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Jernigan v. City of Bridgeport Police Dept

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 27, 2019



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff 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).

         I. In Forma Pauperis Status

         A 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.

         Within 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.

         II. Legal Standard

         Although 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).

         The 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)).

         III. Allegations in the Complaint

         Ms. 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.

         Ms. 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.)[1] 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.)

         IV. Discussion

         Ms. 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.

         A. Defendant City of ...

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