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Washington v. Essex County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 6, 2019

ROBERT WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
ESSEX COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT et al., Defendants,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Kevin Mcnulty United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff pro se, Robert Washington, filed a civil rights complaint with the Court on December 1, 2014. (DE 1.) Mr. Washington subsequently filed what was labeled an "Amended Complaint," an addendum which contained a prayer for damages. (DE 3.) After mail to Mr. Washington was returned as undeliverable, the Court administratively terminated the case on November 6, 2015. (DE 5; 6.) The case was reopened on April 28, 2016 (DE 8, 9), and then dismissed upon initial screening for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted (DE 18, 19). The Court subsequently granted a motion to amend the complaint. (DE 22, 23.) Mr. Washington thereafter submitted a second amended complaint (DE 24), and the Court now undertakes an initial screening of that pleading under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Washington's original complaint named as defendants the Essex County Sheriffs Department, Detective James Bradley, Detective Noel Mendez, Detective Caicedo Fabian, Detective Eduardo Moreno, and Sergeant Nicolas Vinci. (DE 1-1; see also DE 3.) He alleged that Bradley arrested him on September 5, 2014 and filed a false police report "stating [Mr. Washington] was arrested with evidence that was clearly not on [his] person." (DE 1-1 at 4.) He contended that the defendant detectives "came together and discussed possible methods of conjuring and manipulating the legal process to come up with trumped up charges, that evidence had to be planted to substantiate such a crime." (Id.) He thus alleged a conspiracy among the defendants. (Id.) Mr. Washington also alluded to medical problems that allegedly went untreated while he was detained. (Id.)

         Upon screening the original pleading, I dismissed it without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (DE 18.) Specifically, regarding the claim that Bradley filed a false police report, I found that Mr. Washington had not included sufficient factual detail and that '"the filing of a false police report is not itself a constitutional violation.'" (Id. at 3 (quoting Ellis v. Vergara, No. 09-2839, 2009 WL 4891762, at *5 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2009)).) I found that Mr. Washington had failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution, as he did not plead favorable termination of criminal proceedings. (Id. at 4.) I dismissed the conspiracy allegation as it was conclusory and as there was no adequately pleaded predicate constitutional violation. (Id. at 5.) I additionally dismissed any potential claim for inadequate medical treatment and any claim against the Essex County Sheriffs Department as insufficiently pleaded. (Id. at 6-8.) I declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any potential state-law claims. (Id. at 8.)

         Mr. Washington has now submitted a second amended complaint against the same defendants, alleging similar claims.[1] (DE 24, cited herein as "2AC".) He again alleges that Bradley arrested him and "filed a false police report stating I was arrested with evidence that was clearly not on my person." (2AC ¶ 5.) As in the original pleading, Mr. Washington contends that the defendant detectives "came together and discussed possible methods of conjuring and manipulating the legal process to come up with false charges that evidence had to be planted to substantiate such a crime." (Id. ¶ 6.) More specifically, Mr. Washington alleges that the defendant detectives "tampered with evidence to file false claims that I sold one bag of heroin .. . for $10." (Id.) He urges that the police "never recovered $10" and that this interaction was, anyway, "impossible being heroin doesn't cost $10 in Newark." (Id.) He contends that the defendants falsely manipulated police reports and failed to report this misconduct. (Id.) Mr. Washington indicates that, "[d]ue to [his] prior record [he] was forced to take a probationary term in order for [him] to be released from these charges." (Id.) The Court now undertakes a screening of the second amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) ("PLRA"), district courts must review prisoner complaints when the prisoner (1) is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), (2) seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, or (3) asserts a claim concerning prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss claims that are frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b).

         "The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Schreane v. Seana, 506 Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012); see also Courteau v. United States, 287 Fed.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). That standard is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). To survive the Court's screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege "sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014). "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the dements of a cause of action will not do.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Glunk v. Noone, 689 Fed.Appx. 137, 139 (3d Cir. 2017). Nevertheless, "pro se litigants 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).

         A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his constitutional rights:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v. Plains Twp. Police Dep't,635 ...


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