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Walker v. County of Gloucester

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 26, 2018

TERRY J. WALKER, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF GLOUCESTER, et al., Defendants.


          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff Terry J. Walker, a prisoner at Hudson County Correctional Facility, filed a civil rights complaint arising out of multiple incidents of alleged physical and sexual assault by corrections officers while he was incarcerated at Salem County Correctional Facility (“SCCF”). Currently pending before this Court is Defendants Salem County (on behalf of the County of Gloucester); SCCF Warden Raymond Skradzinski; Salem County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders; the Salem County Sheriff (as the operator of SCCF); SCCF staff members Nelson, Shannon, Grishom, and Crawford; and SCCF supervisors “LT” and Riley's (collectively the “Salem County Defendants”) motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), or for summary judgment according to Rule 56. For the following reasons, all claims against Defendant SCCF are dismissed with prejudice.


         The Court recites the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged that while incarcerated at SCCF, officers and staff members physically and sexually assaulted him. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that on August 18, 2014, he was charged at by SCCF Correctional Officer Elbert Johnson and physically forced to the ground during a strip search. Shortly thereafter, Officer Johnson and SCCF staff members Grishom, Nelson, and Shannon slammed Plaintiff's face against a concrete wall and physically beat Plaintiff. This physical assault was observed or approved by SCCF supervisors “LT” and Riley.

         Following these incidents, Plaintiff filed a grievance against the officers and staff members, but no responsive action was taken. Plaintiff alleged he was placed in a detention unit as a result of a conspiracy of silence and false testimony by Officer Johnson and SCCF staff members Grishom, Nelson, and Shannon. Additionally, Plaintiff claimed that Officer Johnson verbally threatened Plaintiff and forced him to cut his fingernails as retaliation for his bisexual orientation.

         Plaintiff further alleged that on April 2, 2015, Officer Johnson entered Plaintiff's cell and sexually assaulted him. Following the assault, Plaintiff was not provided access to a victim's advocate, rape crisis center, or forensic medical examination. After Plaintiff reported the incident to prison authorities, the state police conducted an investigation and Officer Johnson was arrested and charged with sexual assault.

Plaintiff's amended complaint alleged excessive force, failure to protect, failure to train and supervise, retaliation, and conspiracy in violation of Plaintiff's federal and state constitutional rights. Plaintiff also alleged that the Defendants discriminated against him in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Plaintiff seeks only monetary damages.

         The Salem County Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), or in the alternative for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[1] The Salem County Defendants argue that they are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and accordingly, Plaintiff's § 1983 claims should be dismissed. Plaintiff opposes the Salem County Defendants' motion, arguing that the Salem County Defendants are not entitled to sovereign immunity because the Eleventh Amendment only applies to state agents and instrumentalities, not counties.


         A motion to dismiss on the grounds of state sovereign immunity is properly brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because the Eleventh Amendment “is a jurisdictional bar which deprives federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction.” Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 693 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996). See also Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73 (2000). Motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may be “facial” or “factual” challenges to the court's jurisdiction. Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). A facial challenge contests the sufficiency of the complaint because of an alleged pleading deficiency, whereas a factual attack challenges the actual failure of the plaintiff's claims to comport with jurisdictional prerequisites. See U.S. ex rel. Atkinson v. Pa. Shipbuilding Co., 473 F.3d 506, 514 (3d Cir. 2007); Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891.

         In reviewing a facial challenge, the court must dismiss a plaintiff's claims if “the allegations on the face of the complaint, taken as true, [do not] allege facts sufficient to invoke [its] jurisdiction.” Licata v. U.S. Postal Serv., 33 F.3d 259, 260 (3d Cir. 1994). If the moving party makes a factual challenge to the court's jurisdiction, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations” and the court may consider and weigh evidence outside of the pleadings. Med. Soc'y of N.J. v. Herr, 191 F.Supp.2d 574, 578 (D.N.J. 2002). When the moving party supports its motion with evidence, “the court should treat the ... challenge as a factual attack on jurisdithey are entitled to sovereign ction.” Id. Although a plaintiff generally bears the burden of proving that the court has jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff's claims, id., the party asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity has the “burden of production and persuasion.” Druz v. Noto, No. 09-5040, 2010 WL 2179550, at *5 (D.N.J. May 28, 2010).

         In this case, the Salem County Defendants have based their motion to dismiss on a developed factual record and a sworn certification. The Court therefore construes the Salem County Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) motion as a factual attack. See Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Nw. Airlines, Inc., 673 F.2d 700, 711 (3d Cir. 1982) (“[Defendant's] motion was supported by a sworn statement of facts. It therefore must be construed as a factual, rather than a facial attack on the court's subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).”).

         Furthermore, because Plaintiff is a prisoner and names governmental entities or employees thereof as defendants, the screening provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) found at 28 U.S.C. § 1915A apply. In addition, because Plaintiff complains about “prison conditions, ” the screening provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e apply. The Court's obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions for complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n.6 (9th Cir. 2000). Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which ...

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