RODRIGUEZ v. CAMDEN COUNTY

Filing 2

OPINION. Signed by Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 9/27/2017. (rtm, )

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY ALEXSANDRA RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff, v. HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE Civil Action No. 16-cv-08490 (JBS-AMD) CAMDEN COUNTY, OPINION Defendant. APPEARANCES: Alexsandra Rodriguez, Plaintiff Pro Se 3018 N. Congress Road Camden, NJ 08104 SIMANDLE, District Judge: 1. Plaintiff Alexsandra Rodriguez seeks to bring a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Camden County (“County”). Complaint, Docket Entry 1. Based on Plaintiff’s affidavit of indigency, the Court will grant her application to proceed in forma pauperis. 2. 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 pauperis. 3. 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). 4. 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)). 5. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 19831 for alleged violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional 1 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 2 rights. In order to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983, a plaintiff must show: “(1) a person deprived [her] of a federal right; and (2) the person who deprived [her] 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)). 6. 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. at 50. 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, 690-91 (1978). 3 7. Plaintiff listed the County as her defendant, but has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on this defendant. “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.”). 8. 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 3 “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). 4 supporting an inference that Camden County itself was the “moving force” behind the alleged constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 689. As Plaintiff may be able to amend her 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. 9. Plaintiff is advised that the amended 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. Plaintiff alleges that she was confined in the CCJ in October 2016. Complaint § III. The facts section of the complaint states: “Police forcely [sic] arrested me in a very bad manner, putting me in a dirty cell to sleep on the floor.” Id. She further alleges, “I was assaulted.” 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. 10. Plaintiff alleges that she slept on the floor, presumably because no open beds were available. 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 5 (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. 11. Plaintiff’s remaining allegations also are insufficient to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983. Plaintiff offers vague and cursory allegations “police forcely [sic] arrested” her and that she was “assaulted” without any additional facts or support. 12. As Plaintiff may be able to amend her 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. 6 13. 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. 14. 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. 15. An appropriate order follows. September 27, 2017 Date s/ Jerome B. Simandle JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge 4 The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to service. 7

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