AIKENS v. RODRIGUEZ et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jose L. Linares on 7/18/17. (sr, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ERIC S. AIKENS,
CiviL Action No. 17-3 161 (JLL)
DSG. JEOVANNY RODRIGUEZ, et a!.,
LINARES, Chief District Judge:
Currently before the Court is the complaint of pro se Plaintiff, Eric S. Aikens. (ECF No.
1). As Plaintiff is a state prisoner who has been granted in forma paztperis status and seeks
damages from a state employee, this Court is required to screen his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. Pursuant to these statutes, the Court must dismiss Plaintiffs claims
if they are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from a defendant
who is immune. For the reasons set forth below, this Cotirt will dismiss Plaintiffs complaint
without prejudice for failure to state a claim for relief.
Plaintiff, Eric S. Aikens, is a state pretrial detainee who seeks to sue several New Jersey
State Police officers who he alleges “entrapped” him resulting in the criminal charges he now
faces. (ECF No. 1 at 3-6). According to Plaintiffs complaint, a confidential informant provided
the New Jersey State Police with “two stolen cars” recovered from a person named “Julian Atta
Poku.” who had apparently taken the cars from a Hertz Rental facility. (Id. at 5). After “court
authorized” monitoring devices were attached to the cars, on August 4, 2015, the state police
provided these same two stolen cars to another confidential informant. (Id.). The second informant
thereafter brought the cars to Plaintiff, and gave the keys to the cars to Plaintiff so that he could
“fence” the cars. (Id.). This interaction, in which the stolen cars were provided to Plaintiff for
sale, was recorded at the “Jersey Garden Mall” in Elizabeth, New Jersey. (Id.). Based on these
facts, Plaintiff states that Defendants, all of whom are police officers who were involved in this
operation, committed “entrapment” against him.
Although Plaintiff also alleges that
Defendants “made false statements and provided false evidence to get warr[a]nts” from a judge,
Plaintiff provides no details beyond that conclusory statement in relation to these alleged
falsehoods, and does not explain what warrants resulted from these statements. (Id. at 3-4).
A. Legal Standard
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134,
801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66
to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions
in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C.
damages from a state employee, see 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B), or seeks
1915A. The PLRA directs district courts to stia
sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, 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. This action
is subject to stia sponte screening for dismissal under 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A
because Plaintiff is a state prisoner suing a state official who has been granted informapatiperis
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” $chreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing
Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F. App’x 230, 232
(3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C.
1997e(c)(1)); Cottrtectu v. United Stc,tes. 287 F. App’x 159,
162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 2$ U.S.C.
1915A(b)). According to the Supreme Court’s decision
in Ashcroft v. Iqbctt, “a pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” 556 U.S. 662, 67$ (2009) (quoting Bet/Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombty, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive sita 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). “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. e.
Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3dCir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 67$). Moreover, while
pro se pleadings are liberally construed, ‘pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their
complaints to support a claim.” Ma/a v. Crown Bay Marinct, Inc., 704 f.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)
(citation omitted) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff seeks to make claims against defendants for alleged violations of his constitutional
rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
1983. “To establish a claim under 42 U.S.C.
1983, a plaintiff must
demonstrate a violation of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States that
was committed by a person acting under the color of state law.”
Mona, 212 F.3d 798,
$06 (3d Cir. 2000); see ct/so Woodvardv. Cnty. of Essex, 514 F. App’x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013)
(section 1 983 provides “private citizens with a means to redress violations of federal law
committed by state [actorsj”). “The first step in evaluating a section 1983 claim is to ‘identify the
exact contours of the underlying right said to have been violated’ and to determine ‘whether the
plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right at all.” Nicini, 212 F.3d at $06 (quoting
County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. $33, $41 n. 5 (199$)). Here, Plaintiff seeks to assert
claims for false arrest and false imprisonment against several New Jersey State Police officers who
he asserts entrapped him into receiving stolen cars.
False imprisonment and false arrest claims brought pursuant to
1983 are two halves of
the same coin which share the same necessary elements: that a plaintiff was arrested and
incarcerated, and that his arrest was not based on probable cause.
See Groman v. Twp. of
Manalapan, 47 F.3d 62$, 636 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Berg v. Cnty. ofAllegheny, 219 f.3d 261,
268-69 (3d Cir. 2000); Johnson v. Frovenzano,
(3d Cir. Apr. 14, 2016).
2016 WL 1459545, at *23
In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts that he was only arrested after a
confidential informant provided him with two stolen cars which he apparently agreed to sell, all of
which was captured on camera. Under those circumstances, the police clearly had probable cause
to arrest, and in turn imprison, Plaintiff for his receipt and agreement to sell two stolen vehicles,
and as such Plaintiff fails to state a claim on that basis. Likewise, to the extent that Plaintiff
attempts to assert that his arrest arose out of false statements or evidence provided to a judge in
order to secure warrants which led to his arrest,1 Plaintiff has pled no more than a conclusory
statement to that effect, and has otherwise pled facts suggesting that probable cause existed for his
arrest, and he fails to state a claim for relief for false arrest or false arrest on that basis as well.
It is not clear if Plaintiff s allegations address a warrant for his arrest or warrants which permitted
some search or seizure, such as the placement of tracking devices on the stolen cars. Even if
Plaintiff had intended these allegations to stand as a claim for an illegal search or seizure other
than a false arrest, he would fail to state such a claim as he has provided no more than a conclusory
allegation to suggest that any false statements or evidence were provided to a judge, and would
thus fail to state a plausible claim for relief in any event. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (conclusory
allegations insufficient to state a claim for relief).
To the extent that Plaintiff seeks to raise entrapment as a theory of liability, his complaint
still fails to state a claim for relief.
While “[e]ntrapment may violate
the New Jersey
Constitcttion” and act as a proper defense to criminal charges in state criminal proceedings, it
generally does not represent a violation of the United States constitution sufficient to state a claim
for relief under § 1983. See Gaskins v. 17 Officers. No. 09-1982, 2009 WL 4730189, at *6 (D.N.J.
Dec. 4,2009); see also DiBlasio v. City ofNew York, 102 F.3d 654, 656-57 (2d Cir. 1996). Alleged
entrapment will only impugn the United States Constitution where it is “outrageous in form.”
Johnson v. Koehler, No. 14-1490, 2015 WL 1470948, at *12 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2015); see also
United States v. Twigg, 588 F.2d 373, 378-79 (3d Cir, 1978). Alleged entrapment involving the
sale of illegal goods, such as an unlawful drug sale, does not qualify as outrageous conduct and “is
not of a constitutional dimension.” Johnson, 20156 WL 1470948 at *12. A claim based on such
conduct therefore fails to state a claim for relief under
1983. Id. As Plaintiff alleges no more
than the involvement of the police in the delivery of stolen goods to Plaintiff, which is similar in
character to involvement in an illegal sale of goods, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficiently
outrageous conduct, and has failed to state a claim for relief.2
Even were Plaintiff to have made out a constitutionaL entrapment claim, case Law suggests that
such a claim would likely have to be dismissed under the Younger abstention doctrine which
requires federal courts to abstain from hearing claims which concern ongoing state proceedings,
such as state criminal proceedings. See James v. Superior Ct., Nos. 07-3609 and 07-4683, 2008
WL 3850211, at *8 (D.N.J. Aug. 7, 2008); see cilso Younger v. Harris. 401 U.S. 37 (1971).
For the reasons expressed above this Court will dismiss Plaintiffs complaint without
prejudice in its entirety for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. An appropriate
on. Jose L. Linares
Chief United States District Judge
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