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Johnson v. Brookings Police Department

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

May 17, 2019




         Plaintiff Charles Ray Johnson (Johnson) filed three closely related pro se civil rights lawsuits in succession under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. These suits appear to arise out of the same facts Johnson alleged in cases this Court previously screened: namely, 4:18-CV-04098-RAL, 4:18-CV-04099-RAL, 4:18-CV-04100-RAL, and 4:18-CV-04140-RAL. In the instant suits, Johnson alleges, without providing any factual background, that his constitutional rights were violated when police officer Damian Weets (Officer Weets) demanded that Johnson show him his ID and when his probation officer John McQuistion (McQuistion) subsequently detained him for having been ticketed for failing to so provide his Id. Johnson further alleges that the Brookings Police Department has an unconstitutional policy of requiring police officers to ask for Id. Johnson requests that he be discharged from probation, that Officer Weets undergo anger management training, that the Brookings Police Department revise their policies requiring whether police officers may ask for ID, and $3.5 million in damages.

         In opinions dated November 2 and November 14, 2018, this Court set forth the factual background underlying, these claims:

Johnson states that police officer Damian Weets (Officer Weets), having been called to investigate Johnson's activities as he sat with a woman in a car outside a residential housing unit for five hours, brandished his weapon and pointed it at Johnson after Johnson failed to provide the officer his identification. Johnson claims that the officer had no probable cause to investigate Johnson's activities and believes that police were called by residents whom Johnson had previously reported to the police for failure to supervise a toddler. Officer Weets ultimately arrested Johnson for False Impersonation to Deceive Law Enforcement, and Johnson, who was on state probation or parole, spent approximately one week in the South Dakota Department of Correction's Jameson Annex as a result of the arrest.

Johnson v. Brookings Police Dep't, 2018 WL 5729913, *1 (D.S.D. 2018). Since Johnson has . alleged no factual-background in his current lawsuits such as would survive dismissal under the screening procedure required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), this Court infers, -based on the virtually identical nature of the claims and the requirement to construe pleadings liberally, that the circumstances that led to Johnson's prior suits also underlie his current claims. In either case, this Court dismisses Johnson's Complaints in accordance with the screening procedure required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. Standard of Review

         Suits brought in forma pauperis are subject to a two-step screening process, which first requires the plaintiff to demonstrate financial eligibility to proceed without prepayment of fees. Martin-Trigona v. Stewart, . 691 F.2d 856, 857 (8th Cir. 1982); see e.g., Lundahl v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, 2018 WL 3682503, * 1 (D.S.D. 2018). A person may be granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis if he or she "submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such [person] possesses [and] that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The litigant is not required to demonstrate absolute destitution, and the determination of whether a litigant is sufficiently impoverished to qualify to so proceed is committed to the court's discretion. Lee v. McDonald's Corp., 231 F.3d 456 (8th Cir. 2000); Cross v. Gen. Motors Corp., 721 F.2d 1152, 1157 (8th Cir.. 1983); see, e.g., Babino v. Janssen & Son, 2017 WL 6813137, *1 (D.S.D. 2017). In light of the information Johnson has provided in his financial affidavits, this Court finds that he may proceed in forma pauperis..

         Nonetheless, given that Johnson has now filed seven lawsuits against the same defendants based on the same facts, with other lawsuits against different defendants pending, it is incumbent upon this Court to inform Johnson that "the decision whether to grant or deny in forma pauperis status is within the sound discretion of the trial court." Cross v. General Motors Corp., 721 F.2d 1152, 1157 (8th Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). A judge, "after weighing the relevant factors" may "properly determine[] that a litigant's abusive conduct merits a prefiling injunction." In. re Pointer, 345 Fed.Appx. 204, 205 (8th Cir. 2009). Plaintiffs "who in bad faith consistently abuse the judicial process and privilege of litigating at public expense" may be subject to pre-filing review procedures "restricting the availability of cost-free access to court." Bennett v. Miller, 2014 WL 60092, *7 (D.S.D. 2014) (quoting Peck v. Hoff, 660 F.2d 371, 374 (8th Cir. 1981)). Johnson's multiple frivolous lawsuits may ultimately support such an injunction should he continue to file meritless suits.

         The second step of the in forma pauperis screening process requires a district court to determine whether a pro se civil action against a governmental entity or employee should be dismissed as "frivolous, malicious, or fail[ing] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted" or for "seek[ing] monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); Martin-Trigona, 691 F.2d at 857; see also Lundahl, at *1. Pro se complaints must be liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also Native Am. Council of Tribes v. Solem, 691 F.2d 382 (8th Cir. 1982). Notwithstanding its liberal construction, a pro se complaint may be dismissed as frivolous "where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact;" that is, where the claim is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or where, having "pierce[d] the veil of the complaint's factual allegations," the court determines those facts are "fantastic or delusional." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 327-28 (1989) (internal citations omitted); see also Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Complaints are "malicious" Where the plaintiff knows that such complaint is based on false allegations. In re Tyler, 839 F.2d 1290, 1293 (8th Cir.. 1988) (internal citations omitted).

         A court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim "as a matter of law if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327 (1989) (internal citations omitted). To avoid dismissal, a complaint "must show that the plaintiff 'is entitled to. relief,' ... by alleging 'sufficient factual . matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Torti v. Hoag, 868 F.3d 666, 671 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting In re Pre-Filled Propane Tank Antitrust Litig., 860 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2017) (en banc), Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, . 678 (2009)). To determine whether a. claim is plausible on its face is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (2009). A complaint must allege "more than labels and conclusions." Torti, 868 F.3d at 671 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         II. Constitutional Claims Against Brookings Police Department

         This Court has ruled in Johnson's prior case against Brookings Police Department that "[i]t is well-settled law that police departments, sheriffs offices, and jails are not persons within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and are thus not amenable to suit." Johnson v. Brookings Police Dep't., 2018 WL 5729913, *2 (D.S.D. 2018). As such, Johnson's claims of false arrest and conspiracy to deprive him of his civil rights against the Brookings Police Department should be dismissed.

         III. Constitutional Claims Against Officer Weets

         Johnson claims that Officer Weets conspired to deprive Johnson of his civil rights and unlawfully detained him when he ultimately arrested Johnson for False Impersonation to Deceive Law Enforcement for failing to show his Id. Johnson has filed his suit against ...

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