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SEVERS v. CUMBERLAND COUNTY JAIL

September 22, 2005.

WILLIAM C. SEVERS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.



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

OPINION

Plaintiff William C. Severs, Jr. ("Severs"), currently confined at the Cumberland County Jail in Bridgeton, New Jersey, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. At this time, the Court must review the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 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. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Complaint may proceed only in part. I. BACKGROUND

  In his Complaint, Severs contends that he has been denied medical treatment and care for his serious medical conditions; that he has been denied access to the law library; and that the defendants at Cumberland County Jail have interfered with his legal mail.

  With respect to his denial of medical care claim, Severs alleges that he suffers from an incarcerated hernia, highly elevated high blood pressure, and inflammation of his left paranasal sinuses. From April 2004 through August 2004, plaintiff's counsel wrote to the jail officials seeking medical attention and assistance for Severs. Severs had requested surgery for his hernia, which was not scheduled until a year later in August 2005. Severs now claims that the surgery was cancelled due to his criminal trial. Severs states that he was told by jail officials that they will not grant surgery or further testing until after plaintiff is transported to New Jersey State Prison. Severs' sentencing date is not until October 21, 2005, and he has no transport date for New Jersey State Prison.

  Severs next complains that his legal mail has been opened outside of his presence on repeated occasions. Severs' attorney wrote to the warden, Glenn Sauders, several times to correct the situation, but nothing was done. Finally, Severs states that he is being denied meaningful access to the law library. In the three years that Severs was incarcerated, he was permitted access to the law library only two times even though he had made many requests to visit the law library. On the two occasions that he was allowed to use the library, Severs was shackled and in handcuffs.

  Severs seeks injunctive relief, namely, an Order directing the defendants to schedule his hernia operation immediately; and to investigate the Jail's violation of the inmates' right to use the law library and the interference with inmates' legal mail. Severs also seeks an unspecified monetary amount in damages for his pain and suffering.

  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. 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).

  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

  A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain 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 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, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).

  Here, the Complaint seeks redress against the Cumberland County Jail, the warden, and other jail officials and guards for their violation ...


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