LANE v. ARTIS et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 4/28/2015. (drw)n.m.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
RICHARD F. LANE,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 12-7204 (JBS-JS)
WARDEN MR. ARTIS, et al.,
RICHARD F. LANE, Plaintiff Pro Se
Northern State Prison
168 Frontage Road
Newark, New Jersey 07114
MICHELLE L. COREA, ESQ.
CAPEHART AND SCATCHARD, P.A.
8000 Midlantic Dr., Suite 300
Mt. Laurel, New Jersey 08054
Attorney for Defendants
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Warden
Artis’ and Captain Larkins’ (“Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Docket Entry 10). Pro se
Plaintiff Richard F. Lane (“Plaintiff”) filed an opposition to
Defendant’s motion. (Docket Entry 13). This motion is being
considered on the papers pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For
the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion shall be granted
as Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can
A. Procedural History
On November 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed this complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging his constitutional right
to vote under the First Amendment was violated by Defendants.
(Docket Entry 1). This Court granted Plaintiff’s application to
proceed in forma pauperis and ordered the Clerk of the Court to
issue summonses. (Docket Entry 4).
Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss the
Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on September 26,
2014. (Docket Entry 10), and Plaintiff filed an opposition to
Defendant’s motion. (Docket Entry 13). Defendants filed a
response on December 3, 2014. (Docket Entry 14).
B. Factual Background
Allegations in the Pleadings
Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee in the Burlington County
Detention Center during the first week of October 2012, at which
time he asked a social worker how to participate in the
presidential election. (Docket Entry 1 at 5). She informed
Plaintiff he needed to register to vote first and gave him a
registration form. (Docket Entry 1 at 5). Plaintiff completed
the form and gave it to an officer for delivery to the social
worker’s office. (Docket Entry 1 at 5). A different officer
assured Plaintiff that absentee forms would be provided for
those detainees eligible to vote. (Docket Entry 1 at 5).
Plaintiff never received an absentee form.
Plaintiff filed suit against Artis and Larkins, asserting
that as they are responsible for the running of the facility,
they are responsible for the failure to provide him an
application for an absentee ballot. (Docket Entry 1 at 6).
Plaintiff did not name the social worker or the other officers
as defendants. He did not pursue any administrative remedy as
“the damage [was] done” and “[i]t is too late to cast my
ballot.” (Docket Entry 1 at 5).
Defendants’ Statement of Facts
Defendants argue Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted as he has not alleged any personal
involvement by Artis or Larkin. They assert that under § 1983,
Plaintiff cannot rely solely upon the doctrine of respondeat
superior for liability. (Docket Entry 10-1 at 3).
Defendants also assert that Plaintiff was ineligible to
vote at the time of the election as Plaintiff was serving a
felony sentence at the time of the election. (Docket Entry 10-1
at 4); see also N.J. STAT. ANN. § 19:4-1(8) (West, WestlawNext
through L. 2015, c. 32)(“No person shall have the right of
suffrage . . . Who is serving a sentence or is on parole or
probation as the result of a conviction of any indictable
offense under the laws of this or another state or of the United
States.”). They posit that as Plaintiff was sentenced on
December 20, 2012 and given 559 days of jail credit, his
sentence actually began on June 10, 2011. (Docket Entry 10-1 at
4-5). They state the complaint should therefore be dismissed.
In his opposition, Plaintiff argues Defendants’ assertions
regarding the backdating of his conviction are specious and
ignores the plain language of the state statute. (Docket Entry
13 at 2). As such, he argues he was not legally disqualified
from voting in the 2012 presidential election. (Docket Entry 13
Plaintiff also argued that his claim is proper under the
New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“NJTCA”), N.J. STAT. ANN. § 59:1-1 et
seq. (West, WestlawNext through L. 2015, c. 32). (Docket Entry
13 at 3). Additionally, Plaintiff asserted that he has raised a
claim of municipal liability under Monell v. New York City Dep't
of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). (Docket Entry 13 at 3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains
“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) (quotation omitted). Although a court must
accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint, that
tenet is “inapplicable to legal conclusions,” and “[a] pleading
that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of
the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (quotation
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). However
“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).
The sole named Defendants are Warden Artis and Captain
Larkin. Plaintiff’s complaint is devoid of any factual content
that would permit this Court to conclude the named Defendants
are personally liable for any injury to Plaintiff. “Government
officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional
conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat
superior.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. State actors are liable only
for their own unconstitutional conduct. Bistrian v. Levi, 696
F.3d 352, 366 (3d Cir. 2012). In spite of Plaintiff’s assertions
in his opposition papers, nothing in the complaint states he
filed grievances to Warden Artis regarding the denial of the
absentee form. In fact, he specifically averred in his complaint
that he had not pursued administrative remedies. (Compare Docket
Entry 13 at 4, with Docket Entry 1 at 5-6). Aside from a
conclusory statement of liability, Captain Larkin is not
mentioned at all in the complaint’s Statement of Claim, (Docket
Entry 1 at 6), nor does Plaintiff explain in his opposition
papers the basis of Captain Larkin’s individual liability,
(Docket Entry 13 at 4). Plaintiff has alleged no deliberate,
direct action by either of the Defendants, therefore the
complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro.
Plaintiff’s opposition to the motion attempts to recast his
complaint as asserting a Monell1 claim. It is well-established
that municipal liability under § 1983 “may not be proven under
the respondeat superior doctrine, but must be founded upon
evidence that the government unit itself supported a violation
of constitutional rights.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845,
850 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. 658). “[P]laintiff
must show that an official who has the power to make policy is
responsible for either the affirmative proclamation of a policy
Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658
or acquiescence in a well-settled custom.” Ibid. Even construed
liberally, Plaintiff’s complaint on its face fails to
sufficiently allege Burlington County itself, as the government
unit susceptible to Monell liability,2 affirmatively and directly
caused his injury through either a policy or custom. See Berg v.
Cnty. of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 275 (3d Cir. 2000).
Finally, Plaintiff requests this Court to construe his
complaint as being brought pursuant to the NJTCA and assert
supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim. (Docket
Entry 13 at 3). Supplemental jurisdiction is only appropriate
for claims “that are so related to claims in the action within
such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case
or controversy under Article III of the United States
Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (West, WestlawNext through P.L.
113-296). Supplemental jurisdiction would not apply if the sole
count of the complaint is brought under state law. If the Court
were to construe the claim as being brought pursuant to state
law, the only basis for federal jurisdiction would be diversity
A jail is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983, see,
e.g., Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537,
538-39 (D.N.J. 1989) (correctional facility is not a “person”
under § 1983), thus Plaintiff must show that any policy at issue
is one dictated by Burlington County, not the Burlington County
Detention Center. In other words, did Burlington County or its
highest policy-making officials have a policy or custom of
knowingly depriving unsentenced detainees of the right to vote
in a manner that harmed Plaintiff? No such grounds appear in the
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Even that would fail in
this case as a matter of law, however, as it appears Plaintiff
and Defendants are both residents of the same state. The Court
therefore declines to consider whether Plaintiff has stated a
cause of action under the NJTCA.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) shall be granted.3 In light of the
fundamental nature of the right at stake, however, the Court
will dismiss the complaint without prejudice and will permit
Plaintiff to file an amended complaint addressing the
deficiencies noted herein, as it is not clear that it would be
futile for Plaintiff to attempt to amend. Plaintiff should note,
however, 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).
Because the Court has granted Defendants’ motion due to
Plaintiff’s failure to allege specific involvement by
Defendants, it is unnecessary to address their argument that
Plaintiff was ineligible to vote under state law. If, however,
Plaintiff pursues his claim by way of an amended complaint, he
will have to allege that he was eligible to vote as of October,
2012 under New Jersey law and that he would have timely
registered and voted by absentee ballot but for the actions of
the County or its officials or employees.
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.
avoid confusion, the safer course is to file an amended
complaint that is complete in itself.
Any such proposed
amended complaint must be filed within 30 days of the entry of
this Order upon the Court’s docket.
For the reasons stated above, Defendants’ motion to dismiss
is granted. An accompanying Order will be entered.
April 28, 2015
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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