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Williams v. Every Judge, District Attorney, Police Officer

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 20, 2016



          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Bradley Paul Williams alleges that Defendants violate the Constitution when a bail commissioner fee is paid in Maine and not refunded following dismissal of the charge that required the posting of bail.

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis, which application the Court granted. (ECF Nos. 3, 4.) In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Following that review, I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.


         Plaintiff asserts he was arrested and detained in Belfast for mailing a court document to the opposing party in a state court protection from harassment proceeding.[1] (Complaint at 4, ECF No. 1.) The bail commissioner set bail at $500 and imposed a $60 fee, which amounts Plaintiff paid. (Id.) More than a year later, the state dismissed the charges against Plaintiff. Plaintiff received a refund of the $500 bail, but not the $60 fee. (Id.)

         Plaintiff requests a refund of the $60 fee. He also asks the Court to overturn "the offensive laws, " to order refunds for everyone who has paid the bail commissioner's fee, and to award punitive damages. (Id. at 5.) The $60 bail commissioner fee paid by Plaintiff is the maximum fee permitted by Maine law. 15 M.R.S. § 1023(5).[2]


         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. Because the waiver of fees might encourage some individuals to file suit regardless of the merits, the statute authorizes the court to dismiss actions that fail to state a viable claim or that present frivolous, malicious, or repetitive claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). "Dismissals on these grounds are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         A. Standard of Review

         When deciding whether to dismiss a claim or action for failure to state a claim, the court must accept as true the factual allegations of the complaint, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff that are supported by the factual allegations, and determine whether the complaint, so read, sets forth a plausible basis for recovery. Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 320 (1st Cir. 2008). To assert a civil action in federal court, a plaintiff cannot simply allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

         When the plaintiff is a pro se litigant, the court will review his or her complaint subject to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Additionally, the pleadings of pro se plaintiffs are generally interpreted in light of supplemental submissions. Wall v. Dion, 257 F.Supp.2d 316, 318 (D. Me. 2003).

         B. Analysis

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an individual may bring an action in federal court against another person who subjects him to the deprivation of a federal right through an exercise of state authority.[3]42 U.S.C. § 1983; Gutierrez-Rodriguez v. Cartagena, 882 F.2d 553, 559 (1st Cir. 1989). Accordingly, in this case, this Court's jurisdiction is founded on § 1983. In order to maintain a § 1983 action in federal court against those who exercise state authority, Plaintiff must assert a claim that describes a deprivation of a federal right. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979) (explaining that section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes").

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from depriving a person of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. The analysis of a due process claim proceeds in two stages. The Court first considers "whether there exists a liberty or property interest of which a person has been deprived, " and if so, it then considers "whether the procedures followed by the State were constitutionally sufficient." Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011). "[T]he processes required by the Clause with respect to the termination of a protected interest will vary depending upon the importance attached to the interest and the particular circumstances under which the deprivation may occur." Walters v. Nat'l Ass'n of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305, 320 (1985).

         Plaintiff alleges facts related to his payment of a $60 fee, through which payment, together with the cash bail, Plaintiff secured his release on bail. Plaintiff, therefore, has not alleged a denial of his liberty.[4] Indeed, given that Plaintiff alleges he was arrested on a "Friday night" (i.e., after regular court hours), the bail commissioner system allowed Plaintiff to secure his pretrial release without spending one night in detention.[5]

         Because Plaintiff was not deprived of his liberty, the issues are whether the $60 bail commissioner fee is refundable and, if not, whether the loss of the fee is a non de minimis deprivation of property amounting to a punishment for being arrested. Plaintiff alleges that the bail commissioner simply arrived at the county jail, determined how much money Plaintiff had in his wallet ($560), set the bail at $500, and took the remaining $60 as his fee. (Complaint at 4.) Plaintiff further contends that there is no means of recovering the $60 bail commissioner fee through any postdeprivation procedure, particularly as bail commissioners are immune under state law against civil liability pursuant to 15 M.R.S. § 1023(3). (Id. at 5.)

         1.Allegations ...

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