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Williams v. Camden County Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 9, 2017

RICKY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; WARDEN DAVID OWENS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, Defendants.

          Ricky Williams, Plaintiff Pro Se.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE Chief U.S. District Judge.

         1. Plaintiff Ricky Williams seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) and Warden David Owens in his official capacity. Complaint, Docket Entry 1.

         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 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)).

         6. 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.

         7. Because Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a deprivation of his federal rights, the complaint does not set forth a prima facie case under § 1983. Plaintiff alleges he experienced unconstitutional conditions of confinement while detained at the CCCF in 2008, 2013, and 2014. Complaint § III. The fact section of the complaint states: “While being held in the correctional facility I was forced to sleep on the floor in a (2) man cell which was over crowed [sic] with (3) other detainees.” Id. 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.

         8. 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.

         9. Moreover, Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to infer or impose liability on the named defendants. First, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from CCCF for the allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. The CCCF, 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)). Because the claims against the CCCF must be dismissed with prejudice, the claims may not proceed and Plaintiff may not name the CCCF as a defendant.

         10. In addition, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on the Warden or, more specifically under these circumstances, on Camden County.

         11. Plaintiff has sued the Warden only in his official capacity. There is a distinction between suits brought against officials in their personal or individual capacity and those brought against officials in their official capacity. “[O]fficial capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). Accordingly, for example, suits against state officials only in their official capacity are treated as suits against the State rather than suits against the named officer. Id. “Because the real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official, the entity's policy or custom must have played a part in the violation of federal law.” Id. (citing Graham, 473 U.S. at 166) (quotations omitted).

         12. Here, because the Warden is an agent of Camden County, Plaintiff's suit against the Warden in his official capacity must be treated as a suit against Camden County. Plaintiff therefore must allege facts sufficient to support an inference that Camden County's ...


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