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James Kieth Dawson v. Nj State Trooper

August 19, 2011

JAMES KIETH DAWSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NJ STATE TROOPER BARRACKS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert B. Kugler United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

IT APPEARING THAT:

1. Plaintiff submitted for filing his civil Complaint, accompanied by his in forma pauperis application. See Docket Entry No. 1. Based on Plaintiff's affidavit of indigence and the absence of three qualifying dismissals within 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 to file the Complaint. At this time, the Court must 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.

2. The Complaint is drafted in a rather patchy fashion obstructing clear understanding of Plaintiff's challenges. See Docket Entry No. 1. The best this Court can surmise, Plaintiff's allegations appears to be as follows:

a. Pursuant the Megan Law, Plaintiff, a convicted sex offender, is subject to registration requirement in the communities where he elects to reside.

b. On October 8, 2010, Plaintiff allegedly went to a certain law enforcement office in order to register as a sex offender, seemingly in connection with Plaintiff's change of address or, perhaps, his release from confinement. According to the Complaint, when Plaintiff announced to Officer Barracks that Plaintiff wished to register, without elaborating what type of registration Plaintiff had in mind, Officer Barracks asked Plaintiff "Register for what?" Plaintiff asserts that Officer Barracks kept asking this question merely to taunt Plaintiff, since Plaintiff speculates that Officer Barracks had to know that Plaintiff wished to register as a sex offender. Plaintiff asserts that he felt too embarrassed to state that he wished to register as a sex offender because there was a woman and her children within an audible distance (in the lobby of the office), and Plaintiff felt uneasy about the social stigma that this woman might apply to him upon hearing that he wished to register as a sex offender. Correspondingly, the Complaint asserts that Plaintiff left without disclosing his intentions to register as a sex offender.

c. The Complaint also alleges that Plaintiff returned to the same law enforcement office a week later having, allegedly, the same intentions, i.e., to register as a sex offender. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff went to the front desk where he encountered another officer, Officer Stadoli, to whom Plaintiff analogously announced that he wished to register, without elaborating what registration Plaintiff had in mind. Plaintiff maintains that Officer Stadoli also taunted Plaintiff because Officer Stadoli analogously asked Plaintiff with regard to what Plaintiff wished to register and advised Plaintiff that the Department of Motor Vehicles was in another building. According to the Complaint, when Plaintiff finally brought himself to disclose to Officer Stadoli that he wished to register as a sex offender, Officer Stadoli asked Plaintiff "boy or girl?" -- seemingly referring to the gender of the victim of the crime of which Plaintiff was convicted; Plaintiff asserts that Officer Stadoli erroneously informed Plaintiff that such information was needed in order to select a proper registration form.*fn1 Plaintiff speculates that Officer Stadoli's questions were intended to mock or embarrass Plaintiff; Plaintiff also asserts that -- being, allegedly, embarrassed -- Plaintiff left again without submitting his registration.

d. It appears that Plaintiff never tried to process his sex offender registration after that point in time, since Plaintiff asserts that he was eventually charged with a violation of the registration requirement, and he speculates that he might be sentenced to eighteen months in prison on these grounds. Plaintiff attributes his failure to register to the embarrassment caused by Officers Stadoli and Barracks, asserting that their taunting violated his due process rights; Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.

3. A district court is required to review a complaint in a civil action where the litigant is proceeding in forma pauperis. Specifically, the court is required to identify cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, 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, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007); see also 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 School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id. Moreover, recently, the Supreme Court clarified the standard for summary dismissal in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), stressing that Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Citing its prior decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the proposition that "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,' "Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), the Supreme Court identified two working principles underlying the failure to state a claim standard:

First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice ... . Rule 8 ... does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not "show[n]"-"that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).

Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-1950 (citations omitted). The Court further explained that a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 1950; see also Twombly, 505 U.S. at 555, & n.3; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Consequently, the Third Circuit observed that Iqbal provides the "final nail-in-the-coffin for the 'no set of facts' standard" set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), that applied to federal complaints before Twombly. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. The Third Circuit now requires a district court to conduct the two-part analysis set forth in Iqbal when presented with a motion to dismiss, specifically:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. [Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50]. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." [Id.] In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts. See Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234-35. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show [n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, [129 S.Ct. at 1949-50]. This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-211.

4. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 "creates a cause of action based on personal liability and predicated upon fault; thus, liability does not attach unless the individual defendant caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation." Sheik-Abdi v. McClellan, 37 F.3d 1240, 1248 (7th Cir. 1994) (emphasis supplied). Here, however, Plaintiff asserts not a constitutional deprivation but acts that might qualify only as ethically unpalatable. Consequently, the Officers' conduct, as alleged in the Complaint, while not commendable, cannot reach the level of a violation of constitutional magnitude: "the Constitution is not a ...


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