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Grohs v. Yatauro

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 20, 2013

STEVEN GROHS, Plaintiff,
MEG YATAURO et al., Defendants

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STEVEN GROHS, Plaintiff, Pro se, AVENEL, NJ.

GARY GOSCIAK, Plaintiff, Pro se, AVENEL, NJ.

JAMES TILMON, Plaintiff, Pro se, AVENEL, NJ.

DANIEL MCGUIRE, Plaintiff, Pro se, AVENEL, NJ.

CHARLES FERRARA, as themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, Pro se, AVENEL, NJ.

For MEG YATAURO, as Individual and Administrator of Special Treatment Unit, GARY M. LANIGAN, as Individual and Commissioner of Department of Corrections, Defendants: LUCY ELIZABETH FRITZ, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY, TRENTON, NJ.


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KEVIN MCNULTY, United States District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on the motion of the Defendants, Meg Yatauro and Gary M. Lanigan, to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and on grounds of sovereign and qualified immunity. Also before the Court is a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the Plaintiff, Steven Grohs. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED.


The Plaintiff, Steven Grohs, is a civilly committed resident at the Special Treatment Unit (" STU" ) in Avenel, Middlesex County, New Jersey. Compl., (Docket No. 10), ¶ 2.1. Grohs and four other named plaintiffs filed this civil rights action, styled as a class action, against Meg Yatauro and Gary Lanigan, officials of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (" NJDOC" ). The Complaint raises a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 relating to the health and safety conditions of the STU where Grohs is confined. Id. ¶ ¶ 4.20, 6.7. Specifically, Grohs alleges that the STU provides residents with inadequate hot water for showering and that, as a result, Grohs' medical conditions, including MRSA and a respiratory allergy, have worsened. Compl. ¶ ¶ 4.4 - 4.15. Grohs seeks declaratory relief regarding the Defendants' conduct; injunctive relief ordering the Defendants to repair the hot water system, appointing a Special Master, and appointing pro bono counsel; and damages. Id. ¶ 7.

Yatauro is the Administrator and head of the STU. Id. ¶ 3.2. Lanigan is the Commissioner and head of the NJDOC. Id. ¶ 3.3. Both Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. Compl. ¶ ¶ 3.2 - 3.3. The complaint alleges that these two Defendants are liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the conduct of their subordinates, and that they knew or should have known about the wrongful conduct that is alleged. Id.

Because Grohs alleges a civil rights claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343(a). Diversity of citizenship is not alleged, and does not appear to be present. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The Complaint alleges the following facts, which are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion to dismiss. The STU consists of two buildings in Avenel, New Jersey: the Main Unit, containing individual cells, and the Annex, containing open-bay dormitories. Compl. ¶ 4.2, The NJDOC is charged with responsibility for the STU, including the maintenance and upkeep of the facility, pursuant to state law. Id. Grohs is housed in the Annex. Id.

The steam system that provides heat and hot water to the STU is in disrepair. Id. ¶ 4.4. The hot water provided is inadequate for the number of residents housed in the Annex. Id. The temperature rarely exceeds 73 degrees and is often colder. Id. Even when the water does exceed 73 degrees, it fluctuates to " cold and freezing cold." Id. The lack of hot water is worsened

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by other conditions at the Annex. The shower area is large and unheated. Id. ¶ 4.5. The steam pipes leak onto the floor of the dining area, and some parts of the pipes are not insulated. Id. The hot water used by the showers is continuously shared with washing machines from 6:15 am to 9:15 pm, seven days a week. Id. The residents are not permitted to shower outside of that time range, when more hot water is available. Id.

On or about January 5, 2012, Grohs asked STU Assistant Administrator Steve Johnson why there was inadequate water. Id. ¶ 4.6. Johnson responded that he had requested that the State repair defective piping valves over the last three years, but was told that it was too expensive to repair. Id. The STU has also received " numerous" written complaints about the hot water. Id. ¶ 4.13. Residents making complaints, including Grohs, were never given any reasonable explanation why the necessary repairs were not made to the steam system. Id. ¶ ¶ 4.6, 4.13

Defendants Yatauro and Lanigan have personally toured the STU and have been informed about the residents' complaints. Id. ¶ 4.12. Defendants knew or should have known that residents were using alternative means of heating water, including coffee urns and microwaves. Id. ¶ ¶ 4.8, 4.9. The Defendants also knew or should have known that the building was incurring water damage from leaky steam pipes and that residents were suffering adverse health effects from this " unhealthy environment." Id. ¶ ¶ 4.7, 4.11.

Those adverse health effects include respiratory allergies and asthma. Id. Grohs suffers from MRSA,[1] lower back injuries, and a respiratory allergy. Id. ¶ 4.15. Because of MRSA, Grohs must shower at least once a day. The cold showers cause him ongoing, intermittent " non-life threatening and unnecessary respiratory difficulties." Id.

Grohs filed his Complaint on February 14, 2012, and applied to proceed in forma pauperis (" IFP" ). (Docket Nos. 1, 2). The Court granted Grohs' application to proceed IFP on December 12, 2012, but denied the applications of the other four named plaintiffs. (Docket No. 9 at 3-4). In the same Order, the Court dismissed the State of New Jersey, the NJDOC, and the STU as improper defendants under Section 1983. Id. at 2. Although the complaint was filed as a class action, the Court deferred a ruling on class certification. Id. The remaining defendants, Yatauro and Lanigan, filed this motion to dismiss on May 13, 2013. (Docket No. 21).

On June 7, 2013, Grohs also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. (Docket No. 24). In the motion, Grohs alleges that his legal papers related to this case were wrongfully taken from his cell and read, and that he has been threatened and harassed by STU corrections officers. Plaintiff P.I. Br., (Docket No. 24-1), p. 7-8, (Grohs Affs. attached as Exhibits A - B). (He acknowledges that the papers were returned to him.) Id. at 4. Grohs asks the Court to enjoin any further retaliation, and urges that the Court exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a common law retaliation claim. Id. at 10-11. ...

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