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Carter v. Owens

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 20, 2017

JERMAINE CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN DAVE OWENS, CITY OF CAMDEN, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, MAYOR OF CITY OF CAMDEN, BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS OF CAMDEN COUNTY, COUNTY OF CAMDEN, and CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, Defendants.

          Jermaine Carter, Plaintiff Pro Se.

          OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE, District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         1. Plaintiff Jermaine Carter seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Warden Dave Owens (“Warden” or “Owens”), City of Camden (“City”), State of New Jersey (“State”), the Mayor of City of Camden (“Mayor”), Board of Freeholders of Camden County (“BOF”), County of Camden (“County”), and Camden Correctional Facility (“CCF”) for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Complaint, Docket Entry 1 at § 4(b)-(c) and at 7 - 8.[1]

         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) and 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis and is filing a claim about the conditions of his confinement.

         3. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will: (1) dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against CCCF; (2) dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against State of New Jersey; and (3) 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[2] 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)).[3] 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 30 days of the date that this Opinion and accompanying Order are entered on the docket.

         B. Claims Against The State: Dismissed With Prejudice

         8. Plaintiff's claims against the State of New Jersey (Complaint, Docket Entry 1 at 1) must be dismissed based on the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. Plaintiff may not bring a suit against the State in federal court unless Congress has expressly abrogated New Jersey's sovereign immunity or the State consents to being sued in federal court. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989). Here, Congress did not expressly abrogate sovereign immunity when it passed § 1983, see id., and there is no indication New Jersey has consented to Plaintiff's suit. The claims against the State of New Jersey must be dismissed with prejudice.

         C. Claims Against The County, The City and The BOF: Dismissed Without Prejudice

         9. As to claims against the County, the City, and the BOF, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on these defendants. “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 Servs., 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).[4] In other words, Plaintiff must set forth facts supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the “moving force” behind an alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. Plaintiff has not done so.

         10. Plaintiff contends that the County, the City, and the BOF “were responsible for the overcrowding of the [CCCF] facility and failed to resolve the matter and the violations it caused” (Complaint, § 4(c)), along with various other alleged jail conditions and due process violations. Complaint, Docket Entry 1 at 6 - 7. The Complaint states that the County and the City were “responsible for the overcrowding of the facility [and] for not resolving the issues of overcrowding and the subsequent problems that [were] attributed to it.” Id. at 7.

         11. Plaintiff has not pled the necessary facts to impose liability on the County, the City, or the BOF because even accepting the statements in Plaintiff's Complaint as true for screening purposes only, there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer that Plaintiff has been the victim of any constitutional violations with respect to overcrowded conditions of confinement, various other jail conditions, or due process violations, as explained in greater detail below in this Opinion. In other words, the Complaint does not set forth facts supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the “moving force” behind any alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689.

         12. 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 that this Opinion and accompanying Order are entered on the docket.[5]

         D. Claims Against the Warden and the Mayor: Dismissed Without Prejudice

         13. With respect to Owens, Plaintiff contends that the Warden “was directly in charge of the daily operations of the facility, fully participated in the conditions being complained about [and] is responsible . . . for the overcrowding of the facility [and] continuing acceptance of inmates knowing that there was an existing problem of where to house inmates.” Complaint at § 4(b) and at 7.

         14. With respect to the Mayor, Plaintiff contends that this defendant was “responsible for all of the City of Camden affairs [and was] responsible for the overcrowding of the facility and failed to resolve the matter and the violations it caused.” Complaint § 4(c).

         15. Even accepting the statements in Plaintiff's Complaint as true for screening purposes only, and as explained in greater detail below in this Opinion, there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer that any constitutional violations have occurred in the first instance with respect to: overcrowded conditions of confinement, other jail conditions referenced in the Complaint, alleged retaliation, or alleged due process violations. Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Owens and the Mayor because the Complaint does “[not] allege[] any personal involvement by [them] 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)). “‘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 [these individuals].” Bob v. Kuo, 387 F. App'x 134, 136 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009)). Accord Hussein v. State of New Jersey, 403 F. App'x 712, 716 (3d Cir. 2010) (“The claims against the remaining defendants were properly dismissed sua sponte for failure to state a claim. [The] Mayor [of Jersey City] cannot be sued under § 1983 on the basis of a respondeat superior theory. See Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207[-1208] [‘A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior. Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity. Compare Boykins v. Ambridge Area Sch. Dist., 621 F.2d 75, 80 (3d Cir. 1980) (civil rights complaint adequate where it states time, place, persons responsible)'])”).

         16. In other words, Plaintiff here has not offered facts suggesting that the Warden or the Mayor, through their own individual actions, have violated the Constitution. Bob, 387 F. App'x at 136. Thus, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Owens and the Mayor.[6]

         17. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against the Warden and the Mayor will be dismissed without prejudice.

         E. Conditions Of Confinement Claims: Dismissed Without Prejudice

         1) Overcrowded Conditions of Confinement

         18. Plaintiff alleges that he experienced “forceful conditions of overcrowding” while incarcerated at CCCF, including but not limited to “being forced to sleep on the floor and under the bed” (hereinafter referred to as Plaintiff's “Overcrowding Claim”). Complaint § III(C).

         19. As explained 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 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.

         20. To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim[7], 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, 556 U.S. at 678 (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).

         21. 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.

         22. However, with respect to the alleged facts giving rise to Plaintiff's claims, the Complaint states that he was confined at the CCCF from “January 3, 2016 to September 30, 2016” and suffered “cruel and unusual punishment due to the forceful conditions of overcrowding.” Complaint, Docket Entry 1 at 6. Plaintiff sets forth several alleged constitutional violations he experienced while incarcerated, including “quadruple-triple bunking” and “overcrowding.” Id. at 6-7.[8]

         23. The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff suffered “a great deal of pain and suffering” and “cruel and unusual punishment” during these events. Complaint, Docket Entry 1 at 6.

         24. Plaintiff seeks: “general damages, punitive damages[, ] [and] monetary damages in the amount of [$]1, 000, 000, 000, ” along with “an injunction[9] that the defendants stop ...


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