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Baker v. Estes

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 15, 2019

KARON E. BAKER, Plaintiff
DETECTIVE MATTHEW I. ESTES, et al., Defendants


          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In his original complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Estes, an officer with the Augusta Police Department, seized Plaintiff's motor vehicle during an arrest, but has not returned the vehicle to Plaintiff despite a state court order that entitles Plaintiff to the property. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff also alleged that Defendant Pierce, who was evidently employed by or affiliated with a towing company, improperly sold the vehicle. Following a review of the complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 28 U.S.C. §1915A(a), I recommended that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. (Recommended Decision, ECF No. 9.)

         Plaintiff subsequently objected to the recommended decision and moved to amend his complaint. (Objection, ECF No. 10; Motion, ECF No. 11.) The matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to amend, through which motion Plaintiff seeks to supplement his claims against the defendants.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) permits Plaintiff to amend his complaint once as a matter of course within 21 days of service of the complaint. The complaint has not been served upon either defendant. In accordance with Rule 15, therefore, Plaintiff's motion to amend is granted. Plaintiff's complaint is amended as Plaintiff requested.

         Given that Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, and given that he seeks relief from governmental entities, officers, and employees, his amended complaint is subject to review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(a). After the review, I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint.

         Standard of Review

         When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, “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.” 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).

         In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff's amended complaint is subject to screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is incarcerated and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (c). The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez 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). “The relevant question ... in assessing plausibility is not whether the complaint makes any particular factual allegations but, rather, whether ‘the complaint warrant[s] dismissal because it failed in toto to render plaintiffs' entitlement to relief plausible.'” Rodríguez-Reyes v. Molina- Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569 n. 14). 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), the complaint may not consist entirely of “conclusory allegations that merely parrot the relevant legal standard, ” Young v. Wells Fargo, N.A., 717 F.3d 224, 231 (1st Cir. 2013).

         Background Facts [1]

         Plaintiff alleges that he was arrested by Defendant Estes on March 29, 2018, and his vehicle, a Black Jeep Grand Cherokee, was seized. A warrant to search Plaintiff's vehicle was issued on April 4, 2018. On May 23, 2018, Plaintiff received a copy of the warrant with an attached inventory sheet listing items subject to forfeiture ($14, 800 in cash, a cell phone, two USB drives, and three pairs of sneakers). Plaintiff contends that Defendant Estes failed to inventory other property that was in the seized vehicle, including cash, clothing, jewelry, computer equipment, and business ledgers. Plaintiff alleges that while he was being held at the Kennebec County Jail awaiting trial, he and members of his family made numerous attempts to contact the Augusta Police Department to ascertain the status of his vehicle and the property that was in the vehicle at the time it was seized.

         According to Plaintiff, Defendant Estes spoke with Plaintiff (through an intermediary) at the Kennebec County Jail on June 21, 2018. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Estes informed Plaintiff that the vehicle was not being forfeited and that Defendant Estes asked Plaintiff to arrange for someone to pick up the vehicle as it was being released. Plaintiff asked Defendant Estes about the other property, but contends he received no response.

         Because Plaintiff's family members reside in New York City, Plaintiff had difficulty arranging for the retrieval of the vehicle. Plaintiff contends that his daughter made attempts to contact Defendant Estes, but he was misled as to the status of property by the Augusta Police Department. On February 20, 2019, Plaintiff's daughter spoke with someone at the Augusta Police Department and was informed that the vehicle had been released to A.C. Towing Company/Defendant Pierce. Plaintiff's daughter contacted Defendant Pierce, who told her that the vehicle had been signed over to him on June 21, 2018, and subsequently sold. Defendant Pierce also said that the property inside the vehicle had been discarded.

         Plaintiff alleges that on March 27, 2019, the Maine Superior Court granted ...

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