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Maurice Gay v. Wakefern Food Corporation

May 24, 2011

MAURICE GAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WAKEFERN FOOD CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Plaintiff Maurice Gay, a prisoner currently confined at Trenton State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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.

I. BACKGROUND

The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review.

Plaintiff alleges that on or about June 15, 2010, while incarcerated at Trenton State Prison, he received a carton of strawberry-banana yogurt, distributed by Wakefern Food Corporation, that was "bad" and made him physically ill for two or three days.

Plaintiff asserts jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He names as the sole defendant Wakefern Food Corporation of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and he seeks damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and embarrassment in the total amount of $40,000.

II. ANALYSIS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires the plaintiff in a federal action to set forth "a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends." Federal courts are bound to determine whether they have jurisdiction even if none of the parties to an action have challenged the asserted bases therefor. Packard v. Provident National Bank, 994 F.2d 1039 (3d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Upp v. Mellon Bank, N.A., 510 U.S. 964 (1993); Temple Univ. v. White, 941 F.2d 201 (3d Cir. 1991), cert. denied sub nom. Snider v. Temple Univ., 502 U.S. 1032 (1992); TM Marketing, Inc. v. Art & Antiques Assocs., L.P., 803 F. Supp. 994 (D.N.J. 1992). Indeed, "a plaintiff, suing in a federal court, must show in his pleading, affirmatively and distinctly, the existence of whatever is essential to federal jurisdiction, and, if he does not do so, the court ... must dismiss the case, unless the defect be corrected by amendment." Smith v. McCullough, 270 U.S. 456, 459 (1926). A court can take no measures to rectify a want of jurisdiction, because the lack of jurisdiction itself precludes asserting judicial power. See First American Nat'l Bank v. Straight Creek Processing Co., 756 F. Supp. 945 (E.D. Va. 1991) (where diversity of parties is incomplete, court has no jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's motion to dismiss non-diverse defendants; rather, court must dismiss action for lack of jurisdiction). This complaint does not meet the requirements either for federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or for diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

A. 28 U.S.C. § 1331

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, Congress has established jurisdiction in the federal district courts over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Although Plaintiff asserts that his claims arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, thus invoking § 1331 federal-question jurisdiction, the facts pleaded by him reveal no claim arising under § 1983.

More specifically, 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). The basis of Plaintiff's action, however, is that the defendant distributed "bad" yogurt. This does not state a claim for a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or law of the United States.

In addition, "the under-color-of-state-law element of § 1983 excludes from its reach 'merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful.'" American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, "the deed of an ostensibly private organization or individual" at times may demand to be treated "as if a State has caused it ...


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