United States District Court, D. New Jersey
B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Andrew Davis, is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at
East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. He is
proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff submitted for
filing his complaint, together with a motion for the
appointment of pro bono counsel. For the reasons set forth
below, the complaint will be permitted to proceed in part. In
addition, the motion for pro bono counsel will be denied
allegations of this complaint will be construed as true for
purposes of this screening opinion. Plaintiff seeks to bring
a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against the following Defendants: (1) New Jersey Department
of Corrections (“NJDOC”); (2) NJDOC Commissioner
Gary Lanigan; (3) Corrections Officer Victor Tapia; (4)
Sergeant J. Kuhlen; (5) Sergeant S. Hunter; (6) Sergeant R.
Dunns; (7) Nurse Kyrsten Pierce; (8) Lieutenant J. Sprenger;
(9) Corrections Officer M. Mackeprang; (10) Corrections
Officer M. Garcia; (11) Corrections Officer A. Dooley; (12)
Corrections Officer J. Hawk; (13) Corrections Officer S.
Lopez; (14) Corrections Officer J. Elbeuf; (15) Corrections
Officer V. Spinelli; (16) Corrections Officer D. West; (17)
Corrections Officer L. Toro; (18) Corrections Officer Dennis
Mercado; (19) Special Investigation Division
(“SID”) Investigator Donna Alexander; (20) SID
Investigator Elizabeth Adams; (21) SID Investigator Eleazar
Spratley; (22) Courtline Hearing Officer Norma Morales-Pitre;
(23) Assistant Superintendent Lisa Swift; and (24)
Administrator R. Riggins. (See ECF No. 1 at pp. 3-12).
allegations arise from conduct that occurred while he was
incarcerated at South Woods State Prison
(“SWSP”). Plaintiff alleges that on July 26, 2016
at approximately 6:43 p.m., he approached the officer podium
to speak with Officer Tapia about his mail when Officer Tapia
verbally harassed him and pointed a can of OC chemical spray
in Plaintiff's face. (See Id. at p. 14).
Plaintiff claims he raised his hands in the air, backed away
from Officer Tapia, and returned to his cell. (See id.).
Later that night at approximately 7:55 p.m., Officer Tapia
came to Plaintiff's cell and ordered Plaintiff out of the
cell. (See id. at p. 15). Plaintiff stood up from his bunk
and exited the cell, at which time Officer Tapia punched and
pushed Plaintiff from behind. (See id.).
alleges that Officer Tapia began swinging punches and
Plaintiff was left with no other choice but to defend himself
against the attack. (See id.). When additional staff
responded, Plaintiff backed away from Officer Tapia with his
hands in the air. (See id.). Plaintiff claims he
surrendered and got onto the ground. (See id.).
While on the ground, Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs and
was assaulted by Officer Tapia and the responding corrections
officers. (See id.). Plaintiff claims that Officer
Tapia sprayed him in the face with OC chemical spray while
the other officers repeatedly struck, punched, and kicked
him. (See Id. at pp. 15-16).
the assault, Plaintiff claims that the SWSP medical
department denied him medical care and treatment for his
injuries. (See Id. at p. 16). Specifically,
Plaintiff alleges that Nurse Pierce refused to conduct a
medical examination or render any medical treatment to him.
(See id.). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Nurse
Pierce falsified medical documents to state that he did not
sustain any injuries as a result of the assault. (See
further alleges that he was interviewed by the Special
Investigation Division (“SID”) regarding the
incident, but that the SID investigators refused to accept
and file his criminal complaint against Officer Tapia.
(See Id. at pp. 16-17). Following the investigation,
Plaintiff was charged with assaulting Officer Tapia. (See
Id. at p. 17). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that
videotape evidence of the assault has been altered to cover
up the assault. (See id.).
seeks compensatory, consequential, and punitive damages from
each Defendant. (See Id. at p. 28). Additionally,
Plaintiff has filed a motion seeking the appointment of pro
bono counsel. (See ECF No. 3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. 104-134,
§§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26,
1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review
complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is
proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental
employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b),
or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions,
see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA 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. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
determining the sufficiency of a complaint, the court must be
mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff.
See United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir.
1992). The court should “accept as true all of the
allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences
that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.” Morse v. Lower Merion
School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Thus,
“[a] pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to
state a claim only if it appears ‘beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim
which would entitle him to relief.'” Milhouse
v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981) (quoting
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)).
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging
violations of his civil rights guaranteed under the United
States Constitution. 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 ....
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); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania,
36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).
Claims against Defendants in their Official Capacities and
initial matter, Plaintiff brings claims against the
Defendants in their “official capacities” as
employees of the NJDOC. Additionally, Plaintiff brings claims
against the NJDOC. States and state agencies are not
“persons” subject to suit under § 1983.
See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491
U.S. 58, 71 (1989); see also Pettaway v. SCI Albion,
487 Fed.Appx. 766, 768 (3d Cir. 2012) (holding that a state
department of corrections is not a “person” under
the statute and cannot be sued under § 1983).
Additionally, for purposes of § 1983, “a lawsuit
against public officers in their official capacities is
functionally a suit against the public entity that employs
them.” Cuvo v. De Biasi, 169 Fed.Appx. 688,
693 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing McMillian v. Monroe
Cnty., 520 U.S. 781, 785 n.2 (1997)). Accordingly,
Plaintiff's claims against the Defendants in their
official capacities and against the NJDOC are dismissed with
Claims against Commissioner Lanigan and Administrator
alleges that Commissioner Lanigan and Administrator Riggins
are liable under a respondeat superior theory of
liability as they are responsible for the oversight of SWSP
and the safety of prisoners. (See ECF No. 1 at pp.
3-4, 12). “A defendant in a civil rights action must
have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability
cannot be predicated solely on the operation of
respondeat superior.” Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).
“Personal involvement can be shown through allegations
of personal direction or of actual knowledge and
has not alleged any facts indicating that Commissioner
Lanigan and Administrator Riggins were personally involved in
any alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional
rights. Additionally, Plaintiff has not alleged any facts
demonstrating that Commissioner Lanigan and Administrator
Riggins had knowledge of the alleged violations of
Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Accordingly, Plaintiff
has failed to state viable § 1983 claims ...