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Valdez v. Flax

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 3, 2018

JULIO VALDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CORTLEN S. FLAX, STATE CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, and JOHN DOE, STATE CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Julio Valdez, is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff submitted for filing his complaint, together with an application for appointment of pro bono counsel. For the reasons set forth below, the complaint will be permitted to proceed in part. In addition, this Court will direct the Clerk to appoint pro bono counsel to represent Plaintiff in the instant matter.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this complaint against several employees of South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”), including Corrections Officer Cortlen S. Flax and Corrections Officer(s) John Doe(s), alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. The following factual allegations are taken from the complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this screening only.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by Officer Flax while he was incarcerated at SWSP on or about February 14, 2017. (Dkt. No. 1 at pp. 6-7). Plaintiff claims that without provocation or warning, Officer Flax entered Plaintiff's cell and attacked Plaintiff with closed fists, punching him repeatedly in the head and eventually knocking him unconscious. (See Id. at p. 8).

         Plaintiff also alleges that he was denied medical treatment for his wounds despite requesting medical attention from unidentified corrections officers after the attack. (See id.) Additionally, Plaintiff claims that unidentified corrections officers witnessed the incident and did nothing to stop Officer Flax from attacking Plaintiff. (See id.). Plaintiff asserts claims against Officer Flax and the unidentified corrections officers in both their official and individual capacities. (See Id. at p. 9). Plaintiff further states that the incident was investigated by the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office, resulting in the filing of criminal charges against Officer Flax. (See Id. at pp. 5, 15-17).

         Plaintiff states that he suffered severe and permanent injuries to his left ear, including a ruptured ear drum, as well as psychological trauma as a result of the assault. (See Id. at p. 11). Plaintiff requests that this Court grant him relief in the form of $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages against each defendant, $1, 000, 000 in declaratory damages against each defendant, $1, 000, 000 in compensatory damages against each defendant, $1, 000, 000 in consequential damages against each defendant, and future medical expenses. (See id.).

         Furthermore, Plaintiff makes an application for the appointment of pro bono counsel. (See Id. at p. 12). Plaintiff states that he cannot speak, read, or write English. (See id.). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that he does not have access to Spanish-speaking paralegals in the law library to help assist him in his future filings with the court. (See Id. at p. 13).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, the court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The court should “accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Thus, “[a] pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if it appears ‘beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'” Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts numerous claims against Officer Flax and Officer(s) Doe(s) in their official and individual capacities for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. He raises claims for excessive force, failure to intervene, and denial of ...


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