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Grohs v. Lanigan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 19, 2017

STEVEN GROHS, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY M. LANIGAN, et al., Defendants.

          Steven Grohs, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Steven Grohs' (“Plaintiff”) submitted a civil rights complaint on November 15, 2015. Complaint, Docket Entry 1. After reviewing the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court dismissed certain claims with prejudice and granted leave to move to amend other claims on July 14, 2016. Opinion and Order, Docket Entries 5 and 6. Plaintiff submitted a proposed amended civil rights complaint, which the Court construes as a motion for leave to amend. Motion to Amend, Docket Entry 9. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied, and the complaint shall be dismissed with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against the New Jersey Department of Corrections (“DOC”), DOC Commissioner Gary Lanigan, South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”) Administrator John Cunningham, Officers John Does 1-45, SWSP Officer Spencer, and Former SWSP Administrator Karen Balicki (collectively “Defendants”) alleging violations of his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as claims under the New Jersey Constitution and administrative code. See generally Complaint.

         The complaint alleged that Defendants lost Plaintiff's personal property when he was transferred from SWSP to the Special Treatment Unit (“STU”) in order to begin his temporary civil commitment. Id. ¶¶ 6(1)-(3). He specifically alleged Defendants failed to follow the established procedures for property inventory and transfer, resulting in the negligent loss of his property. Id. His administrative remedy was denied by Administrator Cunningham, and the Appellate Division affirmed the denial of his property claim. Id. ¶ 6(32)-(33); Grohs v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., No. A-4913-12, 2014 WL 8764096 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. May 4, 2015), certif. denied 124 A.3d 239 (N.J. 2015).[1]

         Plaintiff submitted his complaint for mailing on November 11, 2015. The Court dismissed with prejudice the claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities and against the DOC as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. It further dismissed with prejudice his Due Process claim for deprivation of property as he could not bring a due process claims for negligent deprivations of property by prison officials and there was an adequate post-deprivation remedy available to him. July 14, 2016 Opinion at 8. Other claims brought in the original complaint were dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim. The Court granted leave to move to amend these claims, but noted that Plaintiff would have to address the statute of limitations as it was clear from the face of the complaint that more than two years had passed between the alleged constitutional violations and filing of the complaint. Id. at 11-14.

         The facts alleged in the proposed amended complaint are generally the same as those alleged in the original complaint. Plaintiff states he began the process of transferring from SWSP to the STU in order to begin his temporary civil commitment on March 3, 2011. Motion to Amend ¶¶ 5.4-5.5 at 7. The SWSP Administrator at that time, Defendant Balicki, directed Officers John Does 1-5 to place Plaintiff in administrative segregation pending his transfer. Id. After Plaintiff was removed from his cell, Officer Spencer inventoried Plaintiff's personal property in the cell. Id. ¶ 5.9 at 8. Plaintiff alleges SWSP's custom of using inmates besides the property owner to move personal property out of cells commonly results in theft, colloquially known as a “packing fee.” Id. ¶ 5.7 & n.2 at 7-8. “While Plaintiff was confined to SWSP and before his transfer to the STU, Plaintiff was not provided with a copy of an inventory sheet itemizing the property inventoried.” Id. ¶ 5.9 at 8. He alleges Officer Spencer enabled other inmates to have unsupervised access to Plaintiff's unsecured personal property, resulting in another inmate defacing some of Plaintiff's photographs and the theft of Plaintiff's property. Id. ¶¶ 5.12-5.14 at 9-10. He was transported to the STU without any of his property. Id. ¶ 5.15 at 10-11.

         Upon arrival at the STU, Plaintiff placed in a cell for two days with only a mattress, bed linen, hand soap, and toilet paper. Id. ¶ 5.16 at 11. Plaintiff did not have any clothing other than the clothes he arrived with until his property arrived on or about March 21, 2011. Id. ¶ 5.18 at 11-12. He received three large boxes and a copy of an inventory sheet, but it “did not list any property that was left in Plaintiff's assigned cell at SWSP and which had been stolen at SWSP.” Id. ¶ 5.18 at 11-12. He further alleges his television arrived damaged. Id. ¶ 5.19 at 12. Plaintiff alleges he learned on or about January 7, 2016[2] that another STU resident had been permitted to pack his own belongings before leaving state prison. Id. ¶¶ 5.24, 5.26 at 13-14.

         Plaintiff now alleges the loss of his property constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment because Defendants failed to protect his property from being stolen. He asserts Defendants Lanigan and Balicki are liable under a supervisory theory. He also argues Defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause, the Ninth Amendment, and the New Jersey Constitution.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to amend a pleading once as a matter of course twenty-one (21) days after serving the pleading or twenty-one (21) days “after a responsive pleading or service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(A)-(B).

         A court may deny leave to amend a pleading where it finds: (1) undue delay; (2) undue prejudice to the non-moving party; (3) bad faith or dilatory motive; or (4) futility of amendment. Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). “‘Futility' means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be ...


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