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Amatucci v. Chase

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 11, 2017

STUART CHASE, et at, Defendants



         The plaintiff has filed suit against Stuart Chase, the former police chief of the Town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Rob Houseman, the former town planner/acting town manager of Wolfeboro, two other town employees, and the Town of Wolfeboro itself for federal constitutional rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as under several state common law tort theories. See [Complaint] (ECF No. 1). I grant the plaintiffs request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but because venue does not properly lie in this District and the plaintiff initially filed the same or similar suits in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire ("USDC/New Hampshire"), I recommend that the court transfer this case to the USDC/New Hampshire pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b) and 1406(a).

         I. Application To Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         In forma pauperis status is available under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In her application to proceed pro se, the plaintiff lists her total monthly income as $1, 811.00, consisting of Social Security payments and $350.00 per month received from a boarder in her house. ECF No. 3 ¶ 2. She lists no assets or cash in any bank account. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. For expenses, she lists a monthly recurring expense of $300.00 for heating fuel for her house and has attached to her application copies of bills for what appear to be a car loan, cable service, car insurance, homeowners' insurance, a mortgage, health care insurance, and a tax bill from the Town of Wolfeboro, which range in dates across 2015 and 2016. Id. ¶ 8 & attachments thereto. The plaintiff lists no dependents. Id. ¶ 7. These financial circumstances entitle her to proceed in forma pauperis and, accordingly, I grant her petition to proceed in forma pauperis.

         II. Section 1915(e)(2)(B) Review

         A. Applicable Legal Standard

         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. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines[, ]" inter alia, that the action is "frivolous or malicious" or "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted" or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         "Dismissals [under § 1915] 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); see also Mallard v. United States Dist. Court S.D. Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 307-08 (1989) ("Section 1915(d), for example, authorizes courts to dismiss a 'frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so even in the absence of this statutory provision.").[1]

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, a court must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Herndndez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Although a pro se plaintiffs complaint is subject to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, " Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is "not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim[, ]" Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner in which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). As noted, the statute that provides for waiver of the filing fee also requires the court to determine whether the plaintiff s case may proceed. In other words, the plaintiffs complaint must be dismissed if the court finds it to be frivolous or malicious, seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In this regard, a pro se plaintiffs complaint must be read liberally. Donovan v. Maine, 276 F.3d 87, 94 (1st Cir. 2002).

         B. Factual Background

         So read, the plaintiffs complaint alleges a series of events beginning on May 7, 2014, that include being assaulted by the former chief of police of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and later, by the town's former manager. Complaint ¶¶ 8, 11. The complaint also alleges that Wolfeboro police officers conspired with the then-acting town manager to effectuate the plaintiffs unlawful arrest and prosecution and that the town itself defamed her by banning her from town hall and the police station without due process and then publicizing the costly nature of her legal pursuits against the town in a local newspaper. Id. ¶¶ 12-19.

         The issue here, however, is not whether the allegations of the complaint state a viable claim but, rather, the fact that they reveal no jurisdictional nexus between any party to this suit and Maine. The plaintiff sues the Town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, identifies herself and all of the individual defendants as New Hampshire residents, and describes all of her causes of action as arising from incidents that occurred in that state. See generally Complaint. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391, which "govern[s] the venue of all civil actions brought in district courts of the United States[, ]" 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)(1), a civil action may be brought in:

(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which ...

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