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Goodman v. Lanigan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 19, 2018

JESSE GOODMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY LANIGAN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The Plaintiff, Jesse Goodman, is currently civilly committed to the East Jersey State Prison Special Treatment Unit (STU) in Avenel, New Jersey, pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.24 et seq. The plaintiff is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         At this time, this Court must screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. For the following reasons, the claim against John Doe #2 for excessive force and the claim against John Doe #3 for conducting an illegal strip search will be permitted to proceed. All claims against Gary Lanigan, Sherry Yates, Ryan O'Day, and John Doe #1 will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The allegations of the complaint will be construed as true for purposes of this screening opinion. The complaint names six defendants: (1) Gary Lanigan, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections; (2) Sherry Yates, Administrator of the East Jersey State Prison Special Treatment Unit; (3) Ryan O'Day, Assistant Administrator of the East Jersey State Prison Special Treatment Unit; (4) John Doe #1, Special Operations Group Supervisor; (5) John Doe #2, Special Operations Group Officer; and (6) John Doe #3, Special Operations Group Officer. Plaintiff is suing each of these defendants in their individual capacities.

         On January 4, 2017 at 3:30 a.m., Plaintiff was awoken from his sleep when officers from the Special Operations Group (S.O.G.) stormed into the dorm in which Plaintiff is housed at the STU. The officers screamed at the residents, "Get on your stomachs, faces down towards the wall, hands behind your heads!" (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 6). Plaintiff alleges that the officers were cursing at the residents, harassing them, and threatening them with physical violence. Plaintiff states that as soon as he awoke and lifted his head to see what was occurring, one officer, John Doe #2, was screaming into his ear, and forcefully pushed Plaintiffs head down into his bed. John Doe #2 then proceeded to aggressively "yank" both of Plaintiffs arms behind his back and then forced Plaintiffs hands over his head. John Doe #2 yelled at Plaintiff to keep his hands on his head in what Plaintiff calls a "painful, stressful" manner for a "long period of time." (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 3).

         Some time later, John Doe #2 returned to Plaintiffs dorm area and yelled at Plaintiff to get out of his bed and line up behind the other STU residents for a strip search. Plaintiff states that he was forced to stand in this line that was "so tight and without proper space in between persons that it was embarrassing." (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 1). Plaintiff and the other residents were then taken to the STU's dining area, where they were compelled by direct orders, demeaning comments, and threats of physical violence by S.O.G. Officer John Doe #3 to strip. Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to "strip, touch, and expose" himself in front of S.O.G. officers and the other residents. Plaintiff asserts that John Doe #3 at no time had probable cause to conduct this strip search. After the strip search was over, Plaintiff states, he and the other residents were taken to another building on the STU compound where they were forced to remain for hours against their will. Plaintiff claims that this confinement deprived him of a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast. Just after 9:00 a.m., Plaintiff and the other residents were permitted to return to their dorms.

         Plaintiff states that the events of January 4, 2017 have caused him to have ongoing flashbacks to a traumatic brain injury he suffered from a car accident in 1997. Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered mentally and emotionally and that the incident in 2017 brought him back to "that other time of great and emotional suffering." (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 4). Plaintiff has also alleged that as a result of the January 4, 2017 incident, he has suffered from difficulty sleeping, recurring headaches, and concentrating in his therapy groups. Plaintiff remains in daily fear that the events of January 4, 2017, will recur.

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims that the January 2017 incident violated his federal and New Jersey state constitutional rights. He is now seeking monetary relief in the amount of $500, 000 for the physical, mental, and emotional trauma he suffered from the incident, as well as injunctive relief in the form of a prohibition against the S.O.G. officers' ever again using the "prison-type riot tactics" they used on January 4, 2017 in the STU. (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 4).

         Plaintiff is specifically suing six individuals. He sues Gary Lanigan as the individual in charge of the totality of daily operations of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the training of the officers, and the promulgation of the rules and regulations for the New Jersey Department of Corrections. He sues Sherry Yates for her role in overseeing the operations at the STU, in training of the officers at the STU, and in promulgating the rules and regulations for the STU, as well as overseeing the safety and special needs of the residents located there. He sues Ryan O'Day as the individual responsible for seeing that the officers at the STU are properly trained to deal with the special needs and safety of the residents, promulgating the rules and regulations at the STU, and overseeing the daily operations. He sues John Doe #1 as the individual responsible for the daily operations of the S.O.G., promulgation of the rules and procedures for the S.O.G., and for the training of the S.O.G. officers. He sues John Doe #2 as the individual who physically and verbally assaulted him and who was directly responsible for holding Plaintiff "hostage" in a building on the STU compound for hours, thereby depriving Plaintiff of "a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast." (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 3). He sues John Doe #3 for conducting the "illegal strip search" of Plaintiff. Finally, he sues all six defendants for creating a "hostile restrictive environment." (Dkt. No. 1 at pg. 2).

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under the Prisoner 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 person is proceeding in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). 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. Id. "

         The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Schreane v. Seana, 506 Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 Fed.Appx. 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287 Fed.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). That standard is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. To survive the court's screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible. See 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." Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "[A] pleading that offers 'labels or conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). Nevertheless, “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).

         IV. ...


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