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Arsenault v. Camden County Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2018


          Colleen Arsenault, Plaintiff Pro Se.



         1. Plaintiff Colleen Arsenault (“Plaintiff”) seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the defendant Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) where she was previously confined for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Complaint, Docket Entry 1.

         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) because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis.

         3. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss the Complaint with prejudice in part and dismiss it without prejudice in part. The Complaint: (a) is dismissed with prejudice as to claims made against defendant CCCF; (b) is dismissed without prejudice, for lack of standing, as to conditions of confinement claims to enjoin overcrowding; (c) is dismissed without prejudice, for lack of standing, as to conditions of confinement claims for injunctive relief regarding inadequate medical care; and (d) is dismissed without prejudice, for lack of standing, as to conditions of confinement claims regarding lack of clean clothes. Plaintiff may file an amended complaint within 30 days after the date this Opinion and Order are entered on the docket to correct the deficiencies and to identify by name the party(ies) who are allegedly liable under her conditions of confinement claims. Any such amended complaint shall be subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Upon Plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint naming the party(ies) whom she alleges are liable, her claims shall be subject to dismissal without further notice for lack of standing.

         Standard of Review

         4. To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, 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 v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (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).

         Claims Against CCCF: Dismissed With Prejudice

         5. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] 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)).

         6. 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)).[2] 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.

         7. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks relief 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.

         Conditions of Confinement Claims: Dismissed Without Prejudice For Lack of Standing

         8. Plaintiff seeks a court injunction rather than money damages, and she is no longer incarcerated at CCCF. (Complaint, § V, page 1, page 5) (seeking “avoid[ance] [of] same treatment to any other inmate at Camden County Correctional Facility”). Plaintiff therefore lacks standing to seek injunctive relief because she is no longer subject to the allegedly unconstitutional conditions she seeks to challenge. Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206-07 (3d Cir. 1993); Weaver v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 27 (3d Cir. 1981) (“Appellant in this case was no longer imprisoned at the time he brought his suit . . . Moreover, he does not seek damages for deprivation of his rights while he was [imprisoned] at [defendant's] facility. Rather, he prays only for injunctive and declaratory relief to improve the conditions for those inmates still imprisoned [there]. While helping one's fellow citizen is an admirable goal, the Constitution limits federal court jurisdiction to review of ‘actual cases or controversies' in which the plaintiff has a ‘personal stake' in the litigation. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. The case or controversy must be a continuing one and must be ‘live' at all stages of the proceedings. Accordingly, the courts have held that a prisoner lacks standing to seek injunctive relief if he is no longer subject to the alleged conditions he attempts to challenge”) (citations omitted). For these reasons, Plaintiff's claims in this case for prospective injunctive relief must be dismissed for lack of standing.

         9. Nevertheless, pro se complaints are construed liberally and are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Accordingly, this Court will, as explained more fully below, afford Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint to allege actionable claims, if she elects to do so.

         10. The Court further advises Plaintiff that she was one of thousands of members of a certified class in the case on this Court's docket entitled, Dittimus-Bey v. Camden CountyCorrectional Facility, Civil No. 05-cv-0063 (JBS), which was a class action case. The class plaintiffs were all persons confined at the Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”), as either pretrial detainees or convicted prisoners, at any time from January 6, 2005 until June 30, 2017. The class of plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief about unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the CCCF involving overcrowding. That class action did not involve money damages for individuals. A proposed final settlement of that case, which describes the settlement in detail, was preliminarily approved on February 22, 2017. Various measures undertaken in several Consent Decrees under court approval reduced the jail population to fewer prisoners than the intended design capacity for the jail. This greatly reduced or eliminated triple and quadruple bunking in two-person cells, as explained in the Sixth and Amended Final Consent Decree, which continues those requirements under court supervision. According to the Notice to all class members that was approved in the Dittimus-Bey case on February 22, 2017, any class member could object to the proposed settlement by filing an objection in the Dittimus-Bey case before April 24, 2017. A court hearing occurred on May 23, 2017, at which objections were to be considered. This Court finally approved the Dittimus-Bey settlement on June 30, 2017, and that settlement bars Plaintiff and other class members from seeking injunctive or declaratory relief for the period of time from January 6, 2005 ...

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