United States District Court, D. New Jersey
EMMETT F. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, THE OFFICE OF THE CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR, and THE OFFICE OF THE CAMDEN COUNTY PUBLIC DEFENDER, Defendants.
F. TAYLOR Appearing pro se
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
2, 2018, Plaintiff, Emmett F. Taylor, appearing pro se and in
forma pauperis,  filed a complaint against Defendants, the
State of New Jersey, the Office of the Camden County
Prosecutor, and the Office of the Camden County Public
Defender. After screening the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915,  the Court construed the claim as one made
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a civil rights
claim against state and county defendants for violations of
the federal constitution. The Court's September 11, 2018
Memorandum Opinion and Order found that Plaintiff's
complaint was deficient, however, because the State of New
Jersey, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, and the
Camden County Public Defender's Office are not
“persons” who can act under color of state law
under § 1983 and are not therefore proper defendants in
federal court in a case alleging violations of the federal
Court also scrutinized the complaint for any other cognizable
claims and noted that while it contained an assertion of
“gross negligence, ” Plaintiff failed to set
forth the basis for the Court's jurisdiction over such a
claim against the named defendants. (Docket No. 2.)
Court provided Plaintiff with twenty days to amend his
complaint to properly cure the deficiencies, but ordered that
if Plaintiff failed to do so, the case would be dismissed for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). On October 9, 2018, the Court
dismissed Plaintiff's complaint because he had not filed
an amended complaint, which was due on October 1, 2018.
(Docket No. 3.)
October 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed a letter (Docket No. 4),
which the Court will construe as Plaintiff's request that
the Court reconsider the October 9, 2018 Order dismissing his
case. In Plaintiff's letter, Plaintiff asks
for this Court's guidance on how to properly allege
subject matter jurisdiction and how to assert viable claims.
Third Circuit has explained that pro se litigants are
afforded greater leeway in the interpretation of their
pleadings, and they must receive notice “when a court
acts on its own in a way that significantly alters a pro se
litigant's rights.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina,
Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013). There are limits
to the procedural flexibility, however. “For example,
pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their
complaints to support a claim. And they still must serve
process on the correct defendants. At the end of the day,
they cannot flout procedural rules - they must abide by the
same rules that apply to all other litigants.”
Id. (citations omitted).
“pro se litigants do not have a right to general legal
advice from judges.” Id. “[C]ourts need
not provide substantive legal advice to pro se
litigants” because federal courts must “treat pro
se litigants the same as any other litigant.”
the Court cannot provide the guidance that Plaintiff seeks,
other than to reiterate what the Court stated in the original
screening order. To state a valid federal civil rights claim
under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) the violation
of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States, and (2) the alleged deprivation was committed or
caused by a person acting under color of state law. West
v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v.
Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).
Defendants named in Plaintiff's complaint - the State of
New Jersey, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, and
the Camden County Public Defender's Officer - are not
“persons” who can act under color of state law.
This is true for the State of New Jersey. See Will v.
Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989)
(holding that neither a State nor its officials acting in
their official capacities are “persons” under
§ 1983). It is equally true for the Camden County
Prosecutor's Office. Henry v. Essex County
Prosecutor's Office, 2017 WL 1243146, at *3 (D.N.J.
2017) (citing Grohs v. Yatauro, 984 F.Supp.2d 273,
280 (D.N.J. 2013) (dismissing constitutional violation claims
against the county prosecutor's office because it is not
a person under § 1983); Nugent v. County of
Hunterdon, 2010 WL 1949359, at *1 (D.N.J. 2010)
(“[U]nder New Jersey law, a county prosecutor's
office does not have a separate legal existence apart from
the individual prosecutors or the governmental entity that
the prosecutors serve. Therefore, New Jersey courts have
consistently held that a county prosecutor's office is
not a suable entity under § 1983.”). And it is
also true for the Camden County Public Defender's Office.
Johnson v. Bilotta, 2018 WL 534157, at *3 (D.N.J.
2018) (“It is well established that the Office of the
Public Defender is not amenable to a § 1983 action as it
is not a person within the meaning of § 1983.”
(internal quotations and citations omitted)).
directly, the Court has endeavored to explain to Plaintiff -
not that he has no claim - but that he has failed to name
proper defendants; that is, he has attempted to sue not
individuals but offices or entities who may not be sued in
federal court for the claims asserted in his complaint as
fairly construed. To assert a violation of his federal
constitutional rights, Plaintiff must sue one or more proper
defendants. Consequently, as the Court previously found,
Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against these particular
Defendants fail as a matter of law. (See Docket No.
3.) As Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis and as the
Court previously made clear, the Court is directed by statute
to dismiss claims that fail to state a claim by omitting an
essential element (here a “person” acting under
state law) or that assert claims against defendants who are
immune from such suits.
regard to Plaintiff's claims for gross negligence, the
Court is still unable to discern any basis for jurisdiction
over such a claim even assuming it to be
viable. In his letter to the Court, Plaintiff
states that he is currently residing with his daughter in
Virginia, and he lists Virginia as his address in the
“Parties” section in his complaint. However, and
importantly, Plaintiff asserts that he is only residing with
his daughter temporarily and not at “home” in
Camden because of unspecified security concerns. (Docket No.
4). In his complaint, Plaintiff clearly identifies the city
and state of his legal residence as Camden, New Jersey.
(Docket No. 1-2 at 5.) To the extent that the Court could
construe Plaintiff's complaint to assert subject matter
jurisdiction for his gross negligence claim under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a), it appears on the face of Plaintiff's
submissions to the Court that diversity of citizenship is
lacking. See McCann v. Newman Irrevocable Tr., 458
F.3d 281, 286 (3d Cir. 2006) (“Citizenship is
synonymous with domicile, and ‘the domicile of an
individual is his true, fixed and permanent home and place of
habitation. It is the place to which, whenever he is absent,
he has the intention of returning.'” (quoting
Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 454 (1973)));
Vanz, LLC v. Mattia & Assocs., No. 13-1392, 2016
WL 3148400, at *3 (D.N.J. May 17, 2016) (“The
citizenship of a natural person is determined by their
domicile, not their residence(s). That is because a natural
person may have many residences, but only one domicile.
Domicile is the location of a person's ‘true fixed
home . . . to which, whenever he is absent, he has the
intention of returning.'” (alterations in original)
(footnote omitted)). Since Plaintiff is a citizen of the same
state as the defendants, the Court lacks diversity
jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction on that basis.
To be clear, Plaintiff has not properly asserted diversity
jurisdiction at any time.
though Plaintiff did not timely respond to the screening
order by submitting an amended complaint, Plaintiff's
letter has expressed his desire to pursue claims he believes
are valid and he professes a lack of understanding concerning
his pleading obligations which the Court hopes will be
clarified by this Opinion. Generally, “plaintiffs who
file complaints subject to dismissal under [§ 1915]
should receive leave to amend unless amendment would be
inequitable or futile.” Grayson v. Mayview State
Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002). Although the
Court has already provided Plaintiff with one opportunity, it
is still possible, in light of the nature of Plaintiff's
factual assertions, that he may be able to amend his
Complaint to add individual defendants who are amenable to
suit or to add other cognizable claims.
the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion for
reconsideration and also grant further leave to amend in
order to allow Plaintiff one more opportunity to cure the
pleading deficiencies noted here and previously. See
id. Plaintiff will have thirty days from the date ...