SANDERS v. CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 4/7/2017. (tf, n.m.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ROCMON L. SANDERS,
WARDEN DAVID OWENS, and
CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-cv-07912 (JBS-AMD)
Rocmon L. Sanders, Plaintiff Pro Se
1001 Jackson Street
Camden, NJ 08104
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff Rocmon L. Sanders seeks to bring a civil
rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Camden
County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”), Warden David Owens
(“Owens”) and Camden County Board of Chosen 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 with prejudice Plaintiff’s claims asserted against CCCF,
as CCCF is not a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983; (b) grant Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint within
30 days of the date of this order, in the event he is able to
name a person or persons who were personally involved in the
alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement; (c) dismiss
with prejudice Plaintiff’s claims of excessive force, as barred
by the statute of limitations; and (d) proceed Plaintiff’s
claims against Owens and BOF regarding conditions of
confinements from which Plaintiff was released after October 5,
Claims Against CCCF: Dismissed With Prejudice
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 19831 for alleged violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional
rights. In order to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983, a
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
injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
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.
Because the Complaint has not sufficiently alleged
that a “person” deprived Plaintiff of a federal right, the
“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,
Complaint does not meet the standards necessary to set forth a
prima facie case under § 1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks
monetary damages from CCCF for allegedly unconstitutional
conditions of confinement. The CCCF, however, is not a “person”
within the meaning of § 1983; therefore, the claims against it
must be dismissed with prejudice. 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). Given
that the claims against the CCCF must be dismissed with
prejudice, the claims may not proceed and Plaintiff may not name
the CCCF as a defendant.
Plaintiff may be able to amend the Complaint to name a
person or persons who were personally involved in the alleged
unconstitutional conditions of confinement, however. To that
end, the Court shall grant Plaintiff leave to amend the
Complaint within 30 days of the date of this order.
Claims Of Excessive Force: Dismissed With Prejudice
The Court dismisses with prejudice Plaintiff’s claims
arising from his allegations of “assault” by a CCCF “officer” in
2005. Complaint § IV, § V.
Although not specified in the Complaint, this Court
construes Plaintiff’s contentions regarding being “assaulted by
an officer” (Complaint § IV) as claims that Plaintiff suffered
physical abuse amounting to a violation of his constitutional
rights. The only specific conduct of which Plaintiff complains
is “officer assault” (id. § V), but the circumstances
surrounding the incident are left to speculation.
“[P]laintiffs who file complaints subject to dismissal
should receive leave to amend unless amendment would be
inequitable under [§ 1915] or futile.” Grayson v. Mayview State
Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002). This Court denies leave
to amend at this time as Plaintiff’s Complaint is barred by the
statute of limitations, which is governed by New Jersey's twoyear limitations period for personal injury.3 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 accrual date of a § 1983
action is determined by federal law, however. Wallace v. Kato,
549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007); Montanez v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corr.,
773 F.3d 472, 480 (3d Cir. 2014). “Under federal law, a cause of
“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).
action accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known of
the injury upon which the action is based.” Montanez, 773 F.3d
at 480 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff alleges that the purported assault by a CCCF
officer occurred in 2005. Complaint § IV. Accordingly, the twoyear statute of limitations for Plaintiff’s claims (Wilson, 471
U.S. at 276; Dique, 603 F.3d at 185) expired in 2007.
However, Plaintiff had not filed this present action
prior to expiration of the two-year limitations period.
“Although a complaint is not formally filed until the
filing fee is paid, a complaint [is deemed] constructively filed
as of the date that the clerk received the complaint -- as long
as the plaintiff ultimately pays the filing fee or the district
court grants the plaintiff's request to proceed in forma
pauperis.”4 McDowell v. Delaware State Police, 88 F.3d 188, 191
(3d Cir. 1996).5
This Court granted Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma
pauperis on February 3, 2017. (Docket Entry 2.)
5 The mailbox rule of Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), under
which pleadings are deemed filed with a court when a prisoner
provides them to prison officials to mail, is inapplicable here
for purposes of calculating the date on which Plaintiff’s
Complaint was filed with this Court. According to Plaintiff’s
Complaint that he signed on October 5, 2016, he was living as of
that date on Jackson Street in Camden, not in jail. (Docket
Entry 1, at 6.) Therefore, his Complaint is deemed filed as of
the date it was received by the Clerk’s Office: i.e., October
27, 2016. (Docket Entry 1.)
Here, the Clerk’s Office of this Court received
Plaintiff’s Complaint on October 27, 2016 (Docket Entry 1),
which is more than two years after Plaintiff’s purported assault
by a CCCF officer in 2005. Complaint § IV. Plaintiff’s Complaint
is thus time-barred by the statute of limitations with respect
to Plaintiff’s excessive force claim.
As there are no grounds for equitable tolling of the
statute of limitations,6 the Complaint’s claims in relation to
assault will be dismissed with prejudice. Ostuni v. Wa Wa's
Mart, 532 F. App’x 110, 112 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam)
(affirming dismissal with prejudice due to expiration of statute
As stated above, this Court construes Plaintiff’s
contentions regarding “assault by an officer” (Complaint § IV)
as claims of excessive force under the Fourteenth Amendment.
However, Plaintiff’s contentions are also time-barred even if
construed as a state-law tort claim of assault. Dique, 603 F.3d
at 185 (New Jersey “mandates a two-year statute of limitations
period for personal-injury torts. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:14–2”).
Equitable tolling “is only appropriate ‘(1) where the defendant
has actively misled the plaintiff respecting the plaintiff's
cause of action; (2) where the plaintiff in some extraordinary
way has been prevented from asserting his or her rights; or (3)
where the plaintiff has timely asserted his or her rights
mistakenly in the wrong forum.’” Omar v. Blackman, 590 F. App’x
162, 166 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Santos ex rel. Beato v. United
States, 559 F.3d 189, 197 (3d Cir. 2009)).
Conditions Of Confinement Claims Against Owens and BOF:
Claims Shall Proceed As To Confinements From Which
Plaintiff Was Released After October 5, 2014
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will allow
the Complaint to proceed as to allegations against Owens and the
BOF regarding conditions of confinements from which Plaintiff
was released after October 5, 2014.
To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a
claim7, 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,
“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. §
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
Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted) (emphasis added).
A complaint 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.
With respect to the alleged facts giving rise to
Plaintiff’s claims, the present Complaint states: “While
incarcerated in CCCF I was forced to sleep on a hard, cold,
concrete floor with an unsanitary, torn mattress approx 2 inches
thick. The CCCF stayed extremely overcrowded at all times,
operating well over capacity. The overcrowded conditions caused
extremely unsanitary conditions in all parts of the facility
utilized by detainees.” Complaint § III(C).
Plaintiff states that these events occurred: “Between
1993 to present. Times vary.” Id. § III(B).
Plaintiff alleges that he suffered “scabies disease in
2001” and “severe back pain” from these events, along with
ongoing pain management medication and physical therapy.” Id. §
Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages of: (a) $1,000
per day for 837 days of sleeping on the floor in CCCF; (b)
$25,000 for purportedly contracting scabies disease while
incarcerated; and (c) $50,000 for an alleged officer assault in
2005. Id. § V.
Plaintiff also requests $100,000 in punitive damages.
In addition to compensatory relief, Plaintiff seeks
injunctive relief of “a pre-screening process put in place to
prevent those entering CCCF from spreading easily curable
diseases” and “new procedures put in place to prevent
overcrowding of facility & future litigation.” Id.8
Plaintiff’s claim for prospective injunctive relief must be
dismissed as moot. Complaint § V at 3-4. Plaintiff is no longer
incarcerated at the CCCF; thus, Plaintiff lacks standing to seek
injunctive relief because he is no longer subject to the
allegedly unconstitutional conditions he seeks to challenge.
Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206-07 (3d Cir. 1993); Weaver
v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 27 (3d Cir. 1981). Nevertheless, in
light of Plaintiff’s express inclusion of injunctive relief
requests in the Complaint, the Court advises Plaintiff that he
is one of thousands of members of a certified class in the case
on this Court's docket entitled, Dittimus-Bey v. Camden County
Correctional Facility, Civil No. 05-cv-0063 (JBS), which is a
class action case. The class plaintiffs are all persons confined
at the CCCF, as either pretrial detainees or convicted
prisoners, at any time from January 6, 2005, until the present
time. The class of plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory
relief about unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the
CCCF involving overcrowding. That class action does not involve
money damages for individuals. A proposed final settlement of
that case, which describes the settlement in detail, was
preliminarily approved on February 22, 2017. At present, various
measures already undertaken in the Second and Third Consent
“In evaluating the constitutionality of conditions or
restrictions of pretrial detention that implicate only the
protection against deprivation of liberty without due process,
the proper inquiry is whether those conditions amount to
punishment prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with
law. For under the Due Process Clause, a detainee may not be
punished prior to an adjudication of guilt in accordance with
due process of law.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-36
“In order to determine whether the challenged
conditions of pre-trial confinement amount to punishment, a
court must decide whether the disability is imposed for the
purpose of punishment or whether it is but an incident of some
other legitimate governmental purpose. Absent a showing of an
Decrees under Court approval have reduced the jail population to
fewer prisoners than the intended design capacity for the jail.
This has greatly reduced or eliminated triple and quadruple
bunking in two-person cells, as explained in the proposed Sixth
and Final Consent Decree, which would continue those
requirements under Court supervision for two more years.
According to the Notice to all class members that was approved
in the Dittimus-Bey case on February 22, 2017, any class member
can object to the proposed settlement by filing an objection in
the Dittimus-Bey case before April 24, 2017. A final Court
hearing is set for May 23, 2017, at which any objections will be
considered. If the Dittimus-Bey settlement is finally approved
after the May 23rd hearing, Plaintiff and other class members
will be barred from seeking injunctive or declaratory relief for
the period of time from January 6, 2005, until the date of final
approval, but the settlement does not bar any individual class
member from seeking money damages in an individual case.
expressed intent to punish on the part of the detention facility
officials, that determination generally will turn on whether [it
has] an alternative purpose ... and whether it appears excessive
in relation to [that] purpose.” Bell, 441 U.S. at 538-39.
Courts’ inquiry into “whether given conditions
constitute ‘punishment’ must therefore consider the totality of
circumstances within an institution.” Union County Jail Inmates
v. DiBuono, 713 F.2d 984, 996 (3d Cir. 1983). The totality of
circumstances inquiry is a “fact-based analysis” unique to “the
particular circumstances of each case.” Hubbard v. Taylor, 538
F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2008).
The following factual allegations pertinent to the
totality of circumstances inquiry 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 the following
allegations: (a) Plaintiff contends that “[w]hile on the floor,
I have been splashed with urine due to the closeness of my
mattress to the cell toilet” (Complaint at 3B); (b) The
Complaint contends that “CCCF stayed extremely overcrowded at
all times, operating well over capacity. The overcrowded
conditions caused extremely unsanitary conditions in all parts
of the facility utilized by detainees. Diseases such as mites,
crabs, bedbugs, lice, scabies, etc. were uncontrollable and
easily & regularly contracted by detainees to include myself,
who contracted scabies & was treated for such in 2001” (id.);
(c) “These overcrowded conditions also caused an extremely
violent atmosphere where detainees were regularly assaulted,
robbed, bull[i]ed, abused & extorted. I myself have been victim
to numerous assaults and thefts while in CCCF, to include being
assaulted by an officer in 2005” (id.); and (d) “Cleaning
supplies and toiletries required to live/survive in such an
unsanitary and violent facility were not provided, which added
to the unsafe, inhumane & deplorable conditions.” Id.
Plaintiff has alleged he was subjected to the claimed
conditions for a significant amount of time and that he
developed physical injuries as a result of his living
conditions. Plaintiff has also alleged that Owens and BOF failed
to implement policies addressing these conditions. Complaint at
3B: “CCCF to this day still has failed to put in place a prescreening process for detainees entering the facility to be
screened for and easily cured of such diseases & conditions such
as lice, scabies, etc.”
Viewing the facts and the totality of the
circumstances in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, his
allegations set forth sufficient factual matter to show that his
claim is facially plausible. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. See also
Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990) (with
respect to municipal liability, a plaintiff must plead facts
showing that the relevant policy-makers are “responsible for
either the affirmative proclamation of a policy or acquiescence
in a well-settled custom”); Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Social
Services, 436 U.S. 658, 689, 691 (1978) (a plaintiff must set
forth facts supporting an inference that a municipal defendant
itself was the “moving force” behind the alleged constitutional
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims against Owens and the
BOF as to alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement may
proceed with respect to confinements from which Plaintiff was
released after October 5, 2014.9
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s Complaint is
dismissed in part and shall proceed in part.
To the extent the Complaint seeks relief for conditions
Plaintiff encountered prior to October 5, 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. Accordingly, the Complaint shall proceed only as
to claims against Owens and the BOF regarding the condition of
confinements from which Plaintiff was released after October 5,
The Complaint: (a) is dismissed with prejudice as to
the CCCF; (b) is dismissed with prejudice as to claims of
excessive force based upon purported assault by a CCCF officer
in 2005; and (c) may proceed against Owens and the BOF as to
claims based upon conditions of confinements from which
Plaintiff was released after October 5, 2014.
An appropriate order follows.
April 7, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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