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Chila v. Camden County Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 9, 2018

MELANY L. CHILA, Plaintiff,

          Melany L. Chila, Plaintiff Pro


          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge.


         1. Plaintiff Melany L. Chila seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement, violation of her freedom of religious exercise, and unlawful strip search. Complaint, Docket Entry 1.

         2. At this time, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 7).


         3. The following factual allegations are taken from the Complaint and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the truth or merits of Plaintiff's allegations.

         4. Plaintiff alleges she endured unconstitutional conditions of confinement in CCCF due to an overcrowded, rodent infested, and unsanitary facility where she was denied medical care. The Complaint also states that CCCF personnel unlawfully strip searched Plaintiff and violated her exercise of religion by confiscating her head covering, denying her access to a Quran, and prohibiting her from exiting her CCCF cell for religious worship. Complaint §§ III, V.

         5. Plaintiff alleges that these events occurred during “various dates 5-5-07 - 8-6-07 [and] Jan 5, 2016 - 1-15-16.” Id. § III(B).

         6. Plaintiff expressly denies sustaining any injuries from the alleged events, id. § IV (“no”), while simultaneously contending that she has “anxiety and sleep issues due to the inhumane way I was treated over unpaid tickets.” Id. § V.

         7. Plaintiff seeks $50, 000 in relief. Id. § V.


         8. Section 1915(e)(2) requires a court to review complaints prior to service in cases in which a plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. The Court 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.

         9. To survive sua sponte screening, [1] 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). 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).


         A. Claims Against CCCF: Dismissed With Prejudice

         10. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[2] for alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. To state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (a) the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (b) that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         11. CCCF, who is the named defendant in the Complaint, is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Crawford v. McMillian, 660 Fed.Appx. 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2016) (“[T]he prison is not an entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983”); Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F.Supp. 537, 538-39 (D.N.J. 1989) (correctional facility is not a “person” under § 1983).

         12. Given that CCCF is not a “person” for § 1983 purposes, the Complaint's claims against CCCF must be dismissed with prejudice.

         B. Conditions Of Confinement Claims

         1. Overcrowding Claim: Dismissed With Prejudice as to 2007 Incarceration and Dismissed Without Prejudice as to 2016 Incarceration

         13. The Complaint states: “Held me in a 12x7 holding tank with a 7ft bench. There were 6 other women in there . . . Forced to sleep on a matt under the toilet.” Complaint §§ III(C), V (referred to as Plaintiff's “2007 Overcrowding Claim” regarding conditions of her May 5, 2007 - August 6, 2007 incarceration, and as Plaintiff's “2016 Overcrowding Claim” as to conditions from her January 5, 2016 - January 15, 2016 incarceration).

         14. As to the 2007 Overcrowding Claim, the allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement would have been immediately apparent to Plaintiff at the time of detention; therefore, the two-year statute of limitations[3] for Plaintiff's claims expired in November 2014 at the latest, well before this Complaint was filed on November 4, 2016. (Docket Entry 1.) Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit too late to complain about events in 2007. Although the Court may toll, or extend, the statute of limitations in the interests of justice, tolling is not warranted in this case because the state has not “actively misled” Plaintiff as to the existence of her cause of action, there are no extraordinary circumstances that prevented her from filing the claim, and there is nothing to indicate she filed the claim on time but in the wrong forum. Omar v. Blackman, 590 Fed.Appx. 162, 166 (3d Cir. 2014). As more than two years have passed since Plaintiff's claims accrued, the 2007 Overcrowding Claim is dismissed with prejudice, meaning Plaintiff may not file an amended complaint concerning her 2007 incarceration. Ostuni v. Wa Wa's Mart, 532 Fed.Appx. 110, 112 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal with prejudice due to expiration of statute of limitations).

         15. As to the 2016 Overcrowding Claim, the Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation from overcrowding has occurred in order to survive this Court's review under § 1915.

         16. The mere fact that an individual is lodged temporarily in a cell with more persons than its intended design does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 348-50 (1981) (holding double-celling by itself did not violate Eighth Amendment); Carson v. Mulvihill, 488 Fed.Appx. 554, 560 (3d Cir. 2012) (“[M]ere double-bunking does not constitute punishment, because there is no ‘one man, one cell principle lurking in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.'” (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 542 (1979))). More is needed to demonstrate that such crowded conditions, for a pretrial detainee, shocks the conscience and thus violates due process rights. See Hubbard v. Taylor, 538 F.3d 229, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (“Hubbard II”) (noting due process analysis requires courts to consider whether the totality of the conditions “cause[s] inmates to endure such genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time, that the adverse conditions become excessive in relation to the purposes assigned to them”) (citing Union Cnty. Jail Inmates v. DiBuono, 713 F.2d 984, 992 (3d Cir. 1983) (quoting Bell, 441 U.S. ...

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