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Groins v. Wheeler

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 14, 2018

SCOTT B. WHEELER, et al., Defendants.


          PETER G. SHERIDAN. U.S.D.J.


         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants SCO B. Wheeler and Lt. Joseph Bundy's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Martin Groins' complaint. (ECF No. 6). For the following reasons, the motion is granted. The complaint is dismissed without prejudice, and Plaintiff may move to amend his complaint.


         Petitioner is currently incarcerated in New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"), Trenton, New Jersey. He filed a complaint in Mercer County Superior Court, which defendants removed to federal court on November 15, 2017. (ECF No. 1).

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiff resided in NJSP's housing unit 2A near another inmate, Michael Martin. Compl. ¶ 3. On November 25, 2016, Plaintiff witnessed several officers go into Martin's cell and escort him off of the unit. Id. ¶ 4. After Martin left, Plaintiff saw more officers arrive and begin to "loot[] the content of the cell. They were on a destruction mission." Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff alleges he saw officers take "books, sneakers, clothing and other things of value in large plastic bags and walk[] off the block with them." Id. ¶ 8. He also claims the officers "placed legal materials, food, photo's [sic], cosmetics and other things of value in the trash barrel." Id. ¶ 9. Many officers, including SCO Wheeler, went in and out of Martin's cell throughout the day removing boxes of property. Id. ¶¶ 11-13. Martin's property was placed in the office unit, and was later searched and removed on November 30, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         In December 2016, Plaintiff filed a certification attesting to the above happenings in a lawsuit filed by Martin. Id. ¶ 16. See also Martin v. State of New Jersey, No. 16-3449 (D.N.J. filed June 15, 2016).[1] He alleges SCO Wheeler and Lt. Bundy retaliated against him as a result of submitting the certification. Compl. ¶ 18.

         Prior to the date of the search of Martin's cell, Plaintiff had a job as a barber in the close custody unit in which he was paid $75 per month. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. He also had an air conditioned, single cell. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff alleges that SCO Wheeler and Lt. Bundy had him removed from the housing unit on December 4, 2016. Id. ¶ 22. He states he was removed from his job on January 12, 2017. Id. ¶ 24. He also alleges that his legal material was in Martin's cell as Martin was a paralegal. Plaintiff alleges defendants seized and destroyed his legal materials, causing him to be denied access to the court as a result. Id. ¶ 29.

         After removing this lawsuit from state court, defendants filed their motion to dismiss on January 19, 2018. (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff filed written opposition. (ECF No. 12). The Court conducted oral argument on April 18, 2018, at which time Plaintiff appeared by telephone.


         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. A motion to dismiss may be granted only if the plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests that make such a claim plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations, " it requires "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must "tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "[A] complaint's allegations of historical fact continue to enjoy a highly favorable standard of review at the motion-to-dismiss stage of proceedings." Id. at 790.


         Plaintiff raises access to the courts and retaliation claims. Defendants argue Plaintiff has failed to allege constitutional violations and to allege personal involvement. Plaintiff urged the Court both in his written opposition and during oral argument to conduct discovery into defendants' action, specifically by reviewing a report ...

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