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McKinney v. Lanigan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 29, 2019

IVAN G. McKINNEY, Plaintiff,
GARY LANIGAN et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff, Ivan McKinney (“McKinney” or “Petitioner”), is a state prisoner incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with this Complaint asserting violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various state-law claims. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) The Court initially administratively terminated this action, as McKinney's Complaint included no filing fee or application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 3 & 4.) McKinney thereafter submitted a proper in forma pauperis application, and the action was reopened. (ECF Nos. 9 & 12.) Also before the Court is a motion by McKinney for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. (ECF No. 10.)


         The Court must now review the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. McKinney's claims in this action revolve around the installation of a hernia mesh in his abdomen, which McKinney alleges has caused him to suffer great pain and discomfort, as well as various other side effects. (See ECF No. 1.) In short, McKinney alleges that defendant Dr. Rajiv Shah, who apparently implanted the hernia mesh, violated his constitutional rights by not properly explaining the risks and potential side effects before performing the procedure. (Id. ¶ 4(b).) McKinney alleges that various hospital administrators, as well as an anesthesiologist and the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, in both their official and individual capacities, should also bear liability for this failure to properly warn him of the potential side effects of the hernia mesh. (Id. at ECF pp. 4-5, 8-10.) Additionally, McKinney alleges a claim for products liability against defendants Bard Davol Inc. and C.R. Bard (collectively, “Bard”), the manufacturer of the specific hernia mesh he received. (Id. at ECF pp. 2, 5, 6, 11-12.) McKinney alleges that all acts relevant to these claims occurred on July 17, 2014, the date the hernia mesh was implanted. (Id. at ECF pp. 8-12.) Finally, McKinney alleges that he made repeated complaints to defendant nurse manager Mary Lang regarding the side effects of the hernia mesh, but that “she turned a blind eye” to his condition. (Id. at ECF p. 10.)

         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 prisoner complaints when the prisoner (1) is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), (2) seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or (3) asserts a claim concerning prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss claims that are frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

         “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); see also Mitchell v. Beard, 492 Fed.Appx. 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 42 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). 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.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and 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, 520 (1972); Glunk v. Noone, 689 Fed.Appx. 137, 139 (3d Cir. 2017). 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).

         Here, the Court first assesses the timeliness of McKinney's claims. Causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are subject to the same two-year statute of limitations as claims for other personal injuries under New Jersey state law. See Patyrak v. Apgar, 511 Fed.Appx. 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Dique v. N.J. State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010)); Evans v. Gloucester Twp., 124 F.Supp.3d 340, 349 (D.N.J. 2015) (citing Pittman v. Metuchen Police Dep't, 441 Fed.Appx. 826, 828 (3d Cir. 2011)). Claims under New Jersey's products liability statute are also subject to this two-year statute of limitations. Dziewiecki v. Bakula, 853 A.2d 234, 237 (N.J. 2004); see also Hudson v. Siemens Logistics & Assembly Sys., 353 Fed.Appx. 717, 723 (3d Cir. 2009).

         Nearly all of McKinney's § 1983 claims appear to be untimely from the face of the Complaint.[1] He identifies as the relevant date of each defendants acts July 17, 2014, apparently the date the hernia mesh was installed. (See ECF No. 1.) He further states, “I have had severe complications to date since the product was implanted in me.” (Id. at ECF p. 11.) Thus, the two-year limitations period for his claims related to these circumstances ended on July 17, 2016. The Complaint was received by the Clerk's Office nearly a year and a half after that, on January 9, 2018, though it included a cover letter dated December 29, 2017. (See ECF Nos. 1 & 1-1.) The Court will give McKinney the benefit of the doubt, as appropriate for a pro se litigant, and assume, under the “mailbox rule, ” see Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270-71 (1988), that he may have given it to prison staff for filing as early as its indicated date, December 29, 2017. Nonetheless, the vast majority of claims are still facially untimely.

         In his cover letter, however, McKinney asserts that he originally sent his Complaint on July 11, 2016. (See ECF No. 1-1, at 2.) It reads,

On 07-11-16 I sent this enclosed complaint in good faith and gave it to the Regular second shift officer on 2C. I handed it to the officer with a New Jersey State Prison postage remit. I believe I fully filled the prisoner's mailbox rule that says my legal mail is filed once I hand it to the officer. I have never heard from the court in Newark, at 50 Walnut Street in regards to this matter. I made copies today from a copy I had laying around. Maybe the papers got missed place [sic] in the court, or this jail never sent it out. I am now sending it to your Court here in Trenton. The District court in Trenton knows about the severe problems I had with my legal mail here at this prison: See McKinney v. George Robinson, before the Hon. Judge Freda Wolfson, and the Magastrate [sic] Judge Douglas Arpert. I did not contact the court in Newark because I thought everything was under control. I thought because im citing some product liability that maybe it took longer or something. Please see that this get filed at your earliest [sic]. I have enclosed a copy of the 07-11-16 proof that I send it by postage remit. I certify the forgoing [sic] by me is true, and if found to be false im subject to criminal/civil penalties.

(Id.) McKinney included a copy of an NJSP Postage Remit form which indicates a date of July 11, 2016 for legal mail sent to this district's Newark courthouse. (Id. at 1.)

         McKinney's claim that he originally gave his complaint to prison staff for filing on July 11, 2016 but that it may have been lost by prison staff or by the Court potentially implicates two distinct legal doctrines: the prison mailbox rule and the doctrine of equitable tolling. In Houstonv. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, the Supreme Court created the prison mailbox rule, designed for pro se prisoners, whereby a court filing will be deemed filed not when stamped received by the Clerk's office, but instead “at the time [the prisoner] delivered it to the prison authorities for forwarding to the court clerk.” Id. at 275-76. In creating this rule, the Supreme Court noted that the pro se prisoner has no choice but to rely on the prison mail system in order to file documents with the court; such a litigant has no ability to deliver the document in person or to quickly confirm with the Clerk's Office that the document has been timely received. See Id. The rule is typically employed in cases where the pro se prisoner placed a document in the prison mail system a few days before the relevant deadline and the document was not received by the Court until a few days after the deadline. See, e.g., Houston, 487 U.S. at 268-69; ...

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