United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
E.K. PRATTER, J.
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
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.).
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.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.)
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. (Id. ECF
No. 10). Now that the administrative error has been resolved,
as noted above, Mr. Ford's case is properly before this
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.
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
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.
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.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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. 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).