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Bullock v. Cohen

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 29, 2018

GERALDINE COHEN, et al., Defendants.

          Thomas L. Bullock Plaintiff Pro se


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Thomas L. Bullock (“Plaintiff”) seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Based on his affidavit of indigence (ECF No. 1-1), the Court previously granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and ed the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint. (ECF No. 2.)

         At this time, the Court must review Plaintiff's Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), 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. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Complaint should be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: (1) Geraldine Cohen, Warden of Atlantic County Justice Facility (“ACJF”); (2) Cheryl DeBoise, a medical services supervisor at ACJF; (3) Atlantic County Chairman Frank Formica; and (4) Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson.

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff presents a litany of grievances about the conditions at ACJF. Plaintiff asserts that ACJF is overcrowded, as evidenced by the fact that three men share a cell designed for one person, and by the fact that there are only two showers per 48-60 people. (Compl. at ¶ 4.) Although Plaintiff fails to specify whether he himself is a convicted inmate or a non-convicted pretrial detainee, he complains that ACJF improperly intermingles convicted inmates, pretrial detainees, and psychiatric patients. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that a federal inmate whom he was housed with had scabies. (Id.) Plaintiff claims “that within two weeks [of being housed together, that inmate] claimed something was itching him.” (Id.) While Plaintiff notes that he and that inmate received medical treatment after reporting the issue to ACJF medical staff, Plaintiff claims that this would never have happened had ACJF properly screened this inmate. (Id.)

         Plaintiff complains about ACJF's unclean and unsanitary conditions. Plaintiff notes that the showers have mold and mildew, and that inmates frequently complain of dizziness after showering. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that there are frequent sewage backups. (Id.) Plaintiff also asserts that doors in the jail frequently malfunction, and that this “causes all types of problems[, e.g., ] eating late, missing court, etc.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff complains about the food served at ACJF. Plaintiff avers that the food portions are inadequate, that leftovers are frequently served, and “90% of the time food is not cooked, cold or objects are found.” (Id.) Plaintiff claims that “to question the issue, you are threatened, other times locked down.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff complains that the ACJF commissary engages in “price gauging, ” as evidenced by the fact that it charges $1.16 for one package of ramen noodles, $.61 for an oatmeal packet, and $3.25 for indigent kits. (Id.) Plaintiff also complains that ACJF charges for medical and dental services. (Id.)

         Plaintiff vis-à-vis several isolated, one-sentence declarations, complains that: (1) ACJF has no law library; (2) “religion services [are] violated [because there is] no designated place to assemble[;]” and (3) ACJF only offers “recreation and fresh air once or twice a week, maybe.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff does not claim to have directly interacted with any of the four defendants identified in his pleading, nor does he claim that any of the four named defendants have been made aware of Plaintiff's specific grievances.

         Instead, Plaintiff's claims against Warden Geraldine Cohen appear to arise solely out of Warden Cohen's supervisory responsibilities at ACJF to “[make] sure [all ACJF inmates/prisoners'] needs are accommodated and making sure each department within the facility is in compliance with the facility rules towards all prisoners.” (See Compl. ¶ 3.)

         Plaintiff's claims against Cheryl DeBoise likewise appear to be based solely on her role as an ACJF medical supervisor. Indeed, although Plaintiff fails to detail any specific actions undertaken by Ms. DeBoise which have directly caused him harm, Plaintiff claims that Ms. DeBoise deprived him of his constitutional rights by “intentionally ignor[ing] the fact that her staff are failing to screen, diagnose and give adequate medical attention.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff's claims against Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and Atlantic County Chairman Frank Formica similarly appear to arise out of their respective roles as Atlantic County's executive and the chairman of its governing body. Indeed, other than asserting that these defendants have deprived him of his constitutional rights because they have intentionally ignored the fact that ACJF “is not in compliance[, ]” Plaintiff does not make any specific factual allegations against either of these defendants. (Id. at Attached Sheet.) Plaintiff requests an award of $2, 500, 000.00 in monetary damages. (Id. at ¶ 5.)


         A. Legal Standard

         1. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal

         District courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a person is proceeding in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). This statute directs district courts to 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. Id. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff is proceeding as indigent.

         According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, [2] the complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMC 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.” Belmont v. MB Inv. Partners, Inc., 708 F.3d 470, 483 n.17 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”).

         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).

         2. Section 1983 Actions

         A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his 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 party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         For the reasons detailed infra, Plaintiff's Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         B. Analysis

         1. Conditions of Confinement

         As noted above, Plaintiff's Complaint sets forth a litany of grievances about the conditions at ACJF. Many of these factual allegations fall under the ambit of a Section 1983 “conditions of confinement” claim. Plaintiff fails to specify whether he was a pretrial detainee or a convicted prisoner while housed at ACJF.[3] In considering Plaintiff's constitutional challenges to his conditions of confinement, this distinction has some bearing. Indeed, whereas, pretrial detainees are protected from punishment under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, convicted inmates are protected only from punishment that is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-36, 536 n.16 (1979); accord Mestre v. Wagner, 488 Fed.Appx. 648, 649 (3d Cir. 2012) (noting that plaintiff's claims would be governed by the Fourteenth Amendment if he were pretrial detainee and by the Eighth Amendment if he were a convicted prisoner) (citing Hubbard v. Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 164 (3d Cir. 2005) (hereinafter “Hubbard ...

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