COOKS v. CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
OPINION FILED. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 4/24/17. (js)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-cv-08296 (JBS-AMD)
Frankie Cooks, Plaintiff Pro Se
South Woods State Prison
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff Frankie Cooks seeks to bring a civil rights
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Camden County
Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) 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) and 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e because Plaintiff
is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis and is filing a claim
about conditions of confinement.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will: (1)
dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against
CCCF; and (2) dismiss the Complaint without prejudice for
failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).
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
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
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.
(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
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.
“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,
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.
Conditions Of Confinement Claims:
Dismissed Without Prejudice
Second, 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
enough factual support for the Court to infer a constitutional
violation has occurred.
To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a
claim3, 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
Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted) (emphasis added).
“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. §
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.
However, with respect to the alleged facts giving rise
to Plaintiff’s claims, the Complaint states: “I was forced to
live with four other men in a cell designed for two inmates. At
times, the only option I had was to sleep besides the toilet, on
the floor, or squeezed beneath the bottom bunk.” Complaint §
Plaintiff states that these events occurred:
“11/11/2005 – 3/06/2006, 12/28/06 – 01/03/07, 01/03/07 –
02/14/07, 05/25/07 – 6/25/07, 9/11/07 – 04/01/08, 02/17/11 –
03/17/11, 10/08/13 – 11/05/13, 10/14/14 – 11/10/14, 05/01/15 –
08/08/15 [and] 10/23/15 – 04/15/16.” Id. § III(B).
Plaintiff contends that he was “mentally and
emotionally traumatized” in connection with the alleged events.
Id. § IV.
Plaintiff seeks “compensation comparable to the
original plaintiffs who w[ere] a part of the class action suit
against Camden County Correctional Facility.”4 Id. § V.
Given that Plaintiff references “compensation comparable to the
original plaintiffs who w[ere] a part of the class action suit
against [CCCF]” (Complaint § V), 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
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.
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
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.
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.5
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 § 1915.6
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
The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to
6 To the extent the Complaint seeks relief for conditions
Plaintiff encountered prior to October 29, 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 29, 2014.
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 CCCF; and (b) dismissed
without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
An appropriate order follows.
April 24, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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