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Brewer v. Hopple

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 18, 2015

JESSE BREWER, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD HOPPLE, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

Jesse Brewer has been indicted for his alleged role in the armed robbery of a York County jewelry store in July of 2012. United States v. Brewer, Cr. No. 1:13-CR-13. Brewer awaits trial on these charges, and is currently scheduled for trial on July 6, 2015. The proof amassed against Brewer, linking him to this gun wielding robbery, includes various cellular telephone records. These records were obtained by police in the course of the investigation through search warrants served upon cellular telephone service providers.

Brewer has now undertaken a particularly ambitious effort to challenge this evidence, filing a pro se civil rights complaint in federal court. (Doc. 1.) In this complaint, Brewer sues the police officers who obtained these search warrants and the cellular telephone service providers who complied with the warrants, alleging that these searches of his telephone for evidence tying him to this violent crime violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. (Id.) Brewer seeks both compensatory and punitive damages from the defendants as recompense for these alleged constitutional infractions. (Id.) Thus, the premise behind Brewer's current pro se civil rights lawsuit is the notion that the seizure of this information pursuant to search warrants somehow offends the Fourth Amendment.

There is one difficulty with this assertion, a difficulty which Brewer fails to acknowledge in his civil complaint. Brewer has litigated this Fourth Amendment issue in his criminal case-and lost. United States v. Brewer, Cr. No. 1:13-CR-13. (Doc. 179-180.) On May 12, 2015, the district court, Caldwell, J., entered an opinion and order denying Brewer's motion to suppress this evidence at trial. In light of this ruling, principles of res judicata, collateral estoppel and issue preclusion now bar consideration of the claims Brewer attempts to advance in this lawsuit. Therefore, while we will grant Brewer's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, (Doc. 2), for the reasons set forth below it is recommended that this pro se complaint be dismissed at this time.

II. Discussion

A. Screening of Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints-Standard of Review

This Court has an on-going statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of complaints filed by plaintiffs who seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and seek redress against government officials. See 28 U.S.C. ยงยง1915 and 1915A. Specifically, we must assess whether a pro se, in forma pauperis complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." This statutory text, in turn, mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a... plaintiff can prove facts that the... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their ...

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