of a document which is referenced in a plaintiff's complaint is especially appropriate where neither party can claim prejudice or surprise by the court's reliance on the document and where plaintiff's claim relies solely or substantially on the document's contents. See Cue Fashions, Inc. v. LJS Distrib., Inc., 807 F. Supp. 334, 336 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).

Because both Defendants and Plaintiffs have submitted numerous documents outside the pleadings in support of and in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, I must, as an initial matter, decide which, if any, I may consider without converting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss into a Motion for Summary Judgment. Because most of the matters outside the pleadings that have been submitted arguably fall under the exception for matters integral to or referenced in Plaintiffs' complaint, I will first describe the contours of Plaintiffs' Sixth Amended Complaint and Williams's Fifth Amended Complaint.

In response to this Court's November 19, 2002 Order, Plaintiffs included paragraphs pertaining to Exhaustion of Remedies in their Sixth Amended Complaint. See Sixth Amended Compl. at ¶¶ 5-12. In those paragraphs, Plaintiffs allege that the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJ DOC") has "failed to promulgate a statewide, uniform administrative grievance procedure that would allow plaintiffs to pursue an administrative remedy," thus there can be no requirement that the Plaintiffs exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. Id. at ¶ 5. Plaintiffs allege that the Administrative Remedy Form ("ARF"), discussed in the Bayside State Prison handbook, "did not constitute an available `administrative remedy' within the meaning of the PLRA, because it was not an administrative scheme promulgated and adopted by the state Department of Corrections." Id. at ¶ 6. Alternatively, Plaintiffs allege that, even if the ARF was an administrative remedy, it was not "available" to Plaintiffs here because Defendants "frightened, intimidated and deterred [Plaintiffs] from obtaining and filing [ARF's]," and because the Inmate Handbook instructed that ARF's were not a substitute for litigation and were inapplicable to claims affecting more than one inmate. Id. at ¶¶ 7-8. Paragraph 9 alleges that New Jersey statutes and regulations led Plaintiffs to believe that complaints to the Ombudsman were proper means to register complaints. Id. at ¶ 9. Paragraphs 10 through 11a, included in response to this Court's Order that Plaintiffs allege that they have exhausted their administrative remedies, list those Plaintiffs whose complaints were investigated by Internal Affairs or who filed ARFs. Id. at ¶¶ 10-11a. Williams's Fifth Amended Complaint summarily alleges that he has exhausted his administrative remedies, see Williams Fifth Amended Compl. at ¶ 18, and that he suffered permanent injuries as a result of the alleged conduct of Defendants. Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15, 16, 20.

In support of their Motion, Defendants have submitted: (1) this Court's November 29, 2000 Order; (2) a letter, dated January 18, 2001, from Plaintiffs' counsel to this Court requesting an additional sixty days to file the Fifth Amended Complaint; (3) a letter, dated March 27, 2001, from Plaintiffs' counsel to Judy Gentilini, former Administrative Assistant at Bayside regarding the filing of Administrative Remedy Forms by some of the Plaintiffs; (4) a letter, dated March 28, 2001 from Plaintiffs' counsel to Ms. Gentilini regarding the Administrative Remedy Form of Plaintiff, Michael Jordan; (5) a letter, dated March 15, 2001 from counsel for Plaintiff, Junius Williams, regarding Williams's Administrative Remedy Form; and, (6) a list of 380 Plaintiffs identified in the caption of the Fifth Amended Complaint who do not make specific allegations in the body of the Complaint. See Certification of Mark M. Roselli, Esq. in Support of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pls.' Fifth Amended Compl.

I conclude that I may consider Item (1) because it is a public record, and that I may consider Items (3), (4), (5), and (6) because they are matters integral to Plaintiffs' Sixth Amended Complaint. Item (2) does not fall under any applicable exception, and ...


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