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Wilson v. Essex County Jail Re-Entry Program

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 4, 2017

DAVID WILSON, Plaintiff,



         Currently before the Court is motion of Plaintiff, David Wilson, seeking leave to amend his complaint. (ECF No. 7). Because leave to amend is warranted in this matter as Plaintiffs complaint has yet to be served, this Court will grant that motion. Because the court is granting Plaintiffs motion to amend, and since Plaintiff has previously been granted in forma pauperis status (see ECF No. 5), this Court is required to screen Plaintiffs complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Pursuant to these statutes, this Court must dismiss Plaintiffs claims if they are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant who is immune. Also before the Court at this time are Plaintiffs Motions for the Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 6) and for a Preliminary Injunction (ECF Nos. 4, 9). For the reasons set forth below, this Court will permit Plaintiffs failure to protect claim to proceed at this time against Defendant Davis only, dismisses the Essex County Jail from this matter with prejudice, dismisses all of Plaintiffs remaining claims without prejudice, and denies Plaintiffs motions (ECF Nos. 4, 6, 9) without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his amended complaint, Plaintiff presents the following factual allegations. At about 5:30 p.m. on January 4, 2017, while Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Essex County Jail as part of the jail's re-entry program, Plaintiff was locked into his cell with two inmates, one of whom was named Harper, by his housing unit's unit officer, Defendant S. Davis. (Document 1 attached to ECF No. 7 at 4). After the officer locked these two other inmates into Plaintiffs cell with Plaintiff, they proceeded to assault him, ultimately beating him severely enough to warrant treatment in the hospital. (Id. a 4-5). Davis apparently encouraged this beating, and then fled the scene once the assault began. (Id.). Harper and his associate also apparently stole a pair of headphones from Plaintiff after they beat him. (Id.). Plaintiff contends that, after the assault occurred, Davis "maliciously fabricated" a report in which he stated that Harper and Plaintiff had been fighting, and Harper's associate merely broke up a fight between the two. (Id.). This report resulted in disciplinary proceedings, which ultimately led to Plaintiff being ordered to spend approximately six months in administrative segregation for fighting and to lose "comp. time" credits against his sentence. (Id. at 7-14).

         Plaintiff also states that the jail's re-entry program did not have a handbook or rules regarding who could enter another prisoner's cell, nor about when a prisoner's cell could be locked by an officer with others inside. (Id. at 10-11). Plaintiff asserts that this lack of rules amounts to the County of Essex and the warden of the jail, Charles Green, unconstitutionally failing to adopt regulations which would have prevented his assault. (Id.). Plaintiff does not specify what regulations he believes should have been in place, nor how those regulations would have prevented his assault other than to suggest that he would not have been beaten had there been rules regarding the freedom of inmates to move into the cells of others. Also, Plaintiff states in his amended complaint his belief that Green had "constructive knowledge" of the beating and false report, and allowed disciplinary proceedings to occur in any event, and that Green failed to reprimand or properly punish Davis. (7, 10-11).


         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), or seeks damages from a state employee, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 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) because Plaintiff has been granted in forma pauperis status.

         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[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) (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 make claims against the County of Essex, [2] the Essex County Jail, the jail's warden Charles Green, and a corrections officer of the jail named S. Davis for alleged violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States that was committed by a person acting under the color of state law." Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Woodyard v. Cnty. of Essex, 514 F.App'x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) (section 1983 provides "private citizens with a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state [actors]"). "The first step in evaluating a section 1983 claim is to 'identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to have been violated' and to determine 'whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right at all.'" Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806 (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n. 5 (1998)). Here, Plaintiff attempts to assert failure to protect claims against Defendants Davis, Essex County, the Jail, and Charles Green; as well as a claim based on the allegedly false disciplinary report against Defendants Green and Davis.

         1. Plaintiffs failure to protect claims

         First, Plaintiff seeks to raise a claim against all Defendants based on their failure to protect him from his assault by other inmates after being locked in his cell. As the Third Circuit has explained,

[w]hile the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials "to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners, " not every prisoner-inflicted injury amounts to a constitutional violation. Farmer v. Brennan,511 U.S. 825, 833-34[] (1994). To state a failure-to-protect claim, a prisoner "must plead facts that show (1) he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, (2) the official was deliberately indifferent to that substantial risk to his health and safety, and (3) the official's deliberate indifference caused him harm." Bistrian v. Levi,696 F.3d 352, 367 (3d Cir.2012) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834[]). An official acts with deliberate indifference when he or she knows of and disregards a substantial risk of serious harm to inmate health or safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837[]. It ...

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