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Todd v. State

United States District Court, D. Maine

January 18, 2019



          John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff, Kira Nicole Todd, seeks in forma pauperis status in connection with her complaint that “[t]he Buxton authorities or the State of Maine stole [her] horse” as the result of an “entirely incorrect” charge of cruelty to animals. [Complaint] (ECF No. 1) at 1; Application To Proceed in District Court without Prepaying Fees or Costs (“IFP Application”) (ECF No. 3). I grant the plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis but recommend that the court dismiss the action without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         I. Application To Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         In forma pauperis status is available under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In her IFP Application, the plaintiff declares under penalty of perjury that she has monthly income of $750 in Supplemental Security Income benefits, $350 in cash or in a checking or savings account, regular monthly expenses for property taxes and utilities, and debts or financial obligations in the form of several fines from the State of Maine court. See IFP Application. These financial circumstances entitle her 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-Hernández v. Fortuño-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 plaintiff's 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 plaintiff's 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 plaintiff's complaint must be read liberally. Donovan v. Maine, 276 F.3d 87, 94 (1st Cir. 2002).

         B. Factual Background

         The plaintiff, a resident of Buxton, Maine, alleges that the “local authorities” initially took her horse, a valuable young stallion, because they did not like the shelter that she had provided for him. Complaint at 1; ECF No. 5 at Page ID # 8. She states that she boarded her horse in another town while she fixed her barn, but the “then chief of police took him anyway[.]” Complaint at 1. After she fixed the barn, the “authorities” refused to return the horse pending the outcome of an animal cruelty case against her. Id. Although she “won” the case and her horse was returned to her, the authorities seized him again to pay for their expenses. Id. at 1-2. She alleges that her court-appointed lawyer informed her that “they wanted me to pay restitution and all costs of their boarding[, ]” and that she “was made to sign a document giving release of ownership, and not able to ever have a horse in Maine[.]” Id. at 2. She states that she understood from her lawyer that, if she did not sign, “they would put me in jail for a year, and take my house[.]” Id. She alleges that she informed the judge that she had signed the document under threat, but he did nothing. Id. She alleges that she has proof that “basically they stole my horse, and want me to pay for it, [a]nd as mentioned above, threatened me if I decided to plea for a jury court.” Id. at 3. She adds that when she asked for a lawyer to appeal, the lawyer never returned her calls, and the court would not designate another court-appointed lawyer. Id.

         C. Discussion

         It is not clear from the face of the plaintiff's complaint whether she “won” her animal cruelty case in the sense that she was not convicted of the crime. In an attempt to clarify the status of that case, I entered an order on December 21, 2018, directing the plaintiff to file, no later than January 4, 2019, the name and docket number of the state court case(s) referenced in her complaint and copies of any records of those state court proceedings that were in her possession. See ECF No. 6.

         On January 2, 2019, the plaintiff filed 207 pages of documents, a number of which are duplicates, pertaining to State v. Todd, YRKCD-CR-2017-22739 (Me.), in which she was charged with the Class D misdemeanor of cruelty to animals in violation of 17 M.R.S.A. § 1031. See ECF No. 7 at Page ID # 21. While the plaintiff supplied the docket number of her case, nothing in her filing clarified whether she was convicted of that charge, and her materials understandably did not include a copy of the state court docket sheet. At my request, the Clerk's Office obtained a copy, of which I take judicial notice. However, that document, as well, does not clarify whether the plaintiff was convicted of the animal cruelty charge. I have assumed, favorably to the plaintiff, that she “won” ...

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