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Nance v. Nogan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 21, 2018

LYLE D. NANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK NOGAN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Madeline Cox Arleo, District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiffs filing of a civil rights complaint and a motion to consolidate this action with Civil Action No. 17-679, which is currently pending in the Camden Vicinage. (ECF Nos. 1, 1-2.) The Court previously denied without prejudice Plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 2.) Plaintiff subsequently submitted the filing fee and submitted a letter request asking the Court to reopen this matter. (ECF No. 6) At this time, the Court will reopen the matter and screen the Complaint for dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A. For the reasons explained below, the Court will proceed the Complaint in part, dismiss it in part, and deny without prejudice the motion to consolidate this action with Civil Action No. 17-679.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff has sued Gary Lanigan, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Patrick Nogan, Administrator of East Jersey State Prison ("EJSP"), Guy Cirillo, Assistant Superintendent of EJSP, Ed Koschera, Maintenance Supervisor at EJSP, and Willie Bonds, Administrator at South Woods State Prison ("SWSP") for alleged violations of his civil rights. (See ECF No. 1, Complaint at ¶¶ 3-7.) Plaintiffs Complaint details his participation as an Inmate Liaison Committee ("ILC") member at EJSP, and his role as an elected Prisoner Representative on his wing. The Complaint also describes the Inmate Remedy System ("IRS") utilized by the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and overseen by NJDOC Commissioner Gary Lanigan. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-14.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he has written to Defendant Lanigan regarding "systemic problems" with the IRS at EJSP, including prison officials' failure to respond to grievances, the misrouting of grievances, and lost grievances. (Id. at ¶ 15.) The Complaint also alleges that Defendant Nogan, as Administrator of EJSP, is charged with ensuring that staff responds to grievances in a timely manner. During his tenure on the ILC as an elected secretary, Plaintiff "actively presented informal complaints and filed formal grievances on behalf of the [inmate] population and for himself to Defendant Nogan regarding issues at EJSP. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Nogan routinely failed to respond to the grievances. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) Plaintiffs Complaint details numerous grievances directed to EJSP administration, including Defendants Lanigan and Nogan, during 2013 and 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-37.) In many instances Defendants Lanigan and Nogan failed to respond or provided an unsatisfactory response. (Id.) Defendant Nogan also failed to meet with the ILC on a monthly basis as required by the New Jersey Administrative Code and declined to certify the ILC constitution and bylaws. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-40.)

         According to the Complaint, Defendant Nogan also "abused his authority by arbitrarily prohibiting Plaintiff from functioning as the ILC secretary during meetings" although Plaintiff was elected to perform this role. The Complaint further alleges that Defendant Nogan began to harass, intimidate, and threaten Plaintiff in retaliation for his filing of grievances, and, on September 9, 2014, Defendant Nogan allegedly told another inmate that if Plaintiff did not stop writing grievances, he would "ship [Plaintiffs] ass out of here."[1] (Id. at ¶¶ 42, 44.) Plaintiff states that he told his father about Defendant Nogan's threat in a certified letter dated October 10, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 45.)

         Plaintiffs Complaint then describes the events leading up to his alleged retaliatory transfer from EJSP to SWSP, which occurred on March 10, 2015. On February 1, 2015, Plaintiff again notified Defendant Lanigan of the deficiencies in the IRS, but did not receive a response from Defendant Lanigan. (Id. at ¶ 46.) On February 12, 2015, Defendant Nogan approved a proposal to allow inmates to elect their wing representatives for the ILC; Plaintiff ran for the position and his ballot was inexplicably printed in Spanish rather than English, but other candidates' ballots were printed in English and Spanish. (Id. at ¶ 47.) On February 17, 2015, Plaintiff learned that Inmate Warren was appointed wing representative as a result of a "coin flip" despite the fact that Plaintiff was the certified winner of the election; Defendant Nogan excluded Plaintiff from a meeting of the ILC members and allowed Inmate Warren to attend in Plaintiffs place. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-50.) Defendant Nogan gave up his attempt to supplant Plaintiff as an ILC member several days later, but would not permit him to become the ILC secretary. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52.) In response to events at EJSP, Defendant Nogan called a meeting with the ILC members on March 10, 2015, and Plaintiff spoke about several issues in the prison. Later that night, Plaintiff was transferred to SWSP. Plaintiff alleges that his transfer was the result of a conspiracy between Defendant Nogari and Defendant Bonds, administrator of SWSP.[2] (Id. at ¶¶ 57, 61.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the retaliation continued at SWSP as "a pattern to injure him during his residency at SWSP" and asks that the Court consolidate this action with a "forthcoming civil action concerning his confinement at SWSP[.]" (Id. at ¶ 57.)

         In the "Statement of Claims" section of his Complaint, Plaintiff provides additional factual allegations and attempts to set forth the specific civil rights he believes Defendants have violated.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lanigan, as Defendant Nogan's employer, had "notice" that Defendant Nogan was abusing his authority at EJSP, and failed to enforce the IRS policies to prevent retaliation against inmates for exercising their First Amendment rights. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Lanigan was "aware of the structural inequality existing at EJSP against Plaintiff being singled out and treated indifferently due to his race and association amongst others similarly situated, [and] opted not to correct such discriminatory behavior" (Id. at ¶ 59.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Lanigan "inaction to annul Plaintiffs transfer and unwillingness to apply proper policy directive, sanctioned the activity" and "paved the way" for the alleged violations of Plaintiff s constitutional rights. (Id. at ¶ 60.) With respect to Defendant Lanigan, the Complaint further alleges that the failure to answer Plaintiffs grievances regarding Defendant Nogan's civil rights violations deprived Plaintiff of due process. (Id.)

         The Complaint also reiterates the allegation that Defendant Nogan conspired with Defendant Bonds to "plan, approve, and execute" the surreptitious transfer of Plaintiff from EJSP to SWSP in order to punish Plaintiff for exercising his constitutional right to file grievances, thus violating the First Amendment. (Id. at ¶ 62.)

         The Complaint also alleges that Defendant Nogan abused his power and violated the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, the "federal LAD", and provisions of the New Jersey Administrative Code by prohibiting Plaintiff from serving as the IRS secretary without cause and despite his election to that position. (Id. at ¶ 63.)

         Defendant Nogan also allegedly deprived Plaintiff of his right to graduate from a college program called NJSTEP, and did so despite the fact that he permitted other transferred inmates to return to EJSP to graduate from the program. (Id. at ¶ 64.) Plaintiff further alleges that by removing Plaintiff from NJSTEP, Defendant Nogan discouraged Plaintiffs rehabilitation and reintegration into the community in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, federal LAD, and the NJCRA. (Id. at ¶ 65.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Nogan violated the Eighth Amendment and acted with "deliberate indifference" to Plaintiffs and other inmates' welfare by "ignoring issues in the ILC agenda and their repeated complaints about numerous unsafe conditions on Plaintiffs unit. These issues include unsafe drinking water, condemned cells, falling debris, absence of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, absence of sprinkler systems, failure to post fire evacuation plans, toxic fumes, and overcrowding. (Id. at ¶ 66.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Koschera, maintenance supervisor for EJSP failed to correct "dilapidated and deplorable conditions of confinement" at EJSP that existed at the time of Plaintiff s residency. (Id. at ¶ 71.) ■ In the statement of claims, Plaintiff reiterates that Defendant Nogan's removal of Plaintiff while Plaintiff was pursuing his First Amendment rights was an intentional act of retaliation designed to "segregate Plaintiff from his continued association with the group and serving EJSP's population contrary to federal law." (Id. at ¶ 67.) Plaintiff alleges that the retaliatory transfer was also designed to create a "visit hardship" on Plaintiff, by moving him three hours from family and friends, including Plaintiffs eighty-six year old father. (Id. at ¶¶ 68.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Nogan's refusal to ensure that staff responded to Plaintiffs grievances, as required under state regulation, and his rendering of the appeal process unavailable violated Plaintiffs right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶¶ 69.) Plaintiff further alleges that his transfer to EJSP without notice violated Plaintiffs due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and caused him to be unjustifiably searched and have his property seized, presumably at SWSP. (Id. at ¶ 69.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Cirillo acted as an "accomplice" of Defendant Nogan by treating Plaintiff differently from other ILC members and subjecting him to harassment and ignoring the election results. Defendant Cirillo also temporarily appointed the losing challenger as wing representative and denied Plaintiff the opportunity to represent inmates who voted for him. (Id. at ¶ 70.)

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal law requires this Court to screen Plaintiffs Complaint for sua sponte dismissal prior to service, and to dismiss any claim if that claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and/or to dismiss any defendant who is immune from suit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.[3] "[T]he legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915A is identical to the legal standard employed in ruling on 12(b)(6) motions."

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his or her constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the ...

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