United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
F. Leeson, Jr. United States District Judge.
se Plaintiff Anthony Kinder, who is currently
incarcerated at the Berks County Jail, filed this civil
action asserting civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against Reading Police Officer Hector Marinez.
(ECF No. 1.) He also filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed
In Forma Pauperis. (ECF No. 4.) For the following
reasons, Kinder is granted leave to proceed in forma
pauperis. Kinder's claim against the Reading Police
Department is dismissed and his claim against Officer Marinez
is stayed and placed in civil suspense.
alleges that Officer Marinez violated his Fourth Amendment
rights by engaging in racial profiling. (ECF No. 1 at
Kinder attaches a copy of an Affidavit of Probable Cause
signed by Officer Marinez on September 25, 2018, asserting
that, on February 11, 2018, Officer Marinez observed a black
male wearing a long trench coat walking on Lemon Street in
Reading. (Id. at 12.) He parked his vehicle,
approached the male, and detected the odor of what he
recognized to be synthetic marijuana. (Id.) He asked
the male about the odor and the male responded that he had
just smoked it. (Id.) The male revealed an unlit
hand rolled cigar that he had been cupping in his left hand.
(Id.) Officer Marinez confiscated the cigar and
asked the male for identification, which he provided.
(Id.) The male was determined to be Kinder.
(Id.) Lab results indicated the cigar contained two
controlled substances. (Id.) Based on that
information, Officer Marinez sought a summons be issued to
dockets reflect that Kinder, as a result of Officer
Marinez's affidavit of probable cause, is facing charges
of possession of a controlled substance. Commonwealth v.
Kinder, Docket No. CP-06-CR-413-2019 (Berks Cty. Common
Pleas). The case is currently scheduled for trial on July 31,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court has granted Kinder leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies,
which requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails
to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim
under § 1915(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 allegations do not
suffice. Id. The Court may also consider matters of
public record. Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452
F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). As Kinder is proceeding pro
se, the Court construes his allegations liberally.
Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir.
state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the
violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of
the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation
was committed by a person acting under color of state
law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Claim Against Officer Marinez
the abstention doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401
U.S. 37 (1971), the Court must abstain from adjudicating the
claim Kinder raises against Officer Marinez. Generally,
federal courts must adjudicate all cases and controversies
that are properly before them. New Orleans Pub. Serv.,
Inc. v. City of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 358 (1989).
Abstention, however, “is the judicially created
doctrine under which a federal court will decline to exercise
its jurisdiction so that a state court or state agency will
have the opportunity to decide the matters at issue.”
Heritage Farms, Inc. v. Solebury Twp., 671 F.2d 743,
746 (3d Cir. 1982). Absent extraordinary circumstances not
present here, Younger abstention applies when:
“(1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are
judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings implicate
important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings
afford an adequate opportunity to raise the federal
claims.” Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666,
671 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Addiction Specialists, Inc.
v. Twp. of Hampton, 411 F.3d 399, 408 (3d Cir. 2005)).
Younger abstention is “premised on the notion
of comity, a principle of deference and ‘proper
respect' for state governmental functions in our federal
system.” Evans v. C.C.P., Delaware Cty, Pa.,
959 F.2d 1227, 1234 (3d Cir. 1992). Moreover, application of
the Younger doctrine to § 1983 civil rights
actions in which a plaintiff's claim challenges the
validity of the pending state court criminal charges filed
against him is appropriate. See Jaffery v. Atlantic Cty.
Prosecutor's Office, 695 Fed.Appx. 38, 40-41 (3d
Court concludes that all three Younger criteria are
met. First, there is an ongoing state criminal proceeding
where Kinder is the named defendant and the charges are based
on the affidavit of probable cause at issue in this federal
proceeding. Second, it is axiomatic that state criminal
proceedings necessarily implicate important state interests.
Younger, 401 U.S. at 45-46. Finally, Kinder has the
opportunity to raise his constitutional racial profiling
claim in the context of his state criminal proceedings in
state court at the pre-trial and trial stages and during any
appellate proceedings. As Kinder's claim concerning his
ongoing criminal proceedings satisfy the requirements of
abstention, and there is no suggestion of extraordinary
circumstances contemplated by Younger, the Court
concludes that it is appropriate to abstain from entertaining
the action as abstention is required to preserve the
integrity of the state judicial process. Accordingly, the
claim against Officer Marinez is stayed.
Claim Against the Reading Police Department
police department is a sub-unit of the local government and,
as such, is merely a vehicle through which the municipality
fulfills its policing functions. See e.g. Johnson v. City
of Erie, Pa., 834 F.Supp. 873, 878-79 (W.D. Pa. 1993).
Thus, while a municipality may be liable under § 1983, a
police department, as a mere sub-unit of the municipality,
may not. Id.; Martin v. Red Lion Police
Dept., 146 Fed.Appx. 558, 562 n.3 (3d Cir. 2005) (per
curiam) (stating that a police department is not a proper
defendant in an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
because it is a sub-division of its municipality);
Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 (3d
Cir. 1997) (“As in past cases, we treat the
municipality and its police department as a single entity for
purposes of section 1983 liability.” (citing
Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 671 n.7
(3d Cir.1988))); Hadesty v. Rush ...