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Jones v. McKoy

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 26, 2019

RONALD JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
B. MCKOY et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff pro se, Ronald Jones, commenced this action on December 23, 2013, by filing a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ("Cplt", DE 1) The action was initially administratively terminated, as the complaint included a defective application to proceed in forma pauperis. (DE 2.) Mr. Jones subsequently filed a proper in for ma pauperis application, and the action was reopened. (DE 3, 5.) Thereafter, the action was again administratively terminated because Mr. Jones failed to update his address with the Court in compliance with Local Civil Rule 10.1 and could not be contacted. (DE 6, 7.) Thereafter, Mr. Jones provided the Court with an updated address. (DE 8.) The Court now reopens this action and undertakes a screening of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons explained herein, the action is dismissed in part but will be permitted to proceed in part.

         II. THE COMPLAINT

         The bulk of Mr. Jones's 342-paragraph complaint is a recitation of his interactions with officials of Northern State Prison ("NSP") between August 2008 and his ultimate release from prison on September 28, 2012. From this intricate chronology of events, I extract six distinct types of wrongs that Mr. Jones alleges he suffered: (1) erroneous withholding of portions of Mr. Jones's wages and work credits for his prison job; (2) improper extensions of Mr. Jones's release date; (3) assignments to top bunks and upper prison tiers despite a medical directive that he be assigned a bottom bunk in a ground-level cell; (4) denial of adequate access to the prison law library; (5) transfers to undesirable prison units; and (6) unjustified searches of his cell. (See Cplt. ¶¶ 23-323.) Mr. Jones also raises a number of allegations surrounding discipline that he was subjected to in August-September 2011, including claims that he was falsely accused and convicted of threatening a corrections officer; moved to another cell pending charges, during which time he was deprived for two weeks of his eyeglasses, toothbrush, and toothpaste; tahtboth his hearing and the resulting decision were delayed beyond permissible timelines; and that some of his personal belongings went missing while his charges were pending.[1] (See Cplt. ¶¶ 101-208.)

         Mr. Jones asserts against the defendants, who are all corrections officers or prison administrators, claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of due process, violation of his equal-protection rights, cruel and unusual punishment, inadequate medical treatment, retaliation, false imprisonment, denial of access to the courts, and conspiracy.[2] (Cplt. ¶¶ 324-39.) He seeks a declaratory judgment that his rights were violated, injunctive relief against the defendants barring further harassment or retaliation, and compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. ¶¶ 340.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         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 is proceeding in forma pauper is. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). 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).

         "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). 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 Raines 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).

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

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 Dep7, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011); see also West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48(1988).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         a. Timeliness

         I first assess the timeliness of Mr. Jones's Complaint. "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). 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 Pitiman v. Metuchen Police Dep 't, 441 Fed.Appx. 826, 828 (3d Cir. 2011)). The accrual of a cause of action is a matter of federal law and generally coincides with the time that the plaintiff suffers injury. See Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634-35 (3d Cir. 2009).

         Mr. Jones filed his complaint with the court on December 23, 2013.[3] (DE 1) Thus, any claims that accrued prior to December 23, 2011 are facially untimely. I will consider, however, whether the limitations period may have been suspended or tolled. '"State law, unless inconsistent with federal law, also governs the concomitant issue of whether a limitations period should be tolled."' McPherson v. United States, 392 Fed.Appx. 938, 944 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Dique, 603 F.3d at 185). Statutory tolling under New Jersey law must be based on a specifically identified basis. See, e.g., N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:14-21 (minority or insanity); N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A: 14-22 (non-residency of persons liable). Nothing in the complaint, however, supports any statutory basis for tolling.

         Equitable tolling under New Jersey law may arise "where 'the complainant has been induced or tricked by his adversary's misconduct into allowing the deadline to pass,' or where a plaintiff has 'in some extraordinary way' been prevented from asserting his rights, or where a plaintiff has timely asserted his rights mistakenly by either defective pleading or in the wrong forum." Cason v. Arie St. Police Dep't, No. 10-497, 2010 WL 2674399, at *5 n.4 (D.N.J. June 29, 2010) (quoting Freeman v. State, 347 N.J.Super. 11, 31 (Super. Ct. App. Div. 2002)). Again, the complaint does not articulate any basis for equitable tolling. Accordingly, I will dismiss as untimely all claims that accrued before December 23, 2011. This includes all of Mr. Jones's claims concerning the disciplinary charge against him and his related punitive confinement in August and September 2011.

         b. Cruel and Unusual Punishment and Inadequate Medical Treatment

         An Eighth Amendment claim under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause includes both a subjective and an objective component: (1) that the defendant prison official acted with a culpable state of mind and (2) that the conduct in question was sufficiently harmful to become a constitutional violation. See Ricks v. Shover,891 F.3d 468, 473 (3d Cir. 2018). Cruel and Unusual Punishment claims may be divided into those alleging excessive force and those concerning the conditions of confinement. See Hudson v. McMillian,503 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1992). AS to the latter, the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to "provide humane conditions of confinement," but it "'does not mandate comfortable prisons.'" Farmer v. Brennan,511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman,452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)). "[E]xtreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim. Because routine discomfort is a part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society, only those ...


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