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Dortch v. City of Omaha Police Department

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 30, 2017

JOSHUA DORTCH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF OMAHA POLICE DEPARTMENT, DOUGLAS COUNTY SHERIFF, BIVENS, and UNKNOWN JOHN DOE POLICE OFFICERS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf, Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter on September 10, 2017. (Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 5.) The court now conducts an initial review of the Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff alleges that on August 18, 2017, the “police defendants” illegally seized $5, 512.00 from him at Reinhart Food in Omaha, Nebraska, without a hearing. He alleges that the police continue to hold his money “on pretext of some Nebulous investigation of some unspecified Crime, ” thereby violating his rights under the Fourth Amendment, as well as his rights to due process and equal protection.

         II. STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW

         In reviewing an in forma pauperis complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate, the court must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or “their complaint must be dismissed” for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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.”). Regardless of whether a plaintiff is represented or is appearing pro se, the plaintiff's complaint must allege specific facts sufficient to state a claim. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985). A pro se plaintiff's allegations must be construed liberally. Burke v. North Dakota Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., 294 F.3d 1043, 1043-44 (8th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff here seeks to allege federal constitutional claims. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the United States Constitution or created by federal statute, and also must show that the alleged deprivation was caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Capacity

         Because Plaintiff's Complaint does not specify whether he is suing Defendants in their official or individual capacities, this court presumes they are sued in their official capacities only. See Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999) (“This court has held that, in order to sue a public official in his or her individual capacity, a plaintiff must expressly and unambiguously state so in the pleadings, otherwise, it will be assumed that the defendant is sued only in his or her official capacity.”). A claim against an individual in his official capacity is, in reality, a claim against the entity that employs the official-in this case, the City of Omaha and Douglas County. See Parrish v. Luckie, 963 F.2d 201, 203 n.1 (8th Cir. 1992) (“Suits against persons in their official capacity are just another method of filing suit against the entity. A plaintiff seeking damages in an official-capacity suit is seeking a judgment against the entity.” (internal citations omitted)). These city and county entities can only be liable under § 1983 if a municipal policy or custom caused Plaintiff to be deprived of a federal right or if the municipality failed to adequately train its employees. Snider v. City of Cape Girardeau, 752 F.3d 1149, 1160 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989); Monell v. N.Y. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). Plaintiff has not made any allegations supporting a policy, custom, or failure-to-train claim.

         B. Fourth Amendment

         The Fourth Amendment, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . . particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Thus, the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable seizures by governmental officials. “The reasonableness requirement necessarily requires a balancing of the competing interests, which in turn requires a consideration of the interests at stake.” PPS, Inc. v. Faulkner Cty., Ark., 630 F.3d 1098, 1103 (8th Cir. 2011).

         In the case of an alleged unreasonable seizure, “an individual's possessory rights in its property . . . are balanced against the government's interest in effective law enforcement.” Id. Presuming one has a possessory interest in property seized without a warrant, such seizure will violate the Fourth Amendment “unless the seizure was supported by one of what are commonly referred to as the ...


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