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Valentine v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

March 26, 2018

CHRIS BROWN, Defendant.


          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff filed her pro se Complaint on February 16, 2018 (Filing No. 1), and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis that same date (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).


         Plaintiff's Complaint references Case No. 8:16CV131, which she filed in this court on March 25, 2016, against the City of Omaha, “8 Unknown Jane-John Doe Omaha Police Officers, ” and Chris Brown, the defendant herein.[1] Brown is sued both individually and officially. Plaintiff alleges Brown falsely stated in an affidavit for a search warrant that Plaintiff sold drugs to a confidential informant.


         The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it 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.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (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.”). “The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


         “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “A warrant based upon an affidavit containing deliberate falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth violates the Fourth Amendment and subjects the officer who submitted the affidavit to § 1983 liability.” Schaffer v. Beringer, 842 F.3d 585, 593 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Block v. Dupic, 758 F.3d 1062, 1063 (8th Cir. 2014)), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2299 (2017).

         Plaintiff's Complaint contains sufficient facts to state a claim for relief against Officer Brown in his individual capacity, as it is alleged that Brown “lied to the county judge to get search warrant to break into our house ... based off a phony make believe ‘CI'” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1-2). More specifically, Plaintiff alleges “Officer Brown lied to the judge [by] stating that Brown got ‘CI' to do two controlled buys on the 14th & 16th day of July 2015” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2). Plaintiff alleges the search warrant was executed on July 17, 2015, but no drugs were found.

         Plaintiff further alleges that “7 months later police came back to our house with a warrant for our arrest claiming that we sold drugs ... [and] we was assaulted and tased by John Doe police” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1). There is no allegation that Brown participated in this alleged false arrest and excessive use of force. Plaintiff also claims she was strip searched at some point (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2), but again there is no allegation that Brown was a participant.

         Plaintiff's action is therefore limited to a Fourth Amendment claim against Brown for allegedly submitting a false affidavit to obtain the search warrant. Such claim, however, can only be brought against Brown in his individual capacity because Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to show that a municipal policy or custom played a part in the alleged constitutional violation.

         “A suit against a public official in his official capacity is actually a suit against the entity for which the official is an agent.” Schaffer, 842 F.3d at 596 (quoting Elder-Keep v. Aksamit, 460 F.3d 979, 986 (8th Cir. 2006)). “The plaintiff must prove that the municipality itself caused the constitutional violation at issue.” Id. “Thus, [the] first inquiry in any case alleging municipal liability under § 1983 is the question whether there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.” Id. (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)). To prove the existence of a policy, a plaintiff must point to “an official policy, a deliberate choice of a guiding principle or procedure made by the municipal official who has final authority regarding such matters.” Id. (quoting Mettler v. Whitledge, 165 F.3d 1197, 1204 (8th Cir. 1999)). Further, the plaintiff must prove that the policy was the “moving force” behind a constitutional violation. Id. (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)).

         IV. ...

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