SMITH v. CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS et al
OPINION FILED. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 3/17/17. (js)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF
FREEHOLDERS; CAMDEN COUNTY
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-cv-06235 (JBS-AMD)
Cameron Smith, Plaintiff Pro Se
1463 Ormond Ave.
Camden, NJ 08105
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff Cameron Smith seeks to bring a civil rights
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden County
Board of Freeholders (“Freeholders”) and 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 without prejudice for failure to state a
claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).
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
the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
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
exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law.” Id.
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,
Plaintiff alleges he experienced unconstitutional
conditions of confinement while detained at the Camden County
Complaint § III. The fact section of the
complaint states: “I was forced to sleep on the floor due to
overcrowding situations. Cells were designed to hold (2) the
warden housed (4) people.” Id. Plaintiff further alleges that
“The Board of Freeholders violated Administrative guidelines
regarding the housing of pre-trial detainees.” Id. Even
accepting these statements as true for screening purposes only,
there is not enough factual support for the Court to infer a
constitutional violation has occurred.
The mere fact that an individual is lodged temporarily
in a cell with more persons than its intended design does not
rise to the level of a constitutional violation. See Rhodes v.
Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 348–50 (1981) (holding double-celling by
itself did not violate Eighth Amendment); Carson v. Mulvihill,
488 F. App'x 554, 560 (3d Cir. 2012) (“[M]ere double-bunking
does not constitute punishment, because there is no ‘one man,
one cell principle lurking in the Due Process Clause of the
Fifth Amendment.’” (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 542
(1979))). More is needed to demonstrate that such crowded
conditions, for a pretrial detainee, shocks the conscience and
thus violates due process rights. See Hubbard v. Taylor, 538
F.3d 229, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (noting due process analysis
requires courts to consider whether the totality of the
conditions “cause[s] inmates to endure such genuine privations
and hardship over an extended period of time, that the adverse
conditions become excessive in relation to the purposes assigned
to them.”). Some relevant factors are the dates and length of
the confinement(s), whether Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee or
convicted prisoner, etc.
Moreover, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts
to support an inference that the named Defendants are personally
liable for the alleged constitutional violations.
First, the CCDOC 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). Plaintiff has not
pled sufficient facts to impose liability on Camden County.
“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 not alleged any such
Likewise, Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts
regarding the personal liability of the Freeholders. As the
governing body of Camden County, the Freeholders also cannot be
held liable under § 1983 solely on a theory of respondeat
superior. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690–91. Plaintiff therefore must
meet the same pleading standard regarding the Freeholder’s
liability as must be met for Camden County, i.e., he must set
“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).
forth facts supporting an inference that the Freeholders
themselves were the “moving force” behind the alleged
constitutional violations. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. Plaintiff’s
cursory allegation that the “Freeholders violated Administrative
guidelines regarding the housing of pre-trial detainees,”
without more, is insufficient to show that the Freeholders are
“responsible for either the affirmative proclamation of a policy
or acquiescence in a well-settled custom.” Bielevicz, 915 F.2d
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.
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.4 Id.
For the reasons stated above, 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.
March 17, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to
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