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Howard v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 26, 2014

STANLEY-BERNARD HOWARD, Equitable Owner of Howard Estate, also known as Howard El Trust, Plaintiff,
MICHELLE M. SMITH, Clerk of Court New Jersey and ROBERT J. GILSON, Acting Bank/Judge for the State of New Jersey, Defendants.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Stanley-Bernard Howard ("the plaintiff'), filed this lawsuit on June 30, 2014, seeking the release of his son from the Morris County Jail in Morristown, New Jersey. (D.I. 1, 6.) He proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The court proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).


The complaint is not a model of clarity, but it appears that the plaintiff's son was arrested and is being held in jail. The plaintiff "issued a bond" and submitted it to the defendant Michelle M. Smith ("Smith"), Clerk of the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey. The plaintiff also "issued a bond" to the defendant New Jersey Superior Court Judge Robert J. Gilson ("Judge Gilson"). It seems the bonds were issued in an attempt to gain the release of the plaintiff's son, Marquise Howard, from the Morris County jail.[1] The plaintiff alleges that the defendants did not process the privately issued bonds they received. He asks the court to process his claim. The plaintiff alleges breach of contract and impeding commerce. In addition, he seeks the immediate release of his son, as well as other injunctive and compensatory relief.[2]

On August 7, 2014, the plaintiff filed a request for the United States Marshals Service ("USMS") to "get" his son who is being held in capacity in the Morris County Jail noting that all debts have been vouched for and all debts shall be discharged. (D.I. 6.) On August 13, 2014, the plaintiff filed a writ for emergency execution, again seeking an order for the USMS to release his son from the Morris County jail. (D.I. 8.)


This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis actions that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because the plaintiff proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995).

The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under§ 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of28 U.S.C. § 1915, the court must grant the plaintiffleave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hasp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell At!. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The assumption oftruth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court must take three steps: "(1) identify[] the elements of the claim, (2) review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) look[] at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." !d.


A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The plaintiff refers to this action as a "failure in duty to process a private issued bond, impeding commerce." (See D.I. 1 at civil cover sheet). A review of the complaint indicates, however, that the plaintiff alleges state actors failed to process a bond and release his son from a county jail. In essence, this is a civil rights action. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (When bringing a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege that some person ...

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