United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 23, 2005.
GBEKE MICHAEL AWALA, et al., Plaintiffs,
STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEP'T OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDA WOLFSON, Magistrate Judge
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
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
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.
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, that the
alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting
under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42
(1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250
, 1255-56 (3d
Cir. 1994). IV. ANALYSIS
A. Denial of Medical Care Claim
Awala first alleges, generally, that there was a lack of good
medical care at SCCF. He does not allege that he suffers from a
serious medical need or that he was deliberately denied medical
treatment. Although the Complaint is not clear, it appears that
Awala was a pretrial detainee at the time he submitted his
Complaint for filing. Thus, his constitutional claims are
considered under the due process clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Eighth Amendment. See City of
Revere v. Massachusetts General Hospital, 463 U.S. 239, 243-45
(1983) (holding that the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Eighth Amendment, controls the issue
of whether prison officials must provide medical care to those
confined in jail awaiting trial); Hubbard v. Taylor,
399 F.3d 150, 158 (3d Cir. 2005); Fuentes v. Wagner, 206 F.3d 335, 341
n. 9 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 821 (2000); Monmouth
County Correctional Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro,
834 F.2d 326, 346 n. 31 (3d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1006
(1988). However, the Third Circuit has held that the "deliberate
indifference" standard employed in Eighth Amendment cases also
applies to pretrial detainees under the Fourteenth Amendment.
See Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility,
318 F.3d 575, 581-82 (3d Cir. 2003) ("In previous cases, we have found no
reason to apply a different standard than that set forth in Estelle . . .
We therefore evaluate Natale's Fourteenth Amendment claim for
inadequate medical care under the standard used to evaluate
similar claims under the Eighth Amendment."); Simmons v. City of
Philadelphia, 947 F.2d 1042, 1067 (3d Cir. 1991), cert.
denied, 503 U.S. 985 (1992); Brown v. Borough of
Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 278 (3d Cir. 1990); Taylor v.
Plousis, 101 F. Supp.2d 255, 262 n. 3 (D.N.J. 2000). See
also Hubbard, 399 F.3d at 166 n. 22. Accordingly, since the
Fourteenth Amendment in this context incorporates the protections
of the Eighth Amendment, the Court will apply the deliberate
indifference standard of the Eighth Amendment in analyzing
plaintiff's denial of medical care claim. See Simmons,
947 F.2d at 1067 (the rights of a detainee are at least as great as
those of a convicted prisoner).
The Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual
punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates with
adequate medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04
(1976); Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 1999). 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.
Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Natale, 318 F.3d at 582. As Awala has failed to allege any facts to support a denial of
medical care claim, either as to a serious medical need or as to
deliberately indifferent conduct by defendants, Awala's Complaint
should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. However, to the
extent that Awala can allege facts to show a serious medical need
and deliberate indifference by defendants during the time that
Awala was confined at SCCF, the Court will allow plaintiff to
amend his complaint, subject to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15. See Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992); Alston v. Parker,
363 F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2004).
Further, because Awala is no longer confined at SCCF, his
claims for injunctive relief as against the defendants are
dismissed as moot.
B. Inadequate Food Claim
Awala also generally alleges that the food at SCCF is
nutritionally inadequate and prepared in an unsanitary manner.
However, since Awala is no longer confined at SCCF, this claim
will be dismissed as moot.
C. Inadequate Law Library Claim
The constitutional right of access to the courts is an aspect
of the First Amendment right to petition the government for
redress of grievances. Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v.
NLRB, 461 U.S. 731, 741 (1983). In addition, the constitutional
guarantee of due process of law has as a corollary the requirement that prisoners be afforded access to the courts in
order to challenge unlawful convictions and to seek redress for
violations of their constitutional rights. Procunier v.
Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 419 (1974), overruled on other
grounds, Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413-14 (1989).
See also Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1036 n. 18 (3d Cir.
1988) (chronicling various constitutional sources of the right of
access to the courts).
In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977), the Supreme
Court held that "the fundamental constitutional right of access
to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in
the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by
providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate
assistance from persons trained in the law." The right of access
to the courts is not, however, unlimited. "The tools [that
Bounds] requires to be provided are those that the inmates need
in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and
in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement.
Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of
the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of
conviction and incarceration." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343,
355 (1996) (emphasis in original). Similarly, a pretrial detainee
has a right of access to the courts with respect to legal
assistance and participation in one's own defense against pending criminal charges. See, e.g., May v. Sheahan, 226 F.3d 876,
883-84 (7th Cir. 2000); Caldwell v. Hall, 2000 WL 343229 (E.D.
Pa. March 31, 2000). But see United States v. Byrd,
208 F.3d 592, 593 (7th Cir. 2000) (pretrial detainee who rejects an offer
of court-appointed counsel in satisfaction of the Sixth Amendment
right to counsel has no alternative right to access to a law
library); Wilson v. Blankenship, 163 F.3d 1284, 1290-91 (11th
Cir. 1998) (same); United States v. Walker, 129 F.3d 1266, 1997
WL 720385, **4 (6th Cir. 1997) (same).
Moreover, a prisoner alleging a violation of his right of
access must show that prison officials caused him past or
imminent "actual injury" by hindering his efforts to pursue such
a claim or defense. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348-51, 354-55
(1996); Oliver v. Fauver, 118 F.3d 175, 177-78 (3d Cir. 1997).
"He might show, for example, that a complaint he prepared was
dismissed for failure to satisfy some technical requirement
which, because of deficiencies in the prison's legal assistance
facilities, he could not have known. Or that he had suffered
arguably actionable harm that he wished to bring before the
courts, but was so stymied by inadequacies of the law library
that he was unable to file even a complaint." Lewis,
518 U.S. at 351.
In describing the scope of services which must be provided by
the state to indigent prisoners, the Supreme Court has stated, "[i]t is indisputable that indigent inmates must be provided at
state expense with paper and pen to draft legal documents, with
notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail
them. . . . This is not to say that economic factors may not be
considered, for example, in choosing the methods used to provide
meaningful access. But the cost of protecting a constitutional
right cannot justify its total denial." Bounds,
430 U.S. at 824-25, clarified on other grounds, Lewis v. Casey,
518 U.S. 343. Thus, "there is no First Amendment right to subsidized mail
or photocopying. [Instead], the inmates must point to evidence of
actual or imminent interference with access to the courts."
Reynolds v. Wagner, 128 F.3d 166, 183 (3d Cir. 1997).
Here, Awala alleges several instances where his legal work on
the library computer was erased by the librarian. However, he
does not allege any actual injury as a result of the purported
conduct. In addition, Awala has submitted this Complaint without
any allegations that his effort to do so was encumbered in any
way. He filed another, later Complaint with the federal court,
which has since been dismissed. Therefore, Awala fails to show
actual injury with respect to his general claim that he was
denied an adequate law library or legal research, and this claim
must be dismissed without prejudice. V. CONCLUSION
For the reasons set forth above, the Complaint will be
dismissed in its entirety as against all defendants, without
prejudice, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and
1915A(b)(1), (2). Awala is granted leave to amend his Complaint
to cure the deficiencies in his pleadings, no later than 30 days
from the date of this Order, as set forth in this Opinion. An
appropriate order follows.