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Allen v. Elwell

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

December 30, 2019

JENNIFER ELWELL, et al., Defendants.



         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 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) for failure to state a claim, pursuit of monetary relief against immune defendants, and/or as frivolous due to untimeliness.


         “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). As concerns this case, an action fails as frivolous when “it appear[s] on the face of the complaint . . . that the applicable statute of limitations bars [the plaintiff's claims] . . . .” Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70, 74 (4th Cir. 1983); see also Nasim, 64 F.3d at 955 (holding that courts may anticipate defenses when conducting IFP review), 956 (“[T]he [district] court found that [the plaintiff's claim] was barred by the applicable . . . statute of limitations. In these circumstances, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the action was frivolous . . . .”).

         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 claims under “42 U.S.C. § 1983” for “subject[ion] to cruel and unusual punishment which violates [the] 8th [A]mendment” (Docket Entry 2 at 5), and for violation of his rights under the “5th, 6th, [and] 14th (section one) [A]mendment[s]” (id.), Plaintiff initiated this action against ten defendants: (1) “Jennifer Elwell” (“Defendant Elwell”); (2) “Mark Nelson” (“Defendant Nelson”); (3) “Grant Gilliam (“Defendant Gilliam”); (4) “Cerelyn Davis” (“Defendant Davis”); (5) “Durham Police Department;” (6) “City [o]f Durham;” (7) “Freda Black” (“ADA Black”); (8) “Tracey Cline” (“DA Cline”); (9) Durham County [D]istrict Attorney['s] Office” (the “Durham County DA's Office”); and (10) “NC State B[ureau] of Investigation[]” (the “NCSBI”). (Id. at 1-4.) The Complaint states the following as the basis for asserting claims under Section 1983:

SBI lab[or]atory [t]echicians wrote reports in a misleading manner to benefit Durham County [p]rosecutors, and did not explicitly or clearly communicate results to defense.
Durham Police [D]epartment lodged [c]harge(s) [s]uch as Statutory Sexual Offense, First [D]egree Murder[, ] and Felony Child [A]buse when the evidence was not sufficient to lodge those charges which conduced [sic] [Plaintiff] to being categorize[d] as a child murder [sic] and rapist.
[ADA] Black and [DA] Cline were the Distr[ic]t Attorney and/or Assistant [D]istrict [A]ttorney who prosecuted the case and [sought] capital punishment ([t]he [d]eath [p]enalty) against [Plaintiff] when the evidence was not sufficient to warrant a death sentence. Durham County [DA's O]ffice employed both [ADA] Black and [DA] Cline.

(Id. at 5 (parentheses in original).)

         The Complaint's “Statement of Claim” ...

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