BELL v. PARRINO
OPINION. Signed by Judge Susan D. Wigenton on 3/30/17. (DD, ) N/M
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 16-6286 (SDW)
CHRISTOPHER S. PORRINO, 1
WIGENTON, District Judge:
Currently before this Court is the complaint of Plaintiff, Kent Bell. (ECF No. 1). Also
before this Court is Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis. (Document 1 attached
to ECF No. 1). Because this Court finds that leave to proceed in forma pauperis is authorized in
this matter, the Court will grant that application. As this Court will grant Plaintiff in forma
pauperis status, this Court is required to screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. Pursuant to these statutes, this Court must dismiss Plaintiff’s claims if
they are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant
who is immune. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint
without prejudice for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted.
Plaintiff, Kent Bell, is a state pre-trial detainee currently incarcerated in the Bergen
County Jail. (ECF No. 1 at 3). In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that his prior conviction was
Plaintiff spells Defendant’s name as Parrino in his complaint, although Defendant’s name is
actually Christopher Porrino. This Court uses the correct spelling throughout this opinion.
reversed and remanded by an order of the New Jersey Appellate Division entered “on or about
Dec[ember] 17[,] 2014.” (ECF No. 1 at 5). Plaintiff, however, was not transferred back to
county jail pending retrial until “March 30[,] 2015.” (ECF No. 1 at 4). Plaintiff therefore asserts
that his rights were violated when he remained incarcerated in prison rather than at the county
jail for the 103 day period between December 17, 2014, and March 30, 2015. (Id. at 6). Plaintiff
also states that his fellow prison inmates and prison guards levied unspecified “abuse and
pressure to do certain things” during this period, which he calls “120 days of Hell.” (Id.).
Plaintiff names only a single Defendant in this matter, Christopher S. Porrino, the current
Attorney General of New Jersey. In support of so naming Mr. Porrino as the sole Defendant in
this matter, Plaintiff states that “[b]ecause the Attorney General’s Office did not recognize [his]
reversal [and] remand of conviction . . . [Plaintiff] was not transferred to county jail until March
30, 2015.” (Id. at 4). Plaintiff states that this qualifies as gross negligence, and asks the Court to
determine it to be such. (Id. at 6).
This Court must note that this is not the first time Plaintiff has attempted to raise a claim
such as this. In a previously filed civil suit, Bell v. McGettigan, Docket No. 16-22, Plaintiff tried
to raise this same claim, albeit against another individual he inadvertently thought was the New
Jersey Attorney General, the judge in charge of his retrial, the prosecutor’s office handling that
retrial, and his public defender. (Docket No. 16-22 at ECF No. 1). This Court dismissed that
previous complaint on February 3, 2016, for failure to state a claim for which relief could be
granted as Plaintiff failed to provide sufficient facts to show that any of the named Defendants
were actually responsible for the lack of a transfer. (Docket No. 16-22 at ECF Nos. 3-4).
A. Legal Standard
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 132166 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil
actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), or
seeks damages from a state employee, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The PLRA directs district courts
to 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) and 1915A because Plaintiff is a state pretrial detainee who is seeking redress
from governmental employees who has been granted in forma pauperis status.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers
‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.’” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim 2, 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
“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).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing
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. § 1915A(b)).
F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). 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).
Plaintiff attempts to raise a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of his
rights based on the one hundred and three day period following the remand of his criminal case
that he remained in prison prior to being returned to pre-trial detention. “To establish a claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right protected by the
Constitution or laws of the United States that was committed by a person acting under the color
of state law.” Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Woodyard v. Cnty. of
Essex, 514 F. App’x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) (section 1983 provides “private citizens with a
means to redress violations of federal law committed by state [actors]”). “The first step in
evaluating a section 1983 claim is to ‘identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to
have been violated’ and to determine ‘whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a
constitutional right at all.’” Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806 (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523
U.S. 833, 841 n. 5 (1998)). Here, Plaintiff appears to be attempting to raise a claim that
Defendant was “grossly negligent” in failing to have Plaintiff transferred from prison back to
county jail immediately upon the reversal and remand of his conviction by the New Jersey
courts. While it is true that a criminal defendant may have a constitutional claim for violations
of his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment where he is detained
beyond the term authorized by his conviction, see Montanez v. Thompson, 603 F.3d 243, 250 (3d
Cir. 2010); see also Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1107-08 (3d Cir 1989), here Plaintiff does
not plead sufficient facts to show that the only named Defendant caused him any such harm.
As this Court explained to Plaintiff in his previous attempt to raise such a claim,
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a plaintiff set
forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that a pleader
is entitled to relief.”
While the rule does not required detailed
factual allegations, a plaintiff must, to comply with the rule provide
more than “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A plaintiff must therefore at
least “give the defendants fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests” to state a claim for relief. Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007) (internal citation
omitted). In order to state a claim under § 1983 or its federal
analogue, a plaintiff must “plead that each Government-official
defendant, through the officials own individual actions, has violated
the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. Under the statute,
supervisors cannot be held liable under vicarious theories of
liability, and instead can only be held liable where they had personal
involvement in the alleged violations either by “with deliberate
indifference to the consequences, establish[ing] and maintain[ing] a
policy, practice or custom which directly caused [a] constitutional
harm,” or “participat[ing] in violating the plaintiff’s rights,
direct[ing] others to violate them, or, as the person in charge,
ha[ving] knowledge of and acquiesce[ing] in his subordinates
violations.” A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Det. Ctr.,
372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Barkes v. First Corr.
Med., Inc., 766 F.3d 307, 316-320 (3d Cir. 2014); Queer v.
Westmoreland Cnty., 296 F. App’x 290, 295 (3d Cir. 2008); Baker
v. Monroe Twp., 50 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995); Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).
(Docket No. 16-22 at ECF No. 3 at 4-5).
Here, Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead a claim for relief against the only named
Defendant, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Plaintiff has not pled any facts
showing that the State Attorney General’s Office is actually responsible for the transfer of
individuals in his position back to county jail.
Even if he had done so, Plaintiff has failed to
plead any facts which would indicate that Porrino himself would have been responsible for that
transfer order as the State’s Attorney General, rather than some underling. Plaintiff has likewise
failed to identify any policy or practice put into place by Defendant which resulted in the alleged
failed transfer. Plaintiff also characterizes the action taken by Defendant to be “gross
negligence,” which is well shy of the deliberate indifference necessary to state a claim for relief
against a supervisory Defendant. All of these failings prevent Plaintiff from stating a claim for
relief against the sole named Defendant here, Christopher Porrino.
An additional factual problem also prevents Plaintiff from making such a claim.
Although Christopher Porrino is currently the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, he
did not assume that position until he was sworn in in August 2016. See, e.g., Biography of the
Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, http://www.nj.gov/oag/oag/ag_bio.htm (last
visited Oct. 12, 2016). Indeed, Porrino was not even nominated for that position until June 2016.
Id. As Porrino was not the Attorney General during the time period in question, between
December 2014 and March 2015, Porrino could not be personally responsible for the alleged
wrong Plaintiff alleges he has suffered. Indeed, during that time Porrino was apparently chief
counsel to the Christie Administration. Id. Thus, Plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts to
permit the Court to infer that the sole named Defendant, Christopher Porrino, was responsible for
the alleged wrongs contained in Plaintiff’s complaint, and for this and the reasons discussed
above, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted and his complaint must
be dismissed without prejudice as such. 3
Plaintiff appears to be seeking to sue Porrino in his individual capacity only. To the extent he
sought to sue the Attorney General in his official capacity, any such claim would have to be
dismissed with prejudice as Plaintiff seeks only money damages. See, e.g., Love v. New Jersey
Dep’t of Corr., No. 15-3681, 2015 WL 4430353, at * 3 (D.N.J. July 20, 2015) (suit against
official in his official capacity is no different than a suit against the entity which employs him,
and suit against State government official in his official capacity is therefore essentially a suit
against the State, which is barred by § 1983 where a Plaintiff seeks only money damages).
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis shall be
GRANTED and Plaintiff’s complaint shall be dismissed without prejudice in its entirety for
failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. An appropriate order follows.
Dated: March 30, 2017
s/ Susan D. Wigenton
Hon. Susan D. Wigenton,
United States District Judge
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