United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JOHN W. McGILL, Plaintiff,
PATRICK NOGAN, et al., Defendants.
SUSAN D. WIGENTON, District Judge.
Plaintiff, John W. McGill, filed a complaint against Defendants on December 31, 2014. (ECF No. 1). On June 15, 2015, this Court granted Petitioner's application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 6). At this time, this Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set out below, this Court will dismiss Plaintiff's official capacity claims against all Defendants with prejudice to the extent that he seeks money damages, and will dismiss without prejudice Plaintiff's deprivation of property claims against all Defendants, but will permit Plaintiff's first amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Diane Patrick in her individual capacity to proceed at this time.
The following background is drawn from the allegations contained in Plaintiff's complaint in which he asserts claims against Patrick Nogan ("Nogan"), Administrator of East Jersey State Prison; Diane Patrick ("Patrick"), the head of the prison's education department; and William Anderson ("Anderson"), a former assistant administrator at the prison. Plaintiff is a convicted prisoner currently serving a life sentence in East Jersey State Prison. (ECF No. 1 at 7). At some point during 2012, as Plaintiff approached the point at which he would be eligible for parole, Plaintiff's sister paid for him to begin a college correspondence course. ( Id. at 8). Plaintiff chose specifically to pursue an associate's degree in criminal justice. ( Id. at 8). Plaintiff, in order to complete this program, signed up for the prison's independent study program to receive access to test proctors and computers needed for schoolwork. ( Id. at 8-9).
As Plaintiff entered his second semester of study in January 2013, text books entitled Policing - Learning Guide and Policing Today (Document 3 attached to ECF No. 1 at 23) arrived and were seized as suspected contraband in the prison mailroom. (ECF No. 1 at 8-9). Plaintiff thereafter spoke with several prison officials, all of whom apparently confirmed that the books were considered contraband and would not be returned to Plaintiff's custody within the prison. ( Id. at 9-10). Concerned that he could not complete his course without the books, Plaintiff then filed a property claim with the prison, which was denied. ( Id. at 10). Plaintiff also filed a Tort Claims Act notice with the state. ( Id. ).
Plaintiff apparently appealed the contraband decision to the New Jersey Superior Court - Appellate Division. ( Id. at 11). The Appellate Division, upon the State's request, ultimately remanded the case for a written decision from prison officials. ( Id. at 13). While the matter was pending in the Appellate Division, Plaintiff met with prison officials, including Defendant William Anderson. ( Id. at 11). Anderson informed Plaintiff that the book was contraband and would not be permitted within the prison. ( Id. ). As a compromise, however, Plaintiff agreed to change his major from criminal justice to paralegal studies pursuant to a purported settlement agreement under which the prison would pay a portion of the costs associated with the major change. ( Id. at 12). The prison, however, ultimately decided not to pay the agreed upon portion of the costs, and Plaintiff thus chose to change back to the criminal justice major under the belief that the Appellate Division would vindicate him. ( Id. at 12).
Prior to the Appellate Division remand, the prison apparently also changed the criteria which must be met in order to be a member of the independent studies program. ( Id. ). Although Plaintiff alleges that this change was made in order to exclude him from the program, all prisoners in the program were required to resubmit requests for admittance to the program pursuant to the new criteria. ( Id. ). Plaintiff was not readmitted to the program under the new criteria. ( Id. ). During the process, Defendant Patrick also informed those seeking admission or readmission to the program that "all books received by inmates must be approved by the education department" and that "all correspondence courses had to be approved by her." ( Id. at 13). Patrick apparently also told Plaintiff that he was never a member of the independent study program. ( Id. at 13).
Following the Appellate Division's remand, an initial administrative decision as to the seizure of the books was rendered by Defendant Anderson on December 16, 2013. (Document 3 attached to ECF No. 1 at 23). In that decision, Anderson confirmed that the books had not been approved by the prison or the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and were excluded from the prison "due to the safety/security concerns over the subject matter." ( Id. ). Anderson also informed Plaintiff that he had ten days to decide whether to have the books sent to his family outside of the prison or destroyed. ( Id. ). Plaintiff appealed the decision to Administrator Nogan, who issued a second opinion on March 13, 2014, identical in all pertinent respects to that issued by Anderson previously. ( Id. at 25).
Prior to March 13, 2014, Plaintiff also filed a second notice of appeal to the Appellate Division. (ECF No. 1 at 15-16). The State thereafter moved to dismiss this second appeal as unripe as Plaintiff had, at that point, not exhausted his administrative remedies. (Document 3 attached to ECF No. 1 at 34-35). Although it is not clear from Plaintiff's complaint, based upon the issuance of Nogan's opinion, this court presumes that the State's motion was granted and Plaintiff's second appeal was dismissed.
A. Legal Standard
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. 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 convicted state prisoner bringing claims against governmental employees who is proceeding in forma pauperis.
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." 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 ...