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Quinonez v. Camden County Prison System

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 1, 2017

WILLIAM QUINONEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY PRISON SYSTEM and COUNTY FEDERAL COURTS, Defendants.

          William Quinonez, Plaintiff Pro Se.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         1. Plaintiff William Quinonez seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Camden County Prison System (“CCPS”), an entity he calls County Federal Courts (“the Courts”), the City of Camden (“City”), and the Camden County Jail (“CCJ”) 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 CCJ; (2) dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against the Courts; and (3) dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).

         Claims Against CCJ: Dismissed With Prejudice

         4. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] for alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. In order to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983, a plaintiff must show: “(1) a person deprived him of a federal right; and (2) the person who deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law.” Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980)).

         5. Generally, for purposes of actions under § 1983, “[t]he term ‘persons' includes local and state officers acting under color of state law.” Carver v. Foerster, 102 F.3d 96, 99 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991)).[2] To say that a person was “acting under color of state law” means that the defendant in a § 1983 action “exercised power [that the defendant] possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer [was] clothed with the authority of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988) (citation omitted). Generally, then, “a public employee acts under color of state law while acting in his official capacity or while exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law.” Id. at 50.

         6. Because the Complaint has not sufficiently alleged that a “person” deprived Plaintiff of a federal right, the Complaint does not meet the standards necessary to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from CCJ for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. The CCJ, however, is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983; therefore, 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)); Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F.Supp. 537, 538-39 (D.N.J. 1989) (correctional facility is not a “person” under § 1983). Given that the claims against the CCJ must be dismissed with prejudice, the claims may not proceed and Plaintiff may not name the CCJ as a defendant.

         7. Plaintiff may be able to amend the Complaint to name a person or persons who were personally involved in the alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement, however. To that end, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.

         Claims Against County Federal Courts: Dismissed With Prejudice

         8. Claims brought against “County Federal Courts” (Docket Entry 1 at 1) must be dismissed with prejudice, as the judges of the Courts have absolute judicial immunity. Although Mr. Quinonez uses the term “County Federal Courts” once in the caption of his Complaint, it is unclear whether he means to refer to the Superior Court of New Jersey (Camden County) or the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey (Federal Court) or both. Nothing in the complaint alleges what any court has done to deprive him of constitutional rights in the Camden County Jail. Moreover, even if Plaintiff were to be more specific about what he is attempting to allege, it is apparent such a claim is barred by judicial immunity. “It is a well-settled principle of law that judges are generally ‘immune from a suit for money damages.'” Figueroa v. Blackburn , 208 F.3d 435, 440 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mireles v. Waco , 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991)). “A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority.” Stump v. Sparkman , 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978). Furthermore, “[a] judge is absolutely immune from liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors.” Id. at 359. “[Judicial] immunity is overcome in only two sets of circumstances.” Mireles , 502 U.S. at 11. “First, a judge is not immune from liability for non-judicial acts, i.e. , actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity.” Id. In determining whether an act qualifies as a “judicial act, ” courts look to “the nature of the act itself, i.e. , whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and to the expectation of the parties, i.e. , whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity.” Stump , 435 U.S. at 362. “Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles , 502 U.S. at 12.

         9. Both of these exceptions are inapplicable here. Plaintiff has not set forth any facts that would suggest that judges of the Courts engaged in nonjudicial acts, nor has Plaintiff alleged facts demonstrating that any actions by the Courts were taken in the clear absence of all jurisdiction. The judges of the Courts are therefore entitled to complete judicial immunity.

         10. Furthermore, absolute quasi-judicial immunity applies to “public employees who perform judge-like functions, ” and the immunity “attaches when a public official's role is functionally comparable to that of a judge.” Ingram v. Township of Deptford, 858 F.Supp.2d 386, 390 (D.N.J. 2012) (citing Hamilton v. Levy, 322 F.3d 776, 785 (3d Cir. 2003) and Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 436 (1993)). Thus, non-judge personnel of the Courts who “perform[] the function of resolving disputes or of authoritatively ...


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