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Traylor v. Lanigan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 31, 2017

GARY LANIGAN, et al., Defendants.


          Madeline Cox Arleo, U.S.D.J.


         Plaintiff Terry Traylor is currently civilly committed to the East Jersey State Prison Special Treatment Unit (STU) in Avenel, New Jersey, pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator ("SVP") Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.24 et seq. Plaintiff has brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and appears to seek class certification on behalf of himself, five other individual plaintiffs, and all those "similarly situated." Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court granted Plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFF") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and ordered the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint.[1](ECFNo. 3.)

         At this time, the Court must review the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), to determine whether this action should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss the § 1983 claims for failure to state a claim for relief. To the extent his Complaint can be construed as a motion for class certification, the Court will deny that motion light of the Court's dismissal of the § 1983 claims. The Court will likewise deny the motion for pro bono counsel. (ECF No. 2.) Plaintiff may file an Amended Complaint within 30 days of his receipt of the Court's Opinion and accompanying Order.


         a. The Current Action

         Plaintiff has sued Gary Lanigan, Elizabeth Connolly, Sherry Yates, James Slaughter, Merrill Main, Heather Burnett, as well as unidentified John and Jane Doe Treatment Team Members, for alleged violations of his constitutional rights in connection with his civil commitment in the STU. The Complaint provides the following salient facts about Plaintiffs civil commitment as an SVP:

Plaintiff Terry Traylor was involuntarily civilly committed pursuant to the (SVPA) on or about May 31, 2002 by the Superior Court of Essex County, Newark, NJ. Terry Traylor has not consented to participate in any mental health treatment program provided by (DHS). Terry Traylor is appealing his commitment order and has refused treatment or to participate in any test administered by the Defendants. Nevertheless, due to the systemic deficiencies in the (SVP) program described [in the Complaint]. Resident Terry Traylor has never received adequate counseling or treatment that might yield a realistic chance for his release.

(Id. at ¶ 6(C).)

         As explained below, Plaintiffs Complaint alleges three primary types of constitutional violations: (1) allegations regarding alleged deficiencies in the mental health care provided to SVPs; (2) allegations that the conditions at the STU are more restrictive than prison conditions; and (3) an allegation that SVPs (Plaintiff and others similarly situated) have a constitutional right to refuse sex offender treatment and should not be retaliated against for refusing treatment.

         With respect to the first type of claim, the Complaint alleges that this action is brought to redress "the complete and utter failure of the Defendant's and those acting under their control or direction to provide adequate and meaningful mental health treatment to the named Plaintiffs and all others similarly situated. . . ." (Id. at ¶ 6(A).) The Complaint describes the following failures to provide "meaningful mental health treatment":

(a) To properly train staff regarding the treatment of sexual deviance
(b) To provide a coherent and meaningful individualized treatment program for each detainee with understandable goals and a road map showing steps necessary for improvement and release
(c) To make adequate provisions for the participation of detainees; family members in rehabilitation efforts, including permitting family visits with reasonable frequency and allowing prompt telephone access to detainees in case of family emergency;
(d) To draft and implement fair and reasonable grievance procedures and behavioral management plans;
(e) To afford reasonable opportunities to all residents for Educational, Religious, Vocational, and recreational activities;
(f) To cease requiring as a precondition to participation in all but the most basic treatment offered by (DHS), and therefor[e], as a predicate to release, that the Plaintiffs and others similarly situated detainees to admit to comprehensive listing of the real and imagined of future criminal prosecution for the other crimes in violation of the Plaintiffs Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination applies to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment; and
(g) To institute procedures to guarantee appropriate therapist/patient confidentiality.

(Id. at ¶ 6(0).) Plaintiff alleges that instead of providing treatment. .. Defendants erect one arbitrary barrier after another to prevent Plaintiffs from progressing to the point where the Treatment Team will recommend their release, including requiring participants in the program to confess to crimes they did not commit." (Id. at ¶ 6(Q).)

         With respect to the conditions of confinement claim, Plaintiffs Complaint alleges that he and other SVPs are "held in conditions that are more restrictive than the conditions under which [they] were confined when they were incarcerated as criminals prior to their civil commitment under the [SVPA]." According to Plaintiffs Complaint, "[t]hese conditions are unrelated to the security or treatment needs of the SVP population and are purely punitive in nature and continue to be enforced as retaliatory measures." (ECF No. 1, Compl. at ¶ 6(R).)

         The relief section of the Complaint focuses primarily on Plaintiffs contention that he has a constitutional right to refuse treatment and should not be retaliated against for refusing to participate in treatment.[2] Plaintiff asks the Court to rule that Plaintiffs have a [c]onstitutional [r]ight to refuse treatment and not to be ...

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