United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
Brenda Jernigan brings this action pro se against
the City of Bridgeport Police Department. Ms. Jernigan
contends that she was subjected to an unreasonable search in
violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment. She also
alleges that the search was the result of racial profiling,
in violation of her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
(ECF No. 1.) She has filed a motion to proceed in forma
pauperis together with her complaint. (ECF No. 2.) For
the reasons set forth below, the motion to proceed in
forma pauperis is DENIED without prejudice and Ms.
Jernigan's claims against the City of Bridgeport Police
Department are DISMISSED without prejudice pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
In Forma Pauperis Status
litigant may proceed in forma pauperis if she
“is unable to pay” the standard fee for
commencing an action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The
decision to allow a party to proceed in forma
pauperis is committed to the sound discretion of the
trial court. See Rowland v. California Men's Colony,
Unit II Men's Advisory Council, 506 U.S. 194, 217-18
(1993). In exercising this discretion, courts consider
whether the burden of paying the fees for filing and service
would either hamper the party's ability to obtain the
necessities of life or force her to abandon the action.
See Adkins v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 335
U.S. 331, 339-40 (1948); Potnick v. Eastern State
Hospital, 701 F.2d 243, 244 (2d Cir. 1983). Ms.
Jernigan's motion to proceed in forma pauperis
is not sufficient to determine whether she meets that
standard. The motion lists specific monthly expenses totaling
$1, 572. (ECF No. 2 at 5-6.) It asserts that her total
monthly obligations equal $5, 000 and identifies additional
general expenses including hospital bills, utilities, and
credit card bills. (Id. at 6.) It does not provide
an estimated monthly payment for those accounts.
(Id.) Thus the motion does not provide a basis to
verify the total obligations Ms. Jernigan reports. (See
Id. (listing $50 as the total for “Gas bill per
month” and $150 for “Electric bill per month,
” but also listing “U.I Illuminating” and
“Gas Co.” as “other outstanding loans or
debts” without a total).) Further, although the motion
represents that Ms. Jernigan “lost her job” and
“became homeless” because of the illegal search,
it lists $500 in monthly rent and $1, 800 in monthly income
from employment. It also lists income from welfare and social
security totaling $975. (ECF No. 2 at 4.) Overall, Ms.
Jernigan lists income totaling $2, 775 and verifiable monthly
obligations totaling $1, 572. The Court cannot conclude that
requiring her to pay the filing fee would pose an undue
burden, and the motion is DENIED without prejudice.
thirty days, Ms. Jernigan may file an updated motion to
proceed in forma pauperis. The updated application
must (1) list specific amounts for each debt or other monthly
obligation; (2) list specific amounts, even if the amount is
$0, for Ms. Jernigan's assets such as her bank accounts;
and (3) list accurate amounts for Ms. Jernigan's income,
including listing income from her position with the
Bridgeport Police Department in the “unemployed”
section if she no longer receives that income. Failure to
file an updated motion to proceed in forma pauperis
within thirty days will result in dismissal of the case
without prejudice without further notice.
I have denied without prejudice Ms. Jernigan's motion to
proceed without paying the filing fee, I nonetheless address
the allegations in her complaint to provide her with guidance
on the requirements for pleading a cognizable claim. Section
1915(e)(2) provides that the Court must dismiss a complaint
filed with an in forma pauperis motion if it
“(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Although
detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must
include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice
of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and
to demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory
allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Court must construe pro se pleadings liberally,
Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009), and
interpret them to raise the “strongest arguments that
they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of
Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 472 (2d Cir. 2006). A pro
se plaintiff, however, must meet the standard of facial
plausibility. See Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509,
515 (2d Cir. 2013) (“[A] pro se complaint must
state a plausible claim for relief.”) (citing
Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 73 (2d Cir. 2009)).
Allegations in the Complaint
Jernigan's complaint contains few factual allegations,
but it attaches and references an Affidavit of Illegal
Discriminatory Practice that Ms. Jernigan previously filed
with the State of Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and
Opportunities (CHRO). (See ECF No. 1 at 7- 10
(“CHRO Compl.”).) I consider that affidavit
together with her complaint in this case. See also
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument
that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading
for all purposes.”) In the interest of construing the
complaint liberally, I will not treat the City of
Bridgeport's response to her CHRO affidavit, which she
also attaches (ECF No. 1 at 13-16), as part of her complaint.
Ms. Jernigan did not complete the portion of the civil rights
complaint form asserting a basis for the Court's subject
matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) Because she asserts
claims against state or local officials for violating her
rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, I will
construe her complaint as attempting to state a claim under
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Jernigan alleges Bridgeport Police illegally searched her
person and vehicle in a parking lot without reasonable
suspicion or probable cause on November 9, 2017. (CHRO Compl.
at 1.) She was in her vehicle with a male passenger waiting
to exit the parking lot at 3880 Main Street, Bridgeport, CT,
when a black SUV pulled in front of her and blocked her from
leaving. (Id. at ¶ 4.) A white male police
officer exited the SUV and shouted at Ms. Jernigan to get out
of her car. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Approximately four
additional police cars and officers arrived. (Id.) A
female police officer searched Ms. Jernigan, and a male
officer searched Ms. Jernigan's male passenger.
(Id. at ¶ 7.) A police officer, identified only
as “Badge No. 610, ” along with another officer,
searched Ms. Jernigan's car. (Id. at ¶ 8.)
“[T]hey found marijuana in . . . aluminum foil in the
console.” (Id.) Ms. Jernigan states that,
although the marijuana did not belong to her, the officers
ticketed her for possession of marijuana. (Id. at
¶ 9.) Ms. Jernigan was not charged with a
vehicle infraction. (Id.) Ms. Jernigan alleges that
the officers did not have reasonable suspicion or probable
cause to stop, search, or detain her, and that the stop was a
result of racial profiling. (Id. at ¶ 10;
see also ECF No. 1 at 3.)
Jernigan alleges that the police stopped, detained, and
searched her in violation of her rights under the Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments. I construe her complaint to bring
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under
§ 1983, the plaintiff must allege that a person acting
under color of state law deprived her of a right secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States. Even construed
liberally to identify any plausible cause of action, Ms.
Jernigan's complaint fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted.
Defendant City of ...