Higgins v. Akron Police Department et al
Memorandum Opinion and Order finding that the complaint fails to state a plausible federal civil rights claim and is dismissed. The Court certifies that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. Judge John R. Adams on 12/15/2016. (M,TL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
TOMMY W. HIGGINS,
AKRON POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al.,
CASE NO. 5:16 CV 2087
JUDGE JOHN R. ADAMS
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Pro se Plaintiff Tommy W. Higgins, a state prisoner incarcerated in the Trumbull
Correctional Institution, has filed this in forma pauperis civil rights action against the Akron Police
Department and Akron Police Detective Randy Shoaff. He alleges that on September 3, 2014,
Detective Shoaf stopped and arrested him while he was traveling in a vehicle on the interstate. He
alleges he was subsequently taken to a house located more than a mile away and subjected to a strip
and body cavity search. He alleges he suffered injury as a result of the search and that he discovered,
during the course of the subsequent criminal proceedings brought against him,1 that the search
warrant used to effectuate his arrest was illegal and invalid. He seeks monetary relief. Although the
plaintiff does not clearly state the legal basis for his claims, it appears he is asserting claims pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violations of his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Eighth
The action is before the Court for initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). That
statute requires federal district courts to screen in forma pauperis actions and dismiss before service
The Summit County Court of Common Pleas docket, of which this Court may take
judicial notice, shows that the plaintiff was subsequently charged and convicted of possession
and trafficking in heroin. See State v. Higgins, CR-2014-09-2671 (Summit County Ct. of
any such action that the court determines is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
See 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B); Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). To survive a
dismissal for failure to state a claim, a pro se complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Hill, 630 F.3d at 471 (holding
that the dismissal standard articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) governs dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)).
The Court finds the action must be dismissed. In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486
(1994), the Supreme Court made clear that a prisoner may not seek damages under §1983 for an
“allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for any other harm caused by actions
whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid,” unless the prisoner demonstrates
that the conviction or sentence “has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order,
declared invalid by a state tribunal . . . or called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ
of habeas corpus.” The Supreme Court instructed that when a state prisoner seeks damages in a
§1983 suit, the “district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would
necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be
dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been
invalidated.” Id. at 487.
The plaintiff’s claims challenging the constitutionality of his arrest and search would clearly
call into question the validity of his subsequent criminal drug convictions. Therefore, under Heck,
in order to assert his claims in a civil rights action, the plaintiff must demonstrate that his conviction
has been reversed or invalidated in one of the other ways articulated in Heck. The plaintiff has not
done so. Accordingly, pursuant to Heck, his complaint fails to state a cognizable civil rights claim
and must be dismissed.
Further, the plaintiff’s civil rights claims against the Akron Police Department fail for the
additional reason that municipal police departments are not entities capable of being sued under §
1983 because they are not independent governmental entities, but are “merely sub-units of the
municipalities they serve.” Davis v. Bexley Police Department, Case No. 2: 08 CV 750, 2009 WL
414269, at *2 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 17, 2009), citing Jones v. Marcum, 197 F. Supp.2d 991, 997 (S.D.
Accordingly, for all of the reasons stated above, the plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a
plausible federal civil rights claim and is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). The Court
certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ John R. Adams
JOHN R. ADAMS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
December 15, 2016
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?