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Jones v. Vaeth

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

July 16, 2018

LARRY E. JONES, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NICHOLAS VAETH[1], et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Larry E. Jones, Jr. for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court has determined that plaintiff lacks sufficient funds to pay the entire filing fee, and will not assess an initial filing fee at this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Additionally, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss plaintiff's complaint without prejudice as to defendant Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department, and will stay plaintiff's action against defendant Matt Ballew until final disposition of plaintiff's pending criminal action.

         28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1), a prisoner bringing a civil action in forma pauperis is required to pay the full amount of the filing fee. If the prisoner has insufficient funds in his prison account to pay the entire fee, the Court must assess and, when funds exist, collect an initial partial filing fee of 20 percent of the greater of (1) the average monthly deposits in the prisoner's account, or (2) the average monthly balance in the prisoner's account for the prior six- month period. After payment of the initial partial filing fee, the prisoner is required to make monthly payments of 20 percent of the preceding month's income credited to the prisoner's account. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The agency having custody of the prisoner will forward these monthly payments to the Clerk of Court each time the amount in the prisoner's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is fully paid. Id.

         Plaintiff has submitted a certified inmate account statement. (Docket No. 3). The statement shows a starting balance of zero, that plaintiff has made no deposits, and that he currently has a negative account balance. As a result, the Court will not require plaintiff to file an initial partial filing fee at this time. See Henderson v. Norris, 129 F.3d 481, 484 (8th Cir. 1997). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) (stating that a prisoner shall not be prohibited from bringing a civil action for the reason the prisoner has “no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee”).

         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 42 U.S.C. § 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). See also Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 372-73 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that court must accept factual allegations in complaint as true, but “does not accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”). A plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. 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 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). A “liberal construction” means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the district court should construe the plaintiff's complaint in a way that permits his or her claim to be considered within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). However, 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. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the St. Louis County Jail. He brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against law enforcement officer Matt Ballew and the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department. Defendant Ballew is sued in both his individual and official capacities, and the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department is sued in its official capacity.

         Plaintiff's complaint states that on February 20, defendant Ballew, acting in his capacity as an officer of the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department, crossed the state line into Cahokia, Illinois, and entered the house of plaintiff's sister-in-law. (Docket No. 1 at 3). Plaintiff alleges that Ballew entered his sister-in-law's residence without a search warrant or permission or with any Illinois law enforcement on the scene. He states that Ballew handcuffed him at gunpoint and forced him out of the residence. He also alleges that Ballew reentered the sister-in-law's residence without permission or a search warrant and took property that was located therein.

         Plaintiff states that all these events took place in Cahokia, Illinois, and that Ballew is employed by the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department, in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. He alleges that Ballew's actions demonstrate that he is “guilty” of “home invasion, ” “unlawful restraint, ” and “kidnapping.” (Docket No. 1 at 4). He states that Ballew's actions were criminal and violated his civil rights. He also alleges that the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department is responsible for Ballew's “criminal conduct” and his violation of plaintiff's civil rights.

         Plaintiff further alleges that his left hand was re-broken by Ballew when Ballew handcuffed him. He notes that his hand was x-rayed at the St. Louis County Jail and placed into a half cast. However, plaintiff alleges that due to his hand being re-broken, it is healing abnormally and causing him pain. Plaintiff seeks $500, 000 in damages.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges that defendant Ballew violated his constitutional rights by crossing into Illinois, entering the residence of plaintiff's sister-in-law without a warrant, and unlawfully arresting him. The complaint alleges that Ballew's employer, the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department, is responsible for plaintiff's conduct. Having carefully reviewed and liberally construed plaintiff's allegations, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court must dismiss plaintiff's claims against the Ste. Genevieve Sheriff's Department pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B). ...


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