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Dotts v. Romano

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 10, 2017

JASON DOTTS and JAMES DOTTS, Plaintiffs,
v.
DETECTIVE ROMANO; MARGARET HAMMELL, Defendants.

          APPEARANCES: Jason Dotts, Plaintiff Pro Se

          OPINION

          ANNE E. THOMPSON U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is James and Jason Dotts' ("Plaintiffs"), civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Complaint, Docket Entry 1. At this time, the Court must review the complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A 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. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the complaint will proceed in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring this civil rights action against Detective Romano from Long Branch and Judicial Officer Margaret Hammell. Complaint ¶ 4. The following factual allegations are taken from the complaint and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the truth of Plaintiffs' allegations.

         Plaintiffs both allege that Detective Romano falsely charged them with robbery and imprisoned them in Monmouth County Correctional Institution ("MCCI"). Complaint ¶ 6. According to the complaint, Detective Romano thereafter questioned Jason[1]about the robbery on November 4, 2016. Ibid. Jason was eventually released. Ibid. Detective Romano interviewed the alleged robbery victim, who told him that neither Jason nor James were involved in the robbery. Ibid. However, Plaintiffs were later both arrested for the crime by Detective Romano and taken to MCCI. Ibid. Jason also alleges Ms. Hammell "signed off on a complaint that wasn't carefully read over and/or investigated properly." Id. ¶ 4. James also alleges Detective Romano defamed his character and slandered his name. Id. ¶ 4(b).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal

         Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) ("PLRA"), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) (2) (B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is 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. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b) and 1915A because Plaintiffs are prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis and are seeking relief from government employees.

         According to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, "a pleading that offers 'labels or conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, [2] the complaint must allege "sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). "A claim has facial; plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         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) (following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)); see also United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, plaintiffs "still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         A. False Arrest and Imprisonment

         "The Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials from detaining a person in the absence of probable cause." Manuel v. City of Joliet, 111.,137 S.Ct. 911, 913 (2017). "To state a claim for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must establish: (1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause." James v. City of Wilkes-Barre,700 F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012). "[W]here the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee has a claim under ยง 1983 for false imprisonment based on a detention pursuant to that arrest." ...


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