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Williams v. Union County Jail

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 12, 2015

HAROLD W. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION COUNTY JAIL, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

MADELINE COX ARLEO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, currently confined at Somerset County Jail, seeks to bring this § 1983 action in forma pauperis. Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant Plaintiff's 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. Plaintiff alleges that the administration at Union County Prison miscalculated his aggregate sentence and have held him beyond the expiration of his sentence. Because it is unclear whether Plaintiff is still serving that allegedly illegal sentence, which would require him to bring a petition for habeas relief, and because his claim is barred at this time by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint without prejudice.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is currently confined in Somerset County Jail and has brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the administration at Union County Jail miscalculated his aggregate county sentences, which has resulted in his imprisonment beyond the date on which his sentence should have expired. Plaintiff's Complaint is not a model of clarity, but it appears that he was sentenced in three different counties for three different offenses between August 2013 and October 2013. (No. 1 at 5-6.) On August 29, 2013, Plaintiff was sentenced to 90 days in Somerset County. ( Id. ) On October 25, 2013, was sentenced to 270 days in Union County. ( Id. ) On November 20, 2013, a Linden Municipal Court judge sentenced Plaintiff to 180 days. ( Id. ) Plaintiff appears to contend that the sentencing courts ordered these sentences to run concurrently but that Administrators at Union County Jail ran them consecutively. ( Id. ) Plaintiff also alleges that he received paperwork from a social worker indicating that that his release date was March 19, 2014, but he was not released on that date.

Plaintiff indicates that he did not seek any formal or informal relief from the appropriate administrative officials and explains that he did not pursue any administrative remedies because he "did not know how to go about fil[l]ing out or getting the paper work." ( Id. at 5.) In his Complaint, however, Plaintiff does indicate that when his expected release date passed, he complained to the administration and they sent him to the Central Reception and Assignment Facility ("CRAF"). ( Id. at 6.)

It is unclear whether Plaintiff is still serving the sentence or sentences that form the basis for his § 1983 claim. In his Complaint, Plaintiff does not indicate whether he was released from prison after he was sent to CRAF. A search of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Inmate locator database indicates that Plaintiff was released from custody on July 21, 2014.[1] However, Plaintiff mailed his Complaint on February 10, 2015 from Somerset County Jail. ( Id. ) Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $500, 000.00 but does not seek release from Somerset County Jail, where he is currently confined. ( Id at 6). It is not clear from the Complaint on what charge or charges Plaintiff is currently incarcerated.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard for Sua Sponte Dismissal under the Prison Litigation Reform Act

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 42 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.

According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. lqbal, "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." Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (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).

B. Plaintiffs § 1983 Claim is Not Cognizable at this Time

Here, Plaintiff's has alleged that prison administration at Union County Jail violated his constitutional rights by miscalculating his aggregate county sentences, illegally failing to run the sentences concurrently. Because Plaintiff has not indicated whether he is still serving the sentence or sentences at issue, it is not clear whether Plaintiff's claim is properly brought as a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Federal law provides two avenues of relief to prisoners: a petition for habeas corpus and a civil rights complaint. See Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750, 124 S.Ct. 1303, 158 L.Ed.2d 32 (2004). In general, "[c]hallenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus... [while] requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement [fall within the realm of] a § 1983 action." Id. Further, it is well-established that detaining a prisoner beyond the termination of his or her sentence can amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and thus form the basis for a claim under § 1983. See Sample v. Diecks. 885 F.2d 1099, 1108 (3d Cir. 1989).

As explained below, if Plaintiff is still serving the sentence at issue, his relief is in the form of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which requires him to first exhaust his administrative remedies. If his is no longer serving the sentence at issue, his claim is barred until such time that he meets ...


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