QUINONEZ v. CAMDEN COUNTY PRISON SYSTEM COUNTY FEDERAL COURTS
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 5/1/2017. (TH, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
CAMDEN COUNTY PRISON SYSTEM
and COUNTY FEDERAL COURTS,
No. 17-cv-00179 (JBS-AMD)
William Quinonez, Plaintiff Pro Se
616 South 4th Street
Camden, NJ 08103
SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge:
Plaintiff William Quinonez seeks to bring a civil
rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Camden
County Prison System (“CCPS”), an entity he calls County Federal
Courts (“the Courts”), the City of Camden (“City”), and the
Camden County Jail (“CCJ”) 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: (1)
dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made against
CCJ; (2) dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to claims made
against the Courts; and (3) dismiss the Complaint without
prejudice for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. §
Claims Against CCJ: 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
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.
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
Complaint does not meet the standards necessary to set forth a
prima facie case under § 1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks
monetary damages from CCJ for allegedly unconstitutional
conditions of confinement. The CCJ, 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
“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,
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 CCJ must be dismissed with
prejudice, the claims may not proceed and Plaintiff may not name
the CCJ 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 Against County Federal Courts:
Dismissed With Prejudice
Claims brought against “County Federal Courts” (Docket
Entry 1 at 1) must be dismissed with prejudice, as the judges of
the Courts have absolute judicial immunity. Although Mr.
Quinonez uses the term “County Federal Courts” once in the
caption of his Complaint, it is unclear whether he means to
refer to the Superior Court of New Jersey (Camden County) or the
U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey (Federal
Court) or both. Nothing in the complaint alleges what any court
has done to deprive him of constitutional rights in the Camden
County Jail. Moreover, even if Plaintiff were to be more
specific about what he is attempting to allege, it is apparent
such a claim is barred by judicial immunity. “It is a wellsettled principle of law that judges are generally ‘immune from
a suit for money damages.’” Figueroa v. Blackburn , 208 F.3d
435, 440 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mireles v. Waco , 502 U.S. 9,
11 (1991)). “A judge will not be deprived of immunity because
the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in
excess of his authority.” Stump v. Sparkman , 435 U.S. 349, 356
(1978). Furthermore, “[a] judge is absolutely immune from
liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of
authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural
errors.” Id. at 359. “[Judicial] immunity is overcome in only
two sets of circumstances.” Mireles , 502 U.S. at 11. “First, a
judge is not immune from liability for non-judicial acts, i.e. ,
actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity.” Id. In
determining whether an act qualifies as a “judicial act,” courts
look to “the nature of the act itself, i.e. , whether it is a
function normally performed by a judge, and to the expectation
of the parties, i.e. , whether they dealt with the judge in his
judicial capacity.” Stump , 435 U.S. at 362. “Second, a judge is
not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in the
complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles , 502 U.S. at 12.
Both of these exceptions are inapplicable here.
Plaintiff has not set forth any facts that would suggest that
judges of the Courts engaged in nonjudicial acts, nor has
Plaintiff alleged facts demonstrating that any actions by the
Courts were taken in the clear absence of all jurisdiction. The
judges of the Courts are therefore entitled to complete judicial
Furthermore, absolute quasi-judicial immunity applies
to “public employees who perform judge-like functions,” and the
immunity “attaches when a public official's role is functionally
comparable to that of a judge.” Ingram v. Township of Deptford,
858 F. Supp.2d 386, 390 (D.N.J. 2012) (citing Hamilton v. Levy,
322 F.3d 776, 785 (3d Cir. 2003) and Antoine v. Byers &
Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 436 (1993)). Thus, non-judge
personnel of the Courts who “perform the function of resolving
disputes or of authoritatively adjudicating private rights”
(Ingram, 858 F. Supp.2d at 390-91 (citing Antoine, 508 U.S. at
435-46)) are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity.
However, Plaintiff has not offered any facts at all in
the first instance with respect to claims purportedly arising
from conduct by the judges or non-judge personnel of the Courts
in connection with the alleged overcrowded conditions of
confinement at issue. Even though pro se pleadings are construed
liberally and given the benefit of all reasonable inferences,
Plaintiff still bears the burden of supplying the facts of his
claim. See, e.g., Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239,
245 (3d Cir. 2013) (“pro se litigants still must allege
sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim”). It is
not for the Court to investigate the facts of Plaintiff’s claim
given that “[d]istrict judges have no obligation to act as
counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants.” Pliler v. Ford, 542
U.S. 225, 231 (2004). The Complaint here does not identify any
particular county or federal courts against whom Plaintiff
asserts his claims, and neither does the Complaint set forth any
factual support for this Court to infer any liability by any
courts of any jurisdiction in any constitutional violation.
Claims against the Courts are dismissed with
Conditions Of Confinement Claims:
Dismissed Without Prejudice
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 present Complaint states in its
entirety: “During my dates of incarceration, I sleeped [sic] on
the floor while the other 2 or 3 i[n]mate[s] used th[e] toilet
above my head constantly.” Complaint § III(C).
Plaintiff does not identify the date(s) or time(s) of
these alleged incidents. Id. § III(B) (blank).
The Complaint does not identify or otherwise describe
any injuries sustained by Plaintiff in connection with these
events. Id. § IV (blank).
With respect to requested relief, Plaintiff seeks
“compensation from being housed in an overcrowded facility and
unsafe conditions.” 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
Moreover, as to claims against CCPS and the City,
Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on
these defendants. The CCPS is not a separate legal entity 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) (“[A] local government unit
is not liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 solely under a theory
of respondeat superior”) (citing cases). In addition, “[t]here
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.”). Therefore, Plaintiff must
plead facts showing that the relevant Camden County and City of
Camden 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).4
“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
In other words, Plaintiff must set forth facts supporting an
inference that Camden County and the City of Camden were each
the “moving force” behind an alleged constitutional violation.
Monell, 436 U.S. at 689.
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.
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
to constitute law.” Kirkland v. DiLeo, 581 F. App'x 111, 118 (3d
Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)
(alteration in original).
5 The amended complaint shall be subject to screening prior to
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.
May 1, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?