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Cox v. Walker

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

December 4, 2019

WILLIE COX, JR., a/k/a ABBUE-JAH, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN WALKER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Willie Cox, Jr. for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. Having reviewed the motion, the Court finds that it should be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Additionally, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss this action without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         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 can be granted. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a "mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). "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." Id. at 678. 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 "accept as true the facts alleged, but not legal conclusions or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016). See also Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 372-73 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that court must accept factual allegations in complaint as true, but is not required to "accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

         When reviewing a pro se complaint under § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give it the benefit of a liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A "liberal construction" means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the district court should construe the plaintiffs complaint in a way that permits his or her claim to be considered within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). However, even pro se complaints are required to 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). See also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8thCir. 2004) (stating that federal courts are not required to "assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint"). In addition, affording a pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction does not mean that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation must be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff is a pro se litigant who brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket No. 1 at 3). The complaint is handwritten on a Court-provided form. Attached to the complaint are two typed pages and a copy of a warning citation issued by the Clayton Police Department. (Docket No. 1 at 7-8; Docket No. 1-1). Plaintiff names Unknown Walker as the sole defendant. (Docket No. 1 at 2). Defendant Walker is apparently a police officer for the City of Clayton, Missouri. (Docket No. 1-1 at 1). Plaintiff does not indicate the capacity in which Walker is sued.

         The cause of action described in the complaint arises out of a traffic stop, and is similar to other cases filed by plaintiff in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.[1] The "Statement of Claim" section in the form complaint contains only the notation "See attached." (Docket No. 1 at 5). The referenced attachment contains a typewritten statement that narrates the incident of which plaintiff complains. To better understand plaintiffs claim, the statement will be quoted in its entirety:

City of Clayton event no. 3
On October 9, 2019, at approximately 19:30, I was pulled over by Walker. I informed him that the lights are not illegal in the State of Missouri and that this was an illegal stop. He (Walker) began asking me questions about the lights and I explained to him that the lights are not illegal in the State of Missouri. He (Walker) asked me for proof of insurance and I gave it to him. He (Walker) then proceeded to his vehicle and [stayed there] for [approximately] 10 minutes and exited his vehicle and issued me a warning citation. On the citation the offense was "Defective Equipment," facts as follows[:] lights all over vehicle. I informed him about his fiduciary duty and his oath[, ] and he asked me had I ever been pulled over by the state police which he had been at one time, I said, "no," he then proceeded to his vehicle and I then pulled away.

(Docket No. 1 at 7-8). As a result of receiving this warning citation, plaintiff seeks $500, 000 in compensatory damages, $500, 000 in general damages, and $500, 000 in punitive damages. (Docket No. 1 at 5).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant Unknown Walker. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Plaintiff has failed to indicate the capacity in which he is suing Walker. A plaintiff can bring a § 1983 claim against a public official acting in his or her official capacity, his or her individual capacity, or both. Baker v. Chisom,501 F.3d 920, 923 (8th Cir. 2007). However, if a plaintiffs complaint is silent about the capacity in which the defendant is being sued, the complaint is interpreted as including only official capacity claims. Id. See also Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999) ("[I]n order to sue a public official in his or her individual capacity, a plaintiff must expressly and unambiguously state so in the pleadings, otherwise, it will be assumed that the defendant is sued only in his or her official capacity"); Artis v. Francis Howell North Band Booster Ass 'n, Inc.,161 F.3d 1178, 1182 (8th Cir. 1998) ("If the complaint does not specifically name the defendant in his individual capacity, it is presumed he is sued only in his official capacity"); and Egerdahl v. Hibbing Cmty. Coll.,72 F.3d 615, 619 (8th Cir. 1995) ("If a plaintiffs complaint is silent about the capacity in which she is suing the ...


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