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Cox v. Unknown Grammer

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

November 15, 2019

WILLIE COX, JR., a/k/a ABBUE-JAU, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN GRAMMER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         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 Grammer." Based upon the allegations in the complaint, Grammer is a police officer. Plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which he sues Grammer.

         Plaintiffs cause of action stems from a traffic stop conducted by Grammer at an unspecified time. Plaintiffs allegations in support of his claim are best understood if directly quoted. They are as follows.

University City Event
I was parked on the shell filling station lot when Mr. Grammer pulled along side of me and [gestured] that I roll down my windows, I did not so he exited his vehicle and tapped on my window and informed me that his [gesture] meant to roll down my window, then he informed me that the lights were illegal and if he saw me driving on the street with the lights on he would issue me a citation. When I drove off the filling station lot Mr. Grammer with another person pulled me over and I informed him that the lights are not illegal in the state of Missouri and that he was violating my civil rights. I asked him for his first and last name and he said his last name and his number would be on the citation. He then ordered me to sign the citation or I would go to jail. He said, "this is the way we do it around here."

(ECF No. 1 at 6-7). Plaintiff seeks a total of $1.5 million in damages.

         Discussion

         The complaint does not state whether Grammer 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 StatePolice,491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989), White v. Jackson,865 F.3d 1064, 1075 (8th Cir. 2017). Based upon the allegations in the complaint, Grammer is employed by a police department. However, a police department is not an entity subject to suit under § 1983. See Ketchum v. City of WestMemphis, Ark,974 F.2d 81, 82 (8th Cir. 1992) (entities such as police departments are "not juridical entities suable as such."). Additionally, the complaint ...


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