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Bennett v. Lowery

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

May 4, 2017

TIMOTHY J. LOWERY, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court upon review of the second amended complaint filed by pro se plaintiff Taylor Bennett. For the reasons explained below, this case will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         Legal Standard on Initial Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To state a claim for relief under § 1983, a complaint must plead more than “legal conclusions” and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 679. “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.” Id. at 678. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to, inter alia, draw upon judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679.

         When reviewing a pro se complaint under § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give it the benefit of a liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, this does not mean that pro se complaints may be merely conclusory. Even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980); see also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004) (federal courts are not required to “assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint”). In addition, affording a pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction does not mean that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation must be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel. See McNeil v. U.S., 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).


         The allegations in the second amended complaint arise from the same facts in plaintiff's criminal case, U.S.A. v. Bennett, Case No. 4:13-cr-441-RWS-1 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 3, 2014). There, plaintiff pled guilty to mail fraud, access device fraud, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, and possession of stolen mail. This Court takes judicial notice of the case file in that criminal action, and in Bennett v. United States of America, Case No. 4:14-cv-1438-RWS (E.D. Mo. Apr. 21, 2015), plaintiff's postconviction relief proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Cravens v. Smith, 610 F.3d 1019, 1029 (quoting In re Papatones, 143 F.3d 623, 624 n. 3 (1st Cir. 1998) (“The court may take judicial notice of its own orders and of records in a case before the court . . .”); United States v. Morris, 451 F.2d 969, 972 (8th Cir. 1971) (The district court may take judicial notice of its own records).

         Plaintiff's convictions stemmed from an August 27, 2013 incident in which officers of the Florissant, Missouri Police Department responded to a call from an individual who stated that he saw plaintiff opening mailboxes in his neighborhood. Upon arriving at the scene, the officers questioned plaintiff and searched her backpack, discovering various items including an unauthorized access device and stolen mail. She was arrested. She ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to a 48-month term of imprisonment and a three-year term of supervised release. Plaintiff's § 2255 motion was denied.

         Plaintiff initiated this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil action on December 15, 2016, and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Upon initial review, the Court noted the complaint suffered from various deficiencies, and gave plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. In so doing, the Court explained, inter alia, that plaintiff was required to state what each defendant did to violate her federally-protected rights, and that her allegations must be simple, concise and direct. In response, plaintiff filed an amended complaint and then a second amended complaint, which the Court now reviews pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

         The Second Amended Complaint

         The second amended complaint spans 19 pages, and contains eight counts. Plaintiff names nine defendants: Timothy J. Lowery (the Chief of Police of the City of Florissant Police Department); Florissant law enforcement officers Daniel Fletcher, Scott Sachs, Andrew Hale, and John Doe; Federal Public Defender Lucille Liggett; Assistant United States Attorney Tracy L. Berry; City of Florissant Police Department; and Lawrence Danielson (the Florissant resident who told police he noticed plaintiff engaged in suspicious activity). Plaintiff sues the defendants in their “individual and professional capacities.” (Docket No. 6). Briefly, the second amended complaint alleges as follows.

         Count I is titled Unreasonable Search and Seizure, and is alleged against Fletcher, Sachs, Doe and Danielson. Plaintiff alleges that her constitutional rights were violated on August 27, 2013 because Fletcher lacked reasonable suspicion to stop her and lacked probable cause to arrest her, Danielson falsely alleged that she walked on his property and opened mailboxes, Sachs requested permission to search her backpack, and Fletcher and Sachs conspired to commit false arrest and Doe took no action to stop them.

         Count II is also titled Unreasonable Search and Seizure and is alleged against City of Florissant Police Department and Lowery, Fletcher, Sachs, Doe and Hale. Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated her constitutional rights on August 27, 2013 by holding her in custody too long without a hearing, and because they lacked probable cause to arrest her.

         Count III is titled Municipal Liability and Violation of Due Process, and is alleged against all defendants. Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated her constitutional rights on August 27, 2013 when they did not allow her to call her attorney and subjected her to unpleasant jail conditions. Plaintiff alleges that “police officers” worked together to “bully, harass and deprive private citizens of their civil liberties, ” that “[d]efendants' conduct” caused her to be abused, and that “Defendants' actions” deprived her of property interests. (Docket No. 6 at 10). Plaintiff states ...

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