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Jones v. Paloni

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 7, 2019

RUBEN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN PALONI et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Freda L. Wolfson United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Ruben Jones (“Jones” or “Plaintiff”), is a state prisoner presently incarcerated at Northern State Prison, in Newark, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After granting Jones leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court previously dismissed his Complaint upon screening for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (ECF Nos. 3 & 4.) Jones subsequently submitted an Amended Complaint, and the Court now screens that pleading 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. For the following reasons, the Amended Complaint is again dismissed.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In the original Complaint, Jones alleged claims for inadequate medical treatment against defendants St. Francis Medical Center (“St. Francis”), Steven Paloni, M.D. (“Paloni”), Helmi Saud Do, M.D. (“Saud Do”), and Scott D. Miller, M.D. (“Miller”). (Compl., ECF No. 1.) He alleged that, after undergoing knee surgery involving Miller and Paloni in November 2006, he experienced “excruciating pain and swelling in his knee and ankle.” (Id. ¶¶ 12-20.) Jones recounted that he returned to St. Francis in December 2006, where Saud Do ordered an ultrasound scan of Jones's right leg and foot, which did not reveal any problems. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Jones alleged that he continued to suffer excruciating pain, and that, in February 2014, an x-ray taken at a podiatry clinic revealed a metal object in his right foot. (Id. ¶¶ 23-25.) He returned to St. Francis to have the object removed on June 6, 2014. (Id. ¶ 26.)

         The Court dismissed the Complaint upon an initial screening, finding that the claims were untimely and, in any case, that Jones had failed to allege facts showing that Defendants had acted with deliberate indifference. (ECF Nos. 3 & 4.) Specifically, I found that, even applying the discovery rule to toll accrual of the claim until February 2014, when Jones learned of the object in his foot, he still filed his Complaint over a year after the two-year limitations period had expired. (ECF No. 3 at 6.) I noted that Jones had not made any allegations in support of statutory or equitable tolling. (Id. at 6-8.) I additionally concluded that, even had the Complaint been timely filed, its factual allegations supported, at most, a finding of medical negligence, not deliberate indifference. (Id. at 8-10.)

         In dismissing the Complaint without prejudice, I granted Jones leave to file an Amended Complaint in an attempt to cure the identified deficiencies. (Id. at 10-11; ECF No. 4.) Jones thereafter filed an Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 7), and the Court now screens that pleading.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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, 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).

         “Although the running of the statute of limitations is ordinarily an affirmative defense, where that defense is obvious from the face of the complaint and no development of the record is necessary, a court may dismiss a time-barred complaint sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim.” Ostuni v. Wa Wa's Mart, 532 Fed.Appx. 110, 111- 12 (3d Cir. 2013); see also Hunterson v. Disabato, 244 Fed.Appx. 455, 457 (3d Cir. 2007) (“[A] district court may sua sponte dismiss a claim as time-barred under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) where it is apparent from the complaint that the applicable statute of limitations has run.”).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         An examination of the Amended Complaint reveals that Jones has failed to cure the defects that led to the dismissal of the original Complaint. With regards to timeliness, Jones now alleges that unidentified medical staff “did not inform Plaintiff that the metallic foreign body was the result of any medical error performed before and/or during his surgery” until it was removed on June 6, 2014. (ECF No. 7 ¶¶ 17-18.) Even if the discovery rule operated to toll the accrual of Jones's claim until that date, however, the applicable, two-year limitations period would ...


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