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AWALA v. STATE DEP'T OF CORRECTIONS

August 23, 2005.

GBEKE MICHAEL AWALA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEP'T OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDA WOLFSON, Magistrate Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff, Gbeke Michael Awala, initially confined at the Salem County Correctional Facility ("SCCF") in Woodstown, New Jersey, at the time he submitted this Complaint for filing, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. 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) (1998) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint. Awala purports to bring this lawsuit as a class action on behalf of 10 other named inmates who are similarly situated and unnamed inmates at SCCF. These inmates have neither signed the Complaint nor submitted complete applications to proceed in forma pauperis.*fn1 Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(4), a class action can only be maintained if the class representative "will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class." When confronting a request for class certification from a pro se litigant, however, courts have found that pro se plaintiffs generally cannot represent and protect the interests of the class fairly and adequately. See Cahn v. U.S., 269 F. Supp.2d 537, 547 (D.N.J. 2003); Caputo v. Fauver, 800 F. Supp. 168, 170 (D.N.J. 1992), aff'd, 995 F.2d 216 (3d Cir. 1993). Here, it appears that Awala is a pro se prisoner without formal training in the law. Thus, Awala would not be able to represent the interests of the class and maintain this suit as a class action, especially since he has been transferred to another correctional facility. Cahn, 269 F. Supp.2d at 547; Krebs v. Rutgers, 797 F. Supp. 1246, 1261 (D.N.J. 1992) (denying class certification to pro se plaintiffs without sufficient legal education). Therefore, class certification will be denied. The Court will review only the claims asserted by Awala on his own behalf in the Complaint.

  Having reviewed the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A 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, the Court concludes that the Complaint should be dismissed without prejudice.

  I. BACKGROUND

  In his Complaint, Awala alleges that certain conditions of confinement violate his civil rights. He generally claims a lack of access to medical treatment and poor medical care, unsanitary food preparation and nutritionally inadequate food, and lack of access to the courts by virtue of SCCF's inadequate law library.*fn2

  Specifically, Awala alleges that the law librarian would deliberately "obliterate legal work and motions" prepared by Awala on the computer. He also asks that SCCF provide persons trained in the law to assist the inmates like Awala, to increase the size of the space for inmates in the law library, and to increase the number of inmates and hours for legal research. Awala seeks injunctive relief as well as damages with respect to the alleged claims.

  II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

  The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996), requires a district court to review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis or seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity. The Court is required to identify cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A.*fn3

  In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. 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 complaint is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) (interpreting the predecessor of § 1915(e)(2), the former § 1915(d)). The standard for evaluating whether a complaint is "frivolous" is an objective one. Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086-87 (3d Cir. 1995).

  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). However, where a complaint can be remedied by an amendment, a district court may not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, but must permit the amendment. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992); Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2004) (complaint that satisfied notice pleading requirement that it contain short, plain statement of the claim but lacked sufficient detail to function as a guide to discovery was not required to be dismissed for failure to state a claim; district court should permit a curative amendment before dismissing a complaint, unless an amendment would be futile or inequitable); 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).

  III. SECTION 1983 ACTIONS

  Awala brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his civil rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution. 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 state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, ...

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