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Dorsett v. Wilmington Police Department

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 13, 2015

DAVID M. DORSETT, Plaintiff,
v.
WILMINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

David M. Dorsett, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Wilmington, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff David M. Dorsett ("Plaintiff'), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights.[1]Plaintiff is incarcerated at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, Delaware. He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in Jonna pauperis. (D.I. 7) The Court proceeds to review and screen the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that on January 11, 2014, Wilmington Police Officer Kramer used excessive force when he tazed, pepper sprayed, and assaulted Plaintiff. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital for treatment. Also named as a defendant is the Wilmington Police Department

Ill. LEGAL STANDARDS

A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in Jonna pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The Court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to the prose plaintiff. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Plaintiff proceeds prose, 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, 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) and § 1915A(b)(1), 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; see also Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous suit alleging that prison officials took inmate's pen and refused to give it back).

The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. See 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 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 of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the Court must grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grqyson v. Mqyview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

A complaint may be dismissed only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Bel Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). Though "detailed factual allegations" are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Davis v. Abington Mem'I Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In addition, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Williams v. BASF Catalysts LLC, 765 F.3d 306, 315 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

To determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard as set forth in Twombly and Iqbal, the Court must: (1) outline the elements a plaintiff must plead to a state a claim for relief; (2) peel away those allegations that are no more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) look for well-pled factual allegations, assume their veracity, and then "determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679); see also Argueta v. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 643 F.3d 60, 73 (3d Cir. 2011)). The last step is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

IV. DISCUSSION

The Wilmington Police Department, an entity falling under the umbrella of the City of Wilmington, is named as a defendant. A municipality may be held liable under § 1983 only when the "execution of a government's policy or custom... inflicts the injury." Andrews v. Ciry of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). A government policy is established by a "decisionmaker possessing final authority, " while a custom arises from a "course of conduct... so permanent and well settled as to virtually constitute law." Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480 (citing Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)). Accordingly, a plaintiff seeking to recover from a municipality must (1) identify an allegedly unconstitutional policy or custom, (2) demonstrate that the municipality, through its deliberate and culpable conduct, was the "moving force" behind the injury alleged; and (3) demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the alleged deprivation of federal rights. See Board of the Cnty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997).

Plaintiff has not pled that the City of Wilmington was the "moving force" behind any alleged constitutional violation. Indeed, the Complaint contains no allegations against the City of Wilmington or its Police Department, which is named only in the caption of the complaint. Absent any allegation that a custom or policy established by the City of Wilmington directly caused harm to Plaintiff, his § 1983 claim against it cannot stand. The claim is frivolous and will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).

V. CONCLUSION

For the above reasons, the Court will dismiss the Wilmington Police Department, as the claims against it are frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1). Plaintiff may proceed against Officer Kramer on the excessive force claim.

An appropriate Order follows.


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