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Herrera v. Cumru Township Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 25, 2017



          EDWARD G. SMITH, J.

         The pro se plaintiff seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action against a municipal police department and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The plaintiff claims that she received a series of traffic tickets that eventually resulted in two police officers and an employee of a magisterial district judge conspiring to steal her identity. Although the court will grant leave to the plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis, the court must dismiss the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) because she has failed to state a plausible claim for relief against the defendants.


         The pro se plaintiff, Lorraine Herrera, commenced this action by filing an application to proceed in forma pauperis (the “IFP Application”) and a proposed complaint against the Cumru Township Police Department (“CTPD”) and the “Motor Vehicle from the State of Pennsylvania” on September 26, 2017.[1] Doc. No. 1. In the complaint, the plaintiff claims that an Officer Coke of the CTPD stole her identity. Complaint at ECF p. 6. More specifically, the plaintiff alleges that she was traveling to a Chinese restaurant on September 4, 2017, when a male CTPD police officer stopped her vehicle. Id. When the officer approached and spoke to the plaintiff, he informed her that he stopped her vehicle because he ran her license plate and discovered that her car was unregistered. Id. Upon the officer asking the plaintiff for her driver's license and vehicle registration, she produced (1) her New Jersey driver's license (which is the only license she claims to have), (2) her expired New Jersey Motor Vehicle registration card, and (3) her expired insurance identification card. Id.

         The CTPD officer took the plaintiff's documents and, when he returned, asked her if she knew her license had been suspended. Id. The plaintiff informed the officer that she knew that her license was suspended. Id. Then, they “exchanged a few words.” Id. The officer gave the plaintiff three tickets and returned her documents to her. Id.

         After receiving the three tickets, the plaintiff then traveled to the Chinese restaurant, ate dinner, and went to a gas station. Id. The plaintiff parked in a handicapped parking space. Id. The plaintiff went inside the gas station and purchased something. Id. After making this purchase, the plaintiff noticed another CTPD police vehicle parked across the street from the gas station. Id. The plaintiff got into her vehicle and headed for home. Id.

         As she was traveling home, the other police vehicle followed her. Id. A while later, the police vehicle's lights started flashing so the plaintiff stopped her vehicle. Id. Although the plaintiff waited for an officer to approach her, the officer did not approach, so she decided to drive to the parking area where she lives. Id. The police vehicle followed her and then set off the siren. Id.

         The plaintiff managed to park her vehicle near her apartment building. Id. The police vehicle pulled behind the plaintiff's vehicle and a male officer exited the vehicle. Id. This officer approached the plaintiff and asked her if she knew why he had stopped her. Id. The plaintiff indicated that she did not know why he stopped her, and he informed her that he saw that she had parked in a handicapped parking space and asked if she had a handicap placard. Id. The plaintiff told him that she did not and they “exchanged a few words.” Id.

         The officer then asked the plaintiff for her driver's license and vehicle registration. Id. She gave him the same documents she gave to the prior officer. Id. The officer took these documents and returned to his patrol vehicle. Id. When the officer returned to speak to the plaintiff, he gave her three more tickets. Id.

         The plaintiff went to the magisterial district court located in Mohnton, Pennsylvania on September 6, 2017, to request a payment plan. Id. A female employee named Lisa assisted the plaintiff while she was in the magisterial district court. Id. The plaintiff gave Lisa the six tickets she received on September 4, 2017, and informed her that she wanted to arrange for a payment plan. Id. at ECF pp. 6-7, 8. Lisa gave the plaintiff a “District Court 23-2-04 Partial Payment Plan Application.”[2] Id. at ECF pp. 7, 8. The plaintiff completed the application and returned it to Lisa. Id. at ECF p. 8. At the plaintiff's request, Lisa gave her copies of the papers she completed. Id. When she received the copies, she “did not get to review” them.[3] Id.

         The plaintiff first reviewed the papers she received from Lisa on September 24, 2017.[4]Id. The plaintiff noticed that Lisa gave her the wrong papers insofar as she received papers “numbered MDJS 416A Pages 1 of 8.”[5] Id. The plaintiff attaches the purported “wrong papers” to the complaint. Id. at ECF pp. 8-18.

         Apparently, the plaintiff received three notices dated September 19, 2017 from PennDOT's Bureau of Driver Licensing, which reference (1) the plaintiff having a driver's license number of 32843059, and (2) a processing date of September 12, 2017.[6] Id. at ECF p. 18. Upon receiving these notices, the plaintiff realized that someone had stolen her identity and she believes that the perpetrators were the “officers who had given me the tickets along with Lisa.” Id. The plaintiff notes that she could not obtain a Pennsylvania driver's license insofar as (1) her New Jersey license was suspended due to her not turning in her New Jersey license plates, and (2) she is on a payment plan with the State of New Jersey for a surcharge violation and she first needs to fulfill her obligations with New Jersey.[7] Id. at ECF pp. 18-19.

         The plaintiff believes that one of the “officer[s] who has conspired against [her] has been stocking [sic] [her] and [her] children, due to catching him posted on the parking area of the Complex apartment building to where [she] live[s].” Id. at ECF p. 19 (alterations to original). The stealing of her identity by individuals who are supposed to be protecting the law has caused her significant stress.[8] Id. She is “urging requesting for an investigation to be drought [sic] up upon this situation, for all who may be involved be removed of position due to abuse of position, and charges be brought against anyone who may be involved.”[9] Id.

         A. The IFP Application

Regarding applications to proceed in forma pauperis, the court notes that
any court of the United States may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any suit, action or proceeding, civil or criminal, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees or security therefor, by a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such prisoner possesses that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).[10] This statute

“is designed to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal courts.” Neitzke v. Williams,490 U.S. 319, 324, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). Specifically, Congress enacted the statute to ensure that administrative court costs and filing fees, both of which must be paid by everyone else who files a lawsuit, would not prevent indigent persons from pursuing meaningful litigation. Deutsch[ v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1084 (3d Cir. 1995)]. Toward this end, § 1915(a) allows a litigant to commence a civil or criminal action in federal court in forma pauperis by ...

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