United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 22, 2005.
JOHN A. SOSA, Plaintiff,
UNION COUNTY NARCOTICS STRIKE FORCE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNIS CAVANAUGH, District Judge
Plaintiff, currently confined at the Passaic County Jail,
Paterson, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action, which alleges
violations of his constitutional rights, in forma pauperis.
Based on his affidavit of indigence and the absence of three
qualifying dismissals within 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (g), the Court will
grant Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (a) and order the Clerk of the Court
to file the Complaint.
At this time, the Court must review the Complaint to determine
whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who
is immune from such relief. For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiff will be granted leave to amend his complaint.
Plaintiff is a federal, pretrial detainee being housed at the
Passaic County Jail. He states that on December 21, 2001, he was
involved in an altercation resulting in him being shot in the
legs. He was treated for his injuries with surgeries and therapy.
Two years later, on December 10, 2003, Plaintiff fell down a
flight of stairs and re-injured his leg. He states that he had 16
surgeries on the leg. Six days after the accident, he was
arrested by defendants James Malone and Donald Zsak, of the Union
County Narcotics Strike Force. After another operation, Plaintiff
was taken to Union County Jail. The charges were later dropped by
the state, but the federal government sought to prosecute
Plaintiff and his co-defendants. Thereafter, Plaintiff was
transported to Passaic County Jail, where he has been detained
Plaintiff complains that Passaic County Jail's medical
department has not given him proper care for his injuries. He
states that he has requested medical care numerous times, and his
complaints have been ignored. Plaintiff claims that his doctor requested that his condition be monitored and that he undergo
therapy for at least six months. Plaintiff contends that because
he is not receiving the care prescribed by his doctor, he is
experiencing constant pain and loss of sleep, and that if he
received therapy, he could possibly walk properly in the future.
Plaintiff names as defendants the Union County Narcotics Strike
Force, Special Agents Malone and Zsak, Union County Medical
Department, and the Passaic County Medical Department. He seeks
monetary and other relief.
A. Standard of Review
In 1996, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act
("PLRA"), Title VIII of the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and
Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321
(April 26, 1996). Congress's purpose in enacting the PLRA was
"primarily to curtail claims brought by prisoners under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Federal Tort Claims Act . . . many of which are
routinely dismissed as legally frivolous." Santana v. United
States, 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). A crucial part of the
congressional plan for curtailing meritless prisoner suits is the
requirement, embodied in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 (e) (2) (B) and 1915A
(b), that a court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time,
any prisoner actions that are frivolous or malicious, fail to
state a claim, or seek monetary relief from immune defendants. In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the
Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the
plaintiff. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972);
United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court
must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and
all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v.
Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The
Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald
assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id.
A pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a
claim only if it appears "`beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle
him to relief.'" Haines, 404 U.S. at 521 (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Milhouse v. Carlson,
652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981).
Where a complaint can be remedied by an amendment, a district
court may not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, but must
permit the amendment. See Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229 (3d
Cir. 2004); Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992);
Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir.
2002) (dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e) (2)); Shane v.
Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000) (dismissal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) (1)); Urrutia v. Harrisburg County
Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 453 (3d Cir. 1996).
B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983
A plaintiff may have a federal cause of action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights.
Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable
to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
Thus, to establish a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff
must demonstrate that the challenged conduct was committed by a
person acting under color of state law and that the conduct
deprived him of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States. See Parratt v.
Taylor, 451 U.S. 527
, 535 (1981), overruled in part on
other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144
, 152 (1970);
Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250
, 1255-56 (3d Cir.
C. Plaintiff's Medical Care Claim.
Pretrial detainees are protected by the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment and convicted prisoners are protected by
the Eighth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535, n. 16, 545 (1979). However, the Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit has analyzed pretrial detainee medical care claims
utilizing the Eighth Amendment standard. See Hubbard v.
Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 166 n. 22 (3d Cir. 2005); Natale v.
Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 581-82 (3d
Cir. 2003); Sylvester v. City of Newark, 120 Fed. Appx. 419 (3d
Cir. 2005). The Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and
unusual punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates
with adequate medical care. See Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976). In order to set forth a cognizable claim for a
violation of his right to adequate medical care, an inmate must
allege: (1) a serious medical need; and (2) behavior on the part
of prison officials that constitutes deliberate indifference to
that need. See id. at 106.
In this case, Plaintiff has alleged facts indicating a medical
care claim that should proceed past sua sponte screening.
However, from the facts asserted in the instant complaint, the
only defendant named by plaintiff in the instant matter with
involvement in the medical care claim is "Passaic County Medical
Department." Thus, Plaintiff has not named individual defendants
involved in his claim. See Rode v. Dellarciprete,
845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Therefore, the Court will grant
Plaintiff the opportunity to amend his complaint to assert his
claims against proper defendants. If Plaintiff does not so amend
his complaint within 30 days of the date of the Order accompanying
this Opinion, the Court will dismiss the medical care
D. Plaintiff's Remaining Claims.
Plaintiff recites the events of the day of his arrest, and
names the Union County Narcotics Strike Force and defendants
Malone, Zsak, and Union County Jail as defendants. Nevertheless,
Plaintiff does not assert any constitutional claims against these
defendants, or express how these defendants violated his civil
rights. Plaintiff does state that he was ignored when asked to
contact his attorney. However, because Plaintiff is at the
pretrial stage, and has not yet been convicted, he is not
entitled to damages for this claim. See Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994); Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971); Smith
v. Holtz, 87 F.3d 108 (3d Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff may be able to amend his complaint to assert
claims against these defendants, the Court will grant him the
opportunity to do so.
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff's complaint, as submitted, is
subject to dismissal. However, because it is conceivable that
Plaintiff may be able to amend his complaint to address its
deficiencies as stated in this Opinion, he will be granted 30
days from the date of the Order accompanying this Opinion to do
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