SHIELDS v. CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONS
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 6/29/2017. (tf, n.m.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
MODDIE SHIELDS, a/k/a,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-cv-05851 (JBS-AMD)
CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONS
Moddie Shields, Plaintiff Pro Se
2807 N. Congress St.
Camden, NJ 08104
SIMANDLE, District Judge:
Plaintiff Moddie Shields, also known as Jeffrey
Shields, seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden County Department of
Corrections (“CCDOC”). Complaint, Docket Entry 1.
Section 1915(e)(2) requires a court to review
complaints prior to service in cases in which a plaintiff is
proceeding in forma pauperis. The Court 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
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will
dismiss the complaint with prejudice in part and without
prejudice in part for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C.
To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a
claim, 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)).
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 19831 for alleged violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional
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
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)).
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
(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
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 “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,
exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law.” Id.
Because Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that a
person – here, the CCDOC – deprived him of a federal right, the
complaint does not meet the standards necessary to set forth a
prima facie case under § 1983. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages
from CCDOC for allegedly unconstitutional conditions of
confinement at the Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”).
The CCCDOC, however, is not independently subject to suit
because it is not a separate legal entity from Camden County.
See Bermudez v. Essex Cty. D.O.C., No. 12-6035, 2013 WL 1405263,
at *5 (D.N.J. Apr. 4, 2013) (citing cases). Accordingly, in
order to state a claim for relief, Plaintiff must plead
sufficient facts to impose liability on Camden County. Plaintiff
has not done so.
“There is no respondeat superior theory of municipal
liability, so a city may not be held vicariously liable under
§ 1983 for the actions of its agents. Rather, a municipality may
be held liable only if its policy or custom is the ‘moving
force’ behind a constitutional violation.” Sanford v. Stiles,
456 F.3d 298, 314 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't
of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). See also, Collins
v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 122 (1992) (“The city
is not vicariously liable under § 1983 for the constitutional
torts of its agents: It is only liable when it can be fairly
said that the city itself is the wrongdoer.”).
Plaintiff must plead facts showing that the relevant
Camden County policy-makers are “responsible for either the
affirmative proclamation of a policy or acquiescence in a wellsettled custom.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d
Cir. 1990).3 In other words, Plaintiff must set forth facts
supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the
“moving force” behind the alleged constitutional violation.
Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. Plaintiff has made no such allegations
with respect to Camden County.
In the fact section of the complaint, Plaintiff
states: “Being treated like animals, food was like something
that animals would [sic]. Having to wash in cement showers with
mold where we had to purchase shower showes [sic] in order to
take showers. Sandwiches where the lunch meat some time had mold
on it the bread was molded hard not fresh. Juice that tasted
like detergent.” Complaint § III. Plaintiff also alleges that
“Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final
authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the
action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.
Government custom can be demonstrated by showing that a given
course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or
authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually
to constitute law.” Kirkland v. DiLeo, 581 F. App'x 111, 118 (3d
Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)
(alteration in original).
the cells were overcrowded, sick people were housed “with others
risking others lives,” that mats he was given to sleep on were
“so old you feel all the [cold] from the cement floors,” and
that he had to sleep with his head by the toilet due to
overcrowding. Id. § V. However, Plaintiff has not alleged facts
demonstrating that these allegedly unconstitutional conditions
are attributable to a policy or custom of Camden County.4 The
complaint therefore does not contain sufficient factual support
to allow the Court to infer that Camden County is liable for the
alleged constitutional violations. Fair Wind Sailing, Inc., 764
F.3d at 308 n.3.
As Plaintiff may be able to amend his complaint to
address the deficiencies noted by the Court, the Court shall
grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint within 30 days of
the date of this order.
However, to the extent the complaint seeks relief for
conditions Plaintiff encountered during confinements ending
prior to September 23, 2014, those claims are barred by the
statute of limitations and must be dismissed with prejudice,
Plaintiff also has not alleged that any person acting under
color of state law was aware of and acted with deliberate
indifference in creating or failing to address the allegedly
unconstitutional conditions. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176,
188 (3d Cir. 1993) (noting that a plaintiff must prove that
prison officials acted with deliberate indifference for
conditions of confinement claim) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501
U.S. 294, 303 (1991)).
meaning that Plaintiff cannot recover for those claims because
they have been brought too late.
Plaintiff does not identify the dates of the events
giving rise to his claims but alleges that they occurred “2009
off an [sic] on till [sic] 2014.” Complaint § III. 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). The allegedly unconstitutional
conditions of confinement Plaintiff encountered at CCCF would
have been immediately apparent to Plaintiff at the time of his
detention; therefore, the statute of limitations for some of
Plaintiff’s claims may have expired as early as 2011, well
before this complaint was filed in 2016. In any case, because
Plaintiff filed his complaint on September 23, 2016, Plaintiff
cannot recover for claims arising from confinements that ended
prior to September 23, 2014.5
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
Given Plaintiff’s vague allegation regarding when the
events giving rise to his claims occurred, it is unclear from
the face of the complaint which events, if any, occurred within
the statute of limitations. Construing the complaint liberally
and granting Plaintiff all reasonable inferences, Plaintiff’s
claims therefore will be dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff
may provide greater factual detail with respect to these
allegations if he elects to file an amended complaint and if
these events occurred within the statute of limitations, i.e.,
during confinement(s) that ended on or after September 23, 2014.6
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
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).
6 The Court does not presently address whether the facts alleged
in the complaint are enough to support an inference that a
constitutional violation has occurred. Because Plaintiff’s
allegations are insufficient to infer Defendant’s liability and
because some unknown portion of Plaintiff’s claims appear to be
barred by the statute of limitations, the complaint must be
dismissed without prejudice in any event. It is therefore not
necessary for the Court to make constitutional findings at this
time. See Woodall v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 432 F.3d 235, 249
(3d Cir. 2005) (declining to address constitutional issues where
it was unnecessary to do so because disposition of case could be
based on other grounds) (citing Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley
Auth., 297 U.S. 288, 347 (1936)).
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.7 Id.
For the reasons stated above, the claims arising from
Plaintiff’s confinements ending prior to September 23, 2014, are
barred by the statute of limitations and therefore are dismissed
with prejudice. The remainder of the complaint is dismissed
without prejudice for failure to state a claim. The Court will
reopen the matter in the event Plaintiff files an amended
complaint within the time allotted by the Court.
An appropriate order follows.
June 29, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
U.S. District Judge
The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to
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