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Wilcox v. Martinez

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 20, 2019

SGT. J. MARTINEZ, Defendant.




         Plaintiff pro se, Raheem Wilcox, commenced this action by filing a civil-rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on April 16, 2018. (DE 1.) The action was initially administratively terminated, as the complaint included a defective application to proceed in forma pauperis. (DE 3, 4.) Mr. Wilcox subsequently submitted a proper in forma pauperis application, and the matter was reopened. (DE 5, 6, 8.) The Court now undertakes an initial screening of the complaint and a proposed amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.


         Mr. Wilcox is presently incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison, in Rahway, New Jersey, where he seems to have served as a barber for his wing of the prison. Mr. Wilcox explains that, in January 2018, defendant, Sgt. J. Martinez, accused him of failing to properly clean and maintain his barber tools, particularly clipper guards. (DE 1 ¶ 6.) Mr. Wilcox alleges that, the following day, he was informed that he was fired as the wing barber because he had failed to keep the clipper guards clean. (Id.) Mr. Wilcox contends that the poor condition of the clipper guards was not his fault, but instead resulted from a failure by Sgt. Martinez to ensure provision of sufficient Barbicide disinfectant. (Id.) Mr. Wilcox asserts that Sgt. Martinez failed to provide a refill of Barbicide or provide gloves, and ultimately fired him, in retaliation for his having previously filed a grievance seeking a pay raise for wing barbers. (Id.) Wilcox states that he also filed a grievance concerning his firing and that, in response, non-party Major Jones told him to reapply for the position, though it had already been filled. (Id.) Mr. Wilcox also alleges that, because he was deprived of gloves to use while cleaning his barber tools, he developed a skin lesion on his hand. (Id.)

         Mr. Wilcox asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law against Sgt. Martinez in both his individual and official capacities. (DE 1 ¶¶ 1-2.) He contends he was subjected to unsafe working conditions in violation of the Eighth Amendment and that his firing was retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. (DE 1 ¶ 2(b).) Mr. Wilcox further claims that he was subjected to discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id.) Mr. Wilcox seeks a declaration that his constitutional rights were violated, an injunction against further retaliation, and compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Mr. Wilcox recently filed a proposed amended complaint. (DE 9.) The allegations against Sgt. Martinez appear to be substantively identical to those in the original pleading, but Mr. Wilcox additionally asserts a claim for supervisory liability against Assistant Superintendent Calvin Spires. (Id.) Mr. Wilcox alleges that Spires "learned of Martinez['s] illegal actions, and/or failed to correct defendant Martinez['s] misconduct that violated Wilcox['s] rights." (Id. ¶ 4c.)


         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 pauper is, 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 Raines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Glunkv. 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).

         A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his constitutional rights. That section provides,

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v. Plains Twp. Police Dep't,635 ...

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