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Shields v. Camden County Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 29, 2017

MODDIE SHIELDS, a/k/a, JEFFREY SHIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONS Defendant.

          Moddie Shields, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

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

         1. Plaintiff Moddie Shields, also known as Jeffrey Shields, seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden County Department of Corrections (“CCDOC”). 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 with prejudice in part and without prejudice in part 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 that a person - here, the CCDOC - deprived him of a federal right, the complaint does not meet the standards necessary to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from CCDOC for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”). The CCCDOC, however, is not independently subject to suit because it is not a separate legal entity from Camden County. See Bermudez v. Essex Cty. D.O.C., No. 12-6035, 2013 WL 1405263, at *5 (D.N.J. Apr. 4, 2013) (citing cases). Accordingly, in order to state a claim for relief, Plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to impose liability on Camden County. Plaintiff has not done so.

         8. “There is no respondeat superior theory of municipal liability, so a city may not be held vicariously liable under § 1983 for the actions of its agents. 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 Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). See also, Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 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.”).

         9. 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).[3] In other words, Plaintiff must set forth facts supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the “moving force” behind the alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. Plaintiff has made no such allegations with respect to Camden County.

         10. In the fact section of the complaint, Plaintiff states: “Being treated like animals, food was like something that animals would [sic]. Having to wash in cement showers with mold where we had to purchase shower showes [sic] in order to take showers. Sandwiches where the lunch meat some time had mold on it the bread was molded hard not fresh. Juice that tasted like detergent.” Complaint § III. Plaintiff also alleges that the cells were overcrowded, sick people were housed “with others risking others lives, ” that mats he was given to sleep on were “so old you feel all the [cold] from the cement floors, ” and that he had to sleep with his head by the toilet due to overcrowding. Id. § V. However, Plaintiff has not alleged facts demonstrating that these allegedly unconstitutional conditions are attributable to a policy or custom of Camden County.[4] The complaint therefore does not contain sufficient factual support to allow the Court to infer that Camden County is liable for the alleged constitutional violations. Fair Wind Sailing, Inc., 764 F.3d at 308 n.3.

         11. As Plaintiff may be able to amend his complaint to address the deficiencies noted by the Court, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.

         12. However, to the extent the complaint seeks relief for conditions Plaintiff encountered during confinements ending prior to September 23, 2014, those claims are barred by the statute of limitations and must be dismissed with prejudice, meaning that ...


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