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Belt v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 17, 2018

JERRY R. BELT, Plaintiff,
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, et al., Defendants.


          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge


         Plaintiff, Jerry R. Belt, is a federal prisoner currently incarcerated at FMC Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky. Plaintiff was previously incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix in Fort Dix, New Jersey and FCI Ashland in Ashland, Kentucky. He is proceeding pro se with a civil complaint filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). (See ECF No. 1). Plaintiff has also filed a Motion to Appoint a Third-Party Representative in this matter. (See ECF No. 4). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's claims against the FCI Ashland Defendants will be severed and transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Plaintiff's remaining claims against the FCI Fort Dix Defendants will be permitted to proceed in part. Additionally, Plaintiff's motion for the appointment of a representative will be denied.


         The allegations of the complaint will be construed as true for purposes of this screening opinion. Plaintiff names the following parties as defendants: (1) Federal Bureau of Prisons; (2) Northeast Regional Director; (3) Northeast Regional Health Services Administrator; (4) Jose A. Santana, Chief, Designation & Sentencing Computation Center; (5) Northeast Regional Administrative Remedy Coordinator; (6) Warden J. Hollingsworth, FCI Fort Dix; (7) Associate Warden, FCI Fort Dix; (8) Captain, Fort Dix; (9) Special Agent-in-Charge, Fort Dix; (10) Special Investigations Services, Lieutenant, FCI Fort Dix; (11) Chief Psychologist, FCI Fort Dix; (12) Staff Psychologist, FCI Fort Dix; (13) Unit Manager Robinson, FCI Fort Dix; (14) Case Manager Crisson, FCI Fort Dix; (15) Administrative Remedy Coordinator, FCI Fort Dix; (16) Counselor Robert, FCI Fort Dix; (17) Counselor Castellanos, FCI Fort Dix; (18) Counselor Ruffin, FCI Fort Dix; (19) Counselor Watson, FCI Fort Dix; (20) Correction Officer J. Rayfield., FCI Fort Dix; (21) Correction Officer Ms. Collodo, FCI Fort Dix; (22) Warden Thomas Smith, FCI Ashland; (23) Associate Warden Janisse Bishop, FCI Ashland; (24) Unit Manager Mr. Fazenbaker, FCI Ashland; (25) Federal Prison Camp Administrator, FCI Ashland; (26) Health Services Administrator, FCI Ashland; (27) Chief Psychologist, FCI Ashland; (28) Staff Psychologist Ms. Williams, FCI Ashland; (29) Staff Psychologist, FCI Ashland; (30) Case Manager Tony Dean, FCI Ashland; (31) Counselor S. Reed, FCI Ashland; (32) Case Manager Mr. Patton, FCI Ashland; (33) Counselor J. Boggs, FCI Ashland; (34) Captain, FCI Ashland; (35) Primary Care Provider Ms. Boyd, FCI Ashland; (36) Health Services Director Dr. Gomez, FCI Ashland; (37) Special Agent-in-Charge, FCI Ashland; and (38) Special Investigations Services, FCI Ashland.

         Plaintiff's complaint arises from an alleged sexual assault that occurred while he was incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix. (See ECF No. 1 at pp. 12-16). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that on January 10, 2017, Counselor Ruffin sexually assaulted Plaintiff both verbally and physically. (See Id. at p. 15). Plaintiff also claims that he repeatedly informed Unit Manager Robinson and Case Manager Crisson of the harassment he experienced by Counselor Ruffin, yet they failed to transfer Plaintiff to a different security classification. (See Id. at p. 14). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Corrections Officer Collodo witnessed the sexual assault by Counselor Ruffin and failed to intervene. (See id. at p. 16). Plaintiff further alleges that numerous individuals at FCI Fort Dix failed to investigate the sexual assault and ignored his inmate grievances. (See Id. at pp. 13-15).

         Plaintiff's complaint also raises additional causes of action arising from an alleged denial of medical treatment that occurred while he was incarcerated at FCI Ashland. (See pp. 16-19). Plaintiff has also filed a motion requesting that this Court appoint Reginald Thaddeus Gilbert-Bey, an inmate at FCI Ashland, to represent him in this matter. (See ECF No. 4).


         Under 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).

         In 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)).


         A. Claims against the FCI Ashland Defendants

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) provides for dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction. “The federal district courts in New Jersey may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident only to the extent authorized by state law.” Boyd v. Arizona, 469 Fed.Appx. 92, 97 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Eurofins Pharma U.S. Holdings v. BioAlliance Pharma SA, 623 F.3d 147, 155 (3d Cir. 2010)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e), 4(k)(1)(A). The New Jersey statute is “intended to extend as far as is constitutionally permissible.” DeJames v. Magnificence Carriers, Inc., 654 F.2d 280 (3d Cir. 1981); see also Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 96 (3d Cir. 2004) (“New Jersey's long-arm statute provides for jurisdiction coextensive with the due process requirements of the United States Constitution.”). Accordingly, the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant depends upon whether that defendant has established “certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Telcordia Tech Inc. v. Telkom SA Ltd., 458 F.3d 172, 177 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)); see also Miller Yacht Sales, 384 F.3d at 96 (“[P]arties who have constitutionally sufficient ‘minimum contacts' with New Jersey are subject to suit there.”)

         There are two types of personal jurisdiction that can be established by minimum contacts which comport with constitutional due process principles: general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction. See Boyd, 469 Fed.Appx. at 97. General jurisdiction exists “when a defendant has maintained systematic and continuous contacts with the forum state.” Id. (quoting Kehm Oil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 537 F.3d 290, 300 (3d Cir. 2008)). “Specific jurisdiction exists when the claim arises from or relates to conduct purposely directed at the forum state.” Kehm Oil Co., 537 F.3d at 300 (citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-15 (1984)).

         Here, Plaintiff seeks to assert claims against numerous individuals for conduct that occurred while he was incarcerated at FCI Ashland in Kentucky. Specifically, Plaintiff names the Northeast Regional Health Services Administrator; Jose Santana, Chief, Designation & Sentencing Computation Center; Warden Thomas Smith; Associate Warden Janisse Bishop; Mr. Fazenbaker; Ms. Williams; Tony Dean; S. Reed; Mr. Patton; J. Boggs; Ms. Boyd; Dr. Gomez; and other unidentified FCI Ashland employees as Defendants (collectively the “FCI Ashland Defendants”). Plaintiff's allegations regarding the FCI Ashland Defendants all relate to conduct which occurred outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Plaintiff does not allege that the FCI Ashland Defendants engaged in unconstitutional conduct in New Jersey, or that these Defendants directed their conduct at New Jersey. Moreover, Plaintiff has not asserted any facts which suggest that any of the FCI Ashland Defendants maintained the sort of “systematic and continuous contacts” with New Jersey that would establish general jurisdiction. There is nothing in the complaint which suggests that this Court could exercise general or specific jurisdiction over the FCI Ashland Defendants. Accordingly, personal jurisdiction does not exist as to the FCI Ashland Defendants.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), a district court is permitted to either dismiss or transfer a case to another court even if it does not have jurisdiction. See Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 466-67 (1962) (establishing that the language of § 1406 is broad enough to authorize the transfer of cases where the plaintiff has filed in a court that does not have jurisdiction over the defendant); Lafferty v. St. Riel, 495 F.3d 72, 77-78 (3d Cir. 2007) (stating that § 1406(a) comes into play when plaintiffs have filed in an improper forum and district courts are required to either dismiss or transfer the case).[1] Section 1406(a) provides in pertinent part:

The district court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in the wrong division or district shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.

28 U.S.C. ยง 1406(a). In light of the lack of personal jurisdiction over the FCI Ashland Defendants, this Court determines that venue in this district is improper. However, personal jurisdiction does exist, and venue is ...

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