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Cox v. Unknown Atchison

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

November 15, 2019

WILLIE COX, JR., Plaintiff,



         This 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.

         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 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).

         "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." 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 555).

         This 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).

         The Complaint[1]

         Plaintiff states he brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against "Unknown Atchison," a police officer. Plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which he sues Atchison. Plaintiffs cause of action stems from a traffic stop conducted by Atchison on a "date and approximate time" shown on "the original citation." However, plaintiff did not provide a copy of the citation, nor did he specify the name of the particular county in which the traffic stop took place.

         Plaintiffs allegations in support of his claim are best understood if directly quoted. They are as follows.

The date and approximate time are on the original citation. I was going north on May wood and I noticed a police car in front of me, he was finishing up with another vehicle that he had pulled over. I proceeded past him and suddenly the same police car was behind me with flashing lights. I pulled to a stop and he got out of his car and said, my light were [sic] not on, I checked the dashboard lights and they were on, so I asked him if I could take a look, he said no remain in the vehicle, he then asked for my license and proof of insurance. I gave him my license and insurance card. He said that the card was void. He went to his car for approximately 10 minutes, got out and gave me the citation. Then I asked him again can I get out to check the lights, when he and I went to the front of my vehicle the headlights were on. He said that the lights were not bright enough. He said it's all on video. A few days later I filed for discovery and the clerk wrote me that they had no video. Case pending. He wrote on the citation about the accent lights which are not illegal in the state of Missouri.

(ECF No. 1 at 5). While plaintiff avers that his case is "pending," he does not identify any particular case. According to Missouri, plaintiff is a defendant in several cases that are currently pending in different municipal courts. However, determining which one of those cases relates to the allegations in the complaint at bar would require the Court to engage in improper speculation.

         In an attachment to the complaint, plaintiff writes: "Fiduciary duty violation, probable cause violation, illegal citation, no corpus delicti, no mens rea, no actus reus." (ECF No. 1, attch. 1 at 2). Plaintiff states that a "clear and powerful" message must be sent because "they are making up laws on the street, but the actual ordinance and the offense are not the same ...". (ECF No. 1 at 6). Plaintiff seeks a total of $1.5 million in damages.


         The complaint does not state whether Atchison 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, Atchison 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 ...

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