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Coleman v. Camden County Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 8, 2017

HANK T. COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; WARDEN JAMES OWENS; DEPUTY WARDEN C. JOHNSON; CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS, Defendants.

          Hank T. Coleman, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          Jerome B. Simandle Chief U.S. District Judge

         1. Plaintiff Hank T. Coleman seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”), Warden James Owens (“Warden”), Deputy Warden C. Johnson (“Deputy Warden”), and the Camden County Board of Freeholders (“Freeholders”). Complaint, Docket Entry 1. Based on Plaintiff's affidavit of indigency, the application to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.

         2. Section 1915(e)(2) requires a court to review complaints prior to service in cases in which a plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. The Court 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 dismiss the complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).

         4. 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). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         5. Plaintiff alleges he experienced unconstitutional conditions of confinement while detained at the CCCF in or “around 2009, 2010, 2012, [and] 2014.” Complaint § III. The fact section of the complaint states: “I was picked up by the bounty hunter's [sic] and taken to the jail. I was on the floor because I was assigned to a 2 room cell at the time it was 4 [people] already in the [sic] I was urinated on by inmates and my food also.” Id. Plaintiff further alleges: “I was injured when I had a seizure hit my head on bunk and toilet and went to medical for no treatment just to rest til I came through.” Id. § IV. Even accepting the statement as true for screening purposes only, there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer a constitutional violation has occurred.

         6. The mere fact that an individual is lodged temporarily in a cell with more persons than its intended design does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 348-50 (1981) (holding double-celling by itself did not violate Eighth Amendment); Carson v. Mulvihill, 488 F.App'x 554, 560 (3d Cir. 2012) (“[M]ere double-bunking does not constitute punishment, because there is no ‘one man, one cell principle lurking in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.'” (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 542 (1979))). More is needed to demonstrate that such crowded conditions, for a pretrial detainee, shocks the conscience and thus violates due process rights. See Hubbard v. Taylor, 538 F.3d 229, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (noting due process analysis requires courts to consider whether the totality of the conditions “cause[s] inmates to endure such genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time, that the adverse conditions become excessive in relation to the purposes assigned to them.”). Some relevant factors are the dates and length of the confinement(s), whether Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee or convicted prisoner, etc.

         7. In addition, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks to allege a claim based on a violation of his right to adequate medical care, there are not enough facts to support an inference that Plaintiff's rights were violated in this regard. In order to set forth a cognizable claim for a violation of his right to adequate medical care, an inmate must allege: (1) a serious medical need; and (2) behavior on the part of prison officials that constitutes deliberate indifference to that need. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). Plaintiff's allegations regarding his seizure and that he “went to medical for no treatment just to rest til [he] came through” are insufficient to meet the pleading standard in the absence of additional facts. If he wishes to pursue this claim, Plaintiff should provide additional facts supporting both of the requirements in his amended complaint.

         8. Moreover, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to support an inference that the named Defendants are personally liable for the alleged constitutional violations.

         9. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from CCCF for the allegedly unconstitutional conditions of his confinement. As the CCCF is not a “state actor” within the meaning of § 1983, the claims against it must be dismissed with prejudice. See Crawford v. McMillian, 660 F.App'x 113, 116 (3d Cir. 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)).

         10. Moreover, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts regarding the personal liability of the Freeholders. As the governing body of Camden County, the Freeholders cannot be held liable under § 1983 solely on a theory of respondeat superior. Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Plaintiff must instead plead facts showing that the Freeholders 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 the Freeholders were the “moving force” behind the alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689.

         11. Similarly, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to support an inference that the Warden and Deputy Warden were personally involved in either the creation of, or failure to address, the conditions of his confinement. State actors are liable only for their own unconstitutional conduct and may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009); Bistrian v. Levi, 696 ...


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