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Cartlidge v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 16, 2019

JENNIFER SMITH, et al., Defendants.


          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (the “Application”)(Docket Entry 1) filed in conjunction with his pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's instant Application for the limited purpose of recommending dismissal of this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) as frivolous, for failing to state a claim, and as barred by various immunity doctrines.


         “The federal in forma pauperis statute, first enacted in 1892 [and now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915], is intended to guarantee that no citizen shall be denied access to the courts solely because his poverty makes it impossible for him to pay or secure the costs.” Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951, 953 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Dispensing with filing fees, however, [is] not without its problems. . . . In particular, litigants suing in forma pauperis d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit.” Nagy v. FMC Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004). To address this concern, the in forma pauperis statute provides that “the [C]ourt shall dismiss the case at any time if the [C]ourt determines . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         As to the first of these grounds, “a complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). “The word ‘frivolous' is inherently elastic and not susceptible to categorical definition. . . . The term's capaciousness directs lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the frivolity of a claim.” Nagy, 376 F.3d at 256-57 (some internal quotation marks omitted). In determining frivolousness, the Court may “apply common sense.” Nasim, 64 F.3d at 954.

         As to the second ground, a plaintiff “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), when the complaint does not “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) (emphasis added) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. In other words, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.[1]

         The third ground for dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) generally applies to situations in which doctrines established by the United States Constitution or at common law immunize government entities and/or government personnel from liability for damages. See, e.g., Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984) (discussing eleventh-amendment immunity of states and state officials); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967) (describing interrelationship between 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and common-law immunity doctrines); cf. Allen v. Burke, 690 F.2d 376, 379 (4th Cir. 1982) (noting that, even where “damages are theoretically available under [certain] statutes . . ., in some cases, immunity doctrines and special defenses, available only to public officials, preclude or severely limit the damage remedy” (internal quotation marks omitted)).


         Asserting jurisdiction pursuant to “42 U.S.C. § 1983” (Docket Entry 2 at 3), Plaintiff initiated this action against three defendants: (1) “The County of Forsyth” (“Forsyth County”), (2) “Jennifer Smith” (“Detective Smith”), and (3) “Penn Broyhill” (“ADA Broyhill”). (Id. at 1-2.) The Complaint's “Statement of Claim” states in its entirety:

[Plaintiff], on July 1, 2018 in Forsyth county town of Kernersville was falsely arrested by [Detective] Smith of the Kernersville Police Department, and was subsequently Unlawfully imprisoned in Forsyth County Detention Center for 247 days.
1. False arrest - On Sunday, July 1st 2018 approximately 5:40 P.M., a Kernersville police officer parked in the middle of South Main st. and Century blvd., did a u-turn when [Plaintiff] drove past and pulled [him] and Edward Squires over. Routinely [the officer] asked for identification and learned of a warrant for Edward Squires. Additional backup was called and came to the scene, to include [Detective] Smith. [Edward Squires and Plaintiff] both w[ere] asked to step out of the car. Edward was arrested while [Plaintiff] was being badgered with a rapid line of questioning from a field officer to whom [Plaintiff] answered. [Detective] Smith came to assist the officer and questioned [Plaintiff] about the events of [his] day. Upon answering her [Detective Smith] said [Plaintiff] was obstructing justice because she claimed [Plaintiff] knew Edward Squires was involved in criminal activity and that [Plaintiff] was lying. [Plaintiff] told her [he] was on probation and [he] can't afford to get arrested. [Detective Smith] insisted [Plaintiff] was being untruthful and gave [him] an ultimatum to tell her what happened or be arrested for obstruction. [Plaintiff] told her [he] was being transparent about what happened and not knowing what Edward was up to, then at that time [Plaintiff] was arrested when [Detective Smith] ordered the field officer to handcuff [him]. [Plaintiff] was never charged with obstruction of justice.
2. Illegal Search and Seizure - [Detective] Smith asked for a search dog to sniff the car when [Plaintiff] did not give consent to search the vehicle. The dog reacted to the car although there were no controlled substances with odors found inside of the car. Nevertheless the vehicle was searched.
3. False Imprisonment - [Plaintiff] was incarcerated in Forsyth County Detention Center from July 1st 2018 until Feb[r]uary 7th 2018 under criminal charges that were dismissed against [him] Feb[r]uary 19th 2019.
4. Right to Due Process - During [Plaintiff's] criminal litigation [Plaintiff] opted to represent [himself] Pro se. [ADA] Broyhill was the assistant district attorney assigned to [Plaintiff's] case. There are several date[s] to which this right was violated by [ADA] Broyhill.
• 08/l7/2018 [Plaintiff] was not brought to court as a Pro se defendant
• 09/25/2018 [Plaintiff] addressed a letter to [ADA] Broyhill concerning [g]iving [Plaintiff] a copy of [his] discovery and toxicology report (Exculpatory evidence)
• 11/17/2018 [Plaintiff] was not brought to court as a Pro se defendant
• 11/17/2018 [Plaintiff] was not brought to court as a Pro se defendant
• 11/20/2018 [Plaintiff] addressed a letter to [ADA] Broyhill concerning not being brought to the courthouse as a Pro se ...

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