United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JASON I. FARROW, Plaintiff,
CAPE MAY COUNTY CORRECTIONAL CENTER, et al., Defendants.
ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on a motion by Jason I. Farrow ("Plaintiff") for summary judgment, and on a motion by Cape May County Correctional Center, Gary G. Schaffer, Sheriff, Donald J. Lombardo, Warden, and Captain Krench (collectively "Defendants") for summary judgment. Because both summary judgment motions relate to the same underlying events, they are considered jointly. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be GRANTED IN PART, and Plaintiff's motion will be DENIED.
This matter arises out of the pro se complaint of Mr. Farrow, who was housed at the Cape May County Correctional Center ("CMCCC") for approximately three weeks in 2010, and then again for three and a half months in 2011. Am. Compl ¶¶ 7-8. His allegations appear to primarily focus on the alleged inadequacy of the law library that is available to inmates at CMCCC. Id . ¶¶ 7-9. Farrow alleges that he was limited to a copying allowance of ten pages per week, and that the law library was inadequate because it only is designed to allow access to legal resources through a single computer portal loaded with the LexisNexis database, which is a computer database containing case opinions and other legal research materials. Pl. Mot. Summ. J. at 6. The CMCCC library does not contain any volumes of books. Id . Plaintiff also argues that the criminal justice system in Cape May County is unconstitutional, and that defense counsel assigned to indigent defendants purposely keep their clients in the dark about the proceedings as part of a conspiracy against criminal defendants. Id . He asserts that Defendants are complicit in this alleged conspiracy by insuring that those charged with crimes in Cape May County cannot learn about their legal rights due the state of the law library at the CMCCC. Id. at 6-7.
Farrow filed his complaint on January 6, 2012, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County, alleging that CMCCC's practices violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff also included counts alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. On February 27, 2012, Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to its jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. On July 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, and the instant motions followed.
II. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
The court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is "material" to the dispute if it could alter the outcome, and a dispute of material fact is "genuine" if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Matsushida Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) ("Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'") (quoting First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co. , 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In deciding whether there is any genuine issue for trial, the court is not to weigh evidence or decide issues of fact. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. Because fact and credibility determinations are for the jury, the non-moving party's evidence is to be believed and ambiguities construed in its favor. Id. at 255; Matsushida , 475 U.S. at 587.
Although the movant bears the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the non-movant likewise must present more than mere allegations or denials to successfully oppose summary judgment. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party must at least present probative evidence from which jury might return a verdict in its favor. Id. at 257. The movant is entitled to summary judgment where the non-moving party fails to "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
A. Status of CMCCC as a Defendant
Although Plaintiff does not refer to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in his motion papers or in the text of his Amended Complaint, the Court construes his claims for constitutional violations as brought pursuant to Section 1983's enforcement mechanism. The caption of his complaint refers to Section 1983, and that statute is the primary means available for enforcing the constitutional violations that he alleges. See Hassoun v. Cimmino , 126 F.Supp.2d 353, 364 (D.N.J. 2000) (citing Rogin v. Bensalem Twp. , 616 F.2d 680, 686-87 (3d Cir. 1980)). In a Section 1983 action, a plaintiff must initially show that (1) the complained-of conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) the conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights guaranteed by the laws or the Constitution of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor , 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981).
Here, Plaintiff's claims against CMCCC fail as an initial matter because a county prison or correctional facility is not a "person." See Regan v. Upper Darby Twp., Civ. No. 06-1686 , 2009 WL 650384, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 11, 2009) ("In the Third Circuit, it is well-settled that a prison or correctional facility it not a person' that is subject to suit under federal civil rights laws."); Slagle v. Cnty. of Clarion , 435 F.3d 262, 264 n.3 (3d Cir. 2006) (observing that the district court dismissed a county jail as a defendant because it is not a "person" under federal civil rights law). Because a correctional facility is not a person amenable to a Section 1983 suit, Plaintiff's claims against it fail as a matter of law and summary judgment must be granted in favor of CMCCC.
B. Constitutional Adequacy of the Law Library
Plaintiff describes the law library at CMCCC as an old supply closet measuring approximately 8 feet by 10 feet, containing four or five chairs and a single computer console. Pl. Mot. Summ. J. at 13. Inmates cannot use the computer to print documents on their own or for word processing. Id . As a result of these allegedly inadequate facilities, Plaintiff claims that he was prevented from litigating in a Family Court proceeding. Id . This allegation, if true, does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. The constitutional right of access to the courts only extends to what is necessary for incarcerated persons to "attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement." Lewis v. Casey , 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996). "Impairment of any other litigating capacity is... perfectly constitutional." Id. at 355 ...