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Owens v. Ambroise

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 16, 2018

JANEAN OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN AMBROISE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          PETER G. SHERIDAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by defendants New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC"), Edna Mahan Correctional Facility ("EMCF"), Gary Lanigan, and Officer J. Perez. (ECF No. 25). Plaintiff Janean Owens opposes the motion. (ECF No. 26). For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part. All claims against the NJDOC, EMCF, and the individual defendants in their official capacities are dismissed with prejudice. The amended complaint shall proceed against the individual defendants in their individual capacities.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a prisoner in EMCF, a correctional facility for women operated by the NJDOC. (ECF No. 9 ¶¶ 6-7). Gary Lanigan is the former Commissioner of the NJDOC.[1] (Id. ¶ 9). Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging she was sexually assaulted and harassed by EMCF corrections officers while incarcerated at EMCF. (Id. ¶¶ 19-46). She also alleges she was retaliated against when she filed a complaint with the administrator of the facility about the assaults. (Id. ¶¶ 47-53). Plaintiff asserts she "received unjustified discipline from Defendant J. Perez, wherein she lost recreation privileges for 5 days, despite the fact that Plaintiff had not acted improperly. This discipline was in retaliation for Plaintiffs complaints." (Id. ¶ 51).

         Plaintiff further alleges there was "[a] pattern and practice ... in the EMCF where sexual assault is prevalent and frequently perpetrated by corrections officers on inmates, with the knowledge and acquiescence of EMCF and/or its administrators ... as well as with the knowledge and acquiescence of the Department of Corrections and/or its policymakers and administrators, including but not limited to Defendant Lanigan." (Id. ¶ 54). She alleges at least sixteen (16) other women have been assaulted by EMCF officers within the past five years, (id. ¶ 56), and "at least five (5) EMCF officers and/or employees were fired and/or criminally indicted over the past three (3) years over claims of sexual abuse ...." (Id. ¶ 57). According to Plaintiff, the EMCF falsely reported and/or under-reported cases of sexual abuse of inmates by officers "for several years[.]" Id. ¶ 58. Plaintiff asserts her injuries were the result of deficient policies and customs "related to training, supervision, reporting, investigations, and/or sexual assault of inmates" and failure of supervisors to train and supervise their subordinate "Defendant Corrections Officers with regard to assault, sexual assault, battery, use of force, deliberate indifference and/or punishment of inmates, as well as the handling of complaints of sexual assault and/or retaliation against inmates who make said complaints." (Id. ¶¶ 74-75).

         The Amended Complaint raises six claims alleging violations of the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-2; and violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-1 et. seq.

         Defendants NJDOC, Lanigan, EMCF, and Perez move to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 25). Plaintiff opposes the motion. (ECF No. 26). The matter is now ripe for decision. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b).

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         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 v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "[A] complaint's allegations of historical fact continue to enjoy a highly favorable standard of review at the motion-to-dismiss stage of proceedings." Id. at 790.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Defendants assert Plaintiffs claims against the NJDOC and the individual defendants in their official capacities are barred by ...


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