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Scott v. Billings Police Department

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

July 11, 2018

ANTHONY SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
BILLINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT, STEVE HALLAM, SETH FROSTER, DAVID FIREBAUGH, and KENNETH TUSS, Defendants.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JEREMIAH C. LYNCH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Anthony Scott, a pre-trial detainee proceeding without counsel, filed a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Doc. 4) and two proposed Complaints alleging Defendants falsely arrested him on January 17, 2018. (Docs. 1, 5.) The request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. The Court should abstain from deciding Mr. Scott's claims challenging his arrest and the pending criminal charges against him. Defendants will be required to respond to Mr. Scott's claims of excessive use of force.

         I. MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS

         Mr. Scott's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is sufficient to make the showing required by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a) and the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. Because he is incarcerated, Mr. Scott must pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). The initial partial filing fee is waived, and Mr. Scott may proceed with the case. See Bruce v. Samuels, 136 S.Ct. 627, 629 (2016)(“the initial partial filing fee may not be exacted if the prisoner has no means to pay it, § 1915(b)(4)”). He will, however, be required to pay the fee in installments and make monthly payments of 20% of the preceding month's income credited to his prison trust account. The percentage is set by statute and cannot be altered. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). Mr. Scott must make these monthly filing-fee payments simultaneously with the payments required in any other cases he has filed. Id. By separate order, the Court will direct the facility where Mr. Scott is held to forward payments from Mr. Scott's account to the Clerk of Court each time the account balance exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

         II. SCREENING PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A

         Because Mr. Scott is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must screen his Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Sections 1915A(b) and 1915(e)(2)(B) require the Court to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis and/or by a prisoner against a governmental defendant before it is served if it is frivolous or 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.

         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). A complaint is malicious if not pleaded in good faith. Kinney v. Plymouth Rock Squab. Co., 236 U.S. 43, 46 (1915). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if a plaintiff fails to allege the “grounds” of his “entitlement to relief.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation omitted). Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted).

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a complaint “that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the [plaintiff] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to satisfy the requirements in Rule 8 a complaint's allegations must cross “the line from conceivable to plausible.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 680 (2009).

         There is a two-step procedure to determine whether a complaint's allegations cross that line. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556; Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. First, the Court must identify “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 680. Factual allegations are not entitled to the assumption of truth if they are “merely consistent with liability, ” or “amount to nothing more than a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements' of a constitutional” claim. Id. at 679, 681. A complaint stops short of the line between probability and the possibility of relief where the facts pled are merely consistent with a defendant's liability. Id. at 678.

         Second, the Court must determine whether the complaint states a “plausible” claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A claim is “plausible” if the factual allegations, which are accepted as true, “allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. This inquiry is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679 (citation omitted). If the factual allegations, which are accepted as true, “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.” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed,' and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardu, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); cf. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice”).

         III. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         A. Parties

         Mr. Scott has checked the box for “official capacity” under each of the named Defendants. Suing an individual in their “official capacity” is simply another way to plead a claim against the entity which they represent. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). Such a suit “is not a suit against the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity.” Graham, 473 U.S. at 166. “There is no longer a need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, for under [Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) ], local government units can be sued directly for damages and injunctive or declaratory relief.”. Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n.14.

         As Mr. Scott has not raised any claims against the City of Billings, the Court will assume for purposes of this Order that Mr. Scott intended to name the individuals as defendants in their personal capacity. Should he wish to bring a claim against the City of Billings, he must amend his Complaint. The City of Billings will be recommended for dismissal

         B. Facts

         Mr. Scott alleges that on January 17, 2018, the Billings Police Department conducted an investigation for drugs at his place of employment. The officers searched Mr. Scott's car and found a ziplock bag containing a white substance which field tested positive for cocaine. Mr. Scott then gave his consent for the officers to search his home where additional drugs were found. Mr. Scott alleges that he was handcuffed while the officers searched his home and the handcuffs cut off his blood flow.

         He contends that on April 10, 2018, a chemical analysis report shows that no controlled substance was identified in the ziplock bag recovered from his vehicle. He claims Officers Steve Hallam, Seth Froster, Kenneth Tuss, and David Firebaugh were all present on the scene and their reports stated “false events.”

         C. Claims

         Mr. Scott lists his claims as false arrest, defamation of character, cruel and unusual punishment, job loss, excessive force, pain and suffering, home invasion, property damages, and false imprisonment.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         The Court must abstain from considering Mr. Scott's claims challenging his ongoing criminal proceedings but his claims ...


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