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Stoute v. City of Tewksbury

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 16, 2019

CITY OF TEWKSBURY, et al., Defendants.



         On June 7, 2019, pro se plaintiff Stephen Stoute, a resident of East Boston, filed a civil rights complaint naming as defendants the City of Tewksbury and two Tewskbury police officers. See Docket No. 1. With the complaint, Stoute filed motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and for appointment of counsel. See Docket Nos. 2, 3.

         I. Relevant Background

         The following facts are based on the allegations in the complaint and are assumed to be true for purposes of this decision. On June 22, 2018, plaintiff was making product deliveries in Tewksbury and travelling at 14 miles per hour. A Tewksbury police officer began to follow plaintiff. When plaintiff stopped to make a delivery to a customer, the police officer turned on his siren. When plaintiff asked the reason for the stop, the officer threatened plaintiff with arrest if Stoute didn't hand over his license and registration. The officer had his hand on his gun and, out of fear for his life, plaintiff provided the officer with his license and registration. When plaintiff asked why he was being held, the officer initially stated that Stoute failed to wear his seatbelt. When Stoute responded that he was wearing his seatbelt, the officer stated that the vehicle's headlights are out. The officer failed to respond when Stoute asked him which headlight was out. Stoute asked for a supervisor, who arrived and handed Stoute a citation for no headlights.

         Plaintiff received a letter dated March 30, 2018, from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The letter stated that if Stoute doesn't pay the citation by May 9, 2018, his right to operate an automobile will be taken away. Plaintiff was coerced into paying the citation.

         In June 2018, Stoute filed a complaint with the civil rights division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's office. No. action was taken by the AG and so plaintiff filed in federal court.

         II. Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, a person seeking to proceed in forma pauperis must submit an affidavit that includes “a statement of all assets such [person] possesses that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Stoute filed this statement using a form application provided by the Court. See Docket No. 2. Attached to the application is an income verification document from the Department of Transitional Assistance. Id.

         Based upon the financial disclosures in Stoute's application, the court concludes that Stoute has shown that he is without assets to pay the filing fee. Accordingly, his application is allowed.

         III. Screening of the Complaint

         Because the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, his complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). This statute authorizes federal courts to dismiss actions in which a plaintiff seeks to proceed without prepayment of fees if the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         When examining the sufficiency of the complaint, the court considers whether the plaintiff has pled “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). The court accepts well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires plaintiffs to provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “The fundamental purpose” of pleading rules like Rule 8 “is to protect a defendant's inalienable right to know in advance the nature of the cause of action being asserted against him.” Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir. 2008). Specifically, Rule 8(d) requires “simple, concise, and direct” allegations, while Rule 10(b) mandates that claims be conveyed “in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.”

         A pro se plaintiff such as Stoute is entitled to a liberal reading of his allegations, even when such allegations are inartfully pled. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Rodi ...

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