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Ronald James Barber v. Kenneth Sharp

June 2, 2011

RONALD JAMES BARBER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH SHARP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Plaintiff, Ronald James Barber, 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.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Ronald James Barber ("Barber"), brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: Kenneth Sharpe, Assistant Attorney General for the State of New Jersey; Debbie Hasting, Superintendent at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center ("ADTC") in Avenel, New Jersey; John Main, New Jersey Department of Human Services ("NJDHS") Administrator at the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton, New Jersey; Dr. Merril Main, NJDHS Administrator at the ADTC; Shantay Brame Adams, Assistant Clinical Director at the STU in Avenel, New Jersey; Jennifer Velez, NJDHS Commissioner; and Steve Johnson, Assistant Superintendent at the East Jersey State Prison, Special Treatment Unit ("EJSP-STU"). (Complaint, Caption and ¶¶ 4b-4h). 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.

The Court notes that this is the second action filed by Barber with regard to his civil confinement at the STU in EJSP. His first action, Barber v. Christie, et al., Civil No. 10-1888 (SRC), was dismissed without prejudice by Opinion and Order issued by the Honorable Stanley R. Chesler on or about July 7, 2010. Barber filed this instant Complaint on or about October 13, 2010.*fn1

In this second action, Barber continues to complain about his confinement at the EJSP STU, and what he alleges are unconstitutional restrictions and conditions placed on him as a civilly committed person. He generally complains that he will be subjected to 23-hour lock down at the EJSP-STU, that there will be no treatment provided at the "prison" facility, and that plaintiff will be subject to prison rules and polices. (Compl., ¶¶ 4(b)-(h), 6).

As in his first action, Barber continues to assert the same claims. For instance, Barber alleges that, on March 17, 2010, a community meeting was held at the Northern Regional Unit ("NRU") in Kearny, New Jersey to discuss a proposed transfer of the NRU residents to the EJSP STU in Rahway, New Jersey. The meeting was conducted by defendant Steven Johnson. Johnson told the residents that they would be housed in the administrative segregation unit at the EJSP. He also told the residents that they would have to take their mattresses with them. (Compl., ¶ 6 Statement of Claims).

On March 25, 2010, a memorandum was issued informing the residents that they can not order personal belongings, such as food and clothing, or pay bills because of the pending transfer to EJSP. There also was a deadline of April 9, 2010, for receiving general packages, and a deadline of April 25, 2010 for receiving food packages at the Kearny facility. (Id.).

In this second Complaint, Barber adds that, on May 14, 2010, he was threatened with MAP status, i.e., Modified Activities Program, if he continued to file grievances or complain about the fact that his mail was being sent to a different address than where plaintiff is confined. (Compl., ¶ 6).

Shortly after submitting this second Complaint, Barber filed an application for a preliminary injunction. (Docket entry no. 2). He asks the Court to enjoin defendants from any retaliatory actions against plaintiff, such as placing plaintiff on MAP status or confiscating his paper work. Barber generally alleges that he has been banned from the prison law library, placed under prison policy and guidelines and threatened with MAP status. (Docket entry no. 2).

Barber seeks monetary compensation for mental anguish and stress that he has suffered upon being placed in a prison facility, and he asks for proper treatment at a federally funded 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 Barber 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).*fn2 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),*fn3 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" ...


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