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Simpson v. Owner of Dollar Tree Store

August 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, J.


Pro se Plaintiff Chalmers Simpson brings this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights arising from his May 21, 2009 arrest and subsequent state court prosecution for retail theft in case no. CR-2443-2009 (Chester County Ct. of Common Pleas). We initially denied Plaintiff's petition to proceed in forma pauperis and closed this case, because Plaintiff did not file a certified copy of his prisoner account statement for the six-month period prior to the filing of this action. After Plaintiff filed the requisite account statement, we issued an Order notifying Plaintiff that, if his petition were granted, he would still have to pay the $350 filing fee. Simpson v. Owner of Dollar Tree Store, et al., Civ. A. No. 09-6162 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 22, 2010) (order). Our Order gave Plaintiff 20 days to notify the Court whether he wanted to proceed and pay the filing fee. Our Order also warned Plaintiff that this action could be dismissed as frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), even if he paid the filing fee. Plaintiff did not notify the Court in a timely manner that he wished to proceed and this case remained closed. Plaintiff has since filed a "Motion to Proceed With Action and Pay Filing Fees." We have conducted the screening of Plaintiff's Complaint required by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. For the following reasons we grant Plaintiff's "Motion to Proceed With Action and Pay Filing Fees" and dismiss the Complaint with leave to file an amended complaint against certain Defendants.


Plaintiff is presently incarcerated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. The Complaint asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights arising from his May 21, 2009 arrest and incarceration on one count of retail theft, pursuant to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3929(a)(1). (Complaint Part II(2).)*fn1 The Complaint alleges claims against the owner of the Dollar Tree Store located at 400 Commons Drive, West Sadsbury Township, Parkesburg, Pennsylvania (also referred to in the Complaint simply as the "Dollar Tree Store"); store employee Sue Singleton; the Parkesburg Police Department; Parkesburg Police Officers Amber L. Smith and Alan Manning; the Coatesville Police Department; and Coatesville Police Officers MacElroy, "John Doe Officer White," "John Doe Heavier Officer Black," and "John Doe Officer." (Compl. Ex. A.)

The Complaint alleges that, on May 21, 2009, Plaintiff was falsely arrested by Coatesville Police Officers following an illegal traffic stop of a vehicle in which Plaintiff was a passenger. (Compl. Part II(2).) Coatesville Police Officer MacElroy and another officer forced Plaintiff and the driver from the vehicle, threw them against the vehicle, and searched them. (Id.) The Police Officers did not issue any traffic citations to the driver. (Id.) The Police Officers arrested Plaintiff, but refused to show him a copy of the warrant for his arrest. (Id.)

Plaintiff was detained at the Chester County Prison from May 21, 2009 through December 2009 on a false charge of retail theft pursuant to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3929(a)(1). (Id.) The complaint underlying Plaintiff's arrest states that Sue Singleton, an employee of the Dollar Tree Store, reported an alleged crime on May 1, 2009. (Id.) Although the police stopped someone in connection with that crime on May 1, 2009, no one was arrested at that time. (Id.) A preliminary hearing was held on June 19, 2009. (Id.) During the hearing, Sue Singleton described the person who committed the theft as an African-American male wearing black pants who was at least 6'2" tall. (Id.) Plaintiff is 5'9" tall. (Id.) The charge against Plaintiff was dismissed on December 2, 2009. (Id.)

The Complaint asserts claims against all Defendants for violation of Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights based on Plaintiff's false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. (Compl. ¶ 3 and Part II(2).) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages as follows: $5,000,000 from the Dollar Tree Store; $100,000 from Sue Singleton; $1,000,000 from the Parkesburg Police Department; $100,000 from Police Officer Amber Smith; $100,000 from Police Officer Alan Manning; $1,000,000 from the Coatesville Police Department; $1,000,000 from Police Officer MacElroy; $1,000,000 from "John Doe Officer White;" $1,000,000 from "John Doe Heavier Officer Black;" and $1,000,000 from "John Doe Officer."


Plaintiff is a prisoner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers and employees of governmental entities. We are thus required to review his Complaint, "before docketing, if feasible. . . ." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -- (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Two of the Defendants listed in the Complaint, Sue Singleton and the Dollar Tree Store, are not alleged to be officers or employees of any governmental entity. To the extent that we are not required to screen claims asserted against private citizens pursuant to § 1915A, we are required to perform the same review of claims against non-governmental entities, officials and employees by 28 U.S.C. § 1915, because Plaintiff filed this action in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) ("Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . (B) the action or appeal --(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.") A claim is frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or its "factual contentions are clearly baseless." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989)). We review the sufficiency of the pleadings under § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A using the same standard applicable to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Walker v. Hensley, Civ. A. No. 08-685, 2009 WL 5064357, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2009) ("The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Section 1915(e)(2)(B) and Section 1915A is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F. 3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000), and Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999))).

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we look primarily at the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement.' but it acts for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 1235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).


Plaintiff has brought his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, which provides, in ...

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