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William D. anderson v. David Dacosta

June 1, 2011

WILLIAM D. ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID DACOSTA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Plaintiff, William D. Anderson, 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, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), to determine whether the action 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 this action should be dismissed for failure to state a claim at this time.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, William D. Anderson ("Anderson"), brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: David DaCosta, Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Jersey; John Main, Chief Director of the New Jersey Department of Human Services ("NJDHS") at the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton, New Jersey; Dr. Merril Main, Clinical Director at East Jersey State Prison-Special Treatment Unit ("EJSP-STU"); Jennifer Velez, Commissioner of the NJDHS; Steve Johnson, Assistant Superintendent at EJSP-STU; and Shantay Brame Adams, Assistant Unit Director at the EJSP-STU. (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.

In his Complaint, Anderson alleges that defendants have either authorized or condoned the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") to place plaintiff, a civilly committed resident, on prison grounds, confined to one unit, and under prison policy and guidelines in violation of his constitutional rights and his patients' bill of rights. (Compl., ¶¶ 4b-4g). Anderson further complains that defendants have authorized the NJDOC to conduct or dictate how therapy sessions are run. (Compl., ¶¶ 4b-4g).

Specifically, Anderson alleges that, on May 18, 2010, defendant Johnson was made aware that the residents at EJSP-STU were being treated like prisoners by the EJSP correctional officers. (Compl., ¶ 6). Also on that day, it had rained and water dripped from the ceiling leaving a white foam substance on the ceiling and water spots on the floor where it had puddled. (Id.).

On May 19, 2010, Anderson allegedly observed the NJDHS staff psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers moving their office supplies off grounds to a location in Edison, New Jersey, leaving plaintiff with no on-site psychiatrist after 4:00 p.m. (Id.). On May 21, 2010, Assistant Administrator Conway allegedly came on plaintiff's unit at EJSP-STU and told Anderson and other residents how therapy groups would be run and that plaintiff might be taken out of some therapy sessions. (Id.).

On May 27, 2010, as Anderson was returning from the yard, he was pat searched and finger scanned (Ion scan) by Internal Affairs for the STU. Anderson states that the pat search and finger scan was watched and conducted by first shift correctional officer, Lt. Morrison. (Id.).

Anderson next alleges that, on June 1, 2010, residents were banned from going to the law library at the EJSP. The ban has continued through July 26, 2010. (Id.). Further, Anderson complains that his mail is going to an address in Avenel, New Jersey, rather than where he is confined at EJSP-STU in Rahway, New Jersey. (Id.).

Anderson makes general allegations that therapy groups are conducted by the NJDOC "movements", causing plaintiff to be taken out of therapy groups that he had attended previously when he was confined at the Kearny facility. He states that therapy groups are held "in a caged in boarded up fence,' and that his open recreation is limited. Anderson complains that these actions make him feel like he is a "problem prisoner" and not a civilly committed resident, and that he feels "mentally humiliated and degraded." (Id.).

On October 30, 2010, Anderson states that yard recreation was allowed for only 30 minutes. On October 28, 2010, the NJDOC allegedly is making the therapy groups "extremely limited" by fitting the groups to their schedule and sometimes terminating the group sessions before the allotted time is over. (Id.).

Anderson next alleges that, on November 1, 2010, he received a memo that his electronics would no longer be permitted. He states that he was told that if he complained, his electronic equipment would be confiscated for a year with an appeal. He provides a copy of the memo, which includes memory sticks, flash drives, thumb drives, detachable or external drives, data storage devices, X-Box Elite, PS 3 (Play Station 3), Wii, and remote controls with digital read-out or viewing screens. The memo states that these electronic devices compromise the security and orderly running of the institution. The memo further states that any resident who "attempts to circumvent the electronics policy ... will lose electronic privileges permanently with an appeal after one year." (See November 1, 2010 Interoffice Communication Memo attached to Complaint). Anderson states that these electronic devices were permitted at the Kearny facility.

In a letter dated November 29, 2010, Anderson submitted an addendum to his Complaint. ("Addendum" at Docket entry no. 2). He reiterates some of the same allegations set forth in his Complaint, but adds several new allegations. First, Anderson states that, on October 8, 2010, bed bug exterminators came in to spray the facility due to a bed bug outbreak. Anderson states that the exterminators come every weekday to fumigate. He complained to the administrators about the bed bug problem, and filed a grievance, but nothing was done. (Addendum at pp. 1-2).

On October 22, 2010, plaintiff asked Sgt. Smith who was authorizing cell searches, and was told that the searches came from the NJDOC, "making [Anderson] feel more like a prisoner than a resident in a civilly-committed treatment facility." (Addendum at pg. 3). Also on October 22, 2010, defendant Adams came to the EJSP-STU and overlooked Sgt. Smith and other correctional officers allegedly confiscating personal belongings and verbally harassing plaintiff. (Id. at pg. 4).

On November 4, 2010, a therapy group session was cancelled by Sgt. Smith for no reason. (Id.). On November 20, 2010, tape was placed on the floor during visits and Anderson generally alleges that his visit was harassed. When he complained, he was told to put it in a grievance, making him feel like a prisoner. (Id. at pg. 5).

On September 16, 2010, Anderson states that Psychology Director Brian Friedman allegedly told plaintiff that the EJSPSTU was not a therapeutic environment because of the prison setting and because the NJDHS and NJDOC do not have funds to give the residents proper treatment and housing. (Id. at pg. 6). On November 27, 2010, after plaintiff's afternoon visit, he was stopped and searched by a NJDOC officer. When Anderson stated that he was a resident, the officer responded that he was subject to prison rules. (Id.).

Anderson asks to be placed in a federally funded treatment facility. He also seeks monetary compensation for being placed in a prison environment where he has suffered mental anguish, harassment, and discrimination. (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 Anderson 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).*fn1 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 assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

Thus, to prevent a summary dismissal, civil complaints must now allege "sufficient factual matter" to show that a claim is facially plausible. This then "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1948. The Supreme Court's ruling in Iqbal emphasizes that a plaintiff must demonstrate that the allegations of his complaint are plausible. Id. at 1949-50; see also Twombly, 505 U.S. at 555, & n.3; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210(3d Cir. 2009).

Consequently, the Third Circuit observed that Iqbal provides the "final nail-in-the-coffin for the 'no set of facts' standard" set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957),*fn2 that applied to federal complaints before Twombly. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. The Third Circuit now requires that a district court must conduct the two-part analysis set forth in Iqbal when presented with a motion to dismiss:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. [Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50].

Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." [Id.] In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts. See Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234-35. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here 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.'" Iqbal, [129 S.Ct. at 1949-50]. This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-211.

This Court is mindful, however, that the sufficiency of this pro se pleading must be construed liberally in favor of Plaintiff, even after Iqbal. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007). Moreover, a court should not dismiss a complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim without granting leave to amend, unless it finds bad faith, undue delay, prejudice or futility. See Grayson v. Mayview ...


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