DAVIS et al v. YATES et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 9/27/2016. (ld, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
DARRYL DAVIS, et al.,
Civ. No. 15-6943 (KM) (JBC)
SHERRY YATES, et a].,
KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.
The plaintiffs, Darryl Davis and Steven Grohs, are civil detainees at the Special
‘Treatment Unit (“STU”) in Avenel, New Jersey. Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se with a civil
rights complaint. Plaintiffs initially filed their complaint in the Superior Court of New Jer3ey,
Law Division, Middlesex County. Defendants removed the complaint to this Court.
Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a motion to remand, which was denied. Currently pending before
this Court is defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(I) & l2(b)(6). For the following reasons, defendants’ motion to dismiss is
granted in part and denied in part.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Rule 12(b)(1)
A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(l) may be raised at any time. See Iwanowa v. Ford Motor Co., 67 F. Supp.
2d 424, 437-3 8 (D.N.J. 1999). Rule 12(b)(l) challenges are either facial or factual attacks. See 2
JAMES WM. MOORE, MOORE’S FEDERAL PRACTICE
§ 12.30 (3d ed. 2007). The defendant may
facially challenge subject matterjurisdiction by arguing that the complaint, on its face, does not
allege sufficient grounds to establish subject matter jurisdiction. See Iwanowa, 67 F. Supp. 2d at
438. Under this standard, a court assumes that the allegations in the complaint are true, and may
dismiss the complaint only if it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff will not be able to assert a
colorable claim of subject matter jurisdiction. See id. The jurisdictional arguments made here are
based on the allegations of the complaint. Accordingly, the Court will take the allegations of the
complaint as true. See Gould Elecs., Inc. v, US., 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
B. Rule 12(b)(6)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure I 2(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in
whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party
bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. See Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d
744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court must take all allegations in the
complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Worth v. Seldin,
422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d
478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Phillzs v. County ofAllegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir.
2008) (“reasonable inferences” principle not undermined by later Supreme Court Twombly case,
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed
factual allegations. Nevertheless, “a plaintiffs obligation to provide the ‘grounds of his
“entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Ati. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a
speculative level, such that it is “plausible on its face.” See Id. at 570; see also Umland v.
PLAiVCO Fin, Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). 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.” Ashcrofl v. Jqbal, 556 US. 662, 678 (2009)
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While “[tlhe plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability
it asks for more than a sheer possibility.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009).
Where, as here, plaintiffs are proceeding pro Se, the complaint is “to be liberally
construed,” and, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007).
Nevertheless, it must meet some minimal standard. “While a litigant’s pro se status requires a
court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, a litigant is not absolved from
complying with Twombly and the federal pleading requirements merely because s/he proceeds
pro se,” Thakar v. Tan, 372 F. App’x 325, 328 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
Plaintiffs’ complaint names four defendants: (1) Sherry Yates
STU Administrator; (2)
STU Assistant Administrator; (3) the New Jersey Department of Corrections
(“NJDOC”) and (4) SCO
Plaintiff Davis states that he was placed on the third-tier of the South Unit of the STU on
December 23, 2104 by defendant Doe. Plaintiff Davis was not given any blankets that were his
personal property. The complaint alleges that his cell was at a temperature between fifty and
The first three defendants have moved for dismissal of the complaint against them and are hereinafter
referred to as the “moving defendants.”
Plaintiff Grohs alleges that he was locked in an “ice cold cell” between the months of
October 2014 and March 2015 because there was no heat being supplied to the South Unit.
Because ice cold air was being blown through the ventilation system during this time, it was
turned off. The positive air pressure having been removed, twenty degree air would then blow
back directly into the housing unit through a vent that was designed as an exhaust.
On December 23, 2014, defendant Sarah Davis toured the South Unit and had extra
woolen blankets passed out to residents who requested them. Grohs informed Sarah Davis that
he was allergic to wool and requested a cotton blanket. Sarah Davis told Grohs that she would
look into providing him with a cotton blanket, but that never happened. No blankets were passed
out to residents, including plaintiff Davis, on the third tier. Plaintiffs allege that “[b]oth
Defendant Yates and Defendant S. Davis were aware that since October, 2014, the heating
system for South Unit was in a state of disrepair and otherwise was not functioning properly.”
(Dkt.No. 1-1 at p.
The complaint asserts claims under the United States Constitition through 42 U.S.C.
1983 and the New Jersey Constitution through the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA”). it
seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief
A plaintiff may have 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 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 Harvey v.
Plains Twp. Police Dep’t, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
The NJCRA is a state law analogue to 42 U.S.C.
1983.—---it creates a private right of
action for the violation of civil rights secured under the New Jersey Constitution. See Armstrong
v. Sherman, No. 09-716, 2010 WL 2483911, at *5 (D.N.J. June 4, 2010). Like
1983, the plain
language of the NJCRA imposes liability on any “person” who violates a plaintiffs civil rights
under color of law. In particular, the NJCRA provides in relevant part that:
Any person who has been deprived of any rights secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States, or by the
Constitution or laws of this State, or whose exercise or enjoyment
of those substantive rights, privileges or immunities has been
interfered with or attempted to be interfered with, by threats,
intimidation or coercion by a person acting under color oflaw,
may bring a civil action for damages and for injunctive or other
N.J. STAT. ANN.
1983. See Petit v. New Jersey, No. 09-3735, 2011 WL 1325614, at *3 (D.N.J.
10:6—2(c) (emphasis added). “This district has repeatedly interpreted NJCRA
Mar. 30, 2011) (collecting cases); see also Evans v. City ofNewark, No. 14-0120, 2016 WL
2742862, at *8 n.13 (D.N.J. May 10, 2016) (citing Ingram v. Twp. ofDepiford, 911 F. Supp. 2d
289, 298 (D.N.J. 2012); Trajion v. City of Woodbury, 799 F. Supp. 2d 417, 443 (D.N.J. 2011).
See also Gonzalez v. Auto Mall 46, Inc., 2012 WL 2505733, at *4 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. July
2, 2012) (citing Rezem Family Assocs., LP v. Borough ofMillstone, 30 A.3d 1061, 1067 (N.J.
Super. Ct. App. Div. 2011), certf denied, 208 N.J. 366, 29 A.3d 739 (2011)).
A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity & “Person” Defense
The moving defendants first argue that plaintiffs’
§ 1983 and NJCRA claims against
them in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States
Constitution. The Eleventh Amendment “is a jurisdictional bar which deprives courts of subject
matter jurisdiction” over actions against a State. See Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77
F.3d 690, 693 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S.
89, 98-100 (1984)). The state’s immunity from suit extends to “arms” of the state, such as
agencies or departments. See Pennhurst 465 U.S. at 99; Carter v. City ofPhiladelphia, 181 F.3d
339, 347 (3d Cir. 1999) (quotations and emphasis omitted); see also Chisolm v. McManimon,
275 F.3d 315, 322—23 (3d Cir. 2001) (“Eleventh Amendment immunity may be available to a
state party-in-interest notwithstanding a claimant’s failure to formally name the state as a
defendant.”). Furthermore, “a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a
suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official’s office.” See Will v. Michigan
Dep ‘t ofState Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71(1985). Accordingly, such a suit is no different from a suit
against the state itself. See id.
The moving defendants removed this case from state to federal court. “[A] State’s
voluntary appearance in federal court amount[s] to a waiver of its Eleventh Amendment
immunity.” See Lapides v. Bd. ofRegents of Univ. Sys. ofGeorgia, 535 U.S. 613, 619 (2002).
Thus, the moving defendants’ removal of this action waives their Eleventh Amendment
Davis and Yates, as natural persons employed by the State, possess both an official and a personal
capacity. The NJDOC, as a state agency, possesses only an official, not a personal, capacity.
argument. See Lombardo v. Pennsylvania, Dep’t ofPublic Weifare, 540 F.3d 190, 198 (3d Cir.
Other defenses, however, are not specific to federal court, and therefore are not waived
Lombardo. stands for the proposition that, although a state
waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in a federal
court by removing, the state retains its own state sovereign
immunity. Id. at 198, 198 n. 8. Thus, while a state gives up its
claim to immunity from suit in federal court by removing an action
from state court, it retains any defenses it would have been able to
assert in its own courts, including sovereign immunity. Id. at 19899.
The importance of this latter point goes not to Eleventh
Amendment immunity from suit in a federal court, but rather to the
personhood of some of the Defendants for the purposes of § 1983.
Under the statute, a state, a department of a state, or a subsection of
such a department or other organized arm of the state, is not a
“person” subject to suit under § 1983. Grohs v. Yatauro, 984 F.
Supp. 2d 273, 280-81 [(D.N.J. 2013)]. Thus, a plaintiff may not
bring a suit under the statute against a state, one of its departments,
or a prison operated by such a department. Id.; see also Ewing v.
Cumberland Cnty., No. 09-5432, 2015 WL 1384374, at *25
(D.N.J. Mar. 25, 2015); Brown v. New Jersey Dep’t ofCorr., No.
12-5069, 2014 WL 4978579, at *2 (D.N.J. Oct. 3, 2014); Grabow
v. S. State Corr, Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537, 538-39 (D.N.J. 1989)
(State department of corrections and state prison facilities are not
“persons” under § 1983).
Love v. New Jersey Dep’t of Corr.,No. 15-4404, 2016 WL 2757738, at *4 (D.N.J. May 12,
It follows that moving defendants have not, by removing the case, waived their argument
that they are not suable “persons” under
1983 and the NJCRA. See Didiano v. Balicki, No. 10-
4483, 2011 WL 1466131, at *8 (D.N.J. Apr. 18, 2011) (collecting cases), qff’d, 488 F. App’x
634 (3d Cir. 2012). I therefore consider it.
The NJDOC is not a “person” for purposes of Section 1983 liability. See Tulli—Makowski
v. Community Educ. Ctrs., Inc., No. 12—6091, 2013 WL 1987219, at *3 (D.N.J. May 13, 2013)
(citing Grabow v. Southern State Corr. Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537, 538—39 (D.N.J. 1989)); see
also Nadal v. Christie, No. 13—5447, 2014 WL 2812164, at *4 (D.N.J. June 23, 2014). Indeed,
the plaintiffs concede as much in their response to the motion to dismiss. (See Dkt. No. 11
atp. 13) Accordingly, plaintiffs’ complaint against the NJDOC fails to state a Section 1983 claim.
See Calhoun v. Young, 288 F. App’x 47, 50 (3d Cir. 2008) (upholding dismissal of claims for
monetary damages and injunctive relief against the state of New Jersey because it is not a person
for purposes of 1983) (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 71). The analysis is the same under the NJCRA;
the NJDOC is not a suable “person.” See Didiano, 488 F. App’x at 63 8-39. Accordingly, the
NJDOC is entitled to dismissal of the claims against it.
Plaintiffs’ “official capacity” claims against defendants Sarah Davis and Sherry Yates
require a slightly different analysis. The complaint seeks monetary damages as well as injunctive
and declaratory relief. To the extent the complaint seeks monetary damages from these two
defendants in their official capacities, such a claim would be barred. A state official sued in her
official capacity for monetary damages is not a “person” for purposes of Section 1983. See
House v. Fisher, No. 14-2133, 2016 WL 538648, at *7 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 11,2016) (citing Will, 491
U.S. at 63-71); Goode v. New Jersey Dep’t of Corrections, No. 11-6960, 2015 WL 1924409, at
10 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 2015) (state officials sued in official capacities for monetary damages are
not “persons” within meaning of Section 1983); Johnson v. Mondrosch, No. 13-3461, 2013 WL
12085239, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 3, 2013). (same). The analysis under the NJCRA is similar, and
the NJCRA claims for monetary damages against these two defendants in their official capacities
Plaintiffs’ brief in response to the motion to dismiss disclaims any such claim for damages, but
the complaint is not so clear.
will likewise be dismissed See Villegas v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., No. 14-7337, 2016 WL
3708218, at *1 (D.N.J. July 12, 2016) (dismissing NJCRA claims against individual defendants
in their official capacities for damages because such suits represent only another way of pleading
an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent where the entity is not considered a
1983 and the NJRCA)
The claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against Sarah Davis and Sherry Yates
stand on a different footing. In Will, the Supreme Court explained that “a state official in his or
her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under
‘official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State.” 491
U.S. at 71 n.10 (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985); Exparte Young,
209 U.S. 123, 159-60 (1908)); see also Nichols v. New Jersey, No. 2014 WL 3694149, at *2
(D.N.J. July 23, 2014) (plaintiff seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against state official in
official capacity is considered a person for purposes of Section 1983) (citing Will, 491 U.S. 71
n.10; Doe v. Wigginton, 21 F.3d 733, 738 (6th Cir. 1994)). Therefore, defendants Sarah Davis
and Sherry Yates are “persons” for purposes of injunctive and declaratory relief, and the claims
against them in their official capacities will not be dismissed on that basis.
B. Conditions-of-Confinement Cause of Action
Defendants Sarah Davis and Sherry Yates next argue that the complaint should be
dismissed because the complaint fails to state a viable cause of action. The complaint alleges that
the conditions of confinement, most notably the lack of heat, violated plaintiffs’ rights under the
Fourteenth Amendment and the New Jersey Constitution. A conditions-of-confinement claim
brought by a civilly committed person is governed by the Fourteenth Amendment. See
Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 324—25 (1982) (concluding that Fourteenth Amendment
rather than Eighth Amendment applies to involuntarily committed patients claim of safe
conditions of confinement); Ailis v. McCann, No. 11—3613, 2013 WL 2481251, at *3 (D.N.J.
June 10, 2013) (stating that the rights of involuntarily committed patients “more appropriately
arise under the Fourteenth Amendment” as opposed to the Eighth Amendment). The Fourteenth
Amendment requires that committed persons not be subjected to conditions that amount to
punishment, Bell v. Wo(flsh, 441 U.S. 520, 536 (1979); Southerlandv. Cnty. ofHudson, 523 F.
App’x 919, 921 (3d Cir. 2013) (noting that the central question in deciding whether a plaintiff
has sufficiently alleged a Fourteenth Amendment conditions of confinement claim is whether the
conditions constituted “punishment”), or exceed the proper bounds of professional discretion, see
Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 321—22.
A central issue, then, is whether the conditions of confinement cross the line that
separates institutional administration from punishment:
A court must decide whether the disability is imposed for the
purpose of punishment or whether it is but an incident of some
other legitimate governmental purpose. Absent a showing of an
expressed intent to punish on the part of the detention facility
officials, that determination generally will turn on whether [it has]
an alternative purpose and whether it appears excessive in
relation to that purpose.... Thus, if a particular condition or
restriction of pretrial detention is reasonably related to a legitimate
governmental objective, it does not, without more, amount to
“punishment.” Conversely, if a restriction or condition is not
reasonably related to a legitimate goal-if it is arbitrary or
puiposeless-a court may permissibly infer that the purpose of the
governmental action is punishment that may not be constitutionally
inflicted upon [civilly committed inmates].
Bell, 441 U.S. at 538—39; see also Hubbardv. Taylor (1-lubbardl), 399 F.3d 150, 158 (3d
Cir.2005) (citation omitted), Hubbardv, Taylor (Hubbard 11), 538 F.3d 229, 232 (3d Cir.2008).
To constitute punishment, a deprivation must be both serious and intentional:
Unconstitutional punishment typically includes both objective and
subjective components. As the Supreme Court explained in Wilson
v.Setter, 501 U.S.294, 111 S.Ct.2321, 115L.Ed.2d271 (1991),
the objective component requires an inquiry into whether “the
deprivation [was] sufficiently serious” and the subjective
component asks whether “the officials act[ed] with a sufficiently
culpable state of mind.” Id. at 298, 501 U.S. 294, 111 S. Ct. 2321,
115 L. Ed. 2d 271. The Supreme Court did not abandon this
bipartite analysis in Bell, but rather allowed for an inference of
mean rea where the restriction is arbitrary or purposeless, or where
the restriction is excessive, even if it would accomplish a
legitimate governmental objective.
Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 68 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Bell, 441 U.S. at 538—39 & n. 20).
As to the “objective component,” the court must consider “whether these conditions cause
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.” Hubbard II,
538 F.3d at 233 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). That analysis must encompass
the totality of the circumstances within an institution. See id. (“In conducting this excessiveness
analysis, we do not assay separately each of the institutional practices, but [instead] look to the
totality of the conditions.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). See Cruz v. Main,
No. 10—5605, 2011 WL 3625068, at *5 (D.N.J. Aug.15, 2011) (analyzing civilly committed
plaintiff’s conditions of confinement claim using a totality of the circumstances analysis); see
also Daniels v. Taylor, No. 13—5510, 2014 WL 3955372, at *5 (D.N.J. Aug.13, 2014) (“In
condition of confinement violate the Fourteenth Amendment, a court
“The plaintiffs in Hubbard I and Hubbard II were pretrial detainees. Conditions-of-confinement claims
of pretrial detainees, like those of civilly committed persons, are analyzed under the Fourteenth
Amendment. See Hubbard IL 538 F.3d 230 (citing Hubbard J 399 F.3d 150).
considers the totality of the circumstances within an institution.”) (citing Garcia v. Lancaster
Cnty. Prison, No. 13—2018, 2014 WL 176608, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Jan.15, 2014) (citing HubbardL
399 F.3d at 160;Jones v. Diamond, 636 F.2d 1364, 1368 (5th Cir.1981), overruled in part on
other grounds, Int’l Woodworkers ofAm., AFL—CIO v. Champion Int’l Corp., 790 F.2d 1174 (5th
Cir.1986) (en banc)); Wright v. All. Cnty. Justice Facility, No. 10—610 1, 2010 WL 5059561, at
*6 (D.N.J. Dec.2, 2010) (considering the totality of the alleged deprivations to determine
whether plaintiff had stated a Fourteenth Amendment conditions of confinement claim).
As I noted in a prior Opinion involving one of these plaintiffs:
The precise contours of the standard to evaluate a conditions-ofconfinement claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, as opposed to the
Eighth Amendment, are not crystal clear. See Catherine D. Starve, The
Conditions ofPretrial Detention, 161 U. PA. L. REV. 1009, 1009 (2013)
(stating that the law as it applies to pretrial detainees for which the
Fourteenth Amendment is applicable is unclear and inconsistent).
Nevertheless, when I consider the minimum standards applicable to
convicted prisoners, I must conclude at least that “the state has no less of
a duty to provide civilly committed persons with adequate food, shelter,
clothing, medical care, and safety measures.” Grohs, 984 F. Supp. 2d at
283 (citing Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 324); see also City ofRevere v.
Massachusetts General Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 77
L.Ed.2d 605 (1983) (noting that the due process rights of a person are at
least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a
convicted prisoner). Eighth Amendment standards are relevant at least to
the extent that they define a floor beneath which the State cannot go. See
Grohs, 984 F. Supp. 2d at 983 (“[I]t is true as a general matter that
persons involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate
treatment and better conditions of confinement than are persons who are
being criminally punished.”) (citations omitted); see also Fuentes v.
Wagner, 206 F.3d 335, 344 (3d Cir. 2000) (‘“pretrial detainees are
entitled to at least as much protection as convicted prisoners, so the
protections of the Eighth Amendment would seem to establish a floor of
sorts.”) (quoting Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176 188 n. 10 (3d Cir.
Therefore, while cases involving the Eighth Amendment may not be
dispositive here, they do provide some guidance.
Grohs v. Santiago, No. 13-3877, 2014 WL 4657116, at *4 n.3 (D.N.J. Sept. 17, 2014).
“Inmates ‘have a right to adequate ventilation and a right to be free from extreme hot and
‘[but the Constitution does not give inmates the right to be free from all
discomfort.” Kates v. Bledsoe, No. 11-0391, 2013 WL 4417656, at
(M.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2013)
(quoting Shelby Cniy. Jail Inmates v. Westlake, 798 F.2d 1085, 1087 (7th Cir. 1986)), aff’d, 547
F. App’x 93 (3d Cir. 2013); Crosby v. Georgakopoulos, No. 03-5232, 2005 WE 1514209, at *6
(D.N.J. June 24, 2005) (“Prisoners have a right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from
extreme hot and cold temperatures.”) (quoting Freeman v. Berge, No. 03-0021, 2003 WL
23272395, at *12 (E.D. Wis. Dec. 17, 2003)).
Plaintiffs allege that their cells were “ice cold” and that once the ventilation system was
shut down, twenty degree temperature air was permitted to blow directly into the housing unit.
(See Dkt. No. 1-1 at p.10) When blankets were distributed, Grohs’s wool allergy was not
accommodated, and Davis was not provided additional blankets at all. Both plaintiffs allege that
the cold temperature caused them to shiver uncontrollably for hours and deprived them of sleep.
(See Ed. at 13) These allegations sufficiently state a conditions-of-confinement claim under the
Fourteenth Amendment. Accord Yelardy v. Taylor, No. 03-1032, 2006 WE 680660, at *8 (D.
Del. Mar. 14, 2006) (“Yelardy alleges that his cell is so cold he is in constant pain, suffering
from ‘aching bones,’ for which he was prescribed medication. He further alleges that his pain is
exacerbated by the fact that he was not been able to procure enough blankets to keep him warm.
This combination of conditions potentially amounts to punishment.”) (citing Crosby, 2005 WL
1514209, at * 6). Accordingly, defendants Sarah Davis and Sherry Yates are not entitled to
dismissal of the complaint against them on this basis.
C. Personal Involvement
Defendants Sarah Davis and Sherry Yates also argue that the complaint should be
dismissed against them because plaintiffs have failed to allege their personal involvement in the
purported constitutional violation.
As to a claim for damages, a
1983 plaintiff cannot rely solely on a respondeat superior
theory. See Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 F. App’x 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005) (“Section 1983
liability cannot be found solely on the basis of respondeat superior.”), Instead, a plaintiff must
allege that a supervisor had a personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. See Rode v.
Dellaciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). “Personal involvement can be shown through
allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.” Evancho v. Fisher,
423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).
With respect to supervisors, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
recognized that “there are two theories of supervisory liability, one
under which supervisors can be liable if they established and
maintained a policy, practice or custom which directly caused the
constitutional harm, and another under which they can be liable if
they participated in violating plaintiffs rights, directed others to
violate them, or, as the persons in charge, had knowledge of and
acquiesced in their subordinates’ violations.” Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 129 n.5 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotation
and alteration marks omitted).
Parkell v. Danberg, No. 14-1667, 2016 WL 4375620, at *9 (3d Cir. Aug. 17, 2016); see also
A.M ex rel. JMK. v. Luzerne Cnry. Juvenile Detention Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004).
The complaint adequately alleges the personal involvement of defendant Sarah Davis.
The complaint asserts that Sarah Davis toured the South Unit and appropriately caused extra
blankets to be handed out to those residents who requested them (but not to plaintiffs, allegedly).
Thus, she purportedly had actual knowledge of the unacceptably cold temperatures in the unit,
but did not, or at least did not adequately, take measures to remedy them. She is the administrator
of the STU, and as such is allegedly responsible, not merely for acts of underlings, but for
physical conditions in the unit.
As to defendant Sherry Yates, however, the complaint fails to allege the requisite
personal involvement. The sole relevant allegation is that Yates was “aware that since October,
2014, the heating system for South Unit was in a state of disrepair and otherwise was not
functioning properly.” (Dkt. No. 1-1 at p.11) That allegation is too general to permit Yates to be
held personally responsible for the particular events alleged with respect to distribution of
blankets and so on. The complaint fails to state how or in what fashion Sherry Yates was, or
became, responsible for the temperature or heating system in the Unit. Nor is there any adequate
allegation that Yates promulgated or implemented a policy or practice of denying the inmates of
the STU protection from the cold.
As to a claim for prospective injunctive relief, however, the legal standard is different.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has explained that a lack of personal
involvement does not preclude a plaintiff from obtaining prospective injunctive relief for
ongoing violations. See Parkell v. Danberg,
F.3d --No. 14-1667, 2016 WL 4375620, at *10
(3d Cir. Aug. 17, 2016) (citing Hartmann v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1127
(9th Cir. 2013); Gonzalez v. Feinerinan, 663 F.3d 311, 315 (7th Cir. 2011) (per curiam); Argueta
v. US. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, 643 F.3d 60, 70, 77 (3d Cir. 2011); Koehi v.
Daisheim, 85 F.3d 86, 88—89 (2d Cir. 1996). Rather, the focus is remedial; a defendant must be
an appropriate person to implement injunctive relief, should it be ordered.
Here again, because Sarah Davis is administrator of the STU, it may be plausibly inferred
that correction of the alleged deficiencies in the heating system is her ultimate responsibility.
Yates, as an assistant administrator, might or might not have responsibility for the physical plant
systems. The complaint fails to allege that she is a proper defendant as to claims for injunctive or
The motion to dismiss, insofar as it asserts failure to state a
1983 claim, is granted as to
Yates but denied as to Davis. The dismissals as to Yates are entered without prejudice to the
submission of a proposed amended complaint within 30 days.
D. Qualified Immunity
Finally, Davis and Yates argue that the complaint should be dismissed against them
because they are protected by qualified immunity. I note a threshold limitation. “[Tihe defense of
qualified immunity is available only for damages claims
not for claims requesting prospective
injunctive relief.” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 244 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Vance v.
Barrett, 345 F.3d 1083, 1091 n.10 (9th Cir. 2003); Newman v. Burgin, 930 F.2d 955, 957 (1st
Cir. 1991) (Breyer, J.); Torisky v. Schweiker, 446 F.3d 438, 448 n,6 (3d Cir. 2006)); Potts v.
Holt, 617 F. App’x 148, 153 n.7 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Montanez v. Sec ‘y Pa. Dep ‘t of Corr., 773
F.3d 472, 488 (3d Cir. 2014)). Thus, a qualified immunity defense would have no impact on
plaintiffs’ claims for injunctive relief against Davis or Yates.
“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil
damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Ray v. Twp. of Warren, 626 F.3d 170,
173 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S. Ct. 808, 815, 172 L. Ed.
2d 565 (2009)). “[I]f a reasonable [official] is not on notice that his or her conduct under the
circumstances is clearly unlawful, then application of qualified immunity is appropriate.” Id.
“Qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law.” Id. at 173—74(quotingMalleyv. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S. Ct. 1092,89 LEd. 2d
In deciding whether a governmental official is entitled to qualified immunity, a court
examines: (1) whether the facts alleged make out a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) if
so, whether the right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant’s alleged
misconduct. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. Courts are permitted to address either prong of the
analysis first in light of the circumstances at hand. See id. at 236. The defendant bears the burden
to prove qualified immunity. See Thomas v. Independence Twp., 463 F.3d 285, 292 (3d Cir.
2006) (citation omitted). The court is required to address qualified immunity as early as possible,
and I do address it. That said, it is often, perhaps even ordinarily, “necessary to develop the
factual record” in order to assess qualified immunity. Newland v. Reehorse, 328 F. App’x 788,
791 n.3 (3d Cir.2009).
Defendants argue that they are protected by qualified immunity for the following reasons:
Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the individual State
Defendants, through their own individual actions, have violated
Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights or the New Jersey Civil
Rights Act. Plaintiffs’ Complaint merely states, in conclusory
fashion that the State Defendants breached a recognized duty owed
to Plaintiffs under the Fourteenth Amendment and the New Jersey
Constitution. Compl. at 6. These statements fail to show how the
Defendants violated Plaintiff’s alleged federal or Constitutional
rights, leaving Plaintiffs claims wholly unsupported. Moreover,
the Complaint is limited to broad, conclusory statements, which
fail to set forth how Davis.. violated Plaintiff’s Fourteenth
Amendment rights, or their rights under the NJCRA.
(Dkt. No. 9-2 at p.20) 1 have already found that the complaint states a conditions-of-confinement
claim against Davis (though not against Yates). Davis makes no argument that the rights of civil
detainees were not clearly established. As previously explained, the Eighth Amendment clearly
provides at least a floor with respect to the conditions of confinement. Davis has failed to
demonstrate at this early pleading stage that she is entitled to qualilied immunity.
For the foregoing reasons, the moving defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted in part
and denied in part. The claims against the NJDOC are dismissed with prejudice. The official
capacity claims against defendants Sarah Davis and Sherry Yates for monetary damages are
dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiffs’ remaining claims against defendant Sherry Yates are
dismissed without prejudice.
Remaining are the claims against Sarah Davis for injunctive and declaratory re1ief as
well as the individual-capacity claims against Sarah Davis for monetary relief. An appropriate
order will be entered.
DATED: September 27, 2016
KEVIN MC ULTY
United States District Judge
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