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Cunningham v. County of Bergen

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 14, 2019

MELODY CUNNINGHAM, Guardian Ad Litem for JAWARA MCINTOSH and MELODY CUNNINGHAM, Individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF BERGEN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Melody Cunningham, guardian ad litem, for Jawara McIntosh alleges that McIntosh's civil rights were violated when he was seriously injured during an assault while housed at the Bergen County Jail. Cunningham names as defendants Bergen County, the Bergen County Jail, Jail Warden Steven Ahrendt, Sheriff Michael Saudino, various officers, and inmate Kyrie Baum. This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Bergen County's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 23. For the reasons stated below, Bergen County's motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 21, 2017, while an inmate at the Bergen County Jail, Jawara McIntosh was allegedly seriously injured when he was assaulted by another inmate, Kyrie Baum. Compl. ¶¶ 24-25. Melody Cunningham, McIntosh's mother and guardian ad litem, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New Jersey law, against the County of Bergen, former Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, Jail Warden Steven Ahrendt, other sheriffs officers, and Kyrie Baum, Mr. McIntosh's alleged attacker. Id. at ¶¶ 1-23. Cunningham alleges that McIntosh's constitutional rights were violated as a result of various defendants' failure to train, supervise, monitor, and discipline corrections officers, provide adequate policies and protocols for the handling of inmate on inmate violence, and provide adequate medical assistance. Id. at ¶¶ 32-40.

         II. STANDRARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975). "A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is appropriate if, as a matter of law, it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant Bergen County moves to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint against it, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), because Bergen County had no supervision or control over the County Sheriff, Sheriffs officers, or Kyrie Baum. Def.'s Mot. 1. Bergen County argues that Bergen County and the Bergen County Sheriff are separate and distinct entities, that Bergen County lacks oversight over the Bergen County Jail, and that Bergen County does not control the Sheriff or other individual defendants. Id. at 6-13.

         A. Bergen County Does Not Have Oversight over the Bergen County Jail

         The County of Bergen and the Bergen County Sheriff are legally distinct entities. Compare N.J.S.A. 40:18-1 ("[t]he inhabitants of each of the several counties shall be a body politic and corporate ...") with New Jersey Const., Art. 7, § 2, ¶ 2 ("sheriffs shall be elected by the people of their respective counties at general elections"); Bergen Coty PBA Local 134 v. Donovan, 436 N.J. Super 187, 197 (App. Div. 2014).

         Bergen County does not operate the Bergen County jail and the County is not a custodian of prisoners there-the Sheriff is. "[T]he sheriff of every county shall have the care, custody and control of the county jail or jails and all prisoners therein, and shall be responsible for the conduct of any keeper appointed by him." N.J.S.A. § 30:8-17. The Sheriff, not the County, selects the jail's warden and sheriffs' officers. See N.J.S.A. §§ 30:8-17.1, 40A:9-117.

         Cunningham argues that N.J.S.A. § 30:8-16.8 vests "ultimate authority over the jail" with the County and contends that "[t]he County controls the jails and the Sheriff operates them as agents of the County." Pl.'s Resp. 8-9. Section 30:8-16.8 states:

Subject to the requirements of centralized administration and control of county correctional services under subsection b. (4) of section 5, and the provisions of agreements between cooperating counties permitted pursuant to subsection b. of section 4, the governing body of a participating county shall retain all authority for the expenditure of funds, including grants of financial assistance received from the State under this act, and for the implementation ...

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