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Kevin Bradley Gumbs v. John O'connor

April 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge



Plaintiff, Kevin Bradley Gumbs, a prisoner confined at Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Based on his affidavit of indigence and the absence of three qualifying dismissals under 28 U.S.C. §1915(g), the Court will grant Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint. The Court must now review the Complaint to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.


The following factual allegations are taken from the Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review.

Plaintiff alleges that on May 2, 2008, Detective John O'Connor of the Keansburg Police Department came to his home and told the home's co-owner ("Co-Owner") that he had a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. The Co-Owner permitted him to come in to search for Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that instead of, or in addition to, searching for him, O'Connor conducted a search for evidence, removing from the home a locked box safe containing cash and jewelry, which he found under a bed, and ceasing his search only when the Co-Owner pointed out that Plaintiff could not fit in a dresser drawer which O'Connor had pulled open. Plaintiff alleges that, during the course of the search, O'Connor made remarks to the Co-Owner and the Co-Owner's child that Plaintiff was involved in drugs.

Plaintiff alleges that on May 3, 2008, his attorney called the Keansburg Police Department and was told by Defendant John Doe that there was no arrest warrant for Plaintiff, but that the police only wanted him for questioning. On May 5, 2008, Plaintiff alleges that he read a newspaper report stating that he was being sought on warrants and was being charged with multiple counts of drug possession and distribution. Plaintiff alleges that this report was based on information provided by police chief James Pigott, not named as a defendant here.

Plaintiff alleges that on May 6, 2008, he turned himself in to a parole office in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he was placed into custody, in handcuffs, until an officer of the Keansburg Police Department came to pick him up. Plaintiff alleges that the Keansburg police officer then placed him in handcuffs, too. Plaintiff alleges that he was then taken to Keansburg Police Department headquarters where he was charged with multiple drug-related offenses. Plaintiff alleges that Chief Pigott then disclosed more detailed information to the press about Plaintiff, including information that Plaintiff had surrendered and had been charged with certain offenses. Plaintiff alleges that he was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee for approximately four weeks, after which the charges against him were dropped.

Plaintiff seeks to assert constitutional claims for violation of his right to privacy, illegal search, false arrest, and false imprisonment, all of which the Court construes, collectively, as claims that O'Connor and/or John Doe police officers violated Plaintiff's rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and state law claims for defamation of character.*fn1 The named defendants are O'Connor and John Does of Keansburg Police Station. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.


This Court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis and prisoner 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) (in forma pauperis action); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (action in which prisoner seeks redress from governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner action brought as to prison conditions).

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in the plaintiff's favor. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

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) (interpreting predecessor of § 1915(e)(2), former § 1915(d)). The standard for evaluating whether a complaint is "frivolous" is an objective one. Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086-87 (3d Cir. 1995).

A complaint must also comply with the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A complaint must plead facts sufficient at least to "suggest" a basis for liability. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 236 n.12 (3d Cir. 2004). "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted).

While a complaint ... does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitle[ment] to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... .

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-55 (2007) (citations omitted).

The Supreme Court has demonstrated the application of these general standards to a Sherman Act conspiracy claim.

In applying these general standards to a ยง 1 [conspiracy] claim, we hold that stating such a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made. Asking for plausible grounds to infer an agreement does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal agreement. And, of course, a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and "that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." ... It makes sense to say, therefore, that an allegation of parallel conduct and a bare assertion of conspiracy will not suffice. Without more, parallel conduct does not suggest conspiracy, and a conclusory allegation of agreement at some unidentified point does not supply facts adequate to show illegality. Hence, ...

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