WASHINGTON v. ESSEX COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 7/23/2017. (ld, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DiSTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 14-7453 (KM) (JBC)
ESSEX COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT,
KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.
The plaintiff, Robert Washington, who was a pretrial detainee, is proceeding prose with
a civil rights complaint fi!ed pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
the comp!aint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1983. At this time, this Court must screen
191 5(e)(2)(B) to determine whether it should be dismissed
as frivo!ous or ma!icious. for failure to state a c!aim upon which re!ief may be granted, or
because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. For the following
reasons, the complaint wi!l be dismissed without prejudice.
The a!!egations of the comp!aint xvi!! be construed as true for purposes of this screening
opinion. Mr. Washington names as defendants (1) Essex County Sheriffs Department; (2)
Detective James Brad!ey’; (3) Detective Noe! Mendez; (4) Detective Caieedo Fabian; (5)
Detective Eduardo Moreno; and (6) Eduardo Moreno. At the time he submitted his complaint,
Mr. Washington was a pretrial detainee housed at the Essex County Correctional Facility.
The body of the complaint a!so names Kevin Bradley, but Kevin Brad!ey does not appear
in the caption. The caption does, however, !ist a James Bradley, who may or may not be the same
Mr. Washington’s allegations center on the aftermath of his arrest by the Essex County
Sheriffs Department on September 5,2014. Bradley, the lead arresting officer, filed a police
report which contained the allegedly false statement that Mr. Washington had certain evidence
on his person at the time of his arrest. (Dkt. No. 1 at p. 4) Later on in the complaint, Mr.
Washington states that the allegations against him were that he sold drugs in Essex County. (See
itt) The detectives named in the complaint allegedly conspired to plant evidence, manipulate the
legal process, and pursue trumped up charges. Mr. Washington also alludes generally to medical
problems for which he did not get attention while he was detained.
The complaint seeks monetary damages. In a separate filing that the Clerk has labeled an
amended complaint, Mr. Washington seeks $100,000 from each defendant. (See Dkt. No. 3)
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
191 5(e)(2)(B)Oi) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v Seana, 506 F..pp’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012)
(citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)). That standard is set forth in
Ashcrofi v Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and BellAllantic Corp.
Twonthly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. To survive the courts
screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege ‘sufficient factual matter’ to
show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v UPA’fCShadyside, 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)
(quoting Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labe]s or conclusions or ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ “Jqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twomblv. 550 U.S. at 555).
Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Hathes
Kerner, 404 U.S.
519 (1972). Nevertheless, ‘prose 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
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C.
1983 for certain violations of
constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, 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, except that in any action brought against a
judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s
judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was
Thus, to state a claim for relief under
1983, a plaintiff must alLege 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. See Haney v.
Plains Twp. Police Dep’!, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also IVest v
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42,48 (1968).
A. False Police Report
Mr. Washington first alleges that Bradley filed a false police report that stated that he was
arrested with evidence that was not in fact on his person. (See Dkt. No. I at p.4) The complaint
does not allege with specificity what that evidence was, the uses to which it was put, or the
impact it had on his constitutional rights. “[Tjhe filing of a false police report is not itself a
constitutional violation.” Ellis
15, 2009) (quoting Janetr
Vergara, No. 09-2839, 2009 WL4891762, at 5 (D.N.J. Dec.
Township ofBensaleni, 312 F. App’x 505, 507 (3d Cir. 2009)).
To the extent that Mr. Washington is trying to bring a stand-alone claim against Bradley
for filing a false police report, he fails to state a federal claim with the specificity required by
Tu’onzbly and Jqbal.
B. Malicious Prosecution
Mr. Washington also alludes to “trumped up” charges that were brought against him.
Presumably, the filing of the purportedly false police report is part of this claim. I will construe
these allegations as a
§ 1983 claim of malicious prosecution against the individually named
police officer defendants.
To state a malicious prosecution claim, a plaintiff must state that:
(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal
proceeding ended in the plaintiff’s favor; (3) the proceeding was
initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted
maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to
justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty
consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal
Cnty of Essex, 514 F. App’x 177, 182 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting McKenna v. City of
Philci., 582 F.3d 447, 461 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Estate ofSmith v, Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521
(3d Cir. 2003))).
Mr. Washington fails to state a malicious prosecution claim. He does not allege in his
complaint, for example, that the criminal proceedings ended in his favor. Therefore, this claim
will also be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
The allegedly “trumped up” charges are also the subject of a conspiracy claim. In order to
plead conspiracy under
1983, a plaintiff must “provide some factual basis to support the
existence of the elements of a conspiracy: agreement and concerted action.” Capogrosso v. The
Supreme Court ofNew Jersey, 588 F.3d 180, 185 (3d Cir. 2009). A bare allegation of an
agreement is insufficient to sustain a conspiracy claim. See Brown v. Deparlos, 492 F. App’x
211,215 (3d Cir. 2012). Furthermore. “a
1983 conspiracy claim is not actionable without an
actual violation of § 1983.” Cherry v Borough of Tuckerion, No. 16-505, 2016 WL 7030428, at
•3 (D.N.J. Dec. 1, 2016) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Stallings
15-7488, 2016 WL 3067438, at 3 n.2 (D.N.J. May 31, 2016) (“Civil conspiracy is [merely] a
vehicle by which
1983 liability may be imputed to those who have not actually performed the
act denying constitutional rights
As a result, a
1983 conspiracy claim is not actionable
without an actual violation of 1983.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
For the reasons stated in the preceding section, the violation that is the object of the
alleged conspiracy—malicious prosecution—has not been alleged as a matter of law. It follows
that the allegation of conspiracy fails for the same reason. It, too, will be dismissed without
D. Medical Care
Mr. Washington also alludes to a deprivation of needed medical care during the time he
was incarcerated. The complaint alleges that he contracted medical problems and that his
previous ailments became worse during his incarceration.
As a pretrial detainee, Mr. Washington’s claim for inadequate medical care is adjudicated
under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Etht’ards v Northampton
Cnty., 663 F. App’x 132, 136 (3d Cir. 2016) (citingHitbbardv Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 166 (3d
Cir. 2005)). “[P]retrial detainees are entitled to at least as much protection as convicted
prisoners and that decisions interpreting the Eighth Amendment serve as ‘useful analogies.’
Edwards. 663 F. App’x at 136 (quoting Boring
Kozakieu’icz. 833 F.2d 468, 472 (3d Cir. 1987)
Hohnesbwg Prison Officials. 546 F.2d 1077, 1080 (3d Cir. 1976))) (other
For the delay or denial of medical care to rise to a violation of the
Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment, a prisoner must demonstrate “(1) that defendants were
deliberately indifferent to [his] medical needs and (2) that those
needs were serious.” Rouse i Plan/icr, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir.
1999). Deliberate indifference requires proof that the official
“knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety.” Narale v. Camden Oily. Corr. Facilth’. 318 F.3d 575, 582
(3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Farmer i’. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837
(1994)). We have found deliberate indifference where a prison
official: “(1) knows of a prisoner’s need for medical treatment but
intentionally refuses to provide it; (2) delays necessary medical
treatment based on a nonmedical reason; or (3) prevents a prisoner
from receiving needed or recommended treatment.” Rouse, 182
F.3d at 197. Deference is given to prison medical authorities in the
diagnosis and treatment of patients, and courts “disavow any
attempt to second-guess the propriety or adequacy of a particular
course of treatment. (which) remains a question of sound
professional judgment.” Inmates ofAllegheny Cnry. Jail i’. Fierce,
612 F.2d 754, 762 (3d Cir. 1979) (quoting Bowringv. Godwin, 551
F.2d 44,48 (4th Cir. 1977)). Allegations of negligent treatment or
medical malpractice do not trigger constitutional protections.
Es/el/c v Ganthle, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976).
Fierce v. Fitkins, 520 F. App’x 64,66 (3d Cir. 2013). Deliberate indifference can also be found
“where the prison official persists in a course of treatment in the face of resultant pain and risk of
permanent injury.” See McCluskey i’. Vincent, 505 F. App’x 199, 202 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). “A medical need is serious if it ‘has been diagnosed by a
physician as requiring treatment,’ or if it ‘is so obvious that a lay person would easily recognize
the necessity for a doctor’s attention.” See A’fitchell v, Beard, 492 F. App’x 230, 236 (3d Cir.
2012) (quoting Atkinson v. Taylor, 316 F.3d 257, 272-73 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Momnouth
Cniy. Ins!. Imnates
Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326, 347 (3d Cir. 1987))).
I set aside the issue of whether such allegations are properly joined with the other claims
in the complaint. The medical-care aLlegations will be dismissed because they are insufficient to
state a claim. The complaint does not allege the nature of the conditions or the care that was
denied. As written, the allegations are conclusory and fail to state with any facial plausibility that
Mr. Washington is suffering from a serious medical need .Additionally, the complaint is devoid
of any allegations that any of the named defendants were aware of Mr. Washington’s purported
unnamed medical ailments and conditions, or were deliberately indifferent to them. Accordingly,
this claim will also be dismissed without prejudice.
E. Essex County Sheriffs Department
Mr. Washington also names the Essex County Sheriffs Department as a defendant.
Initially, I note that the Sheriffs Department cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts of its
officers via respondeat superior under
1983. See Rode v Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207
(3d Cir. 1988). Furthermore, the complaint fails to make any allegations of an unconstitutional
policy or custom that would create municipal liability under Monell v. Dep’! ofSocial Sen’s.
New York City, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). See Hildebrandv. Allegheny CnO’., 757 F.3d 99, 110-11
(3d Cir. 2014) (complaint must plead facts to support Monell liability); McTernan v. City of
York, Pa., 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009) (stating to satisfy pleading standard for Monell
claim, complaint must identify a custom or policy, and specify what exactly that custom or
policy was); Kanno
Borough ofDarby. No. 14-2797, 2014 Vt 4763831, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Sept.
25, 2014) (same). Accordingly, the complaint fails to state a
§ 1983 claim against the Essex
County Sheriffs Department.
F. State Law Claims
Mr. Washington may also be attempting to bring state law claims in his complaint. If so,
the only potential basis for this Court’s jurisdiction over these claims would be supplemental
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1367. When a court has dismissed all claims over which it
had original federal question jurisdiction, it has the discretion to decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367(c)(3). As Mr.
Washington’s federal claims have been dismissed at the earliest possible stage for failure to state
a claim upon which relief may be granted, I will exercise my discretion to decline supplemental
jurisdiction over any related state law claims.
G. Request for Appointment of Pro Bono Counsel
Mr. Washington has requested the appointment of pro bono counsel. Indigent persons
raising civil rights claims have no absolute right to counsel. See Far/lan?
Johnson, 126 F.3d
454, 456-57 (3d Cir. 1997). As a threshold matter, there must be some merit in fact or law to the
claims the plaintiff is attempting to assert. See Tabron
Grace, 6 F.4d 147, 155 (3d Cir. 1993).
In determining whether to appoint counsel, a court considers the following: (I) the plaintiffs
ability to present his or her own case; (2) the complexity of the legal issues; (3) the degree which
factual investigation will be necessary and the ability of the plaintiff to pursue such investigation;
(4) the amount a case is likely to turn on credibility determinations; (5) whether the case will
require the testimony of expert witnesses; and (6) whether the plaintiff can attain and afford
counsel on his own behalf. See Id. at 155-56, 157 n.5; see also Cuevas v. United States, 422 F.
App’x 142, 144-45 (3d Cir. 2011) (reiterating the Tabron factors). The power to appoint counsel
lies solely with the discretion of this Court.
As described above, Mr. Washington has failed to state a minimally plausible federal
claim in his complaint. Accordingly, I will deny his request for the appointment of pro bono
counsel without prejudice at this time.
For the foregoing reasons, Mr. Washington fails to state a claim in his
complaint/amended complaint. Accordingly, the federal claims will be dismissed without
prejudice for failure to state a claim and I will decline to exercise supplementaL jurisdiction over
Mr. Washington’s state law claims. Mr. Washington may move to reopen this case within thirty
days by filing an all-inclusive proposed amended complaint that corrects the deficiencies stated
in this opinion. An appropriate order will be entered.
DATED: October 23, 2017
United States District Judge
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