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Alpheaus v. Camden County Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 31, 2017

JANNAI ALPHEAUS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS, CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS DEPUTY DIRECTOR EDWARD T. MCDONNELL, SCOT N. MCCRAY, IAN K. LEONARD, JEFFREY NASH, CARMEN G. RODRIGUEZ, JOHNATHAN L. YOUNG, SR., MICHELLE A. GENTER-MAYER, SUSAN SHIN ANGULO, CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS DIRECTOR LOUIS CAPPELLI, JR., WILLIAM F. MOEN, THOMAS MCNULTY, DONNA WEBSTER, EARL O'CONNOR, SUANNY RIVERA, TIMOTHY SINGLETON, JACKIE WESCOLL, JOHN VILLEGAS, MURIEL MITCHELL-DAVIS, PHILLIP RITZ, JOHN FURTADO, TIFFANY DEANGELIS, THERON SHARPER-COOPER, JOSUE ORTOLA, REBECCA FRANCESCHINI, WAYNE NORTON, JAMES BONNER, CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY CORRECTIONAL OFFICER M. MARTINEZ, CHRISTOPHER FOSCHINI, JOHN S. STINSMAN, TAKIA JOHNSON, MICHCAL JACOB, THOMAS CROSMICK, CHRIS KELLY, JAMES FINLEY, KEVIN CROSSAN, ALBERT DANIELS, DANIEL PURDY, LANCE MCARTHY, JANET GIORDANO, MICHAEL DOYLE, WARDEN OF CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DIRECTOR DAVID S. OWENS, SR., WARDEN KARDEN TAYLOR, and LAWRENCE TAYLOR, Defendants.

          Jannai Alpheaus, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          EROME B. SIMANDLE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         1. Plaintiff Jannai Alpheaus seeks to bring a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following defendants for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement (Complaint, Docket Entry 1):

a. The Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) (Complaint, Docket Entry 1, at § I(B));
b. The Camden County Board of Freeholders (“the BOF”) (Complaint, Docket Entry 1, at § I(B));
c. Ten individual members of the BOF “from 2014 -Present” (Complaint Exhibit 1, Docket Entry 1, Attachment 1 at 1): “Deputy Director Edward T. McDonnell, Scot N. McCray, Ian K. Leonard (2014), Jeffrey Nash (2014), Carmen G. Rodriguez (2014-2016), Johnathan L. Young, Sr., Michelle A. Genter-Mayer (Surrogate/Former Freeholder (2014)), Susan Shin Angulo (2016-2018), Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. (2015-2017) and William F. Moen (2016-2015) [sic]” (id.) (the foregoing ten individual defendants hereinafter collectively referred to as “BOF Members”); and
d. Thirty-five CCCF correctional personnel (Complaint Exhibit 1, Docket Entry 1, Attachment 1 at 2 - 3): “C/O Thomas McNulty, C/O Donna Webster, C/O Earl O'Connor (Lt.), C/O Suanny Rivera, C/O Timothy Singleton, C/O Jackie Wescoll, C/O John Villegas, C/O Muriel Mitchell-Davis, C/O Phillip Ritz, C/O John Furtado, C/O Tiffany Deangelis, C/O Theron Sharper-Cooper, Lt. Josue Ortola, Lt. Rebecca Franceschini, Sgt. Wayne Norton, C/O James Bonner, C/O M. Martinez, Sgt. Christopher Foschini, Sgt. John S. Stinsman, C/O Takia Johnson, C/O Michcal Jacob, C/O Thomas Crosmick, C/O Chris Kelly, C/O James Finley, Sgt. Kevin Crossan, Sgt. Albert Daniels, C/O Daniel Purdy, C/O Lance McArthy, C/O Janet Giordano, C/O Michael Doyle, Warden [of Camden County Correctional Facility], Director David S. Owens, Sr., Warden Karden Taylor [and] C/O Lawrence Taylor” (id.) (the foregoing thirty-five individual defendants hereinafter collectively referred to as “CCCF Personnel”).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 CCCF; and (2) dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims Against CCCF: 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 CCCF for 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)); 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 CCCF must be dismissed with prejudice, the claims may not proceed and Plaintiff may not name the CCCF 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 60 days after the date this Opinion and Order are entered on the docket.

         B. Overcrowded Conditions Of Confinement Claim: Dismissed Without Prejudice

         8. Plaintiff alleges that “during the several times [I was] incarcerated, I was housed in 2-man cell with 3-4 inmates [and] made to sleep on floor by toilet” (hereinafter referred to as Plaintiff's “Overcrowding Claim”). Complaint § III(C).

         9. As detailed below, the Court will dismiss the Overcrowding Claim without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii). The present Complaint 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. The Court will accept as true for screening purposes only the statements in Plaintiff's Complaint, but there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer that an unconstitutional overcrowding violation has occurred.

         10. To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim[3], 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).

         11. A complaint must plead sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court's review under § 1915.

         12. However, with respect to the alleged facts giving rise to Plaintiff's claims, the present Complaint states: “During the several times incarcerated . . . from 2014 - 2016 . . . I was housed in 2-man cell with 3-4 inmates, made to sleep on floor by toilet with constant infestation of mice, as well as being served spoiled food . . . I was placed on floor, including a[n] entire 364 day sentence[.] [A]lso later 2015 as well as 2016 [I] was housed on floor with 3 other inmates in unhealthy living conditions.” Complaint § III(C). The Complaint contends that Plaintiff “was housed in overcrowded cell with 3 to 4 inmates and slept on floor” on these dates: 03/18/2014 - 04/08/2014; 4/22/2014 - 06/12/2014; 07/11/2014 - 06/30/2015; 09/01/2015 - 09/15/2015; 10/04/2015 - 12/11/2015; 07/18/2016 - 07/21/2016; 07/22/2016 - 09/21/2016; and 10/15/2016 - 10/26/2016 (collectively referred to hereinafter as “Dates of Confinement”). Complaint, Docket Entry 1, Attachment 2 at 4 - 5.[4]

         13. The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff suffered “severe and chronic neck and back pain due to sleeping on floor of cell during long periods of incarceration” as a result of these events. Id. § IV.

         14. Plaintiff seeks “$500, 000.00 - 1 million dollars” in relief. Id. § V.

         15. Even 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 of overcrowding has occurred.

         16. 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) (“Hubbard II”) (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”) (citing Union Cnty. Jail Inmates v. DiBuono, 713 F.2d 984, 992 (3d Cir. 1983) (quoting Bell, 441 U.S. at 542)). 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.

         17. The Complaint contends that the BOF and BOF Members are liable under the Overcrowding Claim (Complaint § III(C) (“Refer to attachment #1 (pages 1 to 3)”)), but Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose overcrowded conditions of confinement liability on the BOF and BOF Members, as these defendants are not separate legal entities from Camden County and are therefore not independently subject to suit. See Bermudez v. Essex Cnty. D.O.C., No. 12-6035, 2013 WL 1405263, at *5 (D.N.J. Apr. 4, 2013) (citing cases). Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on Camden County. “There is no respondeat superior theory of municipal liability. Rather, a municipality may be held liable only if its policy or custom is the ‘moving force' behind a constitutional violation.” Sanford v. Stiles, 456 F.3d 298, 314 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Soc. Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). See also Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115');">503 U.S. 115, 122 (1992) (“The city is not vicariously liable under § 1983 for the constitutional torts of its agents: It is only liable when it can be fairly said that the city itself is the wrongdoer”). Plaintiff must plead facts showing that the relevant Camden County policy-makers are “responsible for either the affirmative proclamation of a policy or acquiescence in a well-settled custom.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990).[5] In other words, Plaintiff must set forth facts supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the “moving force” behind the alleged constitutional violation of overcrowding. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. Given that Plaintiff has not done so, the Overcrowding Claim must be dismissed without prejudice as to the BOF and the BOF Members.

         18. The Complaint also alleges that CCCF Personnel are liable under the Overcrowding Claim. Complaint § III(C) (“Camden Co. Correctional Officers (See attached)[.] It is common procedure to place more than 2 inmates in a cell d[ue] to overcrowding”). However, the Overcrowding Claim must be dismissed without prejudice as to CCCF Personnel because the Complaint does “[not] allege[] any personal involvement by [these defendants] in any constitutional violation - a fatal flaw, since ‘liability in a § 1983 suit cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.'” Baker v. Flagg, 439 F. App'x 82, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). “[Plaintiff's] complaint contains no allegations regarding [these individual defendants]. ‘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 individual defendants].” Bob v. Kuo, 387 F. App'x 134, 136 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 676). Given that the Complaint does not, in the first instance, sufficiently allege a violation of overcrowding, Plaintiff has not asserted a colorable constitutional claim to which any CCCF Personnel's individual liability could attach. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Overcrowding Claim against the CCCF Personnel defendants must be dismissed without prejudice.

         19. 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 60 days after the date this Opinion and Order are entered on the docket.[6]

         20. Plaintiff is further advised that any amended complaint must plead specific facts regarding the overcrowded conditions of confinement. In the event Plaintiff files an amended complaint, Plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court's review under § 1915.

         21. Plaintiff should note that when an amended complaint is filed, the original complaint no longer performs any function in the case and cannot be utilized to cure defects in the amended complaint, unless the relevant portion is specifically incorporated in the new complaint. 6 Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure 1476 (2d ed. 1990) (footnotes omitted). An amended complaint may adopt some or all of the allegations in the original complaint, but the identification of the particular allegations to be adopted must be clear and explicit. Id. To avoid confusion, the safer course is to file an amended complaint that is complete in itself. Id. The amended complaint may not adopt or repeat claims that have been dismissed with prejudice by the Court.

         C. Failure To Protect Claim Against BOF, BOF Members, and CCCF Personnel: Dismissed Without Prejudice

         22. Plaintiff alleges that he sustained “physical injuries due to assaults by violent inmate who attacked me when correctional officer[s] left cell block for long periods of time to smoke cigarettes or were asleep at posts” (hereinafter ...


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