EDWARDS v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY et al
OPINION FILED. Signed by Judge Noel L. Hillman on 7/18/17. (js)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
RENE D. EDWARDS,
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al.,
KATHERINE D. HARTMAN
ATTORNEYS HARTMAN, CHARTERED
68 E. MAIN STREET
MOORESTOWN, NJ 08057-1590
On behalf of Plaintiff
NICOLE ELIZABETH ADAMS
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
25 MARKET STREET
P.O. BOX 112
TRENTON, NJ 08625
On behalf of Defendants
HILLMAN, District Judge
This case concerns claims by Plaintiff that Defendants
violated his constitutional rights when he was beaten and raped
by his cellmate in South Woods State Prison (“South Woods”) in
Bridgeton, New Jersey.
Presently before the Court are the
motions of two defendants, the Commissioner of the New Jersey
Department of Corrections, Gary M. Lanigan, and the former
Warden of South Woods, Christopher Holmes, to dismiss
Plaintiff’s claims against them.
For the reasons expressed
below, Defendants’ motions will be granted.
According to Plaintiff’s second amended complaint (Docket
No. 92), at some point in 2011 Plaintiff was assigned Raisona
Boyd as his cellmate at South Woods.
On December 14, 2011,
Plaintiff complained to Officer Williams that Boyd had touched
his rear end, making him extremely uncomfortable.
Williams stated that she wrote an accident report, no action was
taken, and Boyd remained in the cell with Plaintiff.
On the morning of December 27, 2011, Boyd learned that his
parents had passed away.
Apparently out of grief, Boyd began
throwing things around in the cell, causing Plaintiff sufficient
alarm that he informed the guards of the situation and expressed
concerns for his personal safety.
No action was taken, and Boyd
remained in the cell with Plaintiff.
Boyd continued to act
aggressively and violently towards Plaintiff throughout the day.
Although Boyd was removed from the cell at one point during the
day, he was returned to the cell soon after.
Around 11 p.m. that night, Plaintiff asked Boyd to stop
throwing his belongings, which led to an argument culminating in
Boyd using a metal lock wrapped in a sock to beat Plaintiff in
the face and neck.
The altercation continued until other
inmates made enough noise to alert Officer Franchetta, the
Correctional Officer on duty, who arrived in time to see blood
spattered on the wall and floor, and Plaintiff nursing a
bleeding mouth with broken teeth.
Without radioing for backup
or taking any action to protect Plaintiff, Officer Franchetta
left Boyd in the cell with Plaintiff while he went to seek help.
After Officer Franchetta left, Boyd anally raped Plaintiff while
he lay helpless and injured.
After multiple reconstructive surgeries and many months of
intensive medical treatment, Plaintiff filed the instant
complaint naming as defendants Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan,
Warden Christopher Holmes, and each of the SCOs on duty during
the relevant time period.
Plaintiff claims that the SCOs were
deliberately indifferent to his health and safety in violation
of the Eighth Amendment, and that Lanigan and Holmes violated
his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to properly supervise the
SCOs and by failing to take any action to correct the dangerous
situation Plaintiff found himself in.
Lanigan and Holmes have moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims
against them, arguing that his complaint simply names them as
defendants, but does not contain any facts to satisfy the proper
pleading requirements for viable supervisory liability claims.
Plaintiff has opposed both motions. 1
Plaintiff brought claims against Lanigan and Holmes in their
official and individual capacities. Defendants argue, and
Plaintiff agrees, that Plaintiff’s claims against them in their
official capacities must be dismissed. See Betts v. New Castle
Subject matter jurisdiction
Because Plaintiff has brought claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights, this
Court has jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1331 and 1343.
Standard for Motion to Dismiss
When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court
must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as
true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).
It is well
settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead
evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that
serve as a basis for the claim.
Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562
Youth Development Center, 621 F.3d 249, 254 (3d Cir. 2010)
(explaining that because state governments and their subsidiary
units are immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh
Amendment, individual state employees sued in their official
capacity are also entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity
because official-capacity suits generally represent only another
way of pleading an action against the state).
F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977).
However, “[a]lthough the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth
an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for
relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair
notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.”
Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S.
147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).
A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks
“‘not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether
the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the
Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007)
(quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in
Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions’
. . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.
2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail-in-the-coffin for
the ‘no set of facts’ standard that applied to federal
complaints before Twombly.”).
Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has
instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under
First, the factual and legal elements of a claim
should be separated; a district court must accept all of the
complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any
Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129
S. Ct. at 1950).
Second, a district court must then determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to
show that the plaintiff has a “‘plausible claim for relief.’”
Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950).
A complaint must do
more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief.
see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d
Cir. 2008) (stating that the “Supreme Court's Twombly
formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus:
‘stating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual
matter (taken as true) to suggest’ the required element.
‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading
stage,’ but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’
the necessary element”).
A court need not credit either “bald
assertions” or “legal conclusions” in a complaint when deciding
a motion to dismiss.
In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig.,
114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997).
The defendant bears the
burden of showing that no claim has been presented.
U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages,
Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).
A court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only
consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents
attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice.
S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Grp. Ltd.,
181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999).
A court may consider,
however, “an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant
attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff’s
claims are based on the document.”
Pension Benefit Guar. Corp.
v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
If any other matters outside the pleadings are presented
to the court, and the court does not exclude those matters, a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be treated as a summary judgment
motion pursuant to Rule 56.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).
Plaintiff has brought his Eighth Amendment claims pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides in pertinent 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.
“By its terms, of course, the statute creates no substantive
rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights
U.S. 808, 816 (1985).
City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471
Thus, “[t]o establish a claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, [a plaintiff] must demonstrate a violation of a
right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United
States [and] that the alleged deprivation was committed by a
person acting under color of state law.”
Moore v. Tartler, 986
F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993).
A prison official’s “deliberate indifference” to a
substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994).
State actors are liable only for their own unconstitutional
conduct, and government officials may not be held liable for the
unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has articulated
the standard for assessing the viability of supervisory
liability claims against prison officials:
[There are] two general ways in which a supervisordefendant may be liable for unconstitutional acts
undertaken by subordinates. First, liability may attach if
they, with deliberate indifference to the consequences,
established and maintained a policy, practice or custom
which directly caused [the] constitutional harm. Second, a
supervisor may be personally liable under § 1983 if he or
she participated in violating the plaintiff's rights,
directed others to violate them, or, as the person in
charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in the
subordinate's unconstitutional conduct. “Failure to”
claims - failure to train, failure to discipline, or, . .
., failure to supervise - are generally considered a
subcategory of policy or practice liability.
Barkes v. First Corr. Med., Inc., 766 F.3d 307, 317 (3d Cir.
2014), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Taylor v. Barkes, –––
U.S. ––––, 135 S. Ct. 2042, 192 L.Ed.2d 78 (2015) (per curiam)
(internal quotations and citations omitted).
With regard to Eighth Amendment claims, the Third Circuit
has directed that a complaint must “identify specifically what
it is that [a supervisory official] failed to do that evidences
his deliberate indifference.
Only in the context of a specific
defalcation on the part of the supervisory official can the
court assess whether the official's conduct evidenced deliberate
indifference and whether there is a close causal relationship
between the ‘identified deficiency’ and the ‘ultimate injury.’”
Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1118 (3d Cir. 1989), cited with
approval in Barkes, 766 F.3d at 3017.
“Personal involvement can
be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual
knowledge and acquiescence,” but “[a]llegations of participation
or actual knowledge and acquiescence  must be made with
appropriate particularity.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d
1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988); see also Mark v. Patton, 2017 WL
2557412, at *2 (3d Cir. 2017) (citing Barkes, 766 F.3d at 317)
(being unpersuaded that “sweeping accusations about policies,
without identifying one in particular, are sufficient to state a
In this case, Plaintiff claims that Lanigan and Holmes were
deliberately indifferent to his substantial risk of harm because
they: (1) had a duty to provide humane conditions of confinement
and to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of
inmates (SAC ¶¶ 2, 10); (2) the report of Plaintiff’s first
complaint about Boyd drafted by SCO Williams was reviewed and
approved by some unspecified and un-delineated chain of command
(id. ¶ 16); (3) neither Williams nor her superiors took action
to investigate Plaintiff’s concerns (id. ¶ 17); (4) Boyd was not
removed from the cell pursuant to prison policy when he
experienced extreme stress, grief, or duress upon learning of
his parents’ death (id. ¶ 19) 2; and (5) the “individual
supervisory Defendants,” which presumably include Lanigan and
Holmes, knew of Plaintiff’s complaints about his cellmate but
they ignored their policies, acquiesced to their subordinates’
improper actions, and failed to supervise them (id. ¶¶ 52-55).
Lanigan and Holmes argue that these allegations are
insufficient to meet the pleading requirements for supervisory
liability claims for Eighth Amendment violations, as set forth
by Iqbal and Barkes.
Plaintiff argues that his claims are
sufficient, and because discovery has not yet commenced,
Plaintiff does not have the ability to plead his claims with
more detail due to lack of information.
The Court agrees with the defendants that Plaintiff’s
supervisory liability claims are not sufficient to proceed as
they are pleaded at this time.
There is no need to “unpack”
This allegation is upon “information and belief” and cites no
particular government policy or its contents.
plaintiff’s factual allegations from legal conclusions because
the second amended complaint only asserts conclusions as to the
The most telling example of this
insufficiency is that Plaintiff’s claims are the same for both
Lanigan and Holmes.
A complaint containing identical
allegations for two supervisory prison officials clearly fails
to specify each official’s “specific defalcation” so that it can
be determined whether either official was personally involved in
the events leading to Plaintiff’s alleged Eighth Amendment
Lanigan is the commissioner of the entire Department of
Corrections in New Jersey, while Holmes was the warden of South
The second amended complaint alleges that they (along
with all the other supervisors) were aware of Plaintiff’s
complaint to Williams but there are no factual allegations to
support that conclusion.
Accepting as true that a chain of
command exists within the prison system, Plaintiff’s complaint
is silent as to how far up the chain of command his initial
report to SCO Williams should have gone so that Lanigan or
Holmes would have become aware of Plaintiff’s concerns.
Plaintiff’s complaint is equally silent on the content of the
policies that he alleges Lanigan and Holmes ignored, which
resulted in Plaintiff’s injuries.
The second amended complaint
simply concludes in the most basic way that all the supervisors
all the way to the top knew of the risk and failed to act.
is insufficient as a matter of law to meet the Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 676, and the long line of Third Circuit case, such as Barkes,
766 F.3d at 317 and Sample, 885 F.2d at 1118, which require
Plaintiff’s argument that he cannot plead supervisory
liability claims with more specificity without the benefit of
discovery is an understandable concern, but these same
precedents do not permit conclusory supervisory liability claims
for alleged constitutional violations to proceed on the hope, or
even a hunch, that discovery will reveal viable claims.
Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and specifically
Rules 15 and 21, provide the mechanism for adding claims and
parties that arise during the course of discovery that were
unknown or unknowable prior to the discovery process. 3
The Third Circuit “supports the notion that in civil rights
cases district courts must offer amendment - irrespective of
whether it is requested - when dismissing a case for failure to
state a claim unless doing so would be inequitable or futile,”
Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 permits a plaintiff to amend his complaint
any time that “justice so requires,” even during trial, and Fed.
R. Civ. P. 21 provides, in relevant part, “On motion or on its
own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a
party.” We express no opinion on the merits of any future
application to amend the pleadings.
F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007), and it is evident that permitting
Plaintiff to file amended supervisory liability claims against
Lanigan and Holmes now would be futile.
If discovery reveals
specific facts that would allow Plaintiff to plead supervisory
liability claims against Lanigan or Holmes in compliance with
the pleading standards set forth above, Plaintiff may seek leave
to file an amended complaint at that time.
For the reasons expressed above, Plaintiff’s claims against
defendants Gary M. Lanigan and Christopher Holmes must be
dismissed without prejudice.
An appropriate Order will be
July 18, 2017
At Camden, New Jersey
s/ Noel L. Hillman
NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?