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Johnson v. Camden Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 7, 2017

RASHON JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, WARDEN JAMES OWENS, WARDEN J. TAYLOR, CAMDEN BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS, CITY OF CAMDEN, and METRO POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          Rashon Johnson, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE JUDGE

         1. Plaintiff Rashon Johnson seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden Correctional Facility (“CCF”), Warden James Owens (“Owens”), Warden J. Taylor (“Taylor”), Camden Board of Freeholders (“BOF”), City of Camden (“City”), and Metro Police Department (“MPD”) for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Complaint, Docket Entry 1.

         2. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) requires courts to review complaints prior to service in cases in which a plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. Courts must 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) because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis.

         3. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will: (1) dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against CCF; and (2) dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).

         4. First, the Complaint must be dismissed with prejudice as to claims made against CCF because it is not a “state actor” within the meaning of § 1983. See Crawford v. McMillian, 660 F. App'x 113, 116 (3d Cir. Oct. 21, 2016) (“[T]he prison is not an entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”) (citing Fischer v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3d Cir. 1973)); Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F.Supp. 537, 538-39 (D.N.J. 1989) (correctional facility is not a “person” under § 1983).

         5. Second, as to claims against the City and BOF, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on these defendants. “There is no respondeat superior theory of municipal liability, so a city may not be held vicariously liable under § 1983 for the actions of its agents. Rather, a municipality may be held liable only if its policy or custom is the ‘moving force' behind a constitutional violation.” Sanford v. Stiles, 456 F.3d 298, 314 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). See also Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 122 (1992) (“The city is not vicariously liable under § 1983 for the constitutional torts of its agents: It is only liable when it can be fairly said that the city itself is the wrongdoer.”). Plaintiff must plead facts showing that the relevant Camden County policy-makers are “responsible for either the affirmative proclamation of a policy or acquiescence in a well-settled custom.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990).[1]In other words, Plaintiff must set forth facts supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the “moving force” behind the alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. As Plaintiff may be able to amend his Complaint to address the deficiencies noted by the Court, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.

         6. Third, construing the Complaint to assert claims against Camden County Police (Complaint at 1 (naming “Metro Police Department” as a defendant)), the Complaint must similarly be dismissed as to claims made against MPD. “[A] city police department is a governmental sub-unit that is not distinct from the municipality of which it is a part.” Jackson v. City of Erie Police Dep't, 570 F.Appx. 112, 114 n.2 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). Camden County Police (i.e., “Metro Police Department”) are not distinct from Camden County, and the Complaint asserts no facts alleging that Camden County was the “moving force” behind an alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. As Plaintiff may be able to amend his Complaint to address the deficiencies noted by the Court, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.

         7. Fourth, the Complaint must be dismissed as to claims made against Owens and Taylor because the Complaint does “[not] allege[] any personal involvement by [the wardens] in any constitutional violation - a fatal flaw, since ‘liability in a § 1983 suit cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.'” Baker v. Flagg, 439 F. App'x 82, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). “[Plaintiff's] complaint contains no allegations regarding [the] Warden[s]. ‘Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.' Thus, [plaintiff] failed to state a claim against [the] Warden.” Bob v. Kuo, 387 F. App'x 134, 136 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009)). As Plaintiff may be able to amend his Complaint to address the deficiencies noted by the Court, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.

         8. Finally, for the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii). The Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court's review under § 1915. Even accepting the statements in Plaintiff's Complaint as true for screening purposes only, there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer a constitutional violation has occurred.

         9. 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). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). 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).

         10. With respect to alleged facts giving rise to his claims, Plaintiff states: “[I]t was 4 other inmates besides myself on the floor.” Complaint § III(C).

         11. Plaintiff alleges that the purported events giving rise to these claims occurred “on or [a]round 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 [and] 2014.” Id. § III(B).

         12. With respect to alleged injuries from these events, Plaintiff states: “I was injured hitting my head on [the] toilet seat and the table ...


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