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Ashley v. Metelow

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 17, 2018

KEITH ASHLEY, Plaintiff,
DAVID METELOW, et al., Defendants.

          KEITH ASHLEY, East Jersey State Prison Plaintiff pro se

          GURBIR GREWAL, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW JERSEY By: SUZANNE DAVIES, Deputy Attorney General R.J. Hughes Justice Complex Attorneys for Defendants David Metelow, Don Siebert, Mr. Marrocco, Tanya Stelz




         Defendants David Metelow, Don Siebert, Mr. Marrocco, and Tanya Stelz have moved to dismiss Plaintiff Keith Ashley's civil rights complaint. Motion, Docket Entry 46. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Opposition, Docket Entry 48. The motion is being decided on the papers pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part, but denied as to Plaintiff's equal protection claim.


         Plaintiff originally filed this civil rights action against Defendants David Metelow and Don Siebert, Supervisors of Education at South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”), Mr. Marrocco, Teacher for the culinary arts program, and Tanya Steltz, Secretary for Facility III alleging they violated his right to Free Association under the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the New Jersey Administrative Code for denying him entrance into the SWSP Culinary Arts Program and for failing to inform him of the complete requirements for entry. After reviewing the complaint, the Court permitted the complaint to proceed only against Siebert and Marrocco as Plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged personal involvement by the other named defendants. January 22, 2016 Order, Docket Entry 4. On February 7, 2017, the Court permitted Plaintiff to amend his complaint and reinstated the claims against Steltz and Metelow. February 7, 2017 Order, Docket Entry 19.

         According to the amended complaint, Plaintiff applied to join the SWSP culinary arts program at various points in time between October 2007 and July 2014 during his confinement at that facility. Amended Complaint, Docket Entry 11 ¶ 1. He specifically alleges he applied to the program on October 23, 2007, September 28, 2009, December 9, 2009, June 24, 2013, August 28, 2013, September 22, 2013, April 24, 2014, July 7, 2014, and July 11, 2014. Id. ¶ 1(B)(1) n.16. He alleges Steltz placed him on the computer literacy class waiting list without verifying his high school diploma but rejected him from the culinary arts program for failure to verify his diploma. Id. ¶ 1(B)(1)(a)-(b) n.17-18.

         Plaintiff also alleges he was scheduled for an entry interview on August 20, 2013, but Officer Lynch turned him away from the interview site stating Plaintiff's name was not on the interview list. Id. ¶4(F). Plaintiff states he saw his name on the list and that Officer Lynch had a “personal vendetta” against him. Id. ¶ 4(F) n.32.[1] He filled out a grievance form objecting to his absence from the list, and he received a letter from Seibert indicating that the certificate earned through the program expired after five years, and therefore that inmates with parole eligibility or maximum release dates within the next two years are given preference for entry into the program. Id. ¶ 4(H). Plaintiff alleges Caucasian inmates with more than two years left before their parole eligibility dates (“PEDs”) and who were put on the waiting list after Plaintiff were permitted to enroll in the program. See Id. ¶¶ 4(D)(9)(a), (G).

         Plaintiff wrote to SWSP Administrator Nelsen regarding the difficulty he was having enrolling in the program. Nelsen responded: “This office is in receipt of your appeal received on October 8, 2013, in reference to participating in the Culinary Arts Program. Be advised that you are not banned from Culinary Arts class. A review of your Education Department record revealed that you have been off and on the Culinary Arts Waiting List since 2007.” Id. ¶ 4(H). Plaintiff states he wrote to Nelsen, Metelow, and Siebert about being denied entry into the class on several occasions over the years regarding his repeated denials of entry into the program and alleged discrimination by SWSP staff.[2] Id. ¶ 6(VI).

         Defendants now move to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff opposes the motion. Opposition, Docket Entry 48.


         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 ...

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