COLEMAN v. CRANSTON et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Brian R. Martinotti on 1/9/2017. (mmh)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
SHAWN W. COLEMAN,
MARK CRANSTON, et al.,
Civil Action No. 15-8095-BRM-DEA
MARTINOTTI, DISTRICT JUDGE
Before this Court is a civil rights Complaint filed by Plaintiff Shawn W. Coleman
(“Plaintiff”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated
by Defendants Mark Cranston (“Cranston”) and Officer Francis (“Francis”) (collectively,
“Defendants”). (ECF No. 1.) Having previously granted Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma
pauperis (ECF No. 5), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court must review the Complaint
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 suit.
Plaintiff is currently confined at the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center. (ECF No.
1 at 3-4.) On November 12, 2014, Plaintiff was allegedly assaulted by five (5) correctional officers
in masks. (Id. at 5.) For purposes of this Memorandum Opinion, the specific details of the assault
are not relevant because Plaintiff does not assert claims against any of the officers involved in the
alleged assault; instead, Plaintiff names only Cranston, the Warden of the County, and Francis, an
internal affairs official, as defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Cranston “knows everything that goes
on in his county and he allows his officers to put on mask and body armor and go into units and
viciously assault inmates, then hide behind his zero tolerance policy!!” (Id. at 4.) As to Francis,
Plaintiff asserts he failed to investigate the alleged assault after Plaintiff filed an internal complaint.
(Id.) The Complaint does not allege the Defendants (together or separately) had advanced
knowledge of the alleged assault on Plaintiff. Nor does it allege any prior incidents of assaults by
masked officers that might suggest that a pattern of assaults had been occurring in the prison.
Every complaint must comply with the pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2),
which requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give
the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Erickson
v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted). “While a complaint . . . does not need
detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to
relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations
omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”
Id.; see Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 2016).
In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to accept
its factual allegations as true, see James v. City of Wilkes–Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 679 (3d Cir. 2012),
and to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21
(1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). With these standards in mind, the
Court has reviewed the Complaint and finds that Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants must be
dismissed for failure to state a claim.
First, with regard to the claim against Cranston, in § 1983 actions, “[g]overnment officials
may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates[.]” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Instead, “a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant,
through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Id. While affirmative
action by a supervisory official is not required to state a § 1983 claim, Plaintiff must still allege
that “a supervisor . . . had knowledge and acquiesced in the subordinate’s unconstitutional
conduct.” Barkes v. First Corr. Med. Inc., 766 F. 3d 307, 316 (3d Cir. 2014) (rev’d on other
grounds); see Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F. 3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (“Personal involvement can
be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.”).
Here, Plaintiff summarily asserts Cranston allowed correctional officers to wear masks and
body armor in order to carry out assaults against inmates. However, the conclusory allegation that
Cranston “knows everything that goes on in his County and he allows his officers . . . assault
inmates” is simply too general and not supported by any facts. For example, Plaintiff does not
plead any facts to support the allegation that Cranston had advanced knowledge of these alleged
assaults and/or acquiesced to their occurrence. Nor does Plaintiff allege any facts to establish a
pattern or practice, such as the occurrence of similar incidents in the past. Indeed, if such a practice
was, in fact, occurring, it is unlikely to go unnoticed, especially by the inmates, and Plaintiff should
have little difficulty providing additional factual allegations detailing any such incidents. Here,
Plaintiff simply implies that Cranston “knows everything” and acquiesced to the alleged conduct
based on a single, isolated incident involving Plaintiff. The law, however, requires more. See Egan
v. Concini, 585 F. Supp. 801, 803-04 (M.D. Pa. 1984) (“[I]n order to hold a supervisor liable for
an isolated incident under § 1983, it is insufficient merely to show that the defendant is the superior
of the person who actually committed the illegal or unconstitutional act. . . . [T]he complaint [must]
state that the defendant actually participated in or had actual knowledge of and acquiesced in the
event forming the basis of the claim.”) (citing Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F. 2d
1077 (3d Cir. 1976)). As such, the claim against Cranston is dismissed without prejudice for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Second, as to the claim against Francis, Plaintiff has not alleged that his constitutional
rights have been violated. “[G]enerally, there is no statutory or common law right, much less a
constitutional right, to an investigation.” Fuchs v. Mercer Cty., 260 F. App’x 472, 475 (3d Cir.
2008) (quoting Mitchell v. McNeil, 487 F.3d 374, 378 (6th Cir. 2007)). Furthermore, “allegations
[that] . . . merely assert [a defendant’s] involvement in the post-incident grievance process” are
insufficient to establish liability. Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 F. App’x 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005).
“Merely responding to or reviewing an inmate grievance does not rise to the level of personal
involvement necessary to allege an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim.” Tenon v.
Dreibelbis, 606 F. App’x 681, 688 (3d Cir. 2015). While the Court understands Plaintiff’s
frustration with the prison grievance system, because there are no facts suggesting Francis had
knowledge of and/or acquiesced to the alleged assault prior to its occurrence, there is simply no
constitutional basis to find him liable for that incident. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claim against
Francis is dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Having dismissed all claims asserted, the Complaint must also dismissed. In the interest of
justice, Plaintiff shall have thirty (30) days from the date of this Memorandum Opinion to file an
Amended Complaint that cures the defects identified herein.
Date: January 9, 2017
/s/ Brian R. Martinotti___________
HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI
United States District Judge
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