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In re Ford

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 8, 2018

IN RE JUSTIN FORD, Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM

          GENE E.K. PRATTER, J.

         Plaintiff Justin Ford, currently incarcerated at the Wakulla Correctional Institution in Florida, has filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Detective Matthew J. Lohenitz, the Northampton County Police, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The gist of his claims is that he was denied due process because he was not notified of forfeiture proceedings against money that had been seized from him during a 2001 arrest in Northampton County. Northampton County is located within the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

         Mr. Ford initially filed suit in the Northern District of Florida. That court transferred the case to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in December of 2017. See Ford v. Commonwealth of Pa., C.A. No. 17-235 (N.D. Fla.). In May of 2018, Mr. Ford filed a new case in this District based on the same set of facts, which was docketed as Ford v. Commonwealth of Pa., C.A. No. 18-2169 (E.D. Pa.). Upon receipt of his new complaint, this court discerned that, apparently due to an administrative error, the case Mr. Ford filed in the Northern District of Florida was not received in this District in December. Accordingly, the Court arranged anew to receive the transfer of Mr. Ford's first-filed case, which has been docketed as Ford v. Commonwealth, C.A. No. 17-5849 (E.D. Pa.).

         In the first-filed case, Civil Action Number 17-5849, Mr. Ford's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis remains pending. For the following reasons, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint as time-barred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Because Mr. Ford presumably filed Civil Action Number 18-2169 due to the error in processing his first case, as to that case, the Court will deny his Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and dismiss his complaint without prejudice to the Court's consideration of his previous, substantively identical, filings in Civil Action Number 17-5849.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Ford filed his complaint in the Northern District of Florida in September of 2017 along with a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. (C.A. No. 17-5849, ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) Shortly thereafter, he filed his Amended Complaint. (Id. ECF No. 4.) The Magistrate Judge assigned to the case in Florida issued an order informing Mr. Ford that his submissions were incomplete and that he would be required to submit a complete complaint and motion to proceed in forma pauperis, along with a certified copy of his prisoner account statement showing six months of account activity. (Id. ECF No. 6.)

         Mr. Ford returned with a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and prisoner account statement and a pleading that was docketed as a First Amended Complaint, even though it appears to be the Second Amended Complaint in this case. (Id. ECF Nos. 8 & 9.) Upon consideration of that pleading, the Magistrate Judge transferred the case to this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406.[1] (Id. ECF No. 10). Now that the administrative error has been resolved, as noted above, Mr. Ford's case is properly before this Court.

         For ease of reference, the Court will refer to the governing pleading in this case as the Second Amended Complaint, even though it was formally docketed as a First Amended Complaint. (Id. ECF No. 8.); see also Shahid v. Borough of Darby, 666 Fed.Appx. 221, 223 n.2 (3d Cir. 2016) (per curiam) ("Shahid's amended complaint, however, superseded his initial complaint." (citing W. Run Student Hous. Assocs. LLC v. Huntingdon Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 171 (3d Cir. 2013)). In any and all events, the Court notes that it has reviewed all of Mr. Ford's filings in both cases he filed, and the facts underlying his claims are essentially the same throughout his pleadings, no matter where or when docketed.

         The Second Amended Complaint asserts claims against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Northampton County Police, and Detective Matthew J. Lohenitz. Mr. Ford alleges $1, 489.00 was seized from him when he was arrested by officers of the Northampton County Police Department on December 7, 2001. Mr. Ford was released on bond in 2001 and went to the police station to retrieve his property. He was allegedly told "that [he] wasn't getting anything back." (ECF No. 8 at 5 & 9.) Mr. Ford alleges that he "believed them, then in 2003 all charges [were] dismissed, " and it appears he was charged federally. (Id. at 5); see United States v. Ford, Crim. A. No. 03-126 (E.D. Pa.). Mr. Ford alleges that he remained in federal custody until 2006. He also contends that the Northampton County police knew of his whereabouts during that time.

         A review of public dockets reflects that on December 7, 2001, Mr. Ford was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, firearms offenses, and conspiracy in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas. See Commonwealth v. Ford, Docket No. CP-48-CR-0000796-2002. On December 19, 2001, forfeiture proceedings were initiated with respect to the $1, 489.00 seized from Mr. Ford in the course of his arrest. See In re: Ford, CP-48-MD-0000329-2001. The state court granted that forfeiture petition on February 13, 2002. Id. The state criminal charges against Mr. Ford were nolle prossed in March of 2003. See Commonwealth v. Ford, Docket No. CP-48-CR-0000796-2002.

         In the instant civil action, Mr. Ford's primary allegation is that his money was seized without due process. He contends that he was not provided with notice of the forfeiture and that Detective Lohenitz falsely indicated on a forfeiture notice that Mr. Ford refused to sign the document. Mr. Ford actually alleges that, had he been notified of the forfeiture proceedings, he would have contested the forfeiture. According to a document attached to the Second Amended Complaint, which Mr. Ford appears to have sent to the Northampton County Police Department, he claims that he "took ... for face value that [he] was not entitled to [his] money because authorities told him so" but that he since "came to the knowledge that [he has] a constitutional right to due process and that [he] had to be served through the courts and informed why [he is] not entitled to any of [his] property back." (C.A. No. 17-5849, ECF No. 8 at 9.) Public records reflect that Mr. Ford filed a motion in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas on September 12, 2016 seeking the return of his property, but his motion was denied as untimely. Moreover, that judgment was affirmed on appeal shortly before he initiated the instant civil action seeking monetary damages. As relief, Mr. Ford requests $1, 489.00, as well as $1, 500.00 "a year for every year [his] property was not returned to [him]." (C.A. No. 17-5849, ECF No. 8 at 7.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will grant Mr. Ford leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is not capable of paying the fees necessary to commence this action.[2] Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) requires the Court to dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § l915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Conclusory statements and naked assertions will not suffice. Id. Additionally, the Court may dismiss claims based on an affirmative defense if the affirmative defense is obvious from the face of the complaint. See Fogle v. Pierson, 435 F.3d 1252, 1258 (10th Cir. 2006); cf. Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 459 (3d Cir. 2013), abrogated on other grounds by, Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, 1763 (2015). Because Mr. Ford is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         III. ...


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