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Williams v. Bonds

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 8, 2019

WILLIE BONDS, et al., Defendants.





         Before the Court is Plaintiff Damon Williams' (“Plaintiff”), submission of a civil rights complaint. [Docket Entry 1]. Plaintiff has also moved for the appointment of pro bono counsel. [Docket Entry 2]. At this time, the Court must review the complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 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 such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the complaint will proceed in part. The motion for the appointment of counsel is denied without prejudice.


         The following factual allegations are taken from the complaint and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the truth of Plaintiff's allegations.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was standing in the South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”) “mess line” at lunch time on July 22, 2018. [Complaint ¶ 9]. As Plaintiff approached the window to receive his meal, Sgt. Miletta approached Plaintiff and ordered him out of the line. [Id. ¶ 10]. Following Sgt. Miletta's instructions, Plaintiff exited the line and placed the tuna packets that had been in his pockets on the ground. [Id. ¶ 11]. Plaintiff states Sgt. Miletta told him “‘Since you so stupid go lock-in.'” [Id. ¶ 12]. Plaintiff asked if he could eat first but Sgt. Miletta told him to get on the ground and to place his hands on his head. [Id. ¶ 13]. Plaintiff complied and was escorted to a holding cell. [Id. ¶¶ 14-15]. Sgt. Miletta took Plaintiff's wristwatch and instructed Officer John Doe to take Plaintiff's socks. [Id. ¶ 16].

         Plaintiff was later taken to the Emergency Care Unit (“ECU”) as he uses a C-PAP machine to treat his sleep apnea. [Id. ¶ 17]. The officers did not allow Plaintiff to put on socks or shoes before taking him to the ECU, forcing him to walk barefoot through rain puddles to get to the ECU. [Id. ¶¶ 18-19]. Upon arrival at the ECU, Officer Doe told Plaintiff to get on his knees and strip. [Id. ¶ 20]. While Plaintiff was disrobing, Officer Doe grabbed the back of Plaintiff's neck. [Id. ¶ 21].

         Plaintiff was served with disciplinary charges the next day for refusing a housing assignment, prohibited act .254; and conduct which disrupts, prohibited act *.306.[1] [Id. ¶ 27]. See also N.J.A.C. §§ 10A:4-4.1(a)(3)(ix), (a)(2)(xxix). He asked that the video footage be presented and that the inmates from the mess line be called as witnesses. [Complaint ¶ 28]. He also asked to speak with the Special Investigation Division (“SID”). [Id. ¶ 30]. On July 24, 2018, Plaintiff spoke with a mental health counselor and asked if she could get SID to interview Plaintiff. [Id. ¶ 32]. According to the complaint, the counselor advised Plaintiff that she could only call SID if Plaintiff made a complaint under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”). [Id. ¶ 32]. Plaintiff told the counselor about the events of July 22. [Id. ¶ 33].

         Some time later, Officer Doe came to Plaintiff's cell and asked him “what shift did the PREA complaint accrue.” [Id. ¶ 34]. Plaintiff denied making a PREA complaint and “Doe told the plaintiff to tell [the mental health counselor] what [Plaintiff] told him.” [Id. ¶ 35]. Plaintiff spoke with the counselor again and told her he was not making a PREA complaint but wanted to see SID about alleged excessive force. [Id. ¶ 36].

         Plaintiff was taken to an interview room by SID Investigators Schwartz and Tobolski. [Id. ¶ 39]. The officers asked Plaintiff about his PREA complaint, and Plaintiff again denied he wanted to make a PREA complaint. [Id. ¶¶ 39-40]. Plaintiff tried to tell them about the strip search and the use of force, but Investigator Schwartz said they'd “‘get to that after the PREA complaint.'” [Id. ¶ 40]. Plaintiff gave a statement denying that he'd ever stated that he had ever alleged a PREA violation or wanted to discuss PREA with anyone. [Id. ¶ 41]. Investigators Schwartz and Tobolski would not let Plaintiff discuss his original complaint and told him to file it on the grievance kiosk. [Id. ¶ 42]. Plaintiff was charged with committing prohibited act *.704 (perpetrating frauds, deceptions, confidence games, riots, or escape plots) [Id. ¶ 45]. See also N.J.A.C. § 10A:4-4.1(a)(2)(xxxiv).

         Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing for the .254 and *.306 charges took place on July 25, 2018. [Complaint ¶ 46]. According to the complaint, Hearing Officer Zimmerman did not provide the video footage or interview the inmates who were present in the mess line with Plaintiff. [Id. ¶ 47]. The hearing officer did not find Plaintiff guilty of conduct that disrupts, prohibited act *.306, but did find him guilty of refusing a housing assignment, prohibited act .254. [Id.]. Plaintiff's hearing on the *.706 charge took place on July 27, 2018. [Id. ¶ 50]. He produced a grievance he wrote to SID as evidence. [Id.]. Plaintiff alleges Hearing Officer Zimmerman never provided him with a written statement of her findings and the disciplinary action taken for either case. [Id. ¶¶ 48, 51]. Plaintiff appealed to SWSP Assistant Superintendent Kippie Langford. [Id. ¶¶ 49, 55]. The appeals were denied on July 30, 2018. [Id. ¶ 56]. While his appeals were pending, Plaintiff was transferred to administrative segregation at New Jersey State Prison (“NJSP”). [Id. ¶ 54]. He alleges he has failed to receive any of his property from SWSP besides the “overnight bag” he took to NJSP. [Id. ¶ 59].

         Plaintiff alleges that his C-PAP machine has not been functioning properly since his arrival at NJSP. [Id. ¶ 64]. He claims it is too hot in his administrative segregation cell for the machine to properly function. [Id. ¶¶ 62-64]. He has submitted multiple requests for assistance, but he has not received any response from the NJSP medical department. [Id. ¶ 68].

         Plaintiff raises claims of cruel and unusual punishment, assault and battery, denial of due process, failure to investigate, denial of medical care, and failure to discipline.


         A. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal

         Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis.

         In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)); see also United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, [2] the complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation 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.” Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, “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) (citation omitted) (emphasis added).

         B. ...

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