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Howard v. Reyes

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 21, 2019

DYLAN J. HOWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
PTL. JORGE REYES, B.P.D., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOHN MICHAEL VAZQUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Dylan J. Howard, proceeding pro se, seeks to bring a federal civil rights complaint. At this time, [1] the Court must review Mr. Howard's pleading, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) 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 following claims may now proceed: (1) Howard's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unlawful search claim against all four Borough of Butler Police Department (“BPD”) officers named in his complaint, i.e., Patrolman Kyle G. Fontanazza, Patrolman Jorge Reyes, Lieutenant Scott T. Ricker, and Patrolman Scott Sinopoli; and (2) his § 1983 excessive force claim against Patrolman Jorge Reyes. All other claims in Howard's pleading are dismissed without prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Howard's complaint formally identifies Fontanazza, Reyes, Ricker, and Sinopoli - and those four individuals only - as defendants.[2] (DE 1.) The Court accepts the incredibly limited factual allegations in Howard's pleading, detailed below, as true for purposes of the present screening.

         On March 31, 2016, BPD Patrolmen Fontanazza, Sinopoli, Reyes, and their supervising officer, Lieutenant Ricker, all responded to a call at Howard's home. (Id. at 3.) On that date, all four officers entered Howard's residence under false pretenses, and did so without a warrant, permission, or any other valid authorization. (Id. at 3, 4.) Upon entering, Reyes, then accompanied by Ricker, went to Howard's bedroom where Reyes, without probable cause, shot Howard four times in the torso with his BPD-issued firearm. (Id. at 3.)

         The four named defendants thereafter - at the direction of Ricker - falsely stated in their respective police reports that Howard's grandmother, Ann King, who lived with Mr. Howard at his residence, gave them permission to enter. (Id.) In addition, “all [four officers] failed to secure the crime scene properly and tampered with evidence by contaminating and removing objects from the residence.” (Id.) Moreover, Reyes, Ricker, Fontanazza, and Sinopoli each violated BPD protocol by failing to activate their body microphones before entering Howard's home. (Id.)

         Howard - in conclusory fashion - alleges that the foregoing actions violated a number of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Id.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(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) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 Fed.Appx. 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); 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), as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

         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. See Fowler v. UPMC 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). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint may also be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears “‘that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.”' Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981). Pro se pleadings are liberally construed. See Haines, 404 U.S. at 520-21. 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) (citation omitted)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. 42 ...


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