January 13, 2014
JAMAR MYERS, Plaintiff,
ALFRED FEDERICO, et al., Defendants.
JAMAR MYERS, Plaintiff pro se, Ternton, N.J.
PETER G. SHERIDAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Jamar Myers ("Plaintiff'), a pretrial detainee confined at Mercer County Correction Center in Trenton, New Jersey at the time of filing, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant Plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) 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) and 1915A, to determine whether it 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 the complaint should be dismissed at this time.
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.
On or about April 27, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a "Notice of Motion for a Probable Cause Hearing" and a "Notice of Motion to proceed by indigent" to the Criminal Division Management Office of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Mercer County. (Compl. ¶ 15, ECF No. 1.) On or about August 10, 2012, Plaintiff submitted certified letters to Defendants requesting the status of his motions. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff did not receive a response. ( Id. ) On or about August 27, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a second "Notice of Motion for a Probable Cause Hearing" to the Criminal Division Management Office of Mercer County. ( Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff followed up his submission with certified letters to Defendants requesting the status of said motion on September 19, 2012. ( Id. ) Again, Plaintiff did not receive any response. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that he continues to send letters to the Criminal Case Management Office but they continue not to acknowledge his letters. ( Id. at ¶ 18.) Plaintiff is seeking injunctive and monetary relief.
A. Legal Standard
1. Standards for a Sua Spoute Dismissal
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, Set 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) and 1915A because Plaintiff is a prisoner who is proceeding as an indigent.
According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, "a pleading that offers labels or conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" 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,  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).
2. Section 1983 Actions
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....
Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
The right of access to the courts derives from the First Amendment's right to petition and the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The right of access to the courts requires that "adequate, effective, and meaningful" access be provided to inmates wishing to challenge their criminal charge, conviction, or conditions of confinement. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 822, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). Officials must "give prisoners a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the Courts." Id. at 825.
Bounds held that "the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." But the right of access to the courts is not unlimited. "The tools [that Bounds] requires to be provided are those that the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996).
Moreover, a prisoner alleging a violation of the right of access must show that officials caused previous or imminent "actual injury" by hindering efforts to pursue such a claim or defense. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348-51, 354-55; Oliver v. Fauver, 118 F.3d 175, 177-78 (3d Cir. 1997). "He might show, for example, that a complaint he prepared was dismissed for failure to satisfy some technical requirement which, because of deficiencies in the prison's legal assistance facilities, he could not have known. Or that he had suffered arguably actionable harm that he wished to bring before the courts, but was so stymied by inadequacies of the law library that he was unable to file even a complaint." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351.
In his complaint, Plaintiff fails to allege any actual injury due to the denial of access to the courts. Plaintiff does not state that his criminal case was in any way affected by the alleged failure to file the motion. In fgct, Plaintiff does not provide any information as to the disposition of his criminal case. Moreover, though Plaintiff states that he was "acting as his own attorney, " it is not clear whether he was doing so only for the purposes of that particular motion or for the entirety of his criminal case. (Am. Compl ¶¶ 4(c), 5, 11, ECF No. 9-1.) Thus, the allegations in the Complaint are too conclusory to show a denial of court access sufficient to rise to the level of a constitutional deprivation under the Iqbal pleading standard and the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
For the reasons stated above, the complaint will be dismissed in its entirety for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1). However, because it is conceivable that Plaintiff may be able to supplement his pleading with facts sufficient to overcome the deficiencies noted herein, the Court will grant Plaintiff leave to move to re-open this case and to file an amended complaint. An appropriate order follows.