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Parrish v. Ocean County Jail

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 20, 2013

OCEAN COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.

DERRICK PARRISH, #297405C, Delmont, NJ, Plaintiff Pro Se.


FREDA L. WOLFSON, District Judge.

Derrick Parrish, a New Jersey prisoner, seeks to file a Complaint without prepayment of the filing fee. This Court will grant his application to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons expressed in this Opinion and, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), this Court will dismiss the federal claims raised in the Complaint, without prejudice to the filing of an amended complaint asserting a cognizable access to courts claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and decline supplemental jurisdiction over claims arising under state law.


Mr. Parrish brings this action against Ocean County Jail and Warden Theodore J. Hutler, Jr., for violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case arises from Mr. Parrish's incarceration at Ocean County Jail. He asserts that in September 2012, he was housed in the older section of the jail. He alleges that, when he wanted to conduct legal research, he had to "find out what to request of the law library, or request information on what to request, " submit a "request form, " and then wait for three to seven days for a response, which was limited to 50 pages a week. (Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 5.) He asserts that, while he was walking through the new section of the jail, he saw a computer room. Id. According to Mr. Parrish, an officer told him that the computer room was available to inmates housed in the new section of the jail who wanted to research the law. Id. He alleges that he did "not have the same privile[]ge and access to legal information" as inmates housed in the new section of the jail, and that his limited access "has tru[]ly hindered [him] in time in learning the things [he] needed to make the right decisions in [his] cases." Id. He further alleges that he filed a grievance complaining about the inadequate access to legal materials, but he received no response. Id. For relief, he seeks damages and an injunction directing the Warden to provide equal access to legal information to all inmates housed in the jail. Id. at 6.


Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) ("PLRA"), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 28 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is 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. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis.

"[A] pleading that offers labels or conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim[1], the complaint must allege "sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Belmont v. MB Inv. Partners, Inc., 708 F.3d 470, 483 n.17 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, " pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted) (emphasis added).


Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Mansfield, C. & L. M. Ry. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 383 (1884). "[T]hey have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto." Bender v. Williamsport Area School Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986).

A. Federal Claims

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides a cause of action for violation of constitutional rights by a person acting under color of state law.[2] To recover under § 1983, a plaintiff must show two elements: (1) a person deprived him or caused him to be deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) the deprivation was done under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

As an initial matter, this Court notes that Mr. Parrish sues Ocean County Jail, but a county jail is not a "person" subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pursuant to Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 688-90 (1978). See Russell v. City Of Philadelphia, 428 F.Appx. 174, 177 (3d Cir. 2011); Powell v. Cook County Jail, 814 F.Supp. 757, 758 (N.D. Ill. 1993); McCoy v. Chesapeake Correctional Center, 788 F.Supp. 890, 893-894 (E.D. Va. 1992). Because a jail is not a person subject to suit for violation of constitutional rights, this Court will dismiss all federal claims against the jail with prejudice.

Mr. Parrish claims that the Warden violated his constitutional rights by failing to provide adequate legal research facilities to him and by giving inmates housed in the new section of the jail greater access to legal research than Parrish had. Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, prisoners retain a right of access to the courts, but that right does not include a freestanding right to a minimum amount of access to a law library. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996); Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 205 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, Stover v. Beard, 129 S.Ct. 1647 (2008). "[A]n inmate cannot establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that his prison's law library... is subpar." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351. "Where prisoners assert that defendants' actions have inhibited their opportunity to present a past legal claim, they must show (1) that they suffered an actual injury' - that they lost a chance to pursue a nonfrivolous' or arguable' underlying claim; and (2) that they have no other remedy' that may be awarded as recompense' for the lost claim other than in the present denial of access suit." Monroe, 536 F.3d at 205 ...

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