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Shaw v. Grand Forks Police Department

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

February 8, 2016

Delvin Lamont Shaw, Plaintiff,
Grand Forks Police Department, Steve Conley, and Mike Jennings, Defendants.


CHARLES S. MILLER, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Delvin Lamont Shaw ("Shaw") is an inmate at the North Dakota State Penitentiary. His complaint is now before the court for review as mandated by 28 U.S.C. §1915A.


Shaw initiated this action in December 2015 with the submission of a pro se complaint alleging:

Illegal search on 6/26/14 of my belongings
Steve Conley a Grand Forks Police Officer was the head Detective in Case #18-2014-CR-013910. On the date of 10/6/14 Mr. Conley lied in my preliminary hearing saying my co-defendant told him in a interview that I own a 380 auto handgun the same time of gun that was used in this case. Also in a interview by Mr. Conley 2/22/15 he asked my co-defendant to lie on me by saying he seen blood in a car and on me. While in trial 6/22/15 Mr. Conley lied about tampering with witnesses also about not filling out evidence inventory sheet for this case. Mike Jennings lied also while testifying saying that a pretext phone call in this case was not altered by him. This trial took place Grand Forks District courtroom Shaw vs State of North Dakota under the charges murder & burglary. These officers testifyed as exert witnesses in this case, because of these officers actions, I was sentenced to life without Parole!

(Docket No. 4) (errors in original). In his prayer for relief, Shaw requests "justice for all [his] pain and suffering" and to "have Mr. Conley and Mr. Jennings charged with perjury and tampering with evidence." (Id.).


When a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis seeks to sue a governmental entity, officer, or employee, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA") requires the court to conduct an early screening of the complaint to weed out claims that clearly lack merit with the hope this will help to lessen the burdens imposed by the ever-rising number of prisoner suits, which too often are frivolous and without merit. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202-03 (2007); Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 83-84 (2006). In conducting the screening required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court is required to identify any cognizable claims and to dismiss the complaint, or any part of it, that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief from an immune defendant.

Neither 42 U.S.C. § 1983 nor the PLRA imposes any heightened pleading requirements. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 211-12. Consequently, in order to state a cognizable claim, the complaint need only meet the minimum requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which are that it contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam).

The court is obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally and hold it to a less stringent standard than what normally would be required of attorneys. Id .; see also Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402 (2008); Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). This does not mean that the court must accept everything or anything that is filed by pro se prisoners, however. In enacting the screening requirement, Congress obviously expected it to be more than a ritualistic exercise and that courts would only allow to go forward those claims that are cognizable, that seek relief from a non-immune party, and that are not obviously frivolous or malicious

To meet the minimal pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2) for stating a cognizable claim, something more is required than simply expressing a desire for relief and declaring an entitlement to it. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007) ("Bell Atlantic"). The complaint must state enough to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555). And, even though the complaint is to be liberally construed, it must also contain enough to satisfy Bell Atlantic's "plausibility standard." E.g., Ventura-Vera v. Dewitt, 417 Fed.Appx. 591, 592, 2011 WL 2184269, *1 (8th Cir. 2011) (unpublished per curiam) (citing Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2007) for the appropriate post-Bell Atlantic standard); see also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004) ( pro se complaints must allege sufficient facts to state a claim). Complaints that offer nothing more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements are not sufficient. See id. Frivolous claims are those that are clearly baseless, fanciful, fantastic, or delusional. See Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-34 (1992).

To state a cognizable claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must normally allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States and that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Walker v. Reed, 104 F.3d 156, 157 (8th Cir. 1997). Even under liberal pleading standards, a pro se litigant, at the very least, must invoke rights under the Constitution or federal law in order to plead a § 1983 claim. Walker v. Reed, 104 F.3d at 157-58.

Finally, personal involvement of a defendant is a prerequisite to liability under § 1983 since there is no respondeat superior liability under this section. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676-77 (2009); Gordon v. Hansen, 168 F.3d 1109, 1113 (8th Cir. 1999). Consequently, the complaint must allege facts that tend to show that an individual defendant was personally involved to allow the suit to ...

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