United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court upon the motion of plaintiff
Willie Cox, Jr. for leave to proceed in forma pauperis in
this civil action. Upon consideration of the motion and the
financial information provided in support, the Court
concludes that plaintiff is unable to pay the filing fee. The
motion will therefore be granted. Additionally, the Court
will dismiss the complaint, without prejudice.
Standard on Initial Review
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 may be
granted. An action is frivolous if it “lacks an
arguable basis in either law or fact.” Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989). An action fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not
plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). 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. The court must assume the
veracity of well-pleaded facts, but need not accept as true
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements.”
Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at
Court must liberally construe complaints filed by laypeople.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). This
means that “if the essence of an allegation is
discernible, ” the court should “construe the
complaint in a way that permits the layperson's claim to
be considered within the proper legal framework.”
Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir.
2004)). However, even pro se complaints must 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). Federal courts are not required to assume facts that
are not alleged, Stone, 364 F.3d at 914-15, nor are
they required to interpret procedural rules so as to excuse
mistakes by those who proceed without counsel. See McNeil
v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).
states he brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 against Thomas Lang a police officer. Plaintiff does not
specify the capacity in which he sues Lang. Plaintiff's
cause of action stems from a traffic stop conducted by Lang
on September 12, 2019. Plaintiff's allegations in support
of his claim are best understood if directly quoted. They are
On 09/12/19 at approximately 1940 hrs. I was pulling off the
Quicktrip lot when Mr. Thomas Lang shined his lightbar in my
face and made a U-turn and pulled up beside my vehicle and
said, “It looks pretty, but the lights are illegal and
to turn them off.” I informed Mr. Lang approximately 3
times that the lights are not illegal in the State of
Missouri. Them Mr. Lang said if you don't turn them off I
am going to pull you over. I did not turn them off and he did
pull me over. I informed Mr. Lang that he is in civil rights
violation and he said that the municipal code I am in
violation of. Mr. Lang then made a video or took photos on
what appeared to be a personal phone. Mr. Lang then issued me
the citation. Then I said to Mr. Lang, “I am going to
take everything that you own for your violation of my civil
rights and then Mr. Lang said, “Mr. Cox, do you want to
know how to get out of one of these citations?” I then
said to him, “No.” And drove away with lights on.
to the complaint is a document that reads: “Brief
description of cause: Fiduciary duty violation, probable
cause violation, illegal citation, no corpus delicti, no mens
rea, no actus reus.” Plaintiff states that “the
damage is that I know my rights and Mr. Lang acted
unconstitutionally in violating them.” Plaintiff seeks
a total of $1.0 million in damages.
complaint does not state whether Lang is being sued in his
official or individual capacity. Where a “complaint is
silent about the capacity in which [plaintiff] is suing
defendant, [a district court must] interpret the complaint as
including only official-capacity claims.” Egerdahl
v. Hibbing Community College, 72 F.3d 615, 619 (8th Cir.
1995); Nix v. Norman, 879 F.2d 429, 431 (8th Cir.
1989). Naming a government official in his official capacity
is the equivalent of naming the government entity that
employs him. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police,
491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989), White v. Jackson, 865 F.3d
1064, 1075 (8th Cir. 2017). Based upon the allegations in the
complaint, Lang is employed by a police department. However,
a police department is not an entity subject to suit under
§ 1983. See Ketchum v. City of West Memphis,
Ark., 974 F.2d 81, 82 (8th Cir. 1992) (entities such as
police departments are “not juridical entities suable
as such.”). Additionally, the complaint fails to state
a claim of municipal liability. See Monell v. Dept.
of Social Services of City of New York, 436
U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). The complaint is therefore subject
to dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
plaintiff had sued Lang in his individual capacity, the
complaint would be dismissed. Plaintiff does not challenge
the constitutionality of the applicable traffic law. Instead,
he seeks monetary relief from Lang for violating his Fourth
Amendment rights by pulling him over and citing him with a
traffic violation. In support of this claim, plaintiff
asserts that his vehicle's lights were not illegal.
traffic stop is legal under the Fourth Amendment if it is
supported by probable cause to believe that a violation of
the law has occurred. Whren v. United States, 517
U.S. 806, 810 (1996); see also PPS, Inc. v. Faulkner
County, Ark., 630 F.3d 1098, 1107 (8th Cir. 2011) (for a
plaintiff to succeed on a Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure
claim, the offending officer must have a lack of probable
cause). Any traffic violation, even a minor one, creates
probable cause for an officer to stop a vehicle. United
States v. Gregory, 302 F.3d 805, 809 (8th Cir. 2002). A
traffic stop can also be justified by a ...