RODRIGUEZ v. WAWA, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 11/8/2017. (tf, n.m.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
JEAN EMMANUEL RODRIGUEZ,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Civil No. 17-9353 (JBS-AMD)
SIMANDLE, District Judge:
The Plaintiff, Jean Emmanuel Rodriguez, has submitted a
civil complaint naming Wawa, Inc., as a defendant.
Rodriguez claims that he has been harassed by Wawa employees on
account of his race, and he seeks damages under the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 [Compl., ¶ II.B], in the amount of $250,000.00 [Id.,
Plaintiff has submitted an application to proceed without
prepayment of fees under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.
Based on information
in that affidavit, the Court finds that Mr. Rodriguez is unable
to afford the filing fee.
The Court will waive the fee and
direct the Clerk of Court to file the Complaint.
When a complaint is filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 in
forma pauperis, the judge to whom it is assigned must conduct an
initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) .
purpose of the screening is to determine whether, assuming all
allegations of the Complaint to be true, the Complaint should
nonetheless be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) if
the Court determines that the Complaint “(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.”
Standards for Asserting a Claim in Federal Court
To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a
claim, the Complaint must allege “sufficient factual matter” to
show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308
n.3 (3d Cir. 2014). (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
In the present case, the Complaint asserts that Plaintiff
was discriminated against because of his race by several
employees of Defendant Wawa, Inc. because “I was asked to prove
my age to the same person several times day despite knowledge of
my legal age and my legal right to purchase items.”
The Complaint names two employees, Patricia Warren and
Mike Rainey, and says several other employees were involved
including “Brandon Doe and Gabrielle Bo.”
The Complaint does
not state the location or dates of these occurrences, nor does
it allege that defendant’s personnel refused to sell plaintiff
the items he sought.
No grounds are stated for why he alleges
that the Defendant was motivated by racial discrimination.
Elsewhere, the Complaint asserts that he was “falsely
accused of robbery.
The evidence was erased that proved my
I was falsely imprisoned and coerced into a plea,
because I could not afford counsel.”
[Compl., ¶ IV.]
details are given of the circumstances of his conviction and
plea, nor does he allege that his conviction was set aside
For relief, the Complaint states:
“I want the Court to
compel Wawa, Inc. to provide the incident report along with the
original footage of the incident that they keep for records.
desire the amount of $250,000 dollars.”
[Compl., ¶ V.]
Claim Under Title II of Civil Rights Act of 1964,
A denial of goods or services at a place of public
accommodation based on race may be actionable under the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, Title II, “Public Accommodations.”
statute is codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000a, 2000a-1 through -6.
Under Section 2000a(a), Title II prohibits discrimination in
provision of goods and services in places of public
accommodation due to discrimination on the ground of race,
color, religion, or national origin.
Places of public
accommodation include those that affect interstate commerce and
include “any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter,
soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling
food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited
to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail
establishment; or any gasoline station.”
42 U.S.C. §
The “public accommodations” provisions authorize a private
right of action only for injunctive relief, and not for money
The Supreme Court has held that a plaintiff cannot
recover damages and if he obtains an injunction, he does so not
for himself alone but also as a “private attorney general”
vindicating policy that “Congress considered of highest
Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 360 U.S.
This means that the substantive rights under 42
U.S.C. §§ 2000a and 2000a-1 are to be enforced exclusively by
United States v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 563 (1968).
private plaintiff seeking injunctive relief is required to
notify any state or local authority under state or local law
prohibiting such act or practice, prior to instituting suit in
42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3(c).
Pleadings by a person unrepresented by an attorney are to
be construed liberally, but “pro se litigants still must allege
sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.”
v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)
Nonetheless, any complaint must serve the
function of presenting a statement of the grounds upon which
relief is sought, which includes alleging facts such as the
place and approximate dates of the alleged misconduct on which
the claim is based and other facts that would make the claim
A complaint alleging racial discrimination must
allege a factual basis for the claim, because mere labels or
conclusions are insufficient to state a claim.
Iqbal, supra, 556 U.S. at 678.
Also, the relief sought by
plaintiff in an award of money damages is not available by this
statute, which permits only injunctions against ongoing
discriminatory conduct in places of public accommodation.
Finally, the complaint does not allege whether Wawa, Inc.,
personnel denied service to the Plaintiff, nor does it allege
what sort of goods he was looking to purchase.
If the purchase
was for tobacco products, for example, it may be that
convenience store personnel in New Jersey are required to ask
all patrons for proof of age before selling the items.
Furthermore, as noted above, the Act applies to “gasoline
stations” as well as certain restaurants affecting interstate
The Complaint does not allege whether the Wawa store
of which Plaintiff complains was also a gasoline station or a
Because it is not clear that an amendment of this Complaint
would be futile under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
the Court will give Plaintiff an opportunity to file an amended
complaint curing these deficiencies by supplying the necessary
Any amended complaint shall be filed within thirty (30)
days of the entry of this Memorandum Opinion and accompanying
Order, and any amended complaint will also be subject to prescreening under Section 1915.
Claims for False Conviction and Imprisonment
Regarding Plaintiff’s allegations that defendant Wawa,
Inc., falsely accused him of robbery and that he was coerced
into pleading guilty, the situation is more complicated.
Complaint does not allege that his conviction was set aside.
is a fair inference that the conviction continues to stand of
Also, the Complaint does not state the crime for which
plaintiff was convicted, the court imposing judgment, or the
Again, the Complaint suffers from lack of
If the conviction has not been set aside, however, then
this civil case cannot be brought challenging that conviction.
In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the Supreme Court held
that before a Civil Rights Act plaintiff may “recover damages
for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or
for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render
a conviction or sentence invalid,” he must first “prove that the
conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal,
expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state
tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into
question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas
Id. at 486-487.
This means that Mr. Rodriguez cannot
allege in this civil lawsuit that his conviction was unlawful
unless he alleges and proves that his conviction was actually
set aside and is no longer valid.
Accordingly, the portions of
the Complaint alleging that he has been falsely convicted and
imprisoned, or that evidence has been destroyed by Defendant
Wawa, Inc., will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted.
Again, Plaintiff will be given one opportunity to amend the
portion of his Complaint alleging such wrongful conviction and
imprisonment, but he will have to give the specifics of the
conviction and sentence, as well as the date of any court order
that set the conviction aside, as explained above.
amended complaint addressing these deficiencies regarding the
criminal prosecution and conviction must likewise be filed
within thirty (30) days.
For the foregoing reasons, the Complaint may be filed
without prepayment of fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.
Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
will have the opportunity for thirty days from the date this
Opinion and accompanying Order are entered, to file an amended
complaint that remedies the deficiencies noted with respect to
his public accommodations claim and with respect to his wrongful
The accompanying Order is entered.
November 8, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
U.S. District Judge
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?