Edwards v. Bayside State Prison

Decision Date09 December 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 13-0833(NLH)
PartiesMR. RENE D. EDWARDS, Plaintiff, v. BAYSIDE STATE PRISON, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

APPEARANCES:

Rene D. Edwards

Southern State Correctional Facility

4295 Route 47

Delmont, NJ 08314

Plaintiff prose

HILLMAN, District Judge

Plaintiff Rene D. Edwards, a prisoner confined at Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights.1

At this time, the Court must review the Complaint 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions).

I. BACKGROUND

The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint [1] and proposed Amended Complaint [11],2 as supplemented by various attachments, and are accepted as true only for purposes of this review. On or about July 20, 2011, Plaintiff was transferred for medical reasons from an upper tier cell to a bottom tier, bottom bunk cell. During the move, some undescribed property disappeared from Plaintiff's cell. Plaintiff contends that Correctional Officer A. Madden allowed Plaintiff's property to be given to other inmates on the unit.

Plaintiff also alleges that Sgt. H. Shelton was displeased about the move and expressed his disapproval by spitting in Plaintiff's face and calling him a racial epithet. Plaintiff alleges that he filed an administrative complaint about Sgt. Shelton and, for that reason, prison officials retaliated by failing to resolve his claim for lost property. More specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Chief Bass and Major Redman were assigned to investigate his claim, but failed to do so in order to protect the illegal actions of co-workers. Plaintiff further asserts that Captain Varrell was grossly negligent in supervising his employees who committed the allegedly wrongful acts described above.

Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Asst. Superintendent Suzanne Lawrence should have ordered relief, but instead, "out of spite," gave Plaintiff's property, or allowed it to be given, to another inmate.

Plaintiff's attachments include a memorandum from the State of New Jersey Office of the Corrections Ombudsman, dated August 30, 2012, advising Plaintiff that he appears to have followed the appropriate administrative claim procedures regarding his lost property, that the Office of the Corrections Ombudsman has referred Plaintiff's concerns on several occasions to the administration of Bayside State Prison and has not received a response, and that Plaintiff's next recourse is to take thematter to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. (Document No. 11, Amended Complaint, Attachment, Page ID 134.)

In addition to the individuals named above, Plaintiff names as Defendants Bayside State Prison, Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan, Administrator John Powell, Nurse N. Gottwald, and "All Un-Named John Does, C/O's & Sgt. Lt. of Second Shift 1-to-20, I/J/S/A, ABC Entities." Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $10, 000, 000.00.3

II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

Every complaint must comply with the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted).

While a complaint ... does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's 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 ... . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... .

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted).

That is, a complaint must assert "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The determination of whether the factual allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief is "'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). Thus, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted).

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to accept its factual allegations as true, see James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 679 (3d Cir.2012), and to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992).

In general, where a complaint subject to statutory screening can be remedied by amendment, a district court should not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, but should permit the amendment. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992); Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002) (noting that leave to amend should be granted "in the absence of undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, unfair prejudice, or futility of amendment"), cited in Thomaston v. Meyer, 519 F. App'x 118, 120 n.2 (3d Cir. 2013); Urrutia v. Harrisburg County Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 453 (3d Cir. 1996).

III. SECTION 1983 ACTIONS

A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory ... 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 ... .

Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by theConstitution 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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

IV. ANALYSIS
A. Vicarious Liability

Local government units and supervisors are not liable under § 1983 solely on a theory of respondeat superior. See City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 n.8 (1985); Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91, 694 (1978) (municipal liability attaches only "when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury" complained of); Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 583-84 (3d Cir. 2003). "A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs, liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior. Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). Accord Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286, 1293-96 (3d Cir. 1997); Baker v. Monroe Twp., 50 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995).

Plaintiff makes no factual allegations against Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan and Administrator John Powell. Instead, it appears that Plaintiff is basing his claims against these Defendants on an untenable theory of vicarious liability. Accordingly, these claims will be dismissed.

B. Bayside State Prison

Plaintiff has named Bayside State Prison as a Defendant in this action. The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that, "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State."

As a general proposition, a suit by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in a state treasury is barred from federal court by the Eleventh Amendment, unless Eleventh Amendment immunity is waived by the state itself or by federal statute. See, e.g., Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974). The Eleventh Amendment protects states and their agencies and departments from suit in federal court regardless of the type of relief sought. Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). Section 1983 does not override a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332 (1979). Seealso Hurst v. City of Rehoboth Beach, 288 F.App'x 20, 24-25 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Edelman, Pennhurst, and Quern).

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