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Staples v. Bellafonte/Bonaparte

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 26, 2018

RAHSON STAPLES, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW BRUNSWICK POLICE OFFICER BELLAFONTE/BONAPARTE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is opened to the Court by pro se Plaintiff Rahson Staples (“Plaintiff”) upon the filing of a Complaint (ECF No. 1), Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) (ECF No. 1-1), and the Court's sua sponte screening of Plaintiff's Complaint. The Court having reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint and IFP application, for the reasons expressed below, GRANTS Plaintiff's application to proceed IFP. Further, Plaintiff's claims against the Middlesex County Jail are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, Plaintiff's claims against Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and Dr. Pearson are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, and Plaintiff's excessive force and deliberate indifference to medical needs claims shall PROCEED against the remaining Defendants.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “Act”), which amends 28 U.S.C. § 1915, establishes certain financial requirements for prisoners who are seeking IFP status. Under the Act, a prisoner seeking IFP status must submit an affidavit, including a statement of all assets, which states that the prisoner is unable to pay the fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The prisoner also must submit a certified copy of his inmate trust fund account statement for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of his complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). The prisoner must obtain this statement from the appropriate official of each prison at which he was or is confined. Id. Having reviewed Plaintiff's application, the Court grants Plaintiff's request to proceed IFP.

         Because Plaintiff is a state prisoner seeking redress from state employees and is now proceeding IFP in this matter, his Complaint is subject to screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. Pursuant to these statutes, the Court is required to dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant who is immune. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. “The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App'x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); see also Courteau v. United States, 287 F. App'x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (applying this same standard under § 1915A).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court is “required to accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences in the facts alleged in the light most favorable to the [Plaintiff].” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008). “[A] complaint attacked by a . . . motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the Plaintiff's “obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286. Instead, assuming the factual allegations in the complaint are true, those “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for misconduct alleged.” Id. This “plausibility standard” requires the complaint allege “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, ” but it “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Detailed factual allegations” are not required, but “more than ‘an unadorned, the defendant-harmed-me accusation” must be pled; it must include “factual enhancements” and not just conclusory statements or a recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). 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).

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims against various state and hospital officials for denials of his constitutional rights in relation to his treatment during his arrest and during medical and in-jail treatment he received following his imprisonment as a pre-trial detainee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States that was committed by a person “acting under the color of state law.” Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Woodyard v. Cty. of Essex, 514 F. App'x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) (noting that § 1983 provides “private citizens with a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state [actors]”). “The first step in evaluating a section 1983 [or Bivens] claim is to ‘identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to have been violated' and to determine ‘whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right at all.'” Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806 (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n.5 (1998)). In this matter, Plaintiff asserts claims for: (1) excessive force against three New Brunswick Police officers involved in his arrest; (2) deliberate indifference to medical needs against one of the arresting officers, a doctor at Robert Wood Johnson hospital who initially treated Plaintiff's injuries, the hospital itself, and various prison staff members; (3) violation of his right to free exercise of his religion under the First Amendment; and (4) violation of his right to be free of religious discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment raised against the Middlesex County Jail.[1]

         Initially, the Court notes Plaintiff's religious claims appear to be raised only against the Middlesex County Jail.[2] (See ECF No. 1 at 12). A county jail, however, is not a proper defendant in a § 1983 claim and is not subject to suit under the statute. See, e.g., Harris v. Hudson Cty. Jail, No. 14-6284, 2015 WL 1607703, at *5 (D.N.J. April 8, 2015). The jail, and Plaintiff's religious claims against it, are therefore dismissed from this action with prejudice.

         Plaintiff asserts his remaining claims against various defendants, two of which are not subject to suit in this matter-Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and the hospital's employee, Dr. Pearson. As noted above, § 1983 provides a mechanism through which a private individual may seek recourse against those acting under the color of state law, i.e., state actors. See Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806; see also Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 175-76 (3d Cir. 2010) (“To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant acted under color of state law, in other words, that there was state action.”). Robert Wood Johnson Hospital is “a private, non-profit, academic health center, ” Nonis v. Middlesex Cnty. Sheriff's Office, No. 12-4469, 2013 WL 5477144, at *6 (D.N.J. Sept. 30, 2013) (citing cases in which Robert Wood Johnson Hospital was party); see also Robert Wood Johnson University Hosp. v. Thompson, 297 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2002), and therefore, neither it, nor its employees, may be held liable under § 1983 absent allegations sufficient to show its actions were “fairly attributable to the State, ” Turner v. Children's Hosp. of Philadelphia, 378 F. App'x 124, 126 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982)). Because Plaintiff has not pled any facts which would support a finding that Robert Wood Johnson Hospital or Dr. Pearson acted in a manner fairly attributable to the state, he has failed to show they are state actors. Therefore, his claims against them are dismissed without prejudice.

         This Court has reviewed Plaintiff's remaining excessive force and denial of medical care claims and finds that the dismissal of those claims as to the remaining Defendants is not warranted at this time and will therefore permit those claims to proceed. Accordingly, IT IS on this 26th day of January 2018, ORDERED that Plaintiff's application to proceed IFP is GRANTED and his Complaint shall be FILED; and it is further

         ORDERED that Plaintiff's claims against the Middlesex County Jail are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; and it is further

         ORDERED that Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Pearson and Robert Wood Johnson Hospital are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; and it is further

         ORDERED that Plaintiff's excessive force and deliberate indifference to medical needs claims shall PROCEED against the remaining Defendants; and it is further

         ORDERED that the Clerk shall mail to Plaintiff a transmittal letter explaining the procedure for completing United States Marshal 285 ...


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