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Holmes v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 28, 2017

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.


          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Vernice Clark Holmes, a former prisoner at Bayside State Prison (“BSP”), filed a civil rights complaint arising out an incident in which he was allegedly assaulted by corrections officers and subsequently denied medical care. Currently pending before this Court is the State of New Jersey, the Department of Corrections (“DOC”), Bayside State Prison (“BSP”), and BSP administrator John Powell's (collectively “defendants”) motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and plaintiff's cross-motion to amend the complaint. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted. The cross-motion to amend is denied.


         The Court recites the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff. In the original complaint, Mr. Holmes alleged he was assaulted by an unidentified corrections officer on October 15, 2015 while he was incarcerated at BSP. The officer conducted a search prior to recreation time and grabbed Mr. Holmes' buttocks and genitals. After plaintiff objected to the contact, the officer kicked Mr. Holmes and punched him in the face. Other officers responded to the scene and proceeded to assault Mr. Holmes. Plaintiff alleges he sustained injuries from which he continues to suffer, as well as permanent physical and psychological trauma.

         Mr. Holmes filed the complaint alleging excessive force, denial of medical care, as well as failure to train and supervise by defendants. He alleges there were policies and practices regarding the covering up of misconduct by corrections officers. Defendants have now moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Mr. Holmes thereafter filed a cross-motion to amend his complaint and a proposed amended complaint.

         The proposed amended complaint adds additional parties, including some of the officers who allegedly assaulted Mr. Holmes, adds facts regarding Mr. Holmes' mother's actions after the incident, and makes allegations regarding a history of inmate abuse and lawsuits at BSP. Mr. Holmes did not otherwise respond to the motion to dismiss. Defendants ask the Court to strike the cross-motion to amend as procedurally improper and to consider the motion to dismiss as unopposed.


         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. A motion to dismiss may be granted only if the plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests that make such a claim plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” it requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must “tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         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). “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Leave to amend a pleading may be denied where the court 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). “[I]f a claim is vulnerable to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), but the plaintiff moves to amend, leave to amend generally must be granted unless the amendment would not cure the deficiency.” Id.


         The original complaint alleges defendants are liable to Mr. Holmes because their failure “to provide training and/or supervision regarding the lawful use of force amounts to a deliberate indifference to the safety and lives of the persons incarcerated at Bayside State Prison.” He further alleges defendants “knowingly failed to enforce the laws and the rules and regulations . . .

         pertaining to the use of force by the corrections officer, thereby creating an atmosphere of lawlessness in which correction officers employ excessive and illegal force in the belief that such acts will be condoned and justified by their superiors.” Mr. Holmes asserts defendants “implicitly or explicitly adopted and implemented careless and reckless policies, customs, or practices, that included, among other things, of allowing corrections officers . . . to confront inmates without any reasonable training in when to use force in ...

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