United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
E.K. PRATTER, J.
Gerald Edwards, who is representing himself, filed this civil
action against Karen B. Rice, apparently pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Edwards seeks leave to proceed in
forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court
will grant Mr. Edwards leave to proceed in forma
pauperis and dismiss his Complaint with leave to amend.
Edwards's Complaint consists of sparse, somewhat
disjointed allegations and voluminous exhibits. He says that
his claims are based on citations issued to him on March 15,
2018, after which he was “pick[ed] up by
constables” and taken to court. (Compl. at
He alleges that he was not shown a warrant or
“accusatory instrument.” (Id.) In a
compound allegation and collection of information, Mr.
Edwards states that “the 2 of them [without clarifying
to whom he refers] drag[ged] [him] up the hill about a
¼ of a mile to the top” and that he was out of
breath because he has emphysema. (Id. at 6.)
Edwards also refers to a summary appeal in the Bucks County
Court of Common Pleas in which he was found guilty of
numerous violations of local ordinances related to
maintenance of his property in connection with a complaint
dated September 13, 2017. Commonwealth v. Edwards,
Docket No. CP-09-SA-0000219-2018 (Bucks Cty. Ct. of Common
Pleas). The docket lists Sandra Morgan as the arresting
officer. Mr. Edwards suggests that this proceeding violated
his due process rights. He attached a transcript from the
proceeding to his Complaint, which reflects testimony of the
arresting officer to the numerous violations on the property.
Mr. Edwards filed an appeal, which was dismissed due to his
failure to follow procedural rules as instructed.
Commonwealth v. Edwards, Docket No. 1675 CD 2018
(Pa. Commonwealth Ct.).
Edwards attached to his Complaint various materials that
relate to the underlying state court case. He also makes
allegations that refer to individuals who are not named as
defendants in this lawsuit or that explain how the state
court may have lacked jurisdiction. One of the exhibits is a
“field contact and investigation report” dated
March 15, 2018, which corresponds with the date Mr. Edwards
listed in the Complaint as the date of events giving rise to
his claims. (Compl. at 30.) In the report, Ms. Rice states
that she inspected the “outside” of Mr.
Edwards's property with other officers who arrested Mr.
Edwards and escorted him away. (Id.) Ms. Rice reported
that she observed “accumulations of: wood, artificial
containers, machinery, tarps, carpeting, lean-tos, strewn
about the property” and that, through a fence, she
observed “more piles of junk, wood, etc., as well as
chicken coops, and chickens and roosters in this
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will grant Mr. Edwards leave to proceed in forma
pauperis because it appears that he is not capable of
paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly,
Mr. Edwards's Complaint is subject to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii), which requires the Court to
dismiss a complaint if it is frivolous or fails to state a
claim. A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an
arguable basis either in law or in fact, ” Neitzke
v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally
baseless if it is “based on an indisputably meritless
legal theory.” Deutsch v. United States, 67
F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995). To survive dismissal, the
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) (quotations omitted). “[M]ere
conclusory statements do not suffice.” Id.
Because Mr. Edwards is proceeding pro se, the Court
construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y
Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a complaint to contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” “Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 8 requires that pleadings provide enough
information to put a defendant on sufficient notice to
prepare their defense and also ensure that the Court is
sufficiently informed to determine the issue.”
Fabian v. St. Mary's Med. Ctr., No. Civ. A.
16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017)
(quotations omitted). A district court may sua
sponte dismiss a complaint that does not comply with
Rule 8 if “the complaint is so confused, ambiguous,
vague, or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance,
if any, is well disguised.” Simmons v.
Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 86 (2d Cir. 1995) (quotations
Edwards has not alleged a plausible basis for a claim against
Ms. Rice. Most of the allegations and the exhibits do not
pertain to Ms. Rice at all. It appears that the basis for Mr.
Edwards's claims against Ms. Rice may be her
participation in a March 15, 2018 inspection of his property,
but he has not explained how Ms. Rice's observation of
trash, chickens, and other matters from the outside of his
property violates his rights. Accordingly, Mr. Edwards has
not complied with Rule 8 or stated a claim against Ms. Rice.
Edwards primarily appears to be challenging the proceedings
that led to him having been found guilty of various code
violations related to his property. There is a principle in
Section 1983 jurisprudence that “to recover damages [or
other relief] for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or
imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a
§ 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or
sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by
executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal
authorized to make such determination, or called into
question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of
habeas corpus[.]” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S.
477, 486-87 (1994) (footnote and citation omitted); see
also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005).
Courts have extended that principle to constitutional
challenges to convictions under local ordinances, even when
the ordinances are civil in character. See Thomas v.
Bushkill Twp., Civ. A. No. 11-7578, 2014 WL 958799, at
*4 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2014) (concluding that Heck
barred plaintiff's claims “that he was denied due
process when he was criminally prosecuted in 2012 for
violating the Bushkill Township noise ordinance”);
Shahid v. Borough of Eddystone, Civ. A. No. 11-2501,
2012 WL 1858954, at *4 (E.D. Pa. May 22, 2012)
(“Regardless of whether the offense is technically
classified as civil or criminal, a § 1983 judgment
undermining the validity of the conviction would imply that
the state's criminal process produced an erroneous
outcome.”) (collecting cases). Accordingly, the public
record shows that Mr. Edwards has not yet been successful in
challenging his finding of guilt. Thus, he may not challenge
his convictions under the ordinances in a § 1983 action.
In any event, it is not clear how Ms. Rice would be
responsible for any alleged errors in those proceedings.
foregoing reasons, the Court will grant Mr. Edwards leave to
proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint.
In light of Mr. Edwards's pro se status he will
be given an opportunity to file an amended complaint in the
event he can ...