JOHNSON v. CAMDEN COUNTY JAIL
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 3/3/2017. (TH, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
AARON W. JOHNSON,
J. TAYLOR, and
BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-cv-07690 (JBS-AMD)
Aaron W. Johnson, Plaintiff Pro Se
439 Haddon Avenue, Apt. A
Camden, NJ 08103
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff Aaron W. Johnson seeks to bring a civil
rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden
County Jail (“CCJ”), Warden James Owen (“Owen”), Warden J.
Taylor (“Taylor”), and Camden Board of Freeholders (“BOF”) for
allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Complaint,
Docket Entry 1.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) requires courts to review
complaints prior to service in cases in which a plaintiff is
proceeding in forma pauperis. Courts 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 pauperis.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will: (a)
dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against
CCJ; and (b) dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for failure
to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).
First, the Complaint must be dismissed with prejudice
as to claims made against CCJ because defendant is not a “state
actor” within the meaning of § 1983. See Crawford v. McMillian,
660 F. App’x 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2016) (“[T]he prison is not an
entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”) (citing Fischer
v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3d Cir. 1973)); Grabow v. Southern
State Corr. Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537, 538–39 (D.N.J. 1989)
(correctional facility is not a “person” under § 1983).
Second, even construing the Complaint to allege claims
against Owen and Wilson (Complaint § I(B)), such claims must be
dismissed without prejudice because the Complaint does “[not]
allege any personal involvement by [the wardens] in any
constitutional violation – a fatal flaw, since ‘liability in a §
1983 suit cannot be predicated solely on the operation of
respondeat superior.’” Baker v. Flagg, 439 F. App’x 82, 84 (3d
Cir. 2011) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207
(3d Cir. 1988)). “[Plaintiff’s] complaint contains no
allegations regarding [the] [w]arden. ‘Because vicarious
liability is inapplicable to § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must
plead that each Government-official defendant, through the
official's own individual actions, has violated the
Constitution.’ Thus, [plaintiff] failed to state a claim against
[the] [w]arden.” Bob v. Kuo, 387 F. App’x 134, 136 (3d Cir.
2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009)).
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims against Owen and Wilson must be
dismissed without prejudice.
Third, the Complaint must be dismissed as to claims
made against BOF because it is not a legal entity separate from
Camden County and is therefore not independently subject to
suit. See Bermudez v. Essex Cty. D.O.C., No. 12-6035, 2013 WL
1405263, at *5 (D.N.J. Apr. 4, 2013) (citing cases). “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.”). A Complaint 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 well-settled custom.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon,
915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990).1 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. The Complaint does not plead
Finally, 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).
The present Complaint does not allege sufficient facts
to support a reasonable inference that a constitutional
violation has occurred in order to survive this Court’s review
under § 1915. Even accepting the statements in Plaintiff’s
Complaint as true for screening purposes only, there is not
“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).
enough factual support for the Court to infer a constitutional
violation has occurred.
To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a
claim2, 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)). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally
construed, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts
in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay
“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
same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Samuels v. Health Dep’t, No. 161289, 2017 WL 26884, slip op. at *2 (D.N.J. Jan. 3, 2017)
(citing Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir.
2012)); 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. §
Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted) (emphasis added).
With respect to the alleged facts giving rise to
Plaintiff’s claims, the Complaint states that Plaintiff was
“instruct[ed] to sleep on [the] floor in [a] cell with two or
three other persons (inmates)[;] while doing so[,] it caused me
to have pain or injuries to my back, neck and head trauma to
where I can’t sleep at night.” Complaint § III.
Plaintiff states that these events occurred: “2002,
2003, 2014.” Id. § III(B).
Plaintiff claims to have sustained “back, neck and
head injuries” from these alleged events. Id. § IV.
Plaintiff seeks compensation for “my pain and
suffering. And my lost [sic] of time to be able to work while
being in society. Mental stress, mental anguish[,] and for
violating my constitutional rights. I would like to be
compensated for $5.5 mill[ion].” Id. § V.
Even construing the Complaint as seeking to bring a
civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged
prison overcrowding, any such purported claims must be dismissed
because the Complaint does not set forth sufficient factual
support for the Court to infer that a constitutional violation
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 length of the
confinement(s), whether plaintiff was a pretrial detainee or
convicted prisoner, any specific individuals who were involved
in creating or failing to remedy the conditions of confinement,
any other relevant facts regarding the conditions of
Plaintiff may be able to amend the Complaint to
particularly identify adverse conditions that were caused by
specific state actors, that caused Plaintiff to endure genuine
privations and hardship over an extended period of time, and
that were excessive in relation to their purposes. To that end,
the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint
within 30 days of the date of this order.3
Plaintiff is further advised that any amended
complaint must plead specific facts regarding the conditions of
confinement. In the event Plaintiff files an amended complaint,
Plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to support a reasonable
inference that a constitutional violation has occurred in order
to survive this Court’s review under § 1915.4
The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to
4 To the extent the Complaint seeks relief for conditions
Plaintiff encountered prior to October 7, 2014, those claims are
barred by the statute of limitations. Claims brought under §
1983 are 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). “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 would have been immediately apparent
to Plaintiff; therefore, the statute of limitations on some of
Plaintiff’s claims expired two years after release from
incarceration. In the event Plaintiff elects to file an amended
complaint, it should be limited to confinements in which
Plaintiff was released after October 7, 2014.
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. The amended
complaint may not adopt or repeat claims that have been
dismissed with prejudice by the Court.
For the reasons stated above, the Complaint is: (a)
dismissed with prejudice as to the CCJ; and (b) dismissed
without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
An appropriate order follows.
March 3, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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