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Lovejoy v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 3, 2013



WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

The pro se plaintiff, Ricky Lovejoy, an inmate at SCI-Pittsburgh, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging several violation of his constitutional rights arising from his arrest and 2002 state convictions on drug-trafficking charges and for using and possessing drug paraphernalia. He names as defendants: (1) the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (2) the City of Harrisburg; (3) "local government officials"; and (4) "Dauphin County entities."

Plaintiff has also requested in forma pauperis status. We will grant that request. And because he is proceeding in forma pauperis, we will examine the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) for legal sufficiency before authorizing service.

II. Standard of Review

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must review a complaint filed in forma pauperis and dismiss it if it is frivolous or malicious, subsection (B)(i), fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, subsection (B)(ii), or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii). In applying subsection (B)(ii), the screening requirement for failure to state a claim, a court employs the standard used to analyze motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "[w]e accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted). We may also rely on matters of public record. Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006).

A complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court "is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).

III. Background

Plaintiff filed his complaint on June 1, 2012, and alleges as follows. On or about December 21, 2001, Plaintiff accepted a ride to the movies from a neighbor. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 9 and 15).[1] Plaintiff did not know the car had been stolen. ( Id. ¶ 9). "Civilians" began firing at the car, resulting in a high-speed getaway. ( Id. ¶ 10).

The police were unable to stop the car. Both the driver and Plaintiff ran away. ( Id. ¶ 11). Plaintiff was apprehended, taken into custody, fingerprinted, identified, and checked for possible warrants. ( Id. ¶ 12). The police told him the car had been stolen, that they had received a call about a shooting, and asked him why he had run. ( Id. ¶ 13). Plaintiff responded that a series of shots had been fired which had hit the vehicle, causing him to fear for his life. ( Id. ¶ 14).

Plaintiff was released but "thereafter" another police officer asked if he had been strip-searched. Plaintiff was then strip-searched, and drugs were found on him. ( Id. ¶ 16). Police "forcefully demanded" that he sign an "incident" and "unlawfully detained" him by "a coerced confession and policeman excessive force." ( Id. ¶ 17). Plaintiff was arrested on December 22, 2001. ( Id. ). The arrest and search were "warrantless, " and the search was "without probable cause." ( Id. ¶ 19). The "Defendant" caused Plaintiff "actual injury... or was responsible for action that hindered Plaintiff's efforts to pursue legal claims." ( Id. ¶ 22b). The "state officer acted in accordance with state policy or custom in violating Plaintiff's constitutional rights to be free from false arrest, false imprisonment, false charges, and illegal searches." ( Id. ¶ 25).

As a result, a "state'" proceeding was initiated December 19, 2002, [and] Plaintiff was convicted for possession w/intent to deliver, and drug paraphernalia [and sentenced] to 5-15 years." ( Id. ¶ 48). The "judge acted outside of his judicial capacity, " and the "prosecutors acted outside the scope of their prosecutorial duties." ( Id. ¶¶ 49 and 49b).

Plaintiff also claims a violation of substantive due process and equal protection, the latter based on "selective treatment." ( Id. ¶ 84).

The municipal defendants, presumably Dauphin County and the City of Harrisburg, are alleged to be liable for the police officers' conduct based on policy and custom. The policy or custom is conclusionally averred to be based on: (1) inadequate training and inadequate training on detention without probable cause; (2) a failure to act after receiving notice of prior bad acts by police officers; and (3) the act of an official with final policymaking authority. The amended complaint adds two theories of supervisory responsibility: (1) gross negligence in the supervision of subordinates; and (2) failure to correct the ...

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