United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN R. CLARK 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.
Legal 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 “Unknown Hulsey, ” a police officer.
Plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which he sues
Hulsey. Plaintiff's cause of action stems from a traffic
stop conducted by Hulsey on January 4, 2019. Plaintiff's
allegations in support of his claim are best understood if
directly quoted. They are as follows.
On 01/04/2019 at approximately 1708 hrs. I was pulled over by
Mr. Hulsey and I informed him that the lights were not
illegal in the State of Missouri. He said that they were and
issued me a citation. I was found guilty in Municiple
[sic] Court and immediately appealed to circuit
court where the case was dismissed “with
prejudice.” The video from Mr. Hulsey's vehicle
does not show the front of my vehicle where Mr. Husley's
testimony was that he saw the red lights. Mr. Hulsey said in
his testimony that there were red lights all around my
vehicle however Mr. Hulsey's video shows no red lights.
The case was dismissed in Circuit Court “with
Doc. 1 at 5. Appended 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.” Doc 1-1 at
3. 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 . . .”. Doc. 1 at 6. Plaintiff seeks a
total of $1.5 million in damages.
Complaint does not state whether Hulsey 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, Hulsey 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 Hulsey 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 Hulsey 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 ...