Bridgeforth v. State Of Delaware et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 1/14/13. (maw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
OTIS MICHAEL BRIGEFORTH,
STATE OF DELA WARE, et aI.,
) Civ. Action No. 12-1387-GMS
The plaintiff, Otis Michael Bridgeforth ("Bridgeforth"), filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. 1 (D.I.2.) He appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed informa
pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.I. 4.) Bridgeforth also seeks discovery. (D.L 5.) The
court now proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.
On November 5, 2012, Bridgeforth appeared for a schedule criminal trial in State Court.
The State's witness did not appear. Bridgeforth requested a speedy trial, and his motion was
granted in part and denied in part. The prosecutor requested a continuance and, it appears, the
matter was continued to January 2013. Bridgeforth alleges that his rights were violated. He
seeks an investigation, dismissal of the matter, compensatory damages, and injunctive relief. The
named defendants are the State of Delaware, the New Castle County Court of Common Pleas
Judicial Committee, the Delaware Department of Justice (collectively "State defendants"), and
lPursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him
of a federal right, and that the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of state law.
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
the City of Wilmington and the Wilmington of Police Department (together "municipal
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time, certain in forma pauperis actions
that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.c. § 1915(e)(2). The court must accept all factual
allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff.
Phillips v. County ofAllegheny, 515 F.3d 224,229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 93 (2007). Because Bridgeforth proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his
complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).
An action is frivolous ifit "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a court may dismiss a
complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly
baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson v.
Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080,
1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's
pen and refused to give it back).
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on 12(b)(6) motions.
Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236,240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)
standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before
dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
pursuant to the screening provisions of28 U.S.C. § 1915, the court must grant Bridgeforth leave
to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v.
Mayview State Hasp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).
A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The
assumption of truth is inapplicable to legal conclusions or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements ofa cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Id at 678. When
determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the court conducts a two-part analysis. Fowler v.
UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual and legal elements ofa
claim are separated. Id The court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true,
but may disregard any legal conclusions. Id at 210-11. Second, the court must determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that Bridgeforth has a "plausible
claim for relief.,,2 Id at 211. In other words, the complaint must do more than allege
Bridgeforth's entitlement to relief; rather it must "show" such an entitlement with its facts. Id.
"[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than a mere possibility of
2A claim is facially plausible when its factual content allows the court to draw a
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are
'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short ofthe line between possibility and
plausibility of 'entitlement to relief. ", Id
misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to
relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity
The State of Delaware, the New Castle County Court of Common Pleas Judicial
Committee, and the Delaware Department of Justice are immune from suit. The Eleventh
Amendment protects states and their agencies and departments from suit in federal court
regardless of the kind of relief sought. Pennhurst State School & Hasp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S.
89, 100 (1984). "Absent a state's consent, the Eleventh Amendment bars a civil rights suit in
federal court that names the state as a defendant." Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 25 (3d
CiT. 1981)(citingAlabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978)).
The State has not waived its immunity from suit in federal court, and although Congress
can abrogate a state's sovereign immunity, it did not do so through the enactment of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Brooks-McCollum v. Delaware, 213 F. App'x 92, 94 (3d Cir. 2007) (unpublished)
(citations omitted). Moreover, there is no mention of the State defendants other than to name
them as defendants. The claims against the State defendants have no arguable basis in law or in
fact. They are frivolous and will be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
B. Municipal Liability
Also named are municipal defendants the City of Wilmington and Wilmington of Police
Department. A municipality may only be held liable under § 1983 when the "execution of a
government's policy or custom... inflicts the injury." Andrews v. City ofPhiladelphia, 895
F.2d 1469,1480 (3d Cir. 1990).
While a government policy is established by a "decisionmaker possessing final
authority ," a custom arises from a "course of conduct. .. so permanent and well settled as to
virtually constitute law." Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480 (citing Monell v. Department ofSocial
Services ofthe City ofNew York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)). Accordingly, a plaintiff seeking to
recover from a municipality must (1) identify an allegedly unconstitutional policy or custom, (2)
demonstrate that the municipality, through its deliberate and culpable conduct, was the "moving
force" behind the injury alleged; and (3) demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal
action and the alleged deprivation of federal rights. Board ofthe County Comm 'rs v. Brown, 520
U.S. 397,404 (1997).
Bridgeforth has not pled any elements that point to the imposition of municipal liability.
Indeed, the complaint contains absolutely no allegations against the municipal defendants.
Absent any allegation that a custom or policy established by the City of Wilmington directly
caused harm to Bridgeforth, his § 1983 claim cannot stand.
The claims against the municipal defendants are frivolous and will be dismissed pursuant
to 28 U.S.c. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
For the above reasons, the court will dismiss the complaint as frivolous pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Amendment of the claim would be futile. See Alston v. Parker, 363
F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2004); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 111 (3d Cir. 2002);
Borelli v. City ofReading, 532 F.2d 950,951-52 (3d Cir. 1976). The pending motion for
discovery (D.I. 5) will be denied as moot.
An appropriate order will be entered.
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