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Cox v. City of Ferguson

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

December 5, 2019

WILLIE COX, JR., Plaintiff,



         This matter comes 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. (Docket No. 2). 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 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 action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket No. 1 at 3). The sole defendant named in the complaint is the City of Ferguson, Missouri. (Docket No. 1 at 2). The complaint is handwritten on a Court-provided form. Attached to the complaint is a forty-three page attachment that includes purported legal definitions, citations to caselaw, a post from a website called "The Real Truth," and several pictures. (Docket No. 1-1).

         The cause of action appears to arise 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." Within the attachment, there is a document titled "Event," which appears to narrate the incident of which plaintiff complains. To better understand plaintiffs claim, this will be quoted in its entirety, without corrections to spelling or grammar:

Parked on QT (Quick Trip) Gas Station Lot when Micheal Anello[2]pulled up behind me and waited for approximately ten (10) minutes, he then exited his vehicle and shined his light in my vehicle. I rolled down my window and Officer Micheal Anello said, "the reason I pulled you over," and I said, "pulled me over, how could you pull me over when I am parked?" I also informed him that this is private property and not a public street. He then mentioned that my lights were illegal. I informed him that they are not and asked him to issue the ticket. He asked for my drivers license and insurance. I gave him the drivers license, but did not give him insurance card. The accused went back to his vehicle and stayed for approximately ten (10) minutes and then another cohert (a black man) vehicle pulled up in front of me and the other cohert exited his vehicle and walked past my vehicle to Anello's vehicle and spoke with Anello while he sat in his vehicle. Then Anello exited his vehicle issued me the tickets and went to his vehicle and drove away.

(Docket No. 1-1 at 31-32). Other documents in the attachment present the assertion that plaintiff has a right not to be stopped in his vehicle unless he has committed a crime, which he defines as "damage to person, damage to property...or witnessing a felony." (Docket No. 1-1 at 32-33). Indeed, plaintiff proposes that "traffic court is a fiction" and that "[p]olice officers must be amenable to you at all time." (Docket No. 1-1 at 40).

         Plaintiff is seeking $1.5 million in general damages, $1.5 million in actual damages, and $1.5 million in punitive damages. (Docket No. 1 at 5).


         Plaintiff brings this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the City of Ferguson is liable for violating his constitutional rights during a traffic stop. For the reasons discussed below, the complaint must be dismissed because plaintiff has failed to state a municipal liability claim against Ferguson.

         A local governing body such as Ferguson can be sued directly under § 1983. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York,436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). In order to prevail on this type of claim, the plaintiff must establish the municipality's liability for the alleged conduct. Kelly v. City of Omaha, Neb.,813 F.3d 1070, 1075 (8th Cir. 2016). Such liability may attach if the constitutional violation "resulted from (1) an official municipal policy, (2) an unofficial custom, or (3) a deliberately indifferent failure to train or supervise." Mick v. Raines,883 F.3d 1075, 1079 (8th Cir. 2018). See also Marsh v. Phelps Cty., 902 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2018) (recognizing "claims challenging an unconstitutional policy or ...

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