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Vazquez v. Brown

October 30, 2008

JUAN M. VAZQUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEVON BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiff Juan M. Vazquez, who is presently confined at Southern State Correctional Facility ("SSCF") and is proceeding pro se, filed this action on November 26, 2003 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that a long and evolving list of Defendants violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff's prolix pleadings contain a litany of allegations, including claims that various Defendants confiscated his legal and religious materials; filed false disciplinary reports against him; used excessive force upon him; and transferred him from one prison to another against his wishes.

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction [Docket Item 74]; his motion for reconsideration of the Court's March 18, 2008 Opinion [Docket Item 75]; his motion for default judgment [Docket Item 76]; and his motion to strike pleadings [Docket Item 88].*fn1 For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motions.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Allegations in the Complaint

Plaintiff's extensive allegations were set forth in detail in the Court's March 18, 2008 Opinion, and are summarized herein only to the extent necessary to address the motions presently under consideration. Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") who is presently confined at SSCF. Mr. Vazquez is a practitioner of Santeria.*fn2 (Vazquez Cert., Mar. 24, 2008 at ¶ 2.)

Plaintiff was confined at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility ("GSYCF") from November 28, 1999 through January 10, 2002. (Docket Item 34 at 5.) In 1999, during his incarceration at GSYCF, Plaintiff filed a separate civil rights complaint alleging that he had been denied access to certain religious articles in violation of his First Amendment rights. See Vazquez v. Burns, D.N.J. Civil Action No. 99-2589 (GEB). According to the Complaint in this action, while Vazquez v. Burns was pending, Defendant Brian Bonomo, an employee of GSYCF, filed false disciplinary reports against Plaintiff and threatened Plaintiff's life, acts which Plaintiff alleges were committed against Plaintiff in retaliation for pursuing his claims in Vazquez v. Burns.*fn3 (Compl., Parties Section, ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff was transferred from GSYCF to the Administrative Close Segregation Unit ("ACSU") at East Jersey State Prison ("EJSP") on January 10, 2002, where he was confined until November 6, 2002. (Docket Item 34 at 5-6.) Plaintiff alleges that after he was transferred, Defendants Michael Powers, C. Offei, and T.V. Davis -- all of whom are employed by EJSP -- unconstitutionally deprived Plaintiff of unspecified religious articles and legal materials. (Compl., Parties Section, ¶¶ 9-11.)

On November 6, 2002, Plaintiff was transferred from EJSP to Bayside State Prison ("BSP"), where he was confined until May 7, 2003. (Docket Item 34 at 6.) According to Plaintiff, after he was transferred to BSP, Defendant Rina Terry unconstitutionally deprived him of a religious book. (Compl., Statement of Claims, ¶ 52.) Plaintiff further claims that while he was incarcerated at BSP, he submitted request forms on April 2, 2003 and April 14, 2003, for use of the law library and legal materials, but that his requests were denied. (Id. at ¶ 56.) Two days later, according to Plaintiff, on April 16, 2003, Plaintiff was brought to "central control," where Defendant Georgescu yelled at Plaintiff, threatened him with disciplinary action, and ordered him never to enter the prison chapel or law library again. (Id. at ¶ 58.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Georgescu also wished Plaintiff a "happy Easter" in order to mock Plaintiff's religious beliefs, and indicated that if Plaintiff spoke about these matters he would be killed.*fn4 (Id. at ¶¶ 58-60.)

Plaintiff was transferred from BSP to the ACSU at New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP") on May 7, 2003. (Docket Item 34 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that on May 8, 2003, he submitted an Inmate Request Form to Defendant Atchison concerning unspecified religious practices and articles but received no response. (Compl., Statement of Claims, ¶ 80.) Plaintiff claims that he made a similar request for legal supplies, to which he likewise received no response. (Id. at ¶ 86.) He filed a Complaint in this matter on November 26, 2003 to seek redress for this series of alleged civil rights violations.*fn5

B. Dismissal and Appeals

Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, arguing that as to the majority of his claims, Plaintiff had not exhausted his administrative remedies as the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires of all "action[s] . . . brought [by prisoners] with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In its December 17, 2004 Opinion and Order, the Court agreed with Defendants that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as to the majority of his claims. (Docket Item 34 at 17.) The Court further noted that courts in this district and "in other jurisdictions confronted with complaints involving both exhausted and unexhausted claims have held that the entire case should be dismissed." (Id. at 11-12) (citing Rivera v. Whitman, 161 F. Supp. 2d 337, 341 (D.N.J. 2001), rev'd on other grounds, Ray v. Kertes, 285 F. 3d 287, 293 n.6 (3d Cir. 2002); Keenan v. Twommey, 229 F.3d 1152 (6th Cir. 2000); Graves v. Norris, 218 F.3d 884 (8th Cir. 2000)). Based on this authority, the Court dismissed the action without prejudice to give Mr. Vazquez the opportunity to administratively grieve his unexhausted claims, or to abandon his unexhausted claims and proceed only with the exhausted claims.

Plaintiff appealed this Court's decision, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals on August 4, 2005. (Docket Item 58.) Plaintiff then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. On January 22, 2007, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), which granted Plaintiff's petition and vacated the order of the Court of Appeals. In Jones, the Supreme Court held that when faced with prisoner complaints asserting exhausted and unexhausted claims, a district court should proceed with the exhausted claims rather than dismissing the entire action. Id. at 223-24.

C. March 18, 2008 Opinion and Order

Following the reinstatement of his exhausted claims, Plaintiff filed various motions seeking: (1) the recusal of the undersigned on account of alleged "personal, racial and/or religious beliefs" of the undersigned,*fn6 (Vazquez Cert., Aug, 27, 2007 at ¶ 39); (2) an order from the Court imposing sanctions on defense counsel pursuant to Rule 11, Fed. R. Civ. P., for alleged misconduct committed during this litigation, and holding various Defendants in contempt; and (3) a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from engaging in the allegedly unconstitutional conduct described in the Complaint.

In its March 18, 2008 Opinion and Order [Docket Items 72 and 73], the Court denied Plaintiff's motions seeking recusal, sanctions, and contempt orders, and dismissed without prejudice his motion for injunctive relief. As the Court explains in greater detail below, it determined that Plaintiff's motions for recusal, sanctions, and contempt centered around his unfounded speculation into "the allegedly racist motives of the defendants and their attorneys" and the undersigned, found that these charges were without merit, and accordingly denied the motions. Vazquez, 2008 WL 746593, at *7. With regard to Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, the Court found that Plaintiff appeared to seek to enjoin allegedly unconstitutional conduct at correctional institutions to which he was no longer confined, and noted that Plaintiff lacked standing to pursue such a claim. Id. at *8. Out of an abundance of caution in light of Plaintiff's pro se status and his unspecific allusion to ongoing violations, however, the Court dismissed the motion for injunctive relief without prejudice to renewal upon a showing, supported by competent evidence, that specific violations were taking place at his present place of incarceration. Id.

D. Subsequent Motion Practice

After the Court issued its March 18, 2008 Opinion and Order, Plaintiff filed the motions presently under consideration, as well as numerous certifications and documents in support of his request for injunctive relief. Notwithstanding the Court's determination that Plaintiff "clearly lacks standing to enjoin allegedly unconstitutional acts taking place at the correctional facilities where he is no longer incarcerated," id., and its admonition that any certified statements submitted by Plaintiff "should be based on his own personal knowledge, rather than speculation and conclusory statements," id., Plaintiff's recent certifications focus in large part on allegedly unconstitutional conduct perpetrated at institutions where he is no longer confined,*fn7 and are replete with unfounded speculative and conclusory statements.*fn8

Scattered throughout Plaintiff's certifications, however, are a limited number of competent statements concerning alleged deprivations at SSCF, where Plaintiff is presently confined. First, Plaintiff alleges that he has experienced difficulty receiving certain ceremonial oils which he alleges are central to his religious practices. (Vazquez Cert., June 13, 2008 at ¶ 8.) On July 14, 2008, Plaintiff submitted an "Inmate Remedy System Form" to SSCF's Religious Services Department requesting permission to order and possess six types of religious oils, which he stated were needed for ceremonial religious use. (Vazquez Cert., Sept. 15, 2008 Ex. B.) In his request, Plaintiff stated that he

expect[ed] to be able to purchase oils and retain them in [his] possession. Other inmates[] in this institution[] purchase oils[] through the Ima[m] and retain them in their possession. My request to purchase religious oils from source of sale should pose no security concerns for the administration.

(Id.) The Supervising Chaplain of SSCF, Imam Shakur, responded to Plaintiff's request, stating "I find no problem in your request as I have stated during the interview. Place your order/I'll approve." (Id.)

Plaintiff placed an order for six types of religious oil, but when the package containing his order arrived at SSCF's mail room, he received a "notice of non-permitted item(s) being held," which stated that the oils were "not permitted" and had to be mailed out by Plaintiff or they would be destroyed. (Vazquez Cert., Sept. 15, 2008 Ex. A.) Plaintiff submitted an ...


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