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Toney v. Andover State Police

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 14, 2019

JOSHUA TONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDOVER STATE POLICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se litigant Joshua Toney, who is incarcerated at MCI Cedar Junctions, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) against the “Andover State Police, ” Lawrence District Court, and State Trooper Michael Guerriero. Toney has also filed motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and for the appointment of pro bono counsel. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will allow the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, dismiss two defendants, order that a summons issue as to Trooper Guerriero, and deny without prejudice the motion for counsel.

         I. Background

         Toney claims that on April 14, 2017, Trooper Guerriero arrested him and seized the property that was on his person, including a gold chain and $749 in cash. Toney alleges that the chain and the cash were never returned to him, despite the order of the state court judge presiding over the criminal proceeding for the return of his property.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         Upon review of the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court concludes that Toney is without income or assets to prepay the filing fee. The motion is therefore ALLOWED.

         B. Review of the Complaint

         1. Andover State Police and Lawrence District Court

         Conducting a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A, the Court concludes that Toney has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against “Andover State Police” and the Lawrence District Court these two defendants.

         Toney has filed this lawsuit against the defendants under § 1983, which provides that any “person, ” acting under the color of state law, who “subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that a state (and its departments, agents, and individuals acting in official capacity) is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         Although “Andover State Police” and Lawrence District Court include a municipal designation, these defendants are actually agencies or departments of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and therefore are not “persons” within the meaning of § 1983. It is clear from the exhibits to the complaint that defendant “Andover State Police” is actually a reference to the Andover Barracks of the Massachusetts State Police, which is agency of the state. See Compl. Ex. [ECF #1-1]. Lawrence District Court is part of the judicial branch of the state government and therefore is an arm the state. See M.G.L. ch. 218, § 1, et seq.

         Because this pleading defect cannot be cured by amendment of the complaint, the Court will dismiss these two defendants. This dismissal is without prejudice to Toney amending his complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to include claims against any individuals employed by these two defendants who were directly involved in the alleged constitutional violations.

         2. ...


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