POWELL v. CAMDEN COUNTY JAIL, No. 1:2016cv09314 - Document 3 (D.N.J. 2017)

Court Description: OPINION FILED. Signed by Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 10/6/17. (js)
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POWELL v. CAMDEN COUNTY JAIL Doc. 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY DEVON C. POWELL, HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE Plaintiff, v. CAMDEN COUNTY JAIL, Civil Action No. 16-cv-09314 (JBS-AMD) Defendant. OPINION APPEARANCES Devon C. Powell, Plaintiff Pro Se 91 Oak Street Lindenwold, NJ 08091 SIMANDLE, District Judge: 1. Plaintiff Devon C. Powell seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden County Jail (“CCJ”) for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Complaint, Docket Entry 1. 2. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) requires courts to review complaints prior to service in cases in which a plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. Courts must 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(e)(2)(B) because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. Dockets.Justia.com 3. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will: (1) dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against CCJ; and (2) dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii), except that claims relating to conditions of confinement arising prior to December 14, 2014, are dismissed with prejudice. Claims Against CCJ: Dismissed With Prejudice 4. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 19831 for alleged violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. In order to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983, a plaintiff must show: “(1) a person deprived him of a federal right; and (2) the person who deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law.” Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980)). 5. Generally, for purposes of actions under § 1983, “[t]he term ‘persons’ includes local and state officers acting under color of state law.” Carver v. Foerster, 102 F.3d 96, 99 1 Section 1983 provides: “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . 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 . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 2 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991)).2 To say that a person was “acting under color of state law” means that the defendant in a § 1983 action “exercised power [that the defendant] possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer [was] clothed with the authority of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988) (citation omitted). Generally, then, “a public employee acts under color of state law while acting in his official capacity or while exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law.” Id. at 50. 6. Because the Complaint has not sufficiently alleged that a “person” deprived Plaintiff of a federal right, the Complaint does not meet the standards necessary to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages from CCJ for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. The CCJ, however, is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983; therefore, the claims against it must be dismissed with prejudice. See Crawford v. McMillian, 660 F. App’x 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2016) (“[T]he prison is not an entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”) (citing Fischer v. 2 “Person” is not strictly limited to individuals who are state and local government employees, however. For example, municipalities and other local government units, such as counties, also are considered “persons” for purposes of § 1983. See Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). 3 Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3d Cir. 1973)); Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537, 538–39 (D.N.J. 1989) (correctional facility is not a “person” under § 1983). Given that the claims against the CCJ must be dismissed with prejudice, the claims may not proceed and Plaintiff may not name the CCJ as a defendant. 7. Plaintiff may be able to amend the Complaint to name a person or persons who were personally involved in the alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement, however. To that end, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint within 30 days of the date of this order. Conditions Of Confinement Claims: Dismissed Without Prejudice 8. Second, for the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii). 9. The present Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court’s review under § 1915. Even accepting the statements in Plaintiff’s Complaint as true for screening purposes only, there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer a constitutional violation has occurred. 4 10. To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim3, 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). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). 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). 3 “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).” Samuels v. Health Dep’t, No. 161289, 2017 WL 26884, slip op. at *2 (D.N.J. Jan. 3, 2017) (citing Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012)); Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F. App’x 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F. App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). 5 11. A complaint must plead sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court’s review under § 1915. 12. However, with respect to the alleged facts giving rise to Plaintiff’s claims, the present Complaint states: “was incarcerated with injuries from getting shot, where bullets were still lodge in my back and staples in my leg and stomach. The Jail had me sleeping on the floor with 2 other people in the cell. It was unsanitary with urine on floor. All toiletries were not available when needed. As I slept on the floor my roommates pooped and peed in the toilet next to where my head had to go. Everyone in the Camden County Jail was involved. It was overcrowded but the worked failed to care about the safety, privacy and health risk of me and the rest of the inmates.” Complaint § III(C). 13. Plaintiff states this occurred from October 31, 2008 to December 2008 and February 22, 2016 to May 2016. Id. § III(B) 14. Plaintiff states he “had injuries from street but Camden County Jail added to these injuries my making me sleep on the cot if available with a hernia in my stomach and bullets in my back.” Id. § IV. 15. With respect to requested relief, Plaintiff states he would like to “be compensated for my pain and suffering while incarcerated. I also would like something done that prevents the 6 unsafe and unhealthy housing accommodations the jail makes inmates suffer. Compensation I would like at least $125-150 per day, I had to ensure the pain.” Id. § V.4 16. Even construing the Complaint as seeking to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged prison overcrowding, any such purported claims must be dismissed because the Complaint does not set forth sufficient factual support for the Court to infer that a constitutional violation has occurred. 4 Given Plaintiff’s reference to the “jail needs to be straightened out” (Complaint § V), the Court advises Plaintiff that she is one of thousands of members of a certified class in a case on this Court's docket captioned Dittimus-Bey, et al. v. Taylor, et al., Civil Action No. 1:05-cv-0063-JBS, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The class plaintiffs are all persons confined at the Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”), as either pretrial detainees or convicted prisoners, at any time from January 6, 2005 until the present time. The Dittimus-Bey class of plaintiffs seeks injunctive and declaratory relief concerning allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the CCCF involving overcrowding. The Dittimus-Bey class action does not involve money damages for individuals. Various measures undertaken pursuant to the Court-approved Second and Third Consent Decrees have reduced the CCCF jail population to fewer prisoners than the intended design capacity for the jail, thereby greatly reducing or eliminating triple and quadruple bunking in two-person cells; these details are further explained in the Final Consent Decree, which would continue those requirements under Court supervision for two more years. This class action did not provide monetary compensation to the class members. The settlement did not bar any individual class member from seeking money damages in an individual case. 7 17. The mere fact that an individual is lodged temporarily in a cell with more persons than its intended design does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 348–50 (1981) (holding double-celling by itself did not violate Eighth Amendment); Carson v. Mulvihill, 488 F. App'x 554, 560 (3d Cir. 2012) (“[M]ere double-bunking does not constitute punishment, because there is no ‘one man, one cell principle lurking in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.’” (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 542 (1979))). More is needed to demonstrate that such crowded conditions, for a pretrial detainee, shocks the conscience and thus violates due process rights. See Hubbard v. Taylor, 538 F.3d 229, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (noting due process analysis requires courts to consider whether the totality of the conditions “cause[s] inmates to endure such genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time, that the adverse conditions become excessive in relation to the purposes assigned to them.”). Some relevant factors are the length of the confinement(s), whether plaintiff was a pretrial detainee or convicted prisoner, any specific individuals who were involved in creating or failing to remedy the conditions of confinement, any other relevant facts regarding the conditions of confinement, etc. 8 18. Moreover, to the extent the complaint seeks relief for conditions Plaintiff encountered during periods of confinement ending prior to December 16, 2014, those claims are barred by the statute of limitations and must be dismissed with prejudice, meaning that Plaintiff cannot recover for those claims because they have been brought too late.5 Civil rights claims under § 1983 are governed by New Jersey's limitations period for personal injury and must be brought within two years of the claim’s accrual. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985); Dique v. N.J. State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010). “Under federal law, a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which the action is based.” Montanez v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corr., 773 F.3d 472, 480 (3d Cir. 2014). 19. Plaintiff alleges the events giving rise to his claims occurred in 2008 as well as 2016. Complaint § III. The allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement at CCJ, namely the overcrowding, would have been immediately apparent to Plaintiff at the time of his detention; therefore, the statute of limitations for Plaintiff’s claims arising from his October 31, 2008 to December 2008 incarceration expired in December 2010, 5 Plaintiff filed this complaint on December 16, 2016. 9 before this complaint was filed in December 2016. Plaintiff therefore cannot recover for these claims.6 Conditions Of Confinement Claim - Allegations Of Inadequate Medical Care: Dismissed Without Prejudice 20. Further, Plaintiff alleges that he suffered from a gunshot wound and was exposed to unsanitary conditions due to the overcrowding in the facility. It is unclear if this injury occurred during Plaintiff’s 2008 or 2016 incarceration. As discussed above, the 2008 incarceration is barred by the statute of limitations and Plaintiff cannot recover for that claim. 21. However, should Plaintiff have been alleging that this occurred during his 2016 incarceration, Plaintiff still does not allege sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court’s review under § 1915. 22. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) requires pleadings to contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction . . . 6 a Although the Court may toll, or extend, the statute of limitations in the interests of justice, certain circumstances must be present before it can do so. Tolling is not warranted in this case because the state has not “actively misled” Plaintiff as to the existence of his cause of action, there are no extraordinary circumstances that prevented Plaintiff from filing his claim, and there is nothing to indicate Plaintiff filed his claim on time but in the wrong forum. See Omar v. Blackman, 590 F. App’x 162, 166 (3d Cir. 2014). 10 short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and demand for the relief sought . . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1)-(3). While pro se complaints are construed liberally and are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers (Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)), pro se litigants nevertheless must still allege facts, taken as true, to suggest the required elements of the claims asserted. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008); McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993)(“[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel”). 23. Here, Plaintiff contends he sustained injuries from getting shot that appeared to worsen in the facility. Complaint §§ III, IV. 24. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to pretrial detainees’ claims of inadequate medical care. Bocchino v. City of Atlantic City, 179 F. Supp.3d 387, 403 (D.N.J. 2016). “[T]he Fourteenth Amendment in this context incorporates the protections of the Eighth Amendment” (Holder v. Merline, No. 05-1024, 2005 WL 1522130, at *3 (D.N.J. June 27, 2005) (citing Simmons v. City of Philadelphia, 947 F.2d 1042, 1067 (3d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 985 (1992)), and 11 most cases have stated that, at a minimum, the Eighth Amendment’s “deliberate indifference” standard will suffice. In other words, substantive due process rights are violated only when the behavior of the government official is so egregious and outrageous that it “shocks the conscience.” A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Detention Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 579 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 846-47 (1998)). 25. Applying this principle in the context of a claim for violation of the right to adequate medical care, a pretrial detainee must allege the following two elements to set forth a cognizable cause of action: (1) a serious medical need; and (2) behavior on the part of prison officials that constitutes deliberate indifference to that need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003). 26. To satisfy the first prong of the Estelle inquiry, an inmate must demonstrate that his medical needs are serious. The Third Circuit has defined a serious medical need as: (1) “one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment”; (2) “one that is so obvious that a lay person would recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention”; or (3) one for which “the denial of treatment would result in the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” or “a life-long handicap or permanent 12 loss.” Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 272-73 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). When evaluating this first element under Estelle, courts consider factors such as “the severity of the medical problems, the potential for harm if the medical care is denied or delayed and whether any such harm actually resulted from the lack of medical attention.” Maldonado v. Terhune, 28 F. Supp.2d 284, 289 (D.N.J. 1998). 27. The second element of the Estelle test is subjective and “requires an inmate to show that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical need.” Holder, 2005 WL 1522130, at *4 (citing Natale, 318 F.3d at 582) (finding deliberate indifference requires proof that the official knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety). Conduct that constitutes negligence does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference; rather, deliberate indifference is a “reckless disregard of a known risk of harm.” Holder, 2005 WL 1522130, at *4 (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 836 (1994)). Courts have found deliberate indifference “in situations where there was ‘objective evidence that [a] plaintiff had serious need for medical care,’ and prison officials ignored that evidence[,] Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 815 n. 14 (3d Cir. 2000) [and] in situations where ‘necessary medical treatment is delayed for non-medical reasons.’ Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 13 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987)[,] [cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1006 (1988)].” Natale, 318 F.3d at 582. 28. While the Court will accept as true for screening purposes that the gunshot injury was of a nature and extent that satisfied the “serious condition” prong of a Fourteenth Amendment claim (Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff’s Complaint sets forth no facts establishing that CCJ demonstrated “deliberate indifference” to these injuries during his incarceration (i.e., the second prong for a Fourteenth Amendment inadequate medical care claim). Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. This second Estelle element “requires an inmate to show that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical need.” Holder, 2005 WL 1522130, at *4 (citing Natale, 318 F.3d at 582) (finding deliberate indifference requires proof that the official knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety). 29. Conduct that constitutes negligence does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference; rather, deliberate indifference is a “reckless disregard of a known risk of harm.” Holder, 2005 WL 1522130, at *4 (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 836 (1994)). Courts have found deliberate indifference “in situations where there was ‘objective evidence that [a] plaintiff had serious need for medical care,’ and prison 14 officials ignored that evidence[.] Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 815 n.14 (3d Cir. 2000).” Natale, 318 F.3d at 582. 30. Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action under the Fourteenth Amendment for inadequate medical care of his gunshot injury while incarcerated at CCJ. These claims will be dismissed without prejudice, with leave to amend the Complaint to meet the pleading deficiencies noted above, if Plaintiff elects to pursue this claim with respect to deliberate indifference with respect to his injury. 31. Plaintiff may be able to amend the Complaint to particularly identify adverse conditions that were caused by specific state actors, that caused Plaintiff to endure genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time, and that were excessive in relation to their purposes. To that end, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.7 32. Plaintiff is further advised that any amended complaint must plead specific facts regarding the conditions of confinement. In the event Plaintiff files an amended complaint, Plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order to survive this Court’s review under § 1915. As discussed above, 7 The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to service. 15 if Plaintiff elects to file an amended complaint, it should be limited to confinements in which Plaintiff was released after December 16, 2014. 33. Plaintiff should note that when an amended complaint is filed, the original complaint no longer performs any function in the case and cannot be utilized to cure defects in the amended complaint, unless the relevant portion is specifically incorporated in the new complaint. 6 Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure 1476 (2d ed. 1990) (footnotes omitted). An amended complaint may adopt some or all of the allegations in the original complaint, but the identification of the particular allegations to be adopted must be clear and explicit. Id. To avoid confusion, the safer course is to file an amended complaint that is complete in itself. Id. The amended complaint may not adopt or repeat claims that have been dismissed with prejudice by the Court. 34. For the reasons stated above, the Complaint is: (a) dismissed with prejudice as to the CCJ; and (b) dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim, except that claims arising prior to December 16, 2014, are dismissed with prejudice. 16 35. An appropriate order follows. October 6, 2017 Date s/ Jerome B. Simandle JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge 17