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Anthony Novellino v. New Jersey Department of Corrections Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility

July 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, U.S.D.J.




This matter has come before the Court upon Defendants New Jersey Department of Corrections Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility ("MYCF"), Alvarado, Stocker, and Weisel's Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment [docket # 11]. Plaintiff opposes the motion [14]. The Court has decided the motion upon the submissions of both parties and without oral argument, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons detailed below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is denied without prejudice.


This case involves a July 2008 incident during which Plaintiff Anthony Novellino, an inmate at Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, sustained injuries to his face and body requiring medical treatment. (Compl. ¶ 13) [1-1]. Plaintiff alleges that he was beaten by three other inmates under the Defendants' supervision while he was restrained in handcuffs. (Id. at ¶¶ 10--12). Defendants dispute this account and maintain that Plaintiff's injuries were self-inflicted. (Br. in Supp. 5, 7.)

According to Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff submitted a "Canteen Form" to Defendant Alvarado on July 10, 2008, and was informed the following day that his Form had been voided. (Compl. at ¶¶ 7--8.) Plaintiff "confronted Defendant Alvarado" regarding why this happened and was subsequently restrained by Defendants Alvarado, Stocker, and Weisel. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff claims that Defendants Alvarado, Stocker, and Weisel "signaled" inmates to beat Plaintiff, and that these Defendants "turned their backs to [him] and allowed the abuse to continue." (Id. at ¶¶ 11--12.) As a result, Plaintiff suffered injuries to his face and body that required medical treatment and caused him "severe embarrassment and fear." (Id. at ¶ 13.)

According to the Defendants, Plaintiff grew hostile when Defendant Stocker informed him that his canteen was void, and refused Stocker's direct order to "lock in" by approaching Defendant Alvarado. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") ¶¶ 6--7) [11-1]. Defendants also assert that after Alvarado said he was going to write up a "charge" against Plaintiff for his non-compliance, Plaintiff stated that he would "fuck up [Alvarado's] Puerto Rican ass." (Id. at ¶¶ 8--9.) Other officers then called out a "Code 33" Emergency and, upon their arrival, heard Plaintiff further threaten Alvarado with bodily harm. (Id. at ¶ 11.) At this point, Defendant Weisel secured Plaintiff in handcuffs. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Defendants claim that Plaintiff then slammed his own head on a grill gate, thereby cutting his lip, and that he was escorted away to prevent further injury. (Id. at ¶¶ 12--13.) When Sergeant Murray arrived on the scene and asked how Plaintiff's mouth was injured, Plaintiff stated that he was jumped by a couple of African-American inmates. (Id. at ¶¶ 16--18.) However, a "knuckle check" of the inmates present at the time revealed no injuries indicative of any involvement in a fight or assault. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Additionally, Plaintiff has refused to take a polygraph examination regarding the incident, and he has no witnesses to support his account of the incident. (Id. at ¶¶ 32--33.)

Plaintiff filed the Complaint in New Jersey Superior Court on July 16, 2010, alleging violations of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as violations of the New Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the individual Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive him of his rights to due process and equal protection under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, (Compl. ¶ 15); that Defendant MYCF failed to prevent the constitutional violations committed by the individual Defendants, (id. at ¶¶ 17--21); that the Defendants committed "unlawful and malicious detention and confinement" in deprivation of Plaintiff's rights to due process and equal protection (id. at ¶ 23); that the Defendants were "deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's health or safety" in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, (id. at ¶ 25); that the Defendants have violated his right to "liberty, due process of law, and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment" under the New Jersey Constitution, (id. at ¶ 28); and that the Defendants are liable for all of the above violations under the NJCRA, (id. at ¶ 30).

Defendants removed the action to this Court on September 3, 2010, based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Notice of Removal ¶ 3) [1]. On April 4, 2011, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and for Summary Judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.


A.Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the defendant bears the burden of showing plaintiff's "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). A district court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim that is facially plausible. Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists where the facts pled allow the court reasonably to infer that "the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949). Facts suggesting the "mere possibility of misconduct" fail to show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950).

B.Immunity and Jurisdictional Arguments

Defendants raise a number of arguments as to why they are immune from this lawsuit, including Eleventh Amendment immunity, the definition of "person" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, qualified immunity, and Tort Claims Act ("TCA") immunity. We will address these arguments before proceeding to the merits.

1.Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Defendants argue that MYCF is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. (Br. in Supp. 10--12.) There does not appear to be any dispute that, as a New Jersey Department of Corrections facility, MYCF is a state agency protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity. See, e.g. Vance v. Rizzo, No. 06-0672, 2006 WL 2786867, at *3 (D.N.J. Sept. 26, 2006) (dismissing claims against MYCF based on Eleventh Amendment immunity). However, MYCF's removal of this action to federal court constituted consent to suit and thereby waived MYCF's immunity. See Lombardo v. Commonwealth of Pa., Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 540 F.3d 190, 198 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that "removal of federal-law claims to federal court effect[s] a waiver of immunity from suit in federal court"); see also Lapides v. Bd. Of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, 617 (2002) (finding that state waived sovereign immunity by voluntarily removing case to federal court, but limiting holding to state law claims given dismissal of federal claims). Accordingly, we will deny Defendants' motion to dismiss MYCF based on Eleventh Amendment immunity.

2.Suits Against State or Its Officials Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims must be dismissed because they are not "persons" within the purview of that statute. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. 12.) While Defendants are correct that the §1983 claims against MYCF must be dismissed on this basis, ...

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