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Jones v. Kaminski

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 7, 2019

MARTIN W. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL KAMINSKI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Martin W. Jones, a prisoner incarcerated at SCI Rockview, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Michael Kaminski (Badge #50) and Tori Adams (Badge #61). Jones seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Jones leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         I

         Jones's Complaint alleges constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Kaminski and Adams in their official and individual capacities. Jones alleges that at the time of the incident giving rise to his Complaint, Kaminski and Adams were police officers with the Upper Southampton Police Department. (ECF No. 3 at 2, 12.)[1]

         Jones claims that on September 1, 2017, he and “co-defendant Jenny Jones, and others were stopped, their vehicle searched, and items seized” by Kaminski and Adams. (Id. at 13.) Specifically, Jones asserts that he was “detained and his vehicle searched without a valid arrest or search warrant and without probable cause to believe that he had committed an offense.” (Id.) Jones further states that on September 1, 2017, Jenny Jones handed a blue bag to Kaminski and Adams “which contained 5 ounces of methamphetamine, [and] stated to Defendant[]s the bag belonged, to her. And she gave Defendants permission to search the bag [and] there was methamphetamine in it.” (Id.) Finally, Jones asserts that he knew nothing about the methamphetamine and “[t]hey arrested her, let me go.” (Id.) Notably, Jones does not allege that any of his belongings were seized, nor does he allege that he was arrested or prosecuted for any of the events that took place on that day.

         Jones seeks, inter alia, punitive damages in the amount of $750, 000.00 and compensatory damages in the amount of $750, 000.00 against each Defendant. (Id. at 14.) Jones further demands that Jenny Lynn Jones, with whom he has no apparent relationship, “be put on the stand, in front of the Jury.” (Id. at 13, 14.)

         II

         The Court will grant Jones leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action.[2] Accordingly, 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. 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). As Jones is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         III

         A

         Jones's claims against Kaminski and Adams in their official capacities fail because claims against officers named in their official capacities are indistinguishable from claims against the township. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (“Official-capacity suits . . . ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'”) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55 (1978)). “[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Id.

         As Jones has not pled a basis for municipal liability, his official capacity claims fail. To plead a basis for municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the municipality's policy or custom caused the violation of his constitutional rights. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. “To satisfy the pleading standard, [the plaintiff] must . . . specify what exactly that custom or policy was.” McTernan v. City of York, PA, 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009). “‘Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.'” Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2019) (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). “‘Custom, on the other hand, can be proven by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law.'” Id. (quoting Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990)). A plaintiff can show that a custom was the proximate cause of his injuries by demonstrating that the Defendant “had knowledge of similar unlawful conduct in the past, failed to take precautions against future violations, and that its failure, at least in part, led to his injury.” Id. (internal quotations and alterations omitted).

         A plaintiff may also state a basis for municipal liability by “alleging failure-to-supervise, train, or discipline . . . [and alleging facts showing] that said failure amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those affected.” Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d 93, 106 (3d Cir. 2019). “This consists of a showing as to whether (1) municipal policymakers know that employees will confront a particular situation, (2) the situation involves a difficult choice or a history of employees mishandling, and (3) the wrong choice by an employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional rights.” Id.

         Nothing in Jones's Complaint plausibly suggests that the claimed constitutional violations stemmed from a municipal policy or custom, or municipal failures amounting to deliberate indifference. Accordingly, Jones has not stated a plausible basis for a claim against any municipal entity. The Court ...


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