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Vines v. Columbus House

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 12, 2017

SANDRA VINES, Plaintiff,


          FREDA L. WOLFSON, U.S.D.J.


         This matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiff's filing of an Amended Complaint in this action. The Court previously granted Plaintiff's in forma pauperis (“IFP”) application and dismissed the original Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. (See ECF No. 3.) The Court has screened the Amended Complaint and will dismiss Plaintiff's claims for relief as to all Defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).


         Sandra Vines brings this civil rights action against Bo Robinson and Columbus House, a halfway house which operates under the authority of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (“NJDOC”), and employees at Columbus House, i.e., Mr. Salaga, Ms. Newborn, Mr. Maestrella, Ms. Sheffield, Ms. McCrae, Mr. Klein, and Mr. Davis.[1] (See ECF No. 9, Am. Compl). Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is divided into discrete sections that outline her allegations against the entity and individual Defendants.

         a. Bo Robinson and Columbus House

         According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Bo Robinson has a contract with Columbus House, which is the New Jersey Department of Corrections (“NJDOC”) halfway house where Plaintiff resided the time of the incidents alleged in the Amended Complaint. Plaintiff alleges that Columbus House is operated on the premises of Bo Robinson. (ECF No. 9, Am. Compl. at 2.) Defendant Salaga is the director of Bo Robinson, and Defendant Newborn is the Director of Columbus House.[2] Plaintiff alleges that there is a policy in place at Columbus House that provides her with “legal access” and permits her to receive legal mail. Although the mail may be inspected, it must be opened in her presence in her presence and staff may not read her legal mail. She further alleges that on two occasions, she received legal mail that had already been opened outside her presence. (Id.) She filed grievances regarding these two instances; however, “nothing was ever done.” (Id.) She also alleges that she was unable to answer court notices and unable to complete her change of sentence motion and file her parole appeal to the appellate court. (Id. at 2). She further alleges that there is no law library, law books, paralegals, legal assistants, or legal supplies available to her at Columbus House. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff filed grievances regarding these issues to Defendant Salaga, but he allegedly failed to assist her.[3] (Id.)

         b. Defendant Salaga - Director of Bo Robinson

         Plaintiff alleges that she complained to Defendant Salaga about “health issues, safety, staff misconduct, opening legal mail, not giving [Plaintiff] her mail, sexual harassment, threats by both staff and inmates, discrimination, falsification of documents, and conflict of interest.” (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff further alleges that Salaga failed to answer many of her grievances and that there is no effective grievance policy in place at Columbus House. Plaintiff states that her “right to an effective remedy and grievance process was violated.” (Id.)

         c. Defendant Newborn - Director of Columbus House

         Plaintiff alleges that she told Defendant Newborn that she was a victim of discrimination and racist remarks, but that Newborn “down played [Plaintiff's] complaints and ignored [her] complaint (failing to investigate or address that allegation).” (Id. at 4.) Newborn also allegedly “upheld the decision to delay [Plaintiff's] transfer to a more suitable halfway house facility.” Plaintiff further alleges that “that delay was a direct result of grievances that [Plaintiff] submitted, ” which are described above. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges she complained to Ms. Newborn that her mail was being unreasonably held at Columbus House, sometimes for 10 days or more. (Id.) Plaintiff also states that when she was transferred to another halfway house, her birth certificate did not reach her by mail at the new halfway house for two months, and she lost job opportunities due to the delay. (Id.) Although it is not clear who failed to forward Plaintiff's birth certificate, she appears to allege that her birth certificate was held in retaliation for her filing of grievances. (Id.)

         d. Defendant Mastrella

         Plaintiff does not provide Defendant Mastrella's job title, but she alleges that this Defendant “falsified [Plaintiff's] psychology reports because there were numerous illegal activity, safety issues, health issues, and other circumstances that threatened [Plaintiff] and interfered with [her] treatment.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that her case manager and counselor, who are not identified in the Complaint, became angry with her for filing numerous complaints about the conditions at Columbus House, and that Defendant Mastrella “conspired with the counselor, case manager, and director to deny [Plaintiff's] transfer to a better facility.” When Plaintiff complained about Defendant Mastrella, he allegedly further delayed her transfer and threatened to continue to delay the transfer if she continued to complain.

         e. Defendant Sheffield

         Defendant Sheffield's job title or responsibilities are not clear from the Amended Complaint. According to the Complaint, Defendant Sheffield “violated [Plaintiff's] right to speak and address issues [Plaintiff] had regarding medical issues and medical and drug urine tests and procedures.” (Id. at 4.) Defendant Sheffield allegedly “harassed” Plaintiff by “interrupting [Plaintiff's] legal calls and legal appointments.” Sheffield also allegedly “hit [Plaintiff] with a door when trying to close it in [Plaintiff's] face” when dispensing Plaintiff's medication. Plaintiff appears to allege that Sheffield discussed Plaintiff's private medical information with others and compromised Plaintiff's safety by “breaching confidential information to other inmates and staff involved with criminal allegations.” Sheffield also allegedly told Plaintiff that she would be sent back to prison if she kept asking to see a doctor for her existing and emergent medical conditions. (Id. at 4.)

         f. Defendant McCrae

         Defendant McCrae is identified as an employee in the Classification Department at Bo Robinson who processes inmate requests for “legal access to the courts and legal phone calls.” (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges the following with respect to this Defendant:

She denied me legal access and deliberately delayed my access when I made it clear to her about deadlines, calls, copies, law books that I needed to adequately address my legal needs and pro se litigation. I was unable to submit parole appeal due to inability to research needed legal information. I was unable to proceed with my change of custody motion and access legal transcripts that I need in [two] separate court issues. She interfered and violated my right to lawyer/client confidentiality when she held the phone while I spoke with my attorney on a couple occasions and asked questions about what I had discussed or need to discuss with my lawyer. She denied me Notary access when I requested it for my legal paperwork for the court. She denied me indigence when I didn't have funds for legal copies or postage for legal mail. When I reported all of these violations to Mr. Salaga, she harassed me by making it difficult for me to come into the office to do my legal work and use the phone for legal calls. She also held the disc that had my legal pending motions on it and refused to print them out. Then when I submitted another grievance, she came up to my unit and told me to sign a blank grievance that would say that she have addressed my legal access issues or she wouldn't let me do my legal work. Then she took that form (which was only stating that I was in the office on that one occasion), and she cut and pasted the response to the original form that I had initially made the complaint on. That is illegal and falsification of an administrative and legal document. I reported that to Mr. Salaga and he didn't do anything about it, nor did he even respond to my written grievance. I know factually that he received it, because a staff member personally put my grievance directly in his hand.

(Id. at 5.)

         g. Defendant Klein

         According to the Amended Complaint, Defendant Klein is “the director, the person in charge of medical issues” at Columbus House.” (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Klein “violated Plaintiff's Hippa [sic] Rights”, when he allowed non-medical staff to be involved with Plaintiff's medical information and medication. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that her medicine was dispensed to her in front of other inmates, and, as a result, other inmates knew the types of medications Plaintiff was taking. (Id.) When Plaintiff complained about these practices, Defendant Klein allegedly threatened her by stating that she would be returned to prison if she didn't stop complaining and asking for medical attention. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she has asthma, back problems, high blood pressure, and allergies to mold, dust, spray chemicals, and smoke. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff states that Columbus House accepted her with these medical conditions and, therefore, must provide her with adequate care for her conditions. Plaintiff alleges that although the facility is designated as non-smoking, people in the building smoke. Plaintiff was allegedly exposed to second-hand smoke and had asthma attacks on more than one occasion. Plaintiff alleges that she “still suffer[s] from respiratory conditions that were worsened because of all of the illegal smoking in the facility by smokers, both inmates and staff.” (Id. at 5.)

         h. Defendant Davis

         Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Davis “violated [Plaintiff's] Hippa Rights” by dispensing her medications and discussing my medical record information in front of other non-medical persons and other inmates on numerous occasions. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff describes Davis as “a supervisor in charge of medication and medical requests” and states that he is responsible for allowing non-medical staff to dispense and discuss Plaintiff's medication, medical requests and medical information in the presence of other inmates and other non-medical staff. (Id.) In January 2014, Davis allegedly told another inmate that Plaintiff had a positive drug test. (Id.) Defendant Davis also allegedly told Plaintiff that she would be returned to prison if she didn't stop complaining and asking for medical attention and privacy. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that Davis “threatened not to get [Plaintiff] medical help” on several occasions. On one occasion, Davis was upset because Plaintiff told the previous shift supervisor that she had a swollen eye. When Plaintiff tried to tell Davis, Davis told her to “shut the fuck up” and get out of the office. On another occasion, Plaintiff told him she had previously had an asthma attack, which was noted in the log book, but Davis refused to send her to a doctor. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint also includes a handwritten note alleging that Bo Robinson “has previously been investigated for some of the allegations that [Plaintiff] made, by the New York Times and other legal agencies.” (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff further alleges that ‚Äúthere has been numerous instances of health hazards, ...

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