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Jamal Belton v. Mark Singer

July 8, 2011

JAMAL BELTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARK SINGER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Plaintiff, Jamal Belton, 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, Jamal Belton ("Belton"), brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: Mark Singer, Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Jersey; David L. 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; Shantay Brame Adams, Assistant Unit Director at the EJSP-STU; and Brian Friedman, Director of Psychology at the EJSP-STU. (Complaint, Caption and ¶¶ 4b-4i). 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.

This is the second Complaint Belton has filed with respect to the same and/or similar claims. His first action, Belton v. Sharpe, et al., Civil No. 10-3071 (SDW), was dismissed without prejudice in an Opinion and Order entered by this Court on November 29, 2010. The instant Complaint was filed on or about December 13, 2010.

In this Complaint, Belton alleges that defendants, Mark Singer and Jennifer Velez, have overlooked and disregarded that plaintiff is a civilly committed person being housed on prison grounds and subjected to prison policies and treatment conducted or facilitated by the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") rather than the NJDHS. (Compl., ¶¶ 4b, 4h). Plaintiff complains that David L. DaCosta failed to oversee and correct the conditions of the EJSP-STU and overlooked plaintiff's complaints that the correctional staff is "mentally humiliating" plaintiff because of his crime and life gender. (Compl., ¶ 4c).

Next, Belton alleges that John Main has failed to correct the conditions of the facility, namely, leaking ceilings, toilets and water that gives a rash. He also alleges that Main has not corrected the problem of having NJDOC staff conduct "treatment movements" that cancels groups when they are still in session. (Compl., ¶ 4d). Belton states that defendant Merril Main has authorized the NJDOC to limit group sessions and segregate population causing plaintiff to be taken out of his former groups without regard to his therapy needs by submitting plaintiff's name to a test called the "hair scope psychopathy test." (Compl., ¶ 4e).

Belton further alleges that defendant Johnson has placed plaintiff under prison policy, rules and regulations, which has caused Belton to be "mentally harassed and degraded" by correctional staff and to be taken out of recommended therapy groups by enforcing a segregation policy. (Compl., ¶ 4f). Defendant Adams allegedly has authorized and approved the NJDOC to harass and confiscate plaintiff's personal belongings, and has overlooked correctional staff canceling or interfering with therapy groups when the session is not over. (Compl., ¶ 4g). Finally, as to defendant Friedman, Belton complains that Friedman also has overlooked the mental harassment by correctional staff when they conduct the running of therapy sessions. (Compl., ¶ 4i).

Specifically, Belton alleges that, on May 19, 2010, he 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. (Compl., ¶ 6). He further alleges that he has received two memos giving different addresses for mailing and receipt of mail other than the EJSP-STU location where he is housed. (Id.).

On October 8, 2010, a bed bug exterminator came to the EJSPSTU, and came every weekday to fumigate the units for bed bug infestation. Belton alleges that the correctional staff constantly cancels therapy sessions, conducts unit searches, and interferes with the "running of groups." He states that, on October 21, 2010, he overheard Sgt. Smith telling another officer that "that's what happens when a celebrity is on the unit." Belton brought this to defendant Adams attention, but she merely stated that this is NJDOC policy. (Id.).

On November 1, 2010, Belton states that 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). Belton alleges that this memo shows that he is being placed under full prison policies and guidelines disregarding the fact that he is not serving a prison term. Further, Belton alleges that he was told by Johnson that residents at EJSP-STU are under the "10A- Code" instead of the civilly committed act, causing the residents to be subjected to strip searches, cell searches and random shakedowns, and the confiscation of electronic equipment. (Compl., ¶ 6).

Belton also 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, or causing the session to be cancelled before it is over. He states that on November 23, 2010, he "constantly complain[ed]" about this problem but never receives a response to his grievances. (Id.).

On September 16, 2010, Belton alleges that Friedman admitted that plaintiff is in an "untherapeutic environment" and that treatment is "futile" because of the prison setting and because the NJDHS does not have the money to give proper treatment and housing. (Id.).

On November 27, Belton complains that he was strip searched after his "p.m. visits." (Id.).

Belton 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 Belton 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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