WILSON v. ESSEX COUNTY JAIL RE-ENTRY PROGRAM et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 4/3/17. (DD, ) N/M
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-694 (JLL)
ESSEX COUI’JTY JAIL RE-ENTRY
PROGRAM, et al.,
LINARES, District Judge:
Currently before the Court is motion of Plaintiff, David Wilson, seeking leave to amend
his complaint. (ECF No. 7).
Because leave to amend is warranted in this matter as Plaintiffs
complaint has yet to be served, this Court will grant that motion. Because the court is granting
Plaintiffs motion to amend, and since Plaintiff has previously been granted in forma paitperis
status (see ECF No. 5), this Court is required to screen Plaintiffs complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 191 5(e)(2)(B). Pursuant to these statutes, this Court must dismiss Plaintiffs claims if they are
frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant who is
immune. Also before the Court at this time are Plaintiffs Motions for the Appointment of Counsel
(ECF No. 6) and for a Preliminary Injunction (ECF Nos. 4, 9). for the reasons set forth below,
this Court will permit Plaintiffs failure to protect claim to proceed at this time against Defendant
Davis only, dismisses the Essex County Jail from this matter with prejudice, dismisses all of
Plaintiffs remaining claims without prejudice, and denies Plaintiffs motions (ECF Nos. 4, 6, 9)
In his amended complaint, Plaintiff presents the following factual allegations. At about
5:30 p.m. on January 4, 2017, while Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Essex County Jail as part of
the jail’s re-entry program, Plaintiff was locked into his cell with two inmates, one of whom was
named Harper, by his housing unit’s unit officer, Defendant S. Davis. (Document 1 attached to
ECF No. 7 at 4). After the officer locked these two other inniates into Plaintiffs cell with Plaintiff,
they proceeded to assault him, ultimately beating him severely enough to warrant treatment in the
hospital. (Id. a 4-5). Davis apparently encouraged this beating, and then fled the scene once the
assault began. (Id.). Harper and his associate also apparently stole a pair of headphones from
Plaintiff after they beat him.
Plaintiff contends that, after the assault occurred, Davis
“maliciously fabricated” a report in which he stated that Harper and Plaintiff had been fighting,
and Harper’s associate merely broke up a fight between the two. (Id.). This report resulted in
disciplinary proceedings, which ultimately led to Plaintiff being ordered to spend approximately
six months in administrative segregation for fighting and to lose “comp. time” credits against his
sentence. (Id. at 7-14).
Plaintiff also states that the jail’s re-entry program did not have a handbook or rules
regarding who could enter another prisoner’s cell, nor about when a prisoner’s cell could be locked
by an officer with others inside. (Id. at 10-11). Plaintiff asserts that this lack of rules amounts to
the County of Essex and the warden of the jail, Charles Green, unconstitutionally failing to adopt
regulations which would have prevented his assault.
Plaintiff does not specify what
regulations he believes should have been in place, nor how those regulations would have prevented
his assault other than to suggest that he would not have been beaten had there been rules regarding
the freedom of inmates to move into the cells of others. Also, Plaintiff states in his amended
complaint his belief that Green had “constructive knowledge” of the beating and false report, and
allowed disciplinary proceedings to occur in any event, and that Green failed to reprimand or
properly punish Davis. (7, 10-11).
A. Legal Standard
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134,
§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66
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.
damages from a state employee, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B), or seeks
§ 1915A. The PLRA directs district courts to stta
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
has been granted informa pauperis status.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers
‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a forrnulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To
survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim’, 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
“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)(l)); Courteau v. United States,
287 F. App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
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 Iqbat, 556 U.S. at 678). Moreover, while
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
Plaintiff seeks to make claims against the County of Essex,2 the Essex County Jail, the
jail’s warden Charles Green, and a corrections officer of the jail named S. Davis for alleged
violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. “To establish a claim under
§ 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 attempts to assert failure to protect claims against Defendants Davis, Essex County, the
In his initial motion, Plaintiff named the Essex County Jail’s re-entry program as a Defendant, but Plaintiff
specifically states in his amended complaint that he instead intended to name the county itself, and wished to
withdraw any claim against the program. (ECF No. 7 at 1-2). The re-entry program shall therefore be dismissed
from this matter without prejudice.
Jail, and Charles Green; as well as a claim based on the allegedly false disciplinary report against
Defendants Green and Davis.
1. Plaintiffs failure to protect claims
first, Plaintiff seeks to raise a claim against all Defendants based on their failure to protect
him from his assault by other inmates after being locked in his cell. As the Third Circuit has
[w]hile the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials “to protect
prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners,” not every
prisoner-inflicted injury amounts to a constitutional violation.
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. $25, 833—34 (1994). To state a
failure-to-protect claim, a prisoner “must plead facts that show (1)
he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of
serious harm, (2) the official was deliberately indifferent to that
substantial risk to his health and safety, and (3) the official’s
deliberate indifference caused him harm.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 f.3d
352, 367 (3d Cir.2012) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). An
official acts with deliberate indifference when he or she knows of
and disregards a substantial risk of serious harm to inmate health or
safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at $37. It does not matter “whether a
prisoner faces an excessive risk of attack for reasons personal to him
or because all prisoners in his situation face such a risk.” Id. at
Park-eli v. Mar/cell, 622 F. App’x 136, 139 (3d Cir. 2015). In this matter, Plaintiff has pled a
cognizable failure to protect claim against Defendant Davis, and this Court will therefore permit
that claim to proceed at this time.
To the extent Plaintiff seeks to raise a supervisory failure to protect claim against Charles
Green, however, Plaintiff must clear additional hurdles. Under
§ 1983, a claim for supervisory
liability may not be premised solely on a respondeat superior theory of liability. See Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 676; see also Rode v. Dellarciprete, $45 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 198$). A “defendant
in a civil rights action must [instead] have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs” and a
plaintiff must therefore plead a supervisory defendant’s involvement in the alleged violation
through means other than vicarious liability. Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Generally, this requires
a plaintiff to show each supervisor’s participation by pleading either that the supervisor’s
“establishment of policies, practices or customs
directly caused the constitutional violation[,]
personal liability based on the supervisor participating in the violation of [the p]laintiff’s right,
[that the supervisor] direct[edJ others to violate [the p]laintiffs rights, or [that the supervisor had
actual] knowledge of and acquiesc[ed] to a subordinate’s conduct.” Doe v. New Jersey Dep ‘t of
Corr., Civil Action No. 14-5284, 2015 WL 3448233, at *9 (D.N.J. May 29, 2015) (quoting Barkes
v. first Corr. Med., Inc., 766 f.3d 307, 3 16-20 (3d Cir. 2014), rev’d on other grounds, 135 5. Ct.
2042 (2015)); see also Tenon v. Dreibelbis, 606 F. App’x 681, 688 (3d Cir. 2015).
Likewise, where a plaintiff seeks to raise a
§ 1983 claim against a municipality, such as
Essex County, the plaintiff must establish that the municipality itself was responsible for the
constitutional violation in question, rather than merely assert that municipality is responsible for
the acts of its employees. Los Angeles Cnty. v. Httrnphries, 562 U.S. 29, 35-36 (2010) (citing
Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)). A plaintiff will
therefore make out a claim against a municipality where he pleads facts showing that the action
which violated his rights “implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or
decision officially adopted and promulgated” by the municipality, or was the result of an unofficial
custom put into place by the municipality, although that custom may not have been formally
adopted by the official decision makers of the municipality. Id. at 36 (quoting Monelt, 436 U.S.
at 690-9 1). Based on this rule, the Third Circuit has found that
[t]here are three situations where acts of a governmental employee
may be deemed to be the result of a policy or custom of the
governmental entity for whom [he] works, thereby rendering the
entity liable under § 1983. The first is where the appropriate officer
or entity promulgates a generally applicable statement of policy and
the subsequent act complained of is simply an implementation of
that policy. The second occurs where no nile has been announced
as policy but federal law has been violated by an act of the
policyrnaker itself. finally, a policy or custom may also exist where
the policymaker has failed to act affirmatively at all, [though] the
need to take some action to control the agents of the government is
so obvious, and the inadequacy of existing practice so likely to result
in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymaker can
reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.
Natale v. Camden Cntp. Corr. facility, 318 f.3d 575, 584 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and
In this matter, Plaintiff tries to tie both Warden Green and Essex County to Davis’s alleged
failure to protect him by asserting that the jail’s re-entry program lacked any policy or rule
regarding the movement of imnates into the cells of others, and their being locked within those
cells. Plaintiff does no assert that there is a history of incidents involving imriates being locked
into the cells of others, nor a history of attacks such as the one he suffered because of the absence
of any policy. Additionally, Plaintiffs amended complaint is silent as to what policy he believes
the jail should have had, or how a policy against locking inmates in the cells of others would have
curtailed the alleged purposeful acts of Davis including locking two individuals into Plaintiffs cell
and encouraging them to attack Plaintiff Given these shortcomings, Plaintiff has not pled facts
that would suggest the need for the vague policy he desires was entirely obvious, nor has he pled
facts which would show that the existing practice and policies were obviously inadequate, such
that a failure to act on the part of Green and Essex County amounted to deliberate indifference to
the need for a policy as to lock-ins and inmates entering the cells of others. Thus, Plaintiff has
failed to plead either a cognizable claim for supervisory liability based on the failure to adopt a
policy or a Monell municipal liability claim on that basis, and Plaintiffs failure to protect claims
against Green and the County must therefore be dismissed without prejudice at this time. Natale,
31$ F.3d at 584; Doe, 2015 WL 3448233 at *9
Plaintiff also seeks, in his complaint, to raise his failure to protect claim against the Essex
County Jail itself. However, a county jail is not a proper
a “person” for
§ 1983 defendant as a county jail is not
§ 1983 purposes. See Harris v. Hudson Cnt’. Jail, No. 14-6284, 2015 WL 1607703,
at *5 (D.N.J. April 8, 2015). The proper defendant is instead the county which operates the jail.
Id. The Essex County Jail must therefore be dismissed from this matter with prejudice.
2. Plaintiff’s False Disciplinary Report Claim
Next, Plaintiff attempts to raise claims against Defendants Green and Davis based on
Davis’s filing of a false disciplinary report against him. “[T]he act of filing false disciplinary
charges does not itself violate a prisoner’s constitutional rights.” Poole v. Mercer Cnty. Corr. Ctr.,
No. 11-3730, 2012 WL 694689, at *2 (D.N.J. Feb. 29, 2012); see also Mimms v. UN.I.C.O.R.,
386 F. App’x 32, 36 (3d Cir. 2010) (the “filing of false disciplinary charges does not constitute a
§ 1983 so long as the inmate was granted a hearing and an opportunity to rebut the
charges”); Smith v. Mensinger, 293 F.3d 641, 653-54 (3d Cir. 2002). Instead, a plaintiff would
only have a claim for relief based on the filing of a false disciplinary report where he pleads facts
which show that he was denied Due Process insomuch as he was not provided with a hearing and
an opportunity to rebut the charges contained in that report. Mimms, 386 F. App’x at 36. Although
Plaintiff claims in his complaint that Davis filed a false report, he also directly states that he had a
hearing before a disciplinary hearing officer based on the charges raised in that report, afler which
he received a disciplinary penalty in the form of six months administrative segregation and a loss
of his “comp time.” (See ECF No. 7-1 at 5, 12). As Plaintiff has therefore not pled that he was
actually denied Due Process at the hearing on the allegedly false disciplinary report in his amended
complaint, Plaintiffs false disciplinary report claim fails to state a claim against either Davis or
Green, and that claim must be dismissed without prejudice. Id.
Although that finding alone is sufficient to establish that Plaintiffs false disciplinary report
claim must be dismissed, because Plaintiff has filed two motions for injunctive relief (ECF Nos. 4
and 9) seeking his release from administrative segregation based on this claim, an additional issue
arises with which this Court must resolve. Specifically, both via his injunction motions and his
current complaint, Plaintiff seeks to use
§ 1983 to attack the validity of the outcome of his
disciplinary hearing. Plaintiffs amended complaint, however, states that the outcome of that
disciplinary hearing caused Plaintiff not only to be placed into administrative segregation, but also
to lose credits against his sentence in the form of”cornp time.” (ECF No. 7-1 at 12).
Because Plaintiff was not only placed into administrative segregation, but also lost some
credits towards the length of his sentence, success on his Due Process claim would directly imply
the invalidity of the length of his imprisomnent insomuch as any success on that claim would result
in his receipt of his lost credits, which would reduce the length of his sentence. Since success on
this claim would imply the invalidity of the duration of Plaintiff s sentence, Plaintiffs nascent Due
Process claim arising out of the allegedly false disciplinary report is barred and Plaintiff may not
proceed on that claim until such time as he has had the result of his disciplinary hearing invalidated
through direct appeal or some form of collateral attack. See, e.g., Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S.
74, 78-82 (2005) (“a state prisoner’s
§ 1983 action is baiTed (absent prior invalldation)—no matter
the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner’s suit (state
conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)—if success in that action would
necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration”); see also Taylor
603 F. App’x 70, 72 (3d Cir. 2015) (restoration of lost jail credits can only be sought in federal
court in a habeas proceeding, such claims may not be brought under
§ 1983 prior to the invalidation
of the loss of the credits). Thus, even if Plaintiff had pled that he was denied Due Process, his
claim would be barred until such time as he has had the loss of his jail credits invalidated. Thus,
Plaintiffs Due Process related claim must be dismissed without prejudice.
Having established that Plaintiffs nascent Due Process claims are barred at this time, the
Court now turns to Plaintiffs outstanding motions for an injunction. In those motions, Plaintiff
seeks to be released from administrative segregation based on his assertion that he is only so
confined based on the false report filed against him by Defendant Davis. Injunctive relief is an
“extraordinary remedy, which should be granted only in limited circumstances.”
Consumer Health v. Johnson & Johnson
Merck Consumer Pharms. Co., 290 F.3d 578, 586 (3d
order to show that he is entitled to such relief, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that “(1) he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) denial
will result in irreparable harm; (3) granting the injunction will not
result in irreparable hann to the defendants; and (4) granting the
injunction is in the public interest.” Maldonado v. Houston, 157
F.3d 179, 184 (3d Cir. 1992) (as to preliminary injunction); see also
Ballas v. Tedesco, 41 F. Supp. 2d 531, 537 (D.N.J. 1999) (as to
temporary restraining order). A plaintiff must establish that all four
factors favor preliminary relief. Opticians Ass ‘11 of America v.
Independent Opticians ofAmerica, 920 F.2d 187 (3d Cir. 1990).
Ward v. Aviles, No. 11-6252, 2012 WL 2341499, at *1 (D.N.J. June 18, 2012). As explained
above, Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable Due Process claim at this time, and, even if he had
done so, Plaintiffs purported Due Process claim would be barred until such time as Plaintiff has
had the outcome of his disciplinary hearing invalidated. As such, Plaintiff has failed to show that
he is likely to succeed on the merits as to the claim that forms the basis for his request for release
from administrative segregation, and his motions for an injunction must be denied without
prejudice at this time. Id.
3. Plaintiffs Motion for the Appointment of Counsel
The final issue before the Court at this time is Plaintiffs motion for the appointment ofpro
bono counsel. (ECF No. 6). Although plaintiffs have no right to the appointment of counsel in
civil suits such as this one, this Court has wide discretion to appoint counsel where the Court finds
that such an appointment is warranted. Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498 (3d Cir. 2002);
see also Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 153 (3d Cir. 1993). In determining whether the appointment
of counsel is warranted, this Court must first determine whether the plaintiff is indigent and
whether his claims have merit. Tabron, 6 f.3d at 155-57; Citevas v. United States, 422 F. App’x
142, 144-45 (3d Cir. 2011). Where an indigent plaintiff presents meritorious claims, the Court
then weighs various factors to determine whether the appointment of counsel is warranted.
Tabron, 6 F.3d at 155-57; Cttevas, 422 F. App’x at 144-45. Those factors include the litigant’s
ability to present his case, the complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree to which factual
investigation will be necessary and the plaintiffs ability to conduct such an investigation, the
litigant’s ability to retain counsel on his own behalf, the extent to which the case turns on
credibility, and whether expert testimony will be required to resolve the case. Tabron, 6 F.3d at
155-57; Cuevas, 422 F. App’x at 144-45. This list of factors is not exhaustive, and this Court is
free to consider any other relevant factors in making its determination. Montgomery, 294 F.3d at
In this matter, Plaintiff has presented only one claim of sufficient merit to survive screening
his claim that Davis failed to protect him when he locked Plaintiff in his cell with two other
inmates and left when those inmates began to attack Plaintiff rather than stop them. Even granting
that this claim has at least arguable merit and that Plaintiff is indigent, this Court finds that the
appointment of counsel is not warranted in this matter. Although Plaintiff argues that his case is
complex and that he has only a limited ability to represent himself, this Court finds that Plaintiffs
only arguably meritorious claim is a simple and relatively straight-forward failure to protect claim,
and that Plaintiffs filings in this matter indicate that he is adequately able to present his claims in
a cogent fashion. Likewise, although credibility may be an issue in this matter, it is highly unlikely
that much in the way of expert testimony will be required and, given the existence of an
administrative disciplinary record in this matter, it is likely that little additional investigation will
be required to resolve Plaintiffs claims. Thus, this Court finds that the factors weigh against the
appointment of counsel, and Plaintiffs motion for the appointment of counsel is denied without
For the reasons stated above Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend his complaint (ECF No.
7) is GRANTED; Plaintiffs failure to protect claim will PROCEED at this time against Defendant
Davis only; the Essex County Jail is DISMISSED from this matter WITH PREJUDICE, all of
Plaintiffs remaining claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; and Plaintiffs motions
for the appointment of counsel (ECF No. 6) and for a preliminary injunction (ECF Nos. 4, 9) are
DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. An Appropriate order follows.
States District Judge
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