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Lawrence James Boss v. Chris Christie

December 3, 2010


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



Plaintiff, Lawrence James Boss, an involuntarily committed person pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act ("SVPA"), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24, et seq., seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (1998) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint.

At this time, the Court must review the Complaint,*fn1 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), 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 should be dismissed without prejudice at this time.


Plaintiff, Lawrence James Boss ("Boss"), brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey; Paula Dow, Attorney General for the State of New Jersey; Gary Lanigan, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC"); Jennifer Velez, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services ("NJDHS"); Steven Johnson, NJDOC Administrator; and Merril Main, NJDHS Administrator. (Complaint, Caption and ¶¶ 4b-4g). The following factual allegations are taken from the Complaint, and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the veracity of plaintiff's allegations.

Boss alleges that, on April 14, 2010, he attended a community meeting, held at the Northern Regional Unit ("NRU") in Kearny, New Jersey, to discuss a proposed transfer of the NRU residents to the East Jersey State Prison ("EJSP") in Rahway, New Jersey.*fn2 The meeting was conducted by defendant Steven Johnson. Johnson told the residents that, on or about May 10th through May 15th, the residents would be transferred to the EJSP and housed in the administrative segregation unit ("Ad Seg Unit"). On April 28, a memo was issued to the residents informing them that their new mailing address would be in Avenel, New Jersey, rather than Rahway, New Jersey where EJSP is located. Accordingly, all mail will be delivered first to Avenel before being given to the residents. The new address was scheduled to take effect on May 10, 2010. (Compl., "Statement of Claims" at ¶ 6).

In an addendum filed on June 18, 2010, Boss further alleges that the Ad Seg Unit at EJSP has unsanitary and unhealthy conditions that violate his constitutional rights. In particular, Boss alleges that on May 3, 2010, he had heard that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") had inspected and failed the kitchen area at the EJSP Ad Seg Unit. Boss states that the showers are mildewed, there is no workable air conditioning and that the unit smells like sewer waste. Despite these alleged conditions, the NJDOC staff transferred the heating table, dishwasher, and other kitchen equipment to the EJSP Ad Seg Unit on May 4, 2010. On May 5, 2010, the residents were told to prepare the refrigerator and microwave for transfer. In addition, residents were told that the EJSP Ad Seg Unit is not "fit" for therapy. (Addendum at Docket entry no. 3).

On May 6, 2010, Administrator Johnson allegedly told the residents that he knows their rights are being violated but that they are concerned only with transferring the residents to EJSP and the NJDHS and NJDOC will deal with any problems as they occur once the transfer is completed. (Id.).

On May 7, 2010, a corrections officer issued plastic bags to the residents for packing their bed linens. The residents allegedly were told that prison guards would be on "stand-by" to "correct any problems pertaining to complaints towards the living conditions" at EJSP. (Id.).

On May 7, 2010, Sgt. Smith told the residents that the water is not drinkable and the water system at EJSP Ad Seg Unit has to be checked for metal and bacteria. Smith also stated the ventilation does not work properly at the Ad Seg Unit, so it gets really hot inside when the weather is hot outside, and really cold in the winter. (Id.).

Boss complains that, as a civilly committed person, he should not be housed in a prison facility. He further complains that he will be housed in the administrative segregation unit, which is a 23-hour lock-down unit, where the living conditions are unhealthy and unsanitary. Boss asserts that this transfer is a violation of his constitutional rights. He further complains that the interference with his mail violates his constitutional rights. (Compl., ¶ 6).

Boss asks that he be provided with "the proper treatment of a federally funded facility." He also seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages for the mental anguish and stress that he is suffering in being transferred to a prison facility. (Compl., ¶ 7).

II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL A district court is required to review a complaint in a civil action where the litigant is proceeding in forma pauperis. Specifically, 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, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Accordingly, because Boss is proceeding in forma pauperis in this matter, this action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007)(following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) and Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)). See also 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)). See also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93-94 (In a pro se prisoner civil rights complaint, the Court reviewed whether the complaint complied with the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)).

However, recently, the Supreme Court revised this standard for summary dismissal of a Complaint that fails to state a claim in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). The issue before the Supreme Court was whether Iqbal's civil rights complaint adequately alleged defendants' personal involvement in discriminatory decisions regarding Iqbal's treatment during detention at the Metropolitan Detention Center which, if true, violated his constitutional rights. Id. The Court examined Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).*fn3 Citing its recent opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the proposition that "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,' "Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), the Supreme Court identified two working principles underlying the failure to state a claim standard:

First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice ... . Rule 8 ... does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not "show[n]"-"that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).

Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-1950 (citations omitted).

The Court further explained that a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should ...

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