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Gibson v. Owens

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 9, 2017

RAYMOND GIBSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN DAVID OWENS, Defendant.

          Raymond Gibson, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE Chief U.S. District Judge

         1. Plaintiff Raymond Gibson seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Warden David Owens (“Owens”) for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Complaint dated September 28, 2016 (“Complaint”), Docket Entry 1. On February 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Notice with this Court (“Notice”) seeking to add Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) and the Freeholders Associated With Board of Directioners (“the Freeholders”) as additional defendants in this action. (Docket Entry 6.)

         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 now: (a) dismisses the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii); (b) determines that Plaintiff's Notice does not constitute an amended complaint; and (c) grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint within 30 days of the date of this Opinion and Order.

         4. First, the Complaint fails to state a claim as it 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii). 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.

         5. To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim[1], 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)). 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).

         6. With respect to the alleged facts giving rise to Plaintiff's claims, the Complaint states that Owens was “deliberately indifferent to my right by having me in a[n] overcrowded housing unit where I'm forced to sleep on the floor.” Complaint § 4(b). Plaintiff alleges that “[o]vercrowded conditions in C.C.C.F. ha[ve] been going on for years and [are] a well-known fact so I felt as if my situation was hopeless.” Id. § 5. Plaintiff contends that “[t]he warden has allowed myself and others to sleep on the floor. These overcrowded conditions have subjected me to unsanitary conditions which breed infections such as boils and mercer [sic]. The overcrowded conditions also breed violence in a[n] already unsafe environment. These conditions have me subjected to back pains, sore muscles, and repeated nightmares from living in such a volatile environment. The inhumane conditions at C.C.C.F. from 8/13/15 to 9/28/16 have taken a toll on my physical and mental health.” Id. § 6.

         7. Plaintiff “move[s] for relief to all future inmates housed at C.C.C.F. so they never have to sleep on the floor and be subjected to these overcrowded conditions. Also I seek a mon[e]tary award for my civil rights being violated, namely $1, 500, 000 in compensatory damages and $1, 500, 000 in punitive damages.” Id. § 7.

         8. Construing the Complaint as seeking to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged prison overcrowding, any such purported claims must be dismissed because the Complaint does not set forth sufficient factual support for the Court to infer that a constitutional violation has occurred.

         9. 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 length of the confinement(s), whether plaintiff was a pretrial detainee or convicted prisoner, any specific individuals who were involved in creating or failing to remedy the conditions of confinement, any other relevant facts regarding the conditions of confinement, etc.

         10. Therefore, given that the Complaint does not set forth sufficient factual support for the Court to infer that a constitutional violation has occurred, it must be dismissed as to claims made against Owens because the Complaint does “[not] allege[] any personal involvement by [the warden] in any constitutional violation - a fatal flaw [in] a § 1983 suit.” Baker v. Flagg, 439 F. App'x 82, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). “‘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).

         11. Plaintiff may be able to amend the Complaint to particularly identify adverse conditions that were caused by specific state actors, that caused Plaintiff to endure genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time, and that were excessive in relation to their purposes. To that end, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.[2]

         12. Second, construing Plaintiff's Notice as an attempt to amend the original Complaint, it is insufficient ...


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