HIGHLAND v. NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Peter G. Sheridan on 4/29/2015. (eaj)
*NOT FOR PUBLICATION*
UNiTED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 15-1369 (PGS)
NEW JERSEY DEP’T OF CORR, et al.,
SHERIDAN, District Judge
Plaintiff John Highland (“Plaintiff’), a prisoner currently confined at the Adult Correction
Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action injàrma pauperis. Based on
his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant Plaintiff’s application to proceed informapauperis
pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint.
At this time, the Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
and 1915A, to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes
that the Complaint should be dismissed at this time.
The following factual allegations are taken from the Complaint, and are accepted for
purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the veracity of Plaintiff’s
The ‘Statement of Claims” section of Plaintiffs Complaint reads as follows:
I was sentence [sic] to 364 days by Judge Pinkus to 364 days [sic] to be served at
the Middlesex County Jail 4-9-2014. Therefore New Jersey Department of
Correction had no right to take me into any form of custody. Stephen Jones
conspired to detain me illegally with 8-5-20 14 the New Jersey State Parole Board
and the New Jersey Department of Corrections. In wich [sic] I suffered mental
and sexual abuse by state inmates.
¶ 7, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff provides further information, alleging that on May 13, 2014,
he was paroled from Middlesex County Jail to a halfway house with state inmates. (Compi.
Plaintiff wants the State of New Jersey to compensate him for “being kidnapped, mentally abused
and sexually abused by state inmates while being confined with state inmates.” (Id. at
¶ 7.) He
is seeking 100 million dollars. (Id.)
A. Legal Standard
1. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal
Perthe 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 informa pauperis, see 28 U.S.C.
against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C.
respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress
§ 1915A(b), or brings a claim with
§ 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to
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.
§ l9l5(e)(2)(B), 19 ISA
because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Asheroft 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 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 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.”
Iviala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).
Section 1983 Actions
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 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....
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 West v. Atkins, 487
“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 42 U.S.C. § 1 997e(c)(l )); C’ourteau v. United States, 287 F. App’x 159,
162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
U.s. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d
To the best the Court can discern, it appear that Plaintiff is alleging a claim for deprivation
of liberty without due process, under the Fourteenth Amendment, based on his confinement in a
halfway house with state inmates. A liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause may
arise from either of two sources; the Due Process Clause itself or enacted law. See Hewitt v.
Helms, 459 U.s. 460, 466, 103 S.Ct. 864,74 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983); Asquith
Dep’t of Corr., 186
F.3d 407, 409 (3d Cir. 1999). With respect to convicted and sentenced prisoners, “[ajs long as
the conditions or degree of confinement to which the prisoner is subjected is within the sentence
imposed upon him and is not otherwise violative of the Constitution, the Due Process Clause does
not in itself subject an inmate’s treatment by prison authorities to judicial oversight.” Montanye
v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 242, 96 S.Ct. 2543, 49 L.Ed.2d 466 (1976), quoted in hewitt, 459 U.S.
at 468 and Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 480, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995).
It is well established that a prisoner possesses no liberty interest arising from the Due
Process Clause in a particular custody level or place of confinement.
See, e.g., Ohm v.
Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 245-46, 103 S.Ct. 1741, 75 L.Ed.2d 813 (1983); Hewitt, 459 U.S. at
466-67; Meachum v. Fano. 427 U.S. 215, 224-25, 96 S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451 (1976);
Montanye, 427 U.S. at 242. See also Wilson v. Johnson, 805 F.2d 394, 1986 WL 18052 (4th Cir.
1986) (prisoner has no constitutional right to a change of his custodial location by reason of the
interstate Corrections Compact).
Governments, however, may confer on prisoners liberty
interests that are protected by the Due Process Clause. “But these interests will be generally
limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected
manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, nonetheless
imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of
prison life.” Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484 (finding that disciplinary segregation conditions which
effectively mirrored those of administrative segregation and protective custody were not “atypical
and significant hardships” in which a state conceivably might create liberty interest).
New Jersey law provides that, when a person is sentenced to imprisonment for a term of
less than one year, the court shall commit him either to the common jail of the county, the county
workhouse, or the county penitentiary for the term of the sentence. N.J.S.A. 2C: 43-10(c). This
provision, however, does not create a liberty interest in prisoners serving short sentences in county
jails rather than state prison. To the contrary, this provision is directory in nature, setting forth
the responsibilities of government officials. See State v. Rosenberg, 188 A.2d 635 (N.J. Super.
Ct. App.Div. 1963) (construingpredecessorN.J.S. 2A:164-18); Green v. Rizzo, 2006 WL 1582070
(D.N.J. June 5, 2006) (New Jersey law does not create a liberty interest in confinement in county
jail rather than state prison); Hunter v. Ortiz, 125 F. App’x 241 (10th Cir. 2005) (no liberty interest
in confinement in state prison rather than county jail); McGee v. Texas Dep ‘t of Criminal Justice,
95 F.3d 55 (5th Cir. 1996) (no liberty interest in confinement in county jail rather than state prison).
None of the facts alleged in the Complaint suggest that the confinement Plaintiff experienced in
the halfway house rose to the level of an “atypical and significant hardship.” He merely alleges
that he was “kidnapped” and improperly held with state prisoners. There is no indication that the
restrictions on Plaintiff while in the halfway house were in any way more restrictive than those he
faced while in county jail. This claim must be dismissed.
With regard to his statement that he suffered from “sexual abuse” by state inmates, the
Court construes such an allegation as an attempt to assert a failure-to-protect claim. (Compl.
6.) Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials have a duty to provide humane conditions of
confinement, including personal safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U .S. 825, 832 (1994). Prison
officials must take reasonable measures “to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other
prisoners.” Id. at 833 (internal quotations omitted).
“Being violently assaulted in prison is
simply ‘not a part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”
Id. at 834 (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). However, negligence, or a
lack of due care under the circumstances, is insufficient to support a cognizable failure to protect
1983. Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347 (1986). In order to state a viable
claim for a failure to protect a prisoner from harm, Plaintiff must show that he faced a pervasive
risk of harm from other prisoners or guards and that the prison officials displayed deliberate
indifference to this danger. See Riley v. Jeffes, 777 F.2d 143. 147 (3d Cir. 1985). Plaintiff must
first satisfy an objective requirement under the aforesaid standard by showing that he was
“incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.” Farmer
511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). Plaintiff must then satisfy a subjective element and show that a prison
official “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Id. at 837. “The
official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial
risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id.
“[Am Eighth Amendment
claimant need not show that a prison official acted or failed to act believing that harm actually
would befall an inmate; it is enough that the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge
of a substantial risk of serious harm.” Id. at 842.
An inmate is not required to give advance notice to officials of the risk of harm, and actual
knowledge of the risk can be inferred from circumstantial evidence of the obviousness of the risk.
In addition, [aj pervasive risk of harm may not ordinarily be shown by pointing to a single
incident or isolated incidents, but it may be established by much less than proof of a reign of
violence and terror.” Riley, 777 F.2d at 147 (citation omitted). See also Ingalls v. Florio, 968
F.Supp. 193, 199 (D.N.J. 1997). A prison official or corrections officer, when faced with the
knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner, must take “reasonable measures to
abate it” or his inaction will constitute deliberate indifference to that risk. Farmer, 511 U.S. at
847. See also Alford v. Owen, No. 03-795, 2005 WL 2033685, at *6 (D.N.J. Aug. 23, 2005).
Here, Plaintiff has not alleged anything more than the fact that he suffered sexual abuse by
state inmates. He does not provide any other information with regard to this claim which would
allow the Court to properly screen it. Therefore, the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs failure-toprotect claim without prejudice.
For the reasons stated above, the Complaint will be dismissed in its entirety for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1915A(b)(1). However, because it is conceivable that Plaintiff may be able to supplement his
pleading with facts sufficient to overcome the deficiencies noted herein, the Court will grant
Plaintiff leave to move to re-open this case and to file an amended complaint.
Peter G. Sheridan, U.S.D.J.
Plaintiff should note that when an amended complaint is filed, the original complaint no longer
performs any function in the case and Acannot be utilized to cure defects in the amended
[complaint], unless the relevant portion is specifically incorporated in the new [complaintj.@ 6
Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure 1476 (2d ed. 1990) (footnotes omitted).
An amended complaint may adopt some or all of the allegations in the original complaint, but the
identification of the particular allegations to be adopted must be clear and explicit. Jd. To avoid
confusion, the safer course is to file an amended complaint that is complete in itself. Id.
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