United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff Davarius Lavalle Riggins alleges that defendant
Schmidt's Auto Inc. took his car on the orders of the
Madison Police Department. He says that this was an unlawful
seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States
Constitution and that Schmidt's illegally demanded ransom
for the return of his car.
court has granted Riggins leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, Dkt. 6, and I must now screen his complaint.
If his complaint is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief, I
must dismiss his complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. I must
construe his pro se complaint generously. See Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (per curiam). His
complaint doesn't have to correctly identify a particular
legal theory, but it must contain allegations that, if they
were true, would entitle the plaintiff to relief.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Reeves ex rel. Reeves v. Jewel Food
Stores, Inc., 759 F.3d 698, 701 (7th Cir. 2014). A
complaint that only offers legal conclusions must be
dismissed. McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d
611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011).
says that Schmidt's seized his car in violation of the
Fourth Amendment. Dkt. 1, at 4. He also says Schmidt's
demanded ransom from him before it would return his car,
which he says violates 18 U.S.C. § 1202. Id.
But this statute applies only to kidnapping, see 18
U.S.C. §§ 1201, 1202(a), so it isn't applicable
here, and I can't think of any other viable federal claim
against Schmidt's other than a Fourth Amendment claim.
federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, allows civil lawsuits
against government officials who violate rights under federal
law. A private individual can violate the Fourth Amendment
and be liable under § 1983 when he or she acts under
“color of law, ” meaning that he or she is
“jointly engaged with state officials in the challenged
action.” Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-28
(1980). To make this kind of claim, a plaintiff must allege
that there was a concerted effort between the private
individual and state officials. Fries v. Helsper,
146 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir. 1998). Such a claim will require
more than an allegation that the individuals towed the
plaintiff's car at the direction of the police.
Gardipee v. Cavil, No. 18-cv-1314-pp, 2018 WL
4705853, *5 (E.D. Wis. Oct. 1, 2018).
private corporation that contracts to provide essential
government services is not liable for its employees'
constitutional violations “unless the constitutional
violation was caused by an unconstitutional policy or custom
of the corporation itself.” Shields v. Ill.
Dep't of Corr., 746 F.3d 782, 789 (7th Cir. 2014).
Private corporations aren't vicariously liable for their
employees' actions under § 1983. Id.
complaint under § 1983 must identify the
corporation's unconstitutional policy or it must name the
particular person who is responsible for the constitutional
violation. Riggins's complaint names only Schmidt's
as a defendant, but it doesn't allege that Schmidt's
has any unconstitutional policy or custom. It only says that
Schmidt's seized Riggins's car illegally and required
payment before it would give it back to him. This isn't
enough to state a Fourth Amendment claim.
rather than dismissing Riggins's complaint out of hand,
I'll give him a short period in which to file an amended
complaint. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the
amended complaint must provide “a short and plain
statement of [Riggins's] claim showing that [Riggins] is
entitled to relief.” Under Rule 8(d)(1), “[e]ach
allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” The
purpose of these requirements is to give the defendant fair
notice of the plaintiff's claim. Vicom, Inc. v.
Harbridge Merchant Servs., Inc., 20 F.3d 771, 775 (7th
Riggins's amended complaint must either (1) name
individual defendants involved in towing his car and allege a
concerted effort between those defendants and state
officials; or (2) describe a policy or custom of
Schmidt's that Riggins alleges is unconstitutional. (To
name individual defendants, Riggins doesn't have to know
the name of the person or persons who towed his car; he can
simply name one or more “John Does” as defendants
and the court will help him identify them through discovery.)
complaint is accompanied by several filings regarding his
purported rights as a “sovereign citizen.” Dkts.
2-4. As I told Riggins in another case, Riggins v.
Berz, No. 17-cv-481-jdp (W.D. Wis. Aug. 24, 2017), the
Court of Appeals has summarily rejected theories of sovereign
citizenship, United States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753,
767 (7th Cir. 2011). If any of his claims depend solely on
such theories, I will not consider them.
ORDERED that Plaintiff Davarius Lavalle Riggins's
complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failure to state
a claim. Riggins may have until October 1, 2019, to file an
amended complaint. If Riggins doesn't file a suitable
amended complaint by this date, I will direct the clerk of
court to close the case.