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Cox v. Morrow

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

November 21, 2019

WILLIE COX, JR., a/k/a ABBUE-JAU, Plaintiff,
v.
BRADLEY MORROW, 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 Twombty, 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 Bradley Morrow. Based upon the allegations in the complaint, Morrow is a police officer. Plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which he sues Morrow.

         Plaintiffs cause of action stems from two traffic stops conducted by Morrow, one on April 6, 2019 and another on April 8, 2019. Plaintiffs allegations in support of his claim are best understood if directly quoted. They are as follows.

On 04/06/2019 at approximately 7:43 a.m. I was driving with my mother when Mr. Morrow pulled me over and issued me a citation for "auxiliary" lamps. I informed Mr. Morrow that they were "accent" lamps and that they were not illegal in the State of Missouri. On 04/08/2019 I saw Mr. Morrow in the lobby of the court house and when I exited the court room and was exiting the parking lot Mr. Morrow was following me in a police vehicle and pulled me over and issued me another citation for the same lights with a different ordinance violation. Each time Mr. Morrow ordered me to cut them off. I refused to do so. There are no "auxiliary" lamps on my vehicle, the lamps on my vehicle are "accent" lamps and are not illegal in the State of Missouri. I filed a complaint against Mr. Morrow with the City of Ferguson. Mr. Morrow violated not only my civil rights he also breach[ed] his fiduciary duty and that is unacceptable.

(ECF No. 1 at 5). Plaintiff seeks a total of $1.5 million in damages.

         Discussion

         The complaint does not state whether Morrow 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." Egerdahlv. Ribbing Cmty. 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, Morrow 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).

         Even if plaintiff had sued Morrow 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 Morrow for violating his Fourth Amendment rights by pulling him over and citing him with traffic violations. In support of this ...


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