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Carroll v. Alexander

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 7, 2016



Gordon P. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff, Kenneth J. Carroll, is detained in the Denver County Jail. He has filed pro se a Prisoner Complaint asserting a violation of his constitutional rights pursuant to 28 U.S.C.§1343 and 42 U.S.C.§1983. Mr. Carroll has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

The Court must construe the Complaint liberally because Plaintiff is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not be an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. For the reasons stated below, Mr. Carroll will be ordered to file an amended complaint.

I. The Complaint

In the Prisoner Complaint, Mr. Carroll alleges that on July 11, 2015, at approximately 2:50 a.m., he was seized by a police officer, while another officer took Plaintiff’s backpack, as he as he approached the front door of his home. Plaintiff alleges that his person and backpack were searched and he was placed in the back of a patrol car after “suspected heroine” was found. (ECF No. 1 at 3). Police officers then ran an “NCIC” and “came back with warrants for [Plaintiff’s] arrest.” (Id.). After conversing outside the police car, the Defendants opened the doors of the vehicle and physically assaulted Plaintiff, punching him in the face and hitting him with a nightstick with enough force to break Plaintiff’s rib. Following the assault, Mr. Carroll suffered shortness of breath. An ambulance was called to take him to the hospital, where he suffered seizures and cardiovascular arrest. Mr. Carroll claims that he was subjected to an unreasonable search and seizure, and the use of unlawful excessive force, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights; and that the Defendants deliberately destroyed his personal property during the search (including four cell phones and two tablets). Mr. Carroll further asserts that he was harassed and arrested by the Defendants because he is “white in a predominantly black neighborhood.” (ECF No. 1 at 7). Plaintiff requests monetary and equitable relief.

II. Analysis

A. Denver Police Department

The Complaint is deficient to the extent Plaintiff is asserting claims against the Denver Police Department. The police department is not an entity separate from the City and County of Denver and, therefore is not a person subject to suit under§1983. See Stump v. Gates, 777 F.Supp. 808, 814-16 (D. Colo. 1991), aff'd, 986 F.2d 1429 (10th Cir. 1993).

Furthermore, to hold the City and County of Denver liable under 42 U.S.C.§1983, Mr. Carroll must allege facts to show that an unconstitutional policy or custom exists and that there is a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the constitutional injury alleged. City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989); Myers v. Oklahoma County Bd. of County Comm'rs, 151 F.3d 1313, 1316-20 (10th Cir. 1998). Municipalities are not liable under 42 U.S.C.§1983 solely because their employees inflict injury on a plaintiff. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978); Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782 (10th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief under§1983 merely by pointing to isolated incidents. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Accordingly, Mr. Carroll will be afforded an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint to state an arguable § 1983 claim against the City and County of Denver.

B. Fourth Amendment Claims

Mr. Carroll’s Fourth Amendment claims that he was subjected to an unreasonable search and seizure that was motivated by reverse racial profiling essentially ask this Court to interfere with an ongoing state criminal proceeding, which is prohibited, absent extraordinary or special circumstances. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971); Phelps v. Hamilton, 122 F.3d 885, 889 (10th Cir. 1997). Abstention is appropriate under Younger if three conditions are met: “(1) the state proceedings are ongoing; (2) the state proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to present the federal constitutional challenges.” Phelps, 122 F.3d at 889. The abstention principles of Younger are jurisdictional and apply whether the plaintiff seeks equitable or monetary relief. See D.L. v. Unified School Distr. No. 497, 392 F.3d 1223, 1228 (10th Cir. 2004); Parkhurst v. Wyoming, 641 F.2d 775, 777 (10th Cir.1981).

Under the first condition for Younger abstention, Mr. Carroll should clarify in the Amended Complaint whether there is an ongoing state criminal proceeding stemming from his arrest on July 15, 2015. Assuming an ongoing state criminal proceeding, the second condition also is satisfied because the Supreme Court “has recognized that the States’ interest in administering their criminal justice systems free from federal interference is one of the most powerful of the considerations that should influence a court considering equitable types of relief.” Kelly v. Robinson, 479 U.S. 36, 49 (1986) (citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 44-45). Under the third condition, Mr. Carroll will have an opportunity to raise his Fourth Amendment claims during the state criminal proceeding and there is no reason to believe his claims will not be given full and proper consideration by the state courts. See Kugler v. Helfant, 421 U.S. 117, 95 S.Ct. 1254 (1975) (noting that “ordinarily a pending state prosecution provides the accused a fair and sufficient opportunity for vindication of federal constitutional rights”).

Mr. Carroll “may overcome the presumption of abstention ‘in cases of proven harassment or prosecutions undertaken by state officials in bad faith without hope of obtaining a valid conviction and perhaps in other extraordinary circumstances where irreparable injury can be ...

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