United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court on Defendant County of
Somerset's ("Defendant") motion to dismiss the
Third Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 49). This case emanates
from the death of prisoner Jaquan Williams
("Williams"), who was incarcerated at Somerset
County Jail, after a physical altercation with another inmate
in his jail cell. Plaintiff Patricia Belin ("Plaintiff)
is the administratrix of Williams' estate. The Third
Amended Complaint sets forth five causes of action: (1)
failure to train (Count I); (2) failure to enforce policies
and procedures (Count II); (3) wrongful death (Counts III);
(4) violations of civil rights as protected under the New
Jersey Constitution (Counts IV); and (5) negligence (Count
V). (ECF No. 46). The Court has subject matter jurisdiction
over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
was a known gang member and had a litany of arrests and
detentions. (See Third Amended Complaint
("TAC") ¶¶ 6-30). On January 2, 2017,
Williams was detained at the Somerset County Jail in
connection with his failure to pay child support.
(Id. ¶ 5). On January 11, 2017 at approximately
6:30 p.m., Williams challenged fellow inmate, James Kyser, to
a fight, which took place in Williams' cell.
(Id. ¶¶ 36, 50, 70). Two unidentified
inmates witnessed the fight. One witness "observed Kyser
throwing [Williams] around in his cell, and could hear the
thud . .. of Williams' body hitting metal inside the
cell." (Id. ¶ 75). The altercation in
Williams' cell lasted approximately fifteen to twenty
minutes. (Id. ¶ 73). "Directly after the
fight," two Corrections Officers ("CO")
separately came into Williams' housing unit, or
"pod," and checked on Williams, but did not notice
anything wrong with him at those times. (Id. ¶
66). Shortly thereafter, an unidentified inmate called into
the control center via intercom indicating that
"something was wrong" with Williams. (Id.
¶ 37). At 7:06 p.m., or approximately sixteen to
twenty-one minutes after the altercation, a CO responded to
Williams' cell and called a "Code White" due to
Williams' shallow breathing and slow facial movements.
(Id. ¶ 38, Ex. A). Williams was then
transported to Robert Woods University Hospital. He arrived
at the hospital at 7:23 p.m. (Id. ¶ 40) and was
pronounced dead at 9:45 p.m. (Id. ¶ 46).
interposes her claims against the municipal Defendant,
only. The TAC cites and incorporates by
reference several "jail directives," or policies in
which Defendant's employees were purportedly obligated to
follow. (Id. ¶¶ 82-99; Ex. B-G). These
jail directives concern: (i) the job description, duties, and
responsibilities of Classification Supervisors, Control
Center 2 Operators, CC Operators, Roving Officers; as well as
(ii) guidelines and procedures for inmate classification.
(Id.). In addition, Plaintiff cites provisions of
N.J.A.C. § 10A:31, which, inter alia, governs
the standards of care owed to prison inmates under New Jersey
law. (See Id. ¶¶ 100-103). In particular,
Plaintiff references N.J.A.C. § 10A:31-14.2(a), which
provides: "Inmates shall be protected by adult county
correctional facility staff from personal abuse, corporal
punishment, personal injury, disease, property damage, and
harassment." Plaintiff also points to N.J.A.C. §
10A:31.12(b), which states: "The [prison] medical staff
shall assess the medical complaints of inmates and provide
for the treatment of inmates according to priorities of
Count I, Plaintiff contends that the series of events
transpiring on January 11, 2017 demonstrate Defendant's
failure to train COs in accordance with said jail directives
and as prescribed under the above-referenced provisions of
N.J.A.C. § 10A:31. (Id. ¶¶ 105-121).
Similarly, in Count II, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
failed to enforce same. (Id. ¶¶ 123-142).
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept as
true all allegations in the Third Amended Complaint and all
reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to
view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien &
Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). "To
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'"
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). While a court will accept well-pleaded allegations
as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept
bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted
inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of
factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79;
see also Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132
F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A complaint should be dismissed
only if the well-pleaded alleged facts, taken as true, fail
to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium, 214
F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the
claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or
her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not
whether that person will ultimately prevail. Semerenko v.
Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2001).
"The pleader is required to 'set forth sufficient
information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit
inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'"
Kost v. Kozakewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993)
(quoting 5A Wright & Miller, Fed. Practice &
Procedure: Civil 2d § 1357, at 340 (2d ed. 1990)).
"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a
plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of
his' entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
"Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level, ... on the assumption
that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if
doubtful in fact), . .. ." Id.
Failure to Train and Enforce Policies and Procedures
(Counts I, II)
Counts I and II, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant County of
Somerset failed to properly train and enforce certain
"policies, practices and customs necessary to protect
Somerset County Jail detainees' [i.e.,
Williams'] constitutional rights." (See
TCAC ¶ 105, 143). Plaintiff brings Counts I and II under
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a cause of action against
'every person who, under color of any statute of any
State subjects or causes to be subjected, any citizen to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws." Wyatt v. Cole,
504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992). "The purpose of § 1983 is
to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority
to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights
and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence
well established that "a local government may not be
sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its
employees or agents." Monell v. Dept. of Social
Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). In
other words, "a local government cannot be held liable
under § 1983 under a theory of respondeat
superior." Hammon v. Kennett Twp., 746 Fed.Appx.
146, 149 (3d Cir. 2018). Rather, "[p]laintiffs who seek
to impose liability on local governments under § 1983
must prove that [some] 'action pursuant to official
municipal policy' caused their injury." Connick
v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60-61 (2011) (citation
omitted). However, "[i]t is not enough for a § 1983
plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to
the municipality. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that,
through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the
'moving force' behind the injury alleged. That is, a
plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with
the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a
direct causal link between the municipal action and the
deprivation of federal rights." Vulcan Pioneers of
New Jersey v. City of Newark, No. CIV. A. 02-5802 SDW,
2008 WL 4224941, at *4 (D.N.J. Sept. 10, 2008),
aff'd, 374 Fed.Appx. 313 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting
Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty., Okl v. Brown,
520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)). District courts are required to
apply these "rigorous requirements of culpability and
causation" stringently. Id.; see also Connick,
563 U.S. at 61-62.
order to state a claim for failure to train under
Monell and its progeny (Count I), Plaintiff must
demonstrate that the "municipality's failure to
train its employees in a relevant respect. . . amount[s] to
[a] 'deliberate indifference to the rights of persons
with whom the [untrained employees] come into
contact.'" Connick, 563 U.S. at 61
(citation omitted). Decisional case law provides that
Plaintiff may successfully plead Defendant's
"deliberate indifference" by identifying
specific training deficiencies and either (1) a
pattern of constitutional violations of which policymaking
officials can be charged with knowledge, or (2) that training
is obviously necessary to avoid constitutional violations.
See, e.g., City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S.
378, 396-97 (1989); Gaymon v. Esposito, No. CIV.A.
11-4170 JLL, 2012 WL 1068750, at *7 (D.N.J. Mar. 29, 2012).
Moreover, Plaintiff must also demonstrate that the identified
deficiencies were the actual cause of Williams'
constitutional injuries. Id. at 391-392. In other
words, Plaintiff cannot prevail merely by alleging that COs
were inadequately trained, or that there was some negligent
administration of an otherwise adequate program, or that the
conduct resulting in the injury could have been avoided by
better training. See Id. (federal courts are
"ill suited to undertake" "in an endless
exercise of second-guessing ...