Shotwell v. State of Delaware

Filing 9

MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Richard G. Andrews on 10/17/2016. (nmg)

Download PDF
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE MARKJ. SHOTWELL, Plaintiff, v. : Civil Action No. 16-441-RGA STATE OF DELAWARE, Defendant. Mark J. Shotwell, Newark, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff. MEMORANDUM OPINION October \7,2016 wilmingt~n, Delaware ~s. District Judge: Plaintiff Mark J. Shotwell filed this action alleging violations of his constitutional rights, presumably pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (0.1.4). The Court proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuantto 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). (See 0.1. 1). INTRODUCTION Plaintiff commenced this suit against Defendant State of Delaware alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights by reason of an alleged unlawful search and seizure. Prior to the search, Plaintiff had been arrested on October 16, 2015 for violating a protection from abuse order that had been entered in mid-August 2015. The matter was set for trial on March 14,2016. Plaintiff alleges that charges were nolle prossed later that month. Plaintiff seeks $825,000 in compensatory damages and the return of his property. Approximately one month after the complaint was filed, Plaintiff filed exhibits in support of the complaint. They include: (1) two July 3, 2016 warrants to search the premises and property of Shotwell for firearms and electronic devices, respectively; (2) a property receipt; and (3) a July 4, 2016 no contact order and pretrial conditions against Shotwell, who appears to be named as a defendant in Case No. 1607002292. (0.1. 7). The search warrant for firearms states that the firearms were used, or were intended to be used, for criminal contempt of a domestic violence protective order, in violation of 11 Del. C. § 1271. (Id.). 1 DISCUSSION A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(8) and § 1915A(b) if "the action 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." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant). 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 of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,93 (2007). 8ecause Plaintiff 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). The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(8)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b){6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236,240 (3d Cir. 1999). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the Court must grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002). 2 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). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, _U.S._, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See id. at 346. Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Connelly v. Lane Canst Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The sale defendant is the State of Delaware. 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 3 23,25 (3d Cir. 1981) (citing Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978». Delaware has not waived its immunity from suit in federal court. Although Congress can abrogate a state's sovereign immunity, it did not do so through the enactment of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Brooks-McCollum v. Delaware, 213 F. App'x 92,94 (3d Cir. 2007). Accordingly, the Court will dismiss the complaint because the State of Delaware is immune from suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii) and § 1915A(b)(2). However, since it appears plausible that Plaintiff may be able to articulate a claim against alternative defendants, he will be given an opportunity to amend his pleading. See O'De/l v. United States Gov't, 256 F. App'x 444 (3d Cir. 2007) (leave to amend is proper where the plaintiff's claims do not appear "patently meritless and beyond all hope of redemption"). CONCLUSION For the above reasons, the Court will: (1) dismiss the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii) and 1915A(b)(2); and (2) give Plaintiff leave to amend. An appropriate order will be entered. 4

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?