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Rodney R. Roberts v. Jennifer Velez et al

July 12, 2011


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



This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's submission of a civil complaint ("Complaint") and his application to proceed in this action in forma pauperis. Based on Plaintiff's affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant Plaintiff's applications to proceed in forma pauperis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (1998), and will order the Clerk to file the Complaint.


The Complaint asserts that, starting from 2006 and until early 2010, Plaintiff was confined at the Special Treatment Unit at Kearney, New Jersey ("Kearney Facility"),*fn1 and -- during that period of his confinement -- he was periodically evaluated by medical professionals in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 for placement in various therapeutic treatment modules. See Docket Entry No. 1, at 4-5. These medical professionals determined that Plaintiff was fit to participate in some but not in all treatment modules administered at the Kearney Facility. See id. Plaintiff, who preferred to attend all modules administered at the Kearney Facility, concluded that these medical determinations were discriminating and biased. See id.

It appears that, in 2010, Plaintiff was transferred from the Kearney Facility to another facility, and -- later that year -- from that other facility to a unit within a "lock-up" facility located in Avenel, New Jersey ("Avenel Unit"). See id. at 5-6. Plaintiff: (a) asserts that the Avenel Unit has been populated by other civilly committed individuals; and (b) notes that he would have preferred to be housed among the general prison population of a prison facility, seemingly to avoid the stigma Plaintiff associates with being housed among civilly committed individuals. See id. at 6. Plaintiff also asserts that, since some point in 2010, Plaintiff was denied all forms of therapeutic treatment on the grounds of Plaintiff being housed at the Avenel Unit; he maintains that the decision to deny him all forms of treatment was made by Defendants Paolillo, Canataro and certain unspecified members of the Avenel Unit Human Services. See id.

Plaintiff asserts that: (a) his treatment at the Kearney Facility was inadequate;*fn2 (b) his evaluations at the Kearney Facility violated Plaintiff's equal protection rights because Plaintiff was allowed to participate only in some, rather than all, modules; (c) his housing at the Avenel Unit violates his procedural due process rights; and (d) his lack of any therapy since 2010 also violates his rights.


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 Plaintiffs are proceeding in forma pauperis in both above-captioned matters, their complaints are 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);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.

Moreover, recently, the Supreme Court clarified the standard for summary dismissal in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), stressing that Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Citing its prior decision 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.

Id. at 1950; 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 a district court to conduct the ...

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