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Marie Medina v. Cumberland County

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


May 3, 2011

MARIE MEDINA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiff Marie Medina initiated this action against Cumberland County (the "County"), Cumberland County Department of Corrections ("DOC"), Cumberland County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department") and Sergey Udalovas. The Complaint alleges civil rights violations under federal and state law and various common law claims arising out of alleged sexual assaults that took place at the Cumberland County Jail (the "Jail") between May and July 2009.*fn1 Pending before the Court are Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) by DOC and the Sheriff's Department.*fn2

I.

Plaintiff visited the Jail between May 2009 and July 2009 for the purpose of visiting her boyfriend. (Compl. ¶ 9.) During that time, Plaintiff alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Sergey Udalovas. (Id. ¶ 10.) According to Plaintiff, Udalovas, while wearing a correction officer's uniform and with all of his weapons on his person, forcibly took her into a small room, locked the door and forced her to engage in sexual acts with him. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13, 18.)

Udalovas allegedly made threats against Plaintiff, her children and her inmate-boyfriend to intimidate, harass and coerce Plaintiff into the sexual acts. (Id. ¶¶ 14-17, 20.) Plaintiff alleges that the sexual assault took place at the Jail while others looked on and did nothing.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 25.) According to Plaintiff, Udalovas had a reputation as a "sex fiend" in the workplace. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants knew or should have known that Udalovas posed a danger to female visitors and they failed to protect Plaintiff from this danger. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.)

As a result of Plaintiff's cooperation with the prosecutor's office, Udalovas was arrested and charged with official misconduct and aggravated sexual assault. (Id. ¶ 22.)

On February 17, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court alleging civil rights violations under state and federal law and various common law claims.*fn4 On March 7, 2011, DOC moved to dismiss the federal claims. On March 25, 2011, the Sheriff's Department filed a motion to dismiss the federal claims.

II.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

While a court must accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), a court is not required to accept sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The complaint must state sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not simply possible, but plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court considers "only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004). A document that forms the basis of a claim is one that is "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." Id. (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)).

III.

Count One of Plaintiff's Complaint asserts federal civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and § 1983 against all Defendants.*fn5 DOC and the Sheriff's Department move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, while the Sheriff's Department also moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to § 1983.

The law is well settled that § 1983 claims may only be brought against "persons."*fn6 See, e.g., Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989); Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Although local government units and municipalities are "persons" within the meaning of § 1983 and § 1985,*fn7 sheriff's departments and corrections departments are not separate legal entities from the County, and therefore cannot be independently sued for violations of § 1983 and § 1985.*fn8 See McLaughlin v. Cnty. of Gloucester, 2008 WL 700125, *2 (D.N.J. March 12, 2008)(dismissing § 1983 claim against sheriff's department because it is a branch of the county); Ramalho v. Montgomery Cnty. Corr. Facility, 2007 WL 1810700, at *1 (D.N.J. June 21, 2007)(dismissing claims against Montgomery County Correctional Facility because not a person amenable to suit under § 1983); Crooks v. Passaic Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't/Jail, 2007 WL 923330, at *2 (D.N.J. March 26, 2007)(dismissing § 1983 claim against sheriff's department/jail because not a proper defendant under the statute); Open Inns, Ltd. v. Chester Cnty. Sheriff Dep't, 24 F.Supp. 2d 410, 417 n.13 (E.D. Pa. 1998)(dismissing § 1983 claims against sheriff's department because it is a sub-unit of county); Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F.Supp 537, 538-39 (D.N.J. 1989)(finding that New Jersey Department of Corrections is an arm of the state, which is not a person under § 1983); see also Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (municipalities and police departments are treated as a single entity under § 1983).*fn9

As noted supra, Plaintiff has named the County, DOC, and the Sheriff's Department as defendants in the instant action and has asserted all federal and state law claims against each of them. However, because the Sheriff's Department and DOC are sub-units of the County, they cannot be sued as separate individual entities under § 1983 or § 1985. For the same reason, Plaintiff cannot maintain state common law or state civil rights claims against the DOC or the Sheriff's Department separately from the County. See Jordan v. Cicchi, 2009 WL 1704330, at *5 (D.N.J. June 18, 2009)(dismissing all claims against county correction center because not a suable entity separate from the county); Harris ex rel. Litz v. Lehigh Cnty. Office of Children & Youth Servs., 418 F.Supp. 2d 643, 645 n.1 (dismissing county office of children and youth services as a defendant because not a legal entity separate from the county).

Accordingly, all of Plaintiff's claims against the Sheriff's Department and DOC are dismissed with prejudice.

IV.

For the reasons stated above, DOC's and the Sheriff's Department's Motions to Dismiss will be granted. Defendant Cumberland County's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings will be denied without prejudice.

An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, S.U.S.D.J.


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