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Vassar v. City of Guthrie Police Dept.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 20, 2018

WILLIAM JUSTIN VASSAR, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF GUTHRIE POLICE DEPT., et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BERNARD M. JONES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, a pre-trial detainee appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Guthrie Police Department and Guthrie Police Detective Mark Bruning. [Doc. No. 1]. United States District Judge Robin J. Cauthron has referred the matter for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that, on screening, the Court dismiss the claims against the Guthrie Police Department and stay the claims against Detective Bruning.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims and Relevant Background

         According to Plaintiff, Detective Bruning illegally entered his home on November 8, 2017, seized cell phones, and then gave “false and misleading testimony” to secure a search warrant for Plaintiff's home. Comp. at 6-7, 9.[1] After the search, Plaintiff was charged in Logan County District Court, Case No. CF-2017-397, with (Count I) unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute within 2000 feet of a school, after a former felony conviction (AFC); (Count II) possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, AFC; (Count III) possession of a firearm after a former felony conviction, AFC; and (Count IV) knowingly concealing stolen property. See Id. at 8; see also Oklahoma Supreme Court Network, Case No. CF-2017-397 (Logan Cnty. Dist. Ct. filed November 15, 2017).[2] Then, during Plaintiff's preliminary hearing, Detective Bruning allegedly gave perjured testimony. See Compl. at 7-8. The Court judicially notices that the state district court found sufficient probable cause at Plaintiff's February 27, 2018 preliminary hearing and he is currently awaiting trial.[3]

         Plaintiff accuses Defendants of illegal search and seizure, obstruction of justice, false imprisonment, and invasion of privacy. See Id. at 6-10. While Plaintiff asks this Court to have Detective Bruning charged with a crime and fired from the Guthrie Police Department, he only requests these acts “[i]f it is within the Court[']s power.” Id. at 9. It is not, and because Plaintiff focuses on his request for monetary relief, and does not ask for release from confinement or other injunctive relief, see Id. at 9-10, the Court construes Plaintiff's 1983 claims against Defendants as requesting only money damages.

         II. Screening

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis and has sued government officials, the Court has a duty to screen the Complaint and dismiss any portion that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(a), (b), 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Mirroring a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) review, the Court must accept Plaintiff's allegations as true and construe them, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to him. See Mink v. Knox, 613 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2010). “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); see also Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1184 (10th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         The Court should dismiss Plaintiff's claims against the Guthrie Police Department with prejudice, and should stay his claims against Detective Bruning.

         A. Defendant Guthrie Police Department

         The Court should first dismiss Plaintiff's claims against the Guthrie Police Department, because this Defendant is not a suable entity under § 1983. See, e.g., Moore v. Diggins, 633 Fed.Appx. 672, 677 (10th Cir. 2015) (holding the Denver Sheriff's Department “is not a suable entity under § 1983” and citing Martinez v. Winner, 771 F.2d 424, 444 (10th Cir. 1985) as “dismissing § 1983 claims against the City of Denver Police Department because it was not a separate suable entity”); Lindsey v. Thomson, 275 Fed.Appx. 744, 747 (10th Cir. 2007) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 claims against police departments and county sheriff's department, noting defendants were “not legally suable entities”). As such, Plaintiff's claims against the Guthrie Police Department should be dismissed with prejudice on screening. See Bell v. City of Hollis Police Dep't, No. CIV-17-518-F, 2017 WL 5247479, at *1 (W.D. Okla. May 11, 2017) (unpublished district court order) (“The City of Hollis Police Department is not a suable entity for purposes of § 1983 as it lacks identity apart from the municipality. Therefore, to the extent plaintiff is alleging a § 1983 claim against defendant, the court finds that such claim should be dismissed . . . [on screening].”).

         B. ...


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