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Mitchell v. St. Louis County Police Department

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

April 26, 2018




         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of plaintiff Kristina Marie Mitchell for leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this civil action. Upon consideration of the financial information provided with the application, the Court finds that plaintiff is financially unable to pay any portion of the filing fee. The motion will therefore be granted. In addition, the Court will direct the Clerk of Court to issue process upon the complaint as to defendant Derek Machens in his individual capacity, and will dismiss all other defendants from this action.

         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.

         Pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). However, they still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims alleged. Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004); see also Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980) (even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law). Federal courts are not required to “assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint.” Stone, 364 F.3d at 914-15. In addition, giving 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. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).

         The Complaint[1]

         According to the complaint, on January 13, 2014, St. Louis County officials seized twenty-two cats from plaintiff's motel room. The cats were taken to the St. Louis County Animal Care and Control Shelter (“Shelter”).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant Machens, a police officer, came to her motel room door and, when she opened it, forcefully pulled her out, sending her and her shoes flying. He then “bashed [plaintiff's] head into a concrete brick wall twice.” (Doc. 1 at 10). Plaintiff suffered permanent eye damage. Machens then threw plaintiff to the ground, stood on top of her, pinned her arms, handcuffed her, and forced her to walk shoeless on broken concrete to defendant Justin Jones's police cruiser. Machens also forced plaintiff to stand outside, without shoes or a jacket, for more than fifteen minutes in the cold winter air.

         Plaintiff states “[a] female police officer named Samantha Crespo also participated in this deplorable behavior” and “also was an investigator on this.” Id. at 11.

         On January 28, 2014, Machens applied for a search warrant that listed the room number of the motel where plaintiff and her mother had kept the cats, and sought a warrant impounding the cats because they were neglected and abused. In re Mitchell, Case No. 14SL-MC01127 (21st Jud. Cir. Jan. 28, 2014).[2] On February 27, 2014, the Court ruled that the cats were lawfully impounded and entered judgment against plaintiff, and specifically:

After considering the evidence and the argument, the Court finds that the animals described in attached Exhibit 1 were lawfully impounded on January 28, 2014 [sic] under a valid warrant and under the authority of RSMo. 578.018.1. The Court further finds that all the requirements of RSMo. 578.018 have been satisfied, and that said impounded animals were abused and neglected as defined by Missouri statutes RSMo. 578.012 and 578.009.


         The “Exhibit 1” referenced in the Court's Judgment and Order is a letter from defendant Dr. Stephanie Nelson, a veterinarian with St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, describing each of the cats' sicknesses. Dr. Nelson wrote: “If the cats had been taken to a veterinarian, they could have been easily diagnosed and treated. The illnesses that these cats have were exacerbated by the living conditions and amount of cats. Based on the exam and my professional opinion the cats have been abused and neglected.” Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that Machens “committed perjury at least 4-5 times” when deposed about the circumstances involving the seizure of the cats. (Doc. 1 at 11). She also alleges that defendant Dr. Nelson committed perjury by stating that the cats had herpes in an attempt to have them euthanized. She also ...

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