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Bennett v. City of Florissant Police Department

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

December 3, 2019

TAYLOR BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FLORISSANT POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHNA. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of plaintiff Taylor Bennett 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.

         Background

         The allegations in the instant complaint arise from the same facts as plaintiffs criminal case, United States v. Bennett, No. 4:13-cr-441-RWS-l (E.D. Mo. Apr. 3, 2014). There, plaintiff was charged by indictment with five counts related to mail fraud, access device fraud, and stealing mail. The charges stemmed from an August 27, 2013 incident in which officers of the Florissant, Missouri Police Department responded to a call from a resident, later identified as Lawrence Danielson, who reported seeing plaintiff opening mailboxes in his neighborhood. When officers arrived on the scene, they made contact with plaintiff and questioned her, and searched her backpack. They discovered various items, including an unauthorized access device and stolen mail. Plaintiff was arrested and ultimately pled guilty to mail fraud, access device fraud, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, and possession of stolen mail. On April 3, 2014, she was sentenced to four concurrent terms of forty-eight months' imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. She did not appeal.

         On August 18, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct her sentence. See Bennett v. United States, No. 4:14-cv-1438-RWS (E.D. Mo. Apr. 21, 2015). The Court denied plaintiffs motion on April 21, 2015 and declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Plaintiff did not appeal. On August 12, 2015, plaintiff filed a successive motion to vacate. See Bennett v. United States, No. 4:15-cv-1250-RWS (E.D. Mo. Aug. 18, 2015). The Court transferred plaintiffs motion to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which declined to issue a petition for authorization to file a successive habeas application. On December 21, 2017, plaintiff filed another successive motion to vacate. See Bennett v. United States, No. 4:17-cv-2916-RWS (E.D. Mo. Dec. 22, 2017). The Court dismissed the motion, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied authorization to file a successive habeas application.

         The case at bar is the third of three 42 U.S.C. § 1983 actions plaintiff has filed pro se and in forma pauperis against these same defendants to claim constitutional violations stemming from her August 27, 2013 arrest. See Bennett et al. v. Lowery et al, No. 4:16-cv-2044-CEJ (E.D. Mo. May 4, 2017) (hereafter "Bennett i") and Bennett v. City of Florissant Police Department, et a/., No. 4:18-cv-1413-JMB (E.D. Mo. Feb. 12, 2019) (hereafter "Bennett IF). Both Bennett I and Bennett II were dismissed as frivolous and/or for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In Bennett II, the Court also determined that Heck v. Humphrey[1] barred plaintiffs claims that law enforcement officers Timothy Lowery, Daniel Fletcher, Scott Sachs and Andrew Hale violated her Fourth Amendment rights by illegally seizing her, arresting her without probable cause, and maliciously prosecuting and falsely imprisoning her.

         This Court takes judicial notice of the foregoing prior litigation, the records of which are public records filed in this District Court that relate to the case at bar. See United States v. Jackson, 640 F.2d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 1981) (citations omitted) (district court may take judicial notice, whether requested or not, of its own records and files and facts that are part of its public records; judicial notice is particularly applicable to the court's own records of prior litigation related to the case before it); see also Cravens v. Smith, 610 F.3d 1019, 1029 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting In re Papatones, 143 F.3d 623, 624 n. 3 (1st Cir. 1998) ("The court may take judicial notice of its own orders and of records in a case before the court...").

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff filed the five-count complaint against the City of Florissant Police Department, and against Lowery, Fletcher, Sachs and Hale in their official and individual capacities. All of these defendants were named in Bennett I and Bennett II, and the claims plaintiff asserts are duplicative of those she asserted in Bennett I and Bennett II Briefly, plaintiffs claims are as follows.

         Count I of the complaint is titled "Unreasonable Search and Seizure," and is alleged against Lowery, Fletcher and Hale. Plaintiff avers this claim arose on August 27, 2013. Plaintiff alleges her constitutional rights were violated on that date when Fletcher stopped her without reasonable suspicion. She asserts she did not match the description that Mr. Danielson gave to police dispatch. She alleges that Fletcher lacked probable cause to arrest her for trespass, Sachs illegally searched her backpack, and Fletcher and Sachs conspired to commit false arrest. Count II is also titled "Unreasonable Search and Seizure" and is alleged against all five defendants. Plaintiff avers this claim arose on August 27, 2013. Plaintiff alleges the defendants violated her constitutional rights on that date because Fletcher lacked reasonable suspicion to stop her, Fletcher and Sachs unlawfully arrested her, and Hale failed to give her Miranda warnings and questioned her after she requested counsel.

         Count III is titled "Municipal Liability and Violation of Due Process," and is alleged against all five defendants. Plaintiff avers this claim arose on August 27, 2013. Plaintiff alleges the defendants violated her constitutional rights on that date when they did not allow her to call her attorney, and subjected her to "horrific treatment" while in custody. Plaintiff alleges that "police officers" "bully, harass and deprive private citizens of their civil liberties," and she states that the City of Florissant has policies and customs that led to the violation of her constitutional rights. She also alleges that the Florissant Police Department had a policy to use negligent hiring practices, inadequately supervise its officers, and hold people in jail without a hearing. Count IV is titled "False Imprisonment" and is alleged against all five defendants. Plaintiff avers this claim arose on August 27, 2013, and she alleges the defendants falsely arrested and imprisoned her. Count V is titled "Malicious Prosecution," and is alleged against Fletcher, Sachs and Hale. Plaintiff avers this claim arose on August 27, 2013. She alleges the defendants falsified a police report and gave false statements to secure a warrant.

         Attached to the complaint is a record of an interview of Mr. Danielson, taken by private investigator Tim Woodburn on September 10, 2018. The statement identifies plaintiff as Mr. Woodburn's client. Mr. Danielson stated that on August 27, 2013, he saw an unknown person looking in his neighbor's mailbox. He called police, and told them he believed the person was a female wearing a backpack. He did not recall what the person wore or what body style the person had, but "reiterated that he told the police it was a female." "He also indicated he received threatening letters from jail from the client." As relief, plaintiff seeks damages and unspecified injunctive relief to prevent future harassment from the defendants. However, plaintiff does not allege she has had any interaction with any defendant since the time of the events described in the complaint. Plaintiff also asks the Court to initiate a criminal investigation into the defendants' actions.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff filed this action in forma pauperis, and the claims she asserts against the defendants are duplicative of those she brought against these same defendants in Bennett I and Bennett II, both of which were dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e). While plaintiff has now provided a report from the September 2018 interview of Mr. Danielson, plaintiff does not allege, nor is it apparent, ...


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