JOHNSON v. CAMDEN COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 5/31/2017. (dmr)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
CAMDEN COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-cv-08558 (JBS-AMD)
Percy Johnson, Plaintiff Pro Se
1219 Liberty Ct.
Burlington, NJ 08106
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff Percy Johnson seeks to bring a civil rights
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against 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
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.
The facts asserted in the complaint are insufficient
to set forth a prima facie case under § 1983. Plaintiff alleges
“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,
he experienced unconstitutional conditions of confinement during
confinement at the Camden County Jail. Plaintiff states: “The
sheets and the mattresses, felt like we had bed-bugs eating at
us and all.” Complaint § III. Plaintiff further states that the
cells were “definitely unsanitary.” Id. Plaintiff also alleges
that he sustained “no serious injuries.” Id. § IV. 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.
Plaintiff’s vague and cursory allegations regarding
unsanitary cells and bedding essentially complain “of an
inconvenient and uncomfortable situation”; however, “‘the
Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons.’” Carson v.
Mulvihill, 488 F. App'x 554, 560 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Rhodes,
452 U.S. at 349); see also, Marnin v. Pinto, 463 F.2d 583, 584
(3d Cir. 1972) (“blanket statements alleging bad food and
miserable living conditions in the prison” were “naked
statements [that do not] ordinarily merit Federal court
Under some circumstances, constitutional violations may arise
from unsanitary conditions or conditions that create vermin
infestations. See Drumgo v. Radcliff, Sgt., 661 F. App'x 758,
760 (3d Cir. 2016) (“Unsanitary prison conditions may result in
[a constitutional] violation.”) (citing Young v. Quinlan, 960
F.2d 351, 364 (3d Cir. 1992)); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176,
188 (3d Cir. 1993) (“inmates do have a right to be free of
conditions that generate infestations of vermin”). However,
Moreover, Plaintiff brings this complaint against only
the CCDOC. 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 has not alleged enough facts to demonstrate that the
conditions complained of, for a pretrial detainee, shock the
conscience and thus violate 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.”). Plaintiff also has not alleged that any person
acting under color of state law acted with deliberate
indifference in creating or failing to address the allegedly
unconstitutional conditions. See Kost, 1 F.3 at 188.
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).4 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 made no such allegations.
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
“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).
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.5 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.
May 31, 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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