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Tate v. Schember

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 16, 2019

AMOS TATE, Plaintiff,
MAYOR SCHEMBER, et al., Defendants.



         I. Background

         Plaintiff Amos Tate commenced this proceeding by filing a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, ECF No. 1, and lodging a complaint against “Mayor Schember, ” the “Erie Police Traffic Division Captain, ” “Erie PA Solicitor Betza, ” and the “Owners of McMillan Towing.” ECF No. 1-1. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were violated when his vehicle was towed on May 20, 2019, due to the fact that it was parked on a city street that was scheduled for repaving. ECF No. 1-1 at 7-8. Plaintiff claims that, prior to the towing, he made attempts to relocate his car, which was apparently inoperable, [1] but he was unsuccessful. Id. When he saw his vehicle being ticketed, he pleaded with the police officer to “give [him] a couple hours” to have it moved, but a tow truck then arrived on the scene and the operator removed his vehicle despite his protests. Id.

         Plaintiff claims that, the day after his vehicle was towed, he “[served] the Clerks Office & City Solicitor Edward Betza with legal jurisprudent [sic] on deprivation of property.” ECF No. 1-1 at 8. Nevertheless, Solicitor Betza “payed [Plaintiff] no attention” for “twenty-nine days, ” despite daily calls to Betza's public and private offices. Id.

         Based on these events, Plaintiff purports to assert four claims: (1) depriving me of my car”; (2) “mental distress $25, 000”; (3) “monetary damages $150, 000”; and (4) “car return or the book value $7, 500.” ECF No. 1-1 at 5. On June 25, 2019, Plaintiff filed a “Motion for Temporary Injunction, ” ECF No. 3, which the Court construes as a motion for a temporary restraining order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65.

         On July 26, 2019, the “City Defendants”[2] filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cognizable claim. ECF No. 8. Contemporaneously therewith, these same Defendants filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief. ECF No. 7. Plaintiff filed a document styled as an “objection” to Defendants' motion on July 25, 2018. ECF No. 12. In his objections, Plaintiff makes clear that he is asserting a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights based on the deprivation of his automobile.

         II. Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed the district courts to utilize a two-step analysis to determine whether to direct service of a complaint where the plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. See Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1990). “First, the district court evaluates a litigant's financial status and determines whether (s)he is eligible to proceed in forma pauperis under § 1915(a). Second, the court assesses the complaint under [§ 1915(e)(2)1] to determine whether it is frivolous.” Id. (citing Sinwell v. Shapp, 536 F.2d 15 (3d Cir. 1976)); Schneller v. Abel Home Care, Inc., 389 Fed.Appx. 90, 92 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court finds that Plaintiff is without sufficient funds to pay the required filing fee. Therefore, he will be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         III. Standard of Review

         Defendants' motion to dismiss is brought under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as they assert that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Wayne Land & Mineral Grp. LLC v. Delaware River Basin Comm'n, 894 F.3d 509, 526-27 (3d Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In order to survive dismissal, “a complaint must contain 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility means “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is also independently obligated under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) to consider the sufficiency of his complaint and to dismiss the case “at any time” if the action: (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). When conducting a review under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), the court applies the same standard of review as it would apply under a traditional Rule 12(b)(6) analysis. See Schreane v. Seana, 506 Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012). Before dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, a court must grant the plaintiff leave to amend his complaint, unless the amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court “has an obligation to construe the complaint liberally, ” Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 322 (3d Cir. 2009), and must “apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name, ” Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 248 (3d Cir. 1999). Notwithstanding this more liberal standard, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim” and “must abide by the same rules that apply to all other litigants.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citations omitted).

         IV. Analysis

         Plaintiff's complaint suggests that he is asserting a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983 to obtain redress for the alleged violation of his federal due process rights. To state a viable §1983 claim, a plaintiff must plausibly allege that the defendant, while acting under color of state law, violated one or more of the plaintiff's federal constitutional or statutory rights. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). To be liable, the defendant must have been personally involved in the alleged wrongdoing. See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). To hold an official in a supervisory position liable under §1983, the plaintiff must allege that the official “participated in violating plaintiff's rights, directed others to violate them, or, as the persons in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in their subordinates' violations.” Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313, 330 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In addition, policymaking officials may be liable “if it is shown that such defendants, with deliberate indifference to the ...

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