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Harris v. Doe

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

November 5, 2019

EARNEST EUGENE HARRIS, (TDCJ No. 02195155), Plaintiff,
OFFICER JOHN DOE, Et Al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL UNDER 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A & 1915(E)(2)(B)


         This case was recently reassigned from the docket of Judge Reed O'Connor to this the “P”docket of the undersigned district judge. The case remains before the Court for review of pro-se inmate/plaintiff Earnest Eugene Harris's pleadings under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). After conducting that review, the Court finds that all claims asserted by plaintiff Harris must be dismissed under authority of these provisions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Harris's original form civil complaint with attachment pages was file-stamped on August 6, 2018. Complaint 1-14, ECF No. 1. In response to the prior Judge's order, Harris completed and filed answers to the Court's questionnaire on September 5, 2019. Questionnaire Answer 1-12, ECF No. 15. Harris also recently filed Supplemental Answers to the Court's questionnaire. Supp. Answer 1-7, ECF No. 16.

         In the complaint, Harris names as defendants City of Fort Worth police officer John Doe, other Fort Worth officers as unnamed Doe defendants, [1] property personnel for the Fort Worth Police Department, Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke, and the City of Fort Worth, Texas. Complaint 3, 10, ECF No. 1. Harris names the defendants in both individual and official capacities, and he seeks relief against them for alleged violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2] Complaint, 6, ECF No. 1.

         Harris recites that on October 13, 2015 he was the passenger in a car stopped by Fort Worth police officers. Complaint 7, ECF No.1. After the driver, Sarah Click, gave what Harris labels as “involuntary” consent to search, the officers seized his backpack and computer bag, and began searching through the backpack/computer bag and his personal items contained inside, including a laptop computer, a tablet, a Garmin GPS, a TomTom GPS, an Apple notebook, a digital camera, and many other items.[3] Complaint 7-8, ECF No. 1; Suppl. Answers 2-3, ECF No. 16. Harris acknowledges that his backpack was also found by the officers to contain drug paraphernalia (a methamphetamine pipe) and an amount of marijuana. Complaint 8, ECF No. 1. As a result, Harris was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance under one gram and possession of marijuana. Complaint 8, ECF No. 1.

         Harris contends that Officer Doe illegally tampered with the seized evidence, and because he could not make bond, he was detained for 13 months as a result of the charges until said charges were dismissed in November 2016. Id. Harris also complains of the seizure of all of the property in his backpack, and acknowledges that he began attempting to retrieve the property through his “agent” identified as Paula White, but was “denied most of his property.” Id. Harris writes that after the charges were dropped and he was released, he attempted in person to retrieve his property, and was told it had been disposed of and that nothing could be done to obtain relief. Id. at 9.

         Harris asserts two separate violations of his constitutional rights. He contends that his Fourth Amendment right to not be subject to an unreasonable search and seizure was violated when Officer John Doe searched his property without his consent and without probable cause. Complaint 9, ECF No. 9. He also asserts a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment for a violation of due process of law in the taking and detention of his personal property items found in the backpack/computer bag. Id. Harris seeks relief in the form of a declaration from this Court that his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, an injunction against the City of Fort Worth, Texas regarding its training policies, as well as both compensatory and punitive monetary damages. Complaint 10-12, ECF No. 1.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD OF REVIEW UNDER §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B)

         Plaintiff Harris is an inmate who has been permitted to proceed in forma pauperis. As a part of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which requires a district court to review a complaint from a prisoner seeking relief from a governmental entity, officer, or employee as soon as possible after docketing. See 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915A(a) (West 2019). Because Harris is proceeding in-forma-pauperis, his complaint is also subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Both § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A provide for sua sponte dismissal of the complaint or any portion thereof, if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)(West 2019).

         A complaint is frivolous when it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Id. at 327. A claim lack an arguable basis in fact when it describes “fantastic or delusional scenarios.” Id. at 327-28. A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it fails to plead “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); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, plaintiffs must allege facts sufficient to “raise the right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Mere “labels and conclusions” nor “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” suffice to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Application of the Statute of Limitations

         The Supreme Court has held that all § 1983 actions are governed by the statute of limitations for personal-injury actions for the state of suit. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 273-76 (1985) (holding that state statute of limitations period for personal-injury actions applies to all claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983). In Texas, the applicable limitations period is two years. See Moore v. McDonald, 30 F.3d 616, 620 (5th Cir. 1994) (noting that district courts in Texas must use Texas's general two-year, personal-injury limitations period); see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.003(a)(West 2017) (Texas's two-year, personal-injury limitations statute). A district court may dismiss claims sua sponte under the screening provisions where it is clear from a review of the complaint that the alleged ...

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