United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE.
case was reassigned to Chief Judge Theresa L. Springmann for
all further proceedings pursuant to General Order 2017-4 [ECF
No. 6] effective May 1, 2017. The Plaintiffsubmitted a
Complaint [ECF No. 1] against the Defendants Allen County
Police Department, and Officers G. Hensler, T. Hughes,
Nicklow, and T. Strausborger on September 26, 2016, and also
filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis [ECF
No. 3] on September 28, 2017. The Plaintiff on his own motion
filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 4] on November 11, 2016,
and filed a letter [ECF No. 5] asking the Court to rule on
this matter on April 21, 2017. Because the Plaintiff on his
own motion has filed an Amended Complaint, the Court grants
the Plaintiff leave to amend here, and evaluates his Amended
Complaint accordingly. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
a plaintiff must pay a statutory filing fee to bring an
action in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However,
the federal in forma pauperis (IFP) statute, 28 U.S.C. §
1915, provides indigent litigants an opportunity for
meaningful access to the federal courts despite their
inability to pay the costs and fees associated with that
access. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319
(1989). To authorize a litigant to proceed IFP, a court must
make two determinations: first, whether the litigant is
unable to pay the costs of commencing the action, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(1); and second, whether the action is
frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. §
the first inquiry, an indigent party may commence an action
in federal court, without prepayment of costs and fees, upon
submission of an affidavit asserting an inability “to
pay such fees or give security therefor.” Id.
§ 1915(a). Here, the Plaintiff's Motion establishes
that he is unable to prepay the filing fee.
inquiry does not end there. District courts have the power
under § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints even before
service of the complaint on the defendants, and must dismiss
the complaint if it fails to state a claim. Rowe v.
Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999). Courts apply
the same standard under § 1915(e)(2)(B) as when
addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1018, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013).
state a claim under the federal notice pleading standards, a
complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Factual allegations are
accepted as true and need only give “fair notice of
what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” EEOC v. Concentra Health Serv., Inc.,
496 F.3d 773, 776-77 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). However, a
plaintiff's allegations must show that his entitlement to
relief is plausible, rather than merely speculative.
Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir.
Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants violated his civil
rights when they administered a breathalyzer test. The
Plaintiff alleges that on September 26, 2016, his sister and
brother were pulled over by the Defendant officers after his
sister made a left turn in the “far right lane.”
(Am. Compl. 2; ECF No. 4.) Upon being pulled over, the
Plaintiff alleges he asked the Defendant Officers for their
names. (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges that the
Defendant Officers responded by ordering him out of the
vehicle, upon which the Defendant Officers patted the
Plaintiff down and administered a breathalyzer test to him.
(Id.) The Plaintiff alleges the results came back
“.0.” (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges the
officers then stated “the machine was broke” and
“chuckled.” (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges
he then stated to the Defendant Officers that he “was
tired of getting mistreated” and that he was a Moorish
American. (Id.) According to the Plaintiff, one of
the Defendant Officers retrieved two empty bottles of alcohol
underneath the Plaintiff's seat, but Officer Hensler
“testified” that he retrieved the bottles from
the front of the vehicle. (Id.) The Plaintiff
alleges that his sister was never administered a breathalyzer
test, nor was she asked if the containers were hers.
(Id.) The Plaintiff further alleges that his sister
was never asked to step out of the vehicle. (Id.)
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint states that the Defendants
violated his civil rights on the basis of his race, sex, and
religion. The Court construes the Plaintiff's claims as a
violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, which are
enforceable through a civil action, under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. When public officers violate the constitutional rights
of citizens, § 1983 provides the vehicle for a legal
claim. Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir.
2006). Section 1983 imposes liability on any
“person” who, while acting under color of state
law, deprives an individual of federally protected rights. 42
U.S.C. § 1983; see Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S.
635, 640 (1980). Section 1983 authorizes claimants to sue
persons in their individual capacities who are alleged to
have violated such rights. Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d
467, 472-73 (7th Cir. 2009). Section 1983 also authorizes
claimants to sue persons in their official capacities.
See Estate of Sims ex rel. Sims v. Cnty. of Bureau,
506 F.3d 509, 514-15 (7th Cir. 2007). Personal involvement is
an element of every claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th
Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges that Officer Hensler
“testified” about the events that occurred on
September 26, 2016. (Am. Compl. 2.) Taken as true for the
purposes of this Opinion and Order, Concentra Health
Serv., Inc., 496 F.3d at 776-77, the Court notes it is
not clear what proceeding the Plaintiff is referring to that
resulted in Officer Hensler testifying. But the introduction
of this testimony as a factual allegation establishes that
the Plaintiff's claims likely involve an underlying
Plaintiff was arrested following the breathalyzer test, this
action would be construed as a false-arrest claim under the
Fourth Amendment and § 1983. “A finding of
probable cause absolutely bars a claim for false arrest under
§ 1983.” Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d
756, 764- 65 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Smith v. City of
Chi., 913 F.2d 469, 473 (7th Cir. 1990)).
“Probable cause to arrest existed if, at the time the
decision was made, ‘the facts and circumstances within
[the officers'] knowledge and of which they had
reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant
a prudent man in believing that the [individual] had
committed or was committing an offense.'”
Reynolds, 488 F.3d at 765 (quoting Beck v.
Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964) (brackets and quotations in
original)). “The reasonableness of the seizure turns on
what the officer knew, not whether he knew the truth or
whether he should have known more.” Reynolds,
488 F.3d at 765 (citing Gramenos v. Jewel Cos., 797
F.2d 432, 439 (7th Cir. 1986)).
Amended Complaint lacks appropriate organization and
coherence, requiring the Court to extrapolate and infer
facts. Where a “lack of organization and basic
coherence renders a complaint too confusing to determine the
facts that constitute the alleged wrongful conduct, dismissal
is an appropriate remedy.” Standard v. Nygren,
658 F.3d 792, 798 (7th Cir. 2011). Because the Plaintiff
appears to omit the underlying criminal proceeding from his
Amended Complaint, the Defendants have not been provided
notice as to what the claims are and the grounds on which
they rest. “To form a defense, a defendant must know
what he is defending against; that is, he must know the legal
wrongs he is alleged to have committed and the factual
allegations that form the core of the claims asserted against
him.” Id. at 799. The Plaintiff's Amended
Complaint thus does not “contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is
plausible on its face.” Kolbe & Kolbe Health &
Wealthfare Benefit Plan v. Med. Coll. of Wis. Inc., 657
F.3d 496, 502 (7th Cir. 2011).
with the relaxed standards that apply to pro se litigants,
see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), the
Amended Complaint does not set forth factual allegations that
raise the Plaintiff's right to relief above the
the aforementioned, the Plaintiff's request to proceed
without prepayment of fees is denied, and the Complaint is
dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The
Court grants the Plaintiff until July 14, 2017, to file a
second amended complaint. See Luevano, 722 F.3d at
1022 (stating that a litigant proceeding under IFP statute
has the same right to amend a complaint as fee-paying
plaintiffs have). When drafting his second amended complaint,
the Plaintiff should state all of the key facts, including
the results of any other legal proceedings involving the
Defendant that came out of the traffic stop. Along with an
amended complaint, the Plaintiff must also file a new
Petition to ...