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Love v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 20, 2015

LEMONT LOVE, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

SUSAN D. WIGENTON, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Lemont Love, filed a complaint against Defendants on or about June 2, 2015. (ECF No. 1). On June 22, 2015, this Court granted Petitioner's application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 3). 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 with prejudice Plaintiff's claims against the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Northern State Prison; dismiss with prejudice Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Lanigan, Johnson, St. Paul, Washington, and John Doe Corrections Officers in their Hofficial capacities only to the extent Plaintiff seeks money damages; permit Plaintiff's individual capacity and injunctive relief claims against Defendants Lanigan, Johnson, St. Paul, Washington, and John Doe Corrections Officers to proceed at this time; and dismiss without prejudice Plaintiff's claims against all remaining Defendants.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Lemont Love, is a convicted state prisoner currently incarcerated at Northern State Prison. Plaintiff makes the following allegations in his complaint. In October of 2007, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office seized a bank account in plaintiff's name, presumably in connection with his criminal prosecution. (ECF No. 1 at 9). Plaintiff brought suit to recover the money from the account, which ultimately settled by way of consent order on August 26, 2013. (Id. ). Pursuant to that order, the prosecutor was to return $6, 691.49 to Plaintiff by way of a check which was to be sent within 60-90 days to Plaintiff's brother as Plaintiff didn't trust prison staff. (Id. ). The assistant prosecutor handling the case, Defendant Zanetakos, had a check for that amount issued, but instead of mailing it to Plaintiff's brother, the check was sent to Plaintiff at the prison. (Id. ).

On April 6, 2015, Plaintiff received a mail receipt from the prison informing him that a check in the amount set forth in the consent agreement had been received and credited to his prison account. (Id. ). While Plaintiff alleges that the check was clearly legal mail and should not have been opened, he also states that the envelope in which the check arrived was marked with the return address of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. (Id. at 10). While the money remained in Plaintiff's account, approximately sixteen hundred dollars was deducted from the money deposited in his account to pay various fees owed by Plaintiff.[1] (Id. at 11).

Upon receiving the check receipt, Plaintiff submitted a remedy request form "refusing to accept those funds and inquir[ing] about why his legal mail was opened." (Id. at 9). Plaintiff was ultimately informed that it was the prison's policy to endorse and deposit into a prisoner's account any check sent to him while in prison. (Id. at 10). Plaintiff thereafter contacted Defendant Zanetakos on April 7, 2015, inquiring into why the check was sent to the prison. (Id. ). In response, he was informed that the sending of the check was "an oversight." (Id. at 10).

Plaintiff also alleges that, in addition to the check discussed above, several corrections officers including Defendants St. Paul and Washington, opened other pieces of Plaintiff's legal mail without his presence or authorization. (Id. at 10-11). Plaintiff further alleges that, on several occasions, Defendant St. Paul, along with a group of other John Doe corrections officers, entered the law library of the prison and read the legal mail and legal documents of several prisoners "for no reason." (Id. at 10).

II. DISCUSSION

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 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, [2] 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. Analysis

Plaintiff seeks to sue Defendants for violations of his federal constitutional rights pursuant to the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides "private citizens with a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state individuals." Woodyard v. Cnty. Of Essex, 514 F.Appx. 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013). To assert a claim under the statute, a plaintiff must allege that he was deprived of a federal constitutional or statutory right by a person who was acting under the color of state law at the time that the alleged deprivation occurred. Id. When called upon to evaluate a claim under § 1983, a court must first "identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to have been violated" and determine "whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right at all." Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n. 5 (1998)). Here, Plaintiff asserts claims that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and First Amendment rights in so much as the prison cashed a check without his authorization and opened and read his legal mail outside of his presence.

1. Bank of America and its employees were not acting under color of state law and therefore are not ...


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