TAYLOR v. UNION COUNTY et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Claire C. Cecchi on 9/23/15. (cm )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 02-0812 (CCC)
UNION COUNTY CORRECTIONAL
This matter having come before the Court on the Complaint of Michael Taylor (“Plaintiff’)
pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, asserting that Defendant has violated his constitutional rights.
Plaintiff is proceeding pro Se, and was a prisoner at the time the Complaint was filed. Presently
before the Court is Defendant Union County Correctional Facility’s (“Defendant’s”) Motion to
Dismiss. furthermore, the Court has authority to screen the Complaint under 28 U.S.C.
to determine if the Complaint is frivolous, 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. Also before
the Court are Plaintiffs motion to amend the Complaint, application for access to the law library,
and a certain “omnibus” motion. For the reasons stated below, the Court dismisses the Complaint,
denies the Motion to Dismiss as moot, grants Plaintiffs motion to amend, and denies all other
This case, filed more than 13 years ago, unsurprisingly has a long and complicated
The Complaint, asserting claims related to the conditions of Plaintiffs
confinement at the Union County Correctional Facility, was originally filed in the Eastern District
of New York, and was transferred to this Court on February 25, 2002. (ECF No. 1) Plaintiff then
filed a motion for default judgment, (ECF No. 3), which the Court denied. (ECF No. 4.) Plaintiff
elected to appeal the decision denying default judgment, (ECF No. 5), which was ultimately
dismissed by the Third Circuit for lack of appellate jurisdiction on May 19, 2003. (ECF No. 13.)
Thereafter, the docket indicates that there was no activity in the case for two years, other
than one letter from Plaintiff on February 17, 2004, continuing to assert that he was entitled to
default judgment. (See ECF No. 14.) On September 9, 2005, the Court issued a notice of call for
dismissal, directing Plaintiff to show good cause as to why the case has been inactive for more
than 120 days. (See ECF No. 15.) A copy of the order sent by the clerk’s office to Plaintiff was
returned as undeliverable, apparently because Plaintiff had been released from incarceration and
did not update his address. (See ECF No. 18.) When Plaintiff also failed to appear at the hearing
for the notice of call, (ECF No. 16), the Court ordered the matter dismissed. (ECF No. 17.)
More than seven years later, without warning, Plaintiff filed a motion for entry of default
on April 5, 2013. (ECF No. 20.) The Court denied the motion, stating that the case had already
been dismissed for failure to prosecute. (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration,
arguing that the original dismissal for lack of prosecution was in error, because Plaintiff had not
received the notice of call for dismissal.
(See ECF No. 22-3.) The case was subsequently
transferred to the undersigned on March 13, 2014.
The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, finding cause to excuse Plaintiffs
failure to respond to the notice of call. (ECF No. 24 at 3.) As a result, the Court vacated the
dismissal, reopened the matter, and directed the U.S. Marshal to effectuate service upon
Defendant. Id. Plaintiff again filed a motion to set aside the Court’s latest order, arguing that the
Court’s order to the U.S. Marshal for service was in error, because Defendant had already been
personally served by Plaintiff when the Complaint was filed originally in the Eastern District of
New York. (ECF No. 28.) In addition, Plaintiff renewed his request for default judgment. Id.
The Court granted the motion in part, rescinding its order for service, but denied Plaintiffs request
for default judgment, and ordered Defendant to file an answer. (ECF No. 32.)
Defendant responded to the Court’s order by filing a Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 34.)
Plaintiff opposed the motion, (ECF No. 35), and filed a cross-motion to amend the Complaint,
(ECF No. 35-1). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed two additional motions, first an application for
access to the law library, (ECF No. 37), then an “omnibus” motion for preliminary relief. (ECF
No. 39.) These last four motions filed by the parties are the subject of the instant Opinion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,’ in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of
claim is and the grounds on which it rests.” Bell AtL Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). On a motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a “defendant
bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented.” Hedges v. United States, 404 f.3d
744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005).
In determining the sufficiency of apro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe
it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93—94 (2007). The Court
must “accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can
be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff” Ashton v. City of
Uniontown, 459 F. App’x 185, 187 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist.,
132 F.3d 902, 906 (1997)). The Court need not, however, credit a plaintiffs “bald assertions” or
“legal conclusions.” Id. Rather, the court must disregard any conclusory allegations stated in the
complaint. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 f.3d 203, 210—11 (3d Cir. 2009). The court is also
free to ignore factually unsupported accusations that merely state “the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombty, 550 U.S. at 555). Once
a court has identified the well-pleaded facts and ignored the conclusory allegations, it must next
determine whether the “facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that plaintiff has a
‘plausible claim for relief.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
Determining plausibility is a “context-specific task which requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Plausibility, however,
“is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, facts
which suggest only the “mere possibility of misconduct” fail to show that the plaintiff is entitled
to relief. Fowler, 578 f.3d at 211 (quoting Iqba/, 556 U.S. at 679).
A. Section 1915 Screening
Prior to addressing the parties’ motions, the Court first screens the Complaint pursuant to
§ 1915A. A plaintiff can pursue a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain
violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory. 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.
§ 1983. Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish, first,
the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that
the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. Am.
Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50-1 (1999); Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 1667 (3d Cir. 2013).
Plaintiff names only one defendant, Union County Correctional Facility, in this case.
However, a county jail is not a “person” subject to suit under
§ 1983. Boomer v. Lewis, 541 F.
App’x 186, 192 (3d Cir. 2013) (“PCCF, [a correctional facility,] to the extent Boomer was suing
the facility, is not a ‘person’ within the meaning of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983.” (citing Will v. Much. Dep ‘t
of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71(1989)), Fischer v. Cahill, 474 F.2d 991, 992 (3d Cir. 1973));
Tremper v. Correct Care Solutions, No. 13-3626, 2014 WL 320338, at *2 (D.N.J. Jan. 29, 2014);
Antoine v. Belleville Mun. Ct., No. 10-1212, 2010 WL 2989991, at *3 (D.N.J. July 27, 2010);
McLeod v. Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst., No. 05-4710, 2006 WL 572346, at *4 (D.N.J. Mar. 8,
2006). As Defendant is the only party sued in the Complaint, pursuant to
1915A, the Court must
dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Nonetheless,
the Court will allow Plaintiff thirty (30) days to amend the Complaint to cure this defect only.
Because the Court is dismissing the Complaint, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion to
Dismiss as moot.
B. Motion to Amend
In Plaintiffs motion to amend the Complaint, (ECF No. 35-1), Plaintiff seeks leave to file
an amended complaint to add additional parties and to assert other claims. Since the Complaint is
now 13 years old, Plaintiff is no longer entitled to amendments as a matter of right, see Fed. R.
Civ. P. l5(a)(1), and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow amendments “oniy with the
opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). Defendant
opposes the motion.
The Third Circuit has articulated the grounds under which a court may deny leave to amend
under Rule 15(a)(2):
Among the grounds that could justify a denial of leave to amend are undue delay,
bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, and futility. “Futility” means that the
complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be
granted. In assessing “futility,” the District Court applies the same standard of legal
sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6). Accordingly, if a claim is vulnerable to
dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), but the plaintiff moves to amend, leave to amend
generally must be granted unless the amendment would not cure the deficiency.
Hoist v. Oxman, 290 F. App’x 508, 510 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Shane v. fauver, 213 F.3d 113,
115 (3d Cir. 2000)). In Plaintiffs motion, Plaintiff identifies neither the additional parties nor the
additional claims he wishes to add. Moreover, Plaintiff did not comply with L. Civ. R. 7.1 (f),
which requires a party, when filing a motion to amend a complaint, to “attach to the motion a copy
of the proposed pleading or amendments and retain the original until the Court has ruled.” As
such, it is impossible for the Court to determine the validity, or the lack thereof, of the additional
claims Plaintiff wishes to assert. Additionally, given that the Complaint is 13 years old, the Court
is well within its discretion to deny any motions to amend simply for undue delay; Plaintiff could
have sought to amend the existing complaint at any time during the last 13 years, but he did not
do so until now.
Nevertheless, since the Court is allowing Plaintiff to amend the Complaint to cure
Plaintiff’s mistake in asserting claims against the wrong party, the Court grants Plaintiffs motion,
but as stated above, only for the limited purpose of curing the defect identified. Plaintiff is not
allowed to amend the Complaint to enlarge the scope of any claims already asserted, nor is Plaintiff
allowed to add any parties other than those directly responsible for the alleged acts already asserted
in the Complaint. Any other amendments will be disregarded by the Court.
C. Application for Access to the Law Library
Plaintiff also filed an application for access to the law library, requesting that the Court
order the South Woods State Prison, where Plaintiff is currently confined, to increase his law
library access. (ECF No. 37.) As Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated within Defendant’s facilities,
Defendant takes no position with regard to Plaintiffs application. (ECF No. 38.)
Prisoners have a right of access to the courts. See Schreane v. Holt, 482 F. App’x 674, 676
(3d Cir. 2012) (citing Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996)). That right includes the right to
adequate access to law libraries for the purposes of preparing and filing meaningful legal papers.
See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 82$ (1977); Mitchellv. Wydra, 377 F. App’x 143, 145 (3d Cir.
2010) (citing Bounds). In order to establish that his right to access had been violated, Plaintiff
must demonstrate that: “(1) he suffered an ‘actual injury’ (i.e., that he lost an opportunity to pursue
a nonffivolous claim); and (2) he has no other remedy.
that can possibly compensate for the
lost claim.” Schreane, 482 F. App’x at 676 (citing Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 205 (3d Cir.
200$)). In addition, the claim of denial “must describe the underlying arguable claim well enough
to show that it is ‘more than mere hope,’ and it must describe the ‘lost remedy.” Monroe, 536
F.3d at 205—206 (citing Christopher v. Harbuiy, 536 U.S. 403, 416—17 (2002)).
Here, it is not clear from Plaintiffs application for what purpose Plaintiff needs additional
access to the law library in this case. Plaintiff has already filed his response to the Motion, and
there does not appear to be any other filings Plaintiff is required to make, currently or in the
immediate future. Although Plaintiff asserts that he only has one hour per week to access the law
library, (ECF No. 37 at 1), that limitation does not appear to have hindered Plaintiffs ability to
assert his claims in this case in any way. To the extent Plaintiff is worried that he will not have
adequate access to the law library for future filings, Plaintiff can simply move for extensions of
time to submit such filings at a later date. As such, Plaintiff has not demonstrated an “actual
injury,” or even a likelihood of imminent injury, that would necessitate the Court’s intervention
on this issue. Therefore, Plaintiffs application for access to the law library is denied.
To the extent that Plaintiff desires to assert civil rights claims against prison officials at
South Woods State Prison for violations of his first amendment rights, “[p]ersons
joined in one action as defendants [only] if: (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly,
severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or
series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants
will arise in the action.” fed. R. Civ. P 20(a); see also McDaniel v. Lanigan, No. 12—3834, 2012
WL 5880371, at *3 (D.N.J. Nov. 21, 2012) (claims by prisoners are not exempt from Rules 18 and
20). As already explained, the claims currently asserted in the Complaint concern the conditions
of Plaintiffs confinement at the Union County Correctional Facility, which are completely
unrelated to any access to the courts claims against South Woods State Prison or its officials.
Therefore, since the Court only grants Plaintiff leave to amend for the purpose of adding the proper
defendant(s), and not to expand the scope of his claims nor assert new facts in support of those
claims, Plaintiff must file a separate civil action to assert his access to the courts claims.
D. “Omnibus” Motion
Lastly, the Court addresses the latest motion filed by Plaintiff, an “omnibus” motion for
preliminary relief. (ECF No. 39.) Plaintiff again requests that the Court issue a preliminary
injunction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 65, ordering prison officials to grant Plaintiff additional access to
the law library, a topic the Court addressed above. Id. at 1. “The primary purpose of preliminary
injunctive relief ‘is maintenance of the status quo until a decision on the merits of a case is
rendered.” Fed ‘n ofState Massage Therapy Bd. v. Acad. of Oriental Therapy, LLC, No. 13-6317,
2013 WL 5888094, at *1 (D.N.J. Oct. 28, 2013) (quoting Acierno v. New Castle Cnty., 40 F.3d
645, 647 (3d Cir. 1994)). Here, Plaintiff is not seeking to maintain the status quo; Plaintiff is
seeking to change the status quo by requesting a court order to change his current access to the law
library. Rule 65 motions may not be used for that purpose.
furthermore, “[a] party seeking a preliminary injunction must establish the following: (1)
a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) that he will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is
denied; (3) that granting preliminary relief will not result in even greater harm to the nonmoving
party; and (4) that the public interest favors such relief.” Geneva Coll. v. Sec ‘y US. Dep ‘t of
Health &Human Servs., 778 F.3d 422,435 n.9 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Kos Pharm., Inc. v. Andrx
Corp., 369 F.3d 700, 708 (3d Cir. 2004)). As the Court found above, Plaintiff has failed to
establish actual injury from the alleged denial of access, so Plaintiff does not satisfy the elements
required for preliminary relief.1
Although not directly related to the relief sought by Plaintiff, the balance of the motion
appears to be Plaintiff asserting claims regarding (1) a sentence and conviction imposed against
him by the State of New Jersey for crimes unrelated to the claims here, and (2) alleged civil rights
violations by state officials, who are not defendants in the instant suit, for wrongful conviction.
Indeed, the exhibits attached to the motion were all related to the criminal prosecution against
Plaintiff. (See ECF No. 39-1.) These claims are wholly unrelated to Plaintiffs prison conditions
Because the Court is denying Plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs
request for waiver of security under Rule 65, (ECF No. 39 at 1), is moot.
claims against the Union County Correctional facility. As such, the Court construes the balance
of the motion as seeking leave to include additional claims and parties in this case. The Court
addressed the issue of amendment above; for the reasons stated in that discussion, the Court denies
Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint except for the limited purpose of curing his failure to name
a person subject to suit under
§ 1983. Moreover, the additional claims and parties raised in the
omnibus motion do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrences as the claims already raised
in the Complaint, nor do the additional claims share any common questions of law and/or fact with
the current claims. As the Court explained above, Plaintiff must file a separate civil action to assert
these claims. Accordingly, the omnibus motion is denied.
For the reasons set forth above, the Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE as moot. Plaintiffs motion
to amend the Complaint is GRANTED. Plaintiffs application for access to the law library and
the omnibus motion are DENIED. Plaintiff is allowed thirty (30) days from the date of entry of
the accompanying Order to amend the Complaint only for the limited purpose of curing the defect
Claire C. Cecchi, U.S.D.J.
Dated: September 23, 2015
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