HUTTON v. THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 6/9/2016. (tf, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
TROY A. HUTTON,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 15-8330 (JBS-AMD)
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al.,
Troy A. Hutton, Plaintiff Pro Se
Southern State Correctional Facility
4295 RT 47
Delmont, New Jersey 08314
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
Before the Court is Plaintiff Troy A. Hutton’s
“Plaintiff”), submission of a civil rights complaint pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 1983. Complaint, Docket Entry 1. At this time, the
Court must review the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 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. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court concludes that the complaint will be dismissed, but
Plaintiff shall be granted leave to amend.
Plaintiff brings this civil rights action against the State
of New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Corrections
(“NJDOC”), Officers John Does 1-3, and Rutgers University
Correctional Health Care (“Rutgers UCHC”). The following factual
allegations are taken from the complaint and are accepted for
purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings
as to the truth of Plaintiff’s allegations.
On April 2, 2012, Plaintiff returned to South Woods State
Prison (“SWSP”) from a medical trip to discover that his
personal property had been placed in to three large boxes.
Complaint at 7. He was ordered to move the boxes from the
storage room on the third floor of the prison and take them to
his new housing unit. Id. As an inmate assigned to the Emergency
Care Unit (“ECU”), Plaintiff was permitted to use the elevator
instead of the stairs. Id. However, when he attempted to use the
elevator, Officer Doe 1 prohibited Plaintiff from using the
elevator in spite of the general practice. Id. at 8. Officer Doe
1 ordered Plaintiff, who suffers from obesity, diabetes, and leg
issues, to use the stairs, commenting “the exercise will do you
good.” Id. Plaintiff attempted to carry one of his boxes up the
stairs but ended up falling down eight steps. Id.
Plaintiff remained at the bottom of the steps for an
indeterminate amount of time, “going in and out of consciousness
due to a concussion,” until another prisoner happened by and
alerted the staff. Id. An ambulance was called, and Plaintiff
was transported to Inspira Hospital in Vineland for treatment
accompanied by Officers John Doe 2-3. Id. Upon arrival at the
hospital, the two officers “began a campaign of disrespect,
derision, and intimidation of the Hospital Staff” in order to
prevent dissuade the medical staff from providing medical care
to Plaintiff that would require the officers to work overtime.
Id. at 8-9. The officers told the hospital staff that Plaintiff
was “a ‘dangerous criminal’” and was “undeserving of quality
care . . . .” Id. at 9. Although Plaintiff was diagnosed with a
concussion, the hospital discharged him without giving him any
pain medication. Id. Upon return to SWSP, Plaintiff did not
receive sufficient aftercare, including “denial of pain
medication, denial of therapy for injuries sustained, denial of
proper diabetic footwear, denial of cane, crutches, or other
ambulatory aides . . . .” Id.
Plaintiff asks this Court to grant relief in the form of
compensatory damages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages
in the amount of $500,000. Id. at 10. He also asks for an order
requiring NJDOC to provide him with pain medication. Plaintiff
also asks this Court to appoint pro bono counsel. Letter, Docket
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134,
§§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996)
(“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil
actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental
employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim
with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The
PLRA directs district courts to 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
and 1915A because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma
pauperis seeking relief from a governmental employee or entity.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will
not do.’” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua sponte
screening for failure to state a claim,1 the complaint must
“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
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)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
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). Although
pro se pleadings are liberally construed, they “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)
same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x
120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing 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)).
B. 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 ....
§ 1983. Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a
plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured
by the Constitution 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. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir.
2011); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir.
A. Eleventh Amendment
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
provides: “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.”
U.S. Const. amend. XI. Plaintiff seeks relief against the State
of New Jersey and the NJDOC; however, he may not bring a suit
against the State or its agencies in federal court unless
Congress has expressly abrogated New Jersey’s sovereign immunity
or the State consents to being sued in federal court.2 Will v.
Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989).
Here, Congress did not expressly abrogate sovereign
immunity when it passed § 1983, see id., and there is no
indication New Jersey has consented to Plaintiff's suit.
Additionally, the NJDOC is not a “person” within the meaning of
§ 1983. See Grabow v. S. State Corr. Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537,
538–39 (D.N.J. 1989) (state department of corrections and state
prison facilities are not “persons” under § 1983). As the State
of New Jersey and the NJDOC may not be sued for monetary damages
in federal court,3 Plaintiff’s claims against them are dismissed
The Court presumes for purposes of this screening opinion only
that Rutgers UCHC is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment
immunity. See Kovats v. Rutgers, State Univ., 822 F.2d 1303 (3d
3 The Eleventh Amendment does not bar Plaintiff’s request for
injunctive relief in the form of an order requiring NJDOC to
provide pain medication; however, Plaintiff’s allegations are
too vague to proceed at this time. In the event Plaintiff is
able to allege facts that would warrant injunctive relief, he
may include them in an amended complaint.
B. Statute of Limitations
Plaintiff alleges Officers John Does 1-3 and Rutgers UCHC
violated his Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care on
April 2, 2012. However, the Court notes that these claims, as
well as his related conspiracy claim against the officers,
appear to be barred by the statute of limitations.4 The statute
of limitations on civil rights claims is governed by New
Jersey's two-year limitations period for personal injury. See
Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985); Dique v. N.J. State
Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010). The date that a cause
of action under § 1983 accrues, however, is a matter of federal
law. See Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing
Gentry v. Resolution Trust Corp., 937 F.2d 899, 919 (3d Cir.
1991)). “Under federal law, a cause of action accrues, and the
statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knew or
should have known of the injury upon which its action is based.”
Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Plaintiff alleges his fall and trip to the hospital
occurred on April 2, 2012. Complaint at 7. Plaintiff knew or
“Although the running of the statute of limitations is
ordinarily an affirmative defense, where that defense is obvious
from the face of the complaint and no development of the record
is necessary, a court may dismiss a time-barred complaint sua
sponte under § 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to
state a claim.” Ostuni v. Wa Wa's Mart, 532 F. App'x 110, 111–12
(3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam).
should have known that he had claims for conspiracy and denial
of medical care against the officers and Rutgers UCHC at that
time. Thus, the statute of limitations on those claims expired
on April 2, 2014, over a year-and-a-half before Plaintiff
submitted his complaint on November 15, 2015. These claims must
be dismissed at this time. They shall be dismissed without
prejudice, however, in order to give Plaintiff an opportunity to
argue for the application of equitable tolling of the statute of
B. Denial of Medical Care
To the extent the complaint seeks to assert denial of
adequate medical care claims against Rutgers UHUC for its
actions after the 2012 hospital visit, the claim must be
dismissed for failure to state a claim. In order for a
government entity to be liable under § 1983 for the actions or
inactions of its employees, a plaintiff must allege that a
policy or custom of that entity caused the alleged
constitutional violation. Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility,
318 F.3d 575, 583-84 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Bd. Of Cnty. Comm'rs
of Bryan Cnty. Oklahoma v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)).
Plaintiff does not allege the purportedly inadequate medical
care he received was the result of a specific Rutgers’ policy or
custom; therefore, he has not sufficiently alleged an Eighth
Amendment claim against Rutgers UCHC.
Furthermore, the claims concerning the “denial of pain
medication, denial of therapy for injuries sustained, denial of
proper diabetic footwear, denial of cane, crutches, or other
ambulatory aides” are too vague for the Court to reasonably
infer that Rutgers UCHC violated Plaintiff’s constitutional
rights. Plaintiff provides no facts regarding the medical
necessity of these items, the denial of these items, how these
defendants were personally involved in the denials, or how the
denials were the result of a Rutgers UCHC’s policy or custom.
There also is not enough information for the Court to find the
alleged withholding of medical care was done out of deliberate
indifference, as is required for an Eighth Amendment claim. See
Natale, 318 F.3d at 584 (noting violations may also be deemed to
be result of policy or custom where “federal law is violated by
an act of the policymaker itself” or “the policymaker has failed
to act affirmatively at all, [though] the need to take some
action” is obvious). The claims against Rutgers UCHC must be
dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff may move to amend his
claim by addressing these deficiencies.
C. Appointment of Counsel
By letter mailed January 29, 2016, Plaintiff asks this
Court to appoint him pro bono counsel. As the complaint is being
dismissed at this time, the motion is dismissed as moot.
Plaintiff may reapply for counsel in the event he files an
D. Leave to Amend
Generally, “plaintiffs who file complaints subject to
dismissal under [§ 1915] should receive leave to amend unless
amendment would be inequitable or futile.” Grayson v. Mayview
State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002). As it is not
clear that amending the complaint would be futile, Plaintiff may
move for leave to file an amended complaint. Any motion to amend
must be accompanied by a proposed amended complaint, which shall
be subject to screening by this Court.
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.
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s claims for
monetary damages from the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey
Department of Corrections are dismissed with prejudice as they
are immune from suit. Plaintiff’s claims against Officers John
Does 1-3 are dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff’s right to
submit a statement within 30 days as to why he should be granted
equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. His claims
against Rutgers UCHC are dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff
may move for leave to file an amended complaint within 30 days.
An appropriate order follows.
June 9, 2016
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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