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Spencer v. New Hampshire State Police

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

April 9, 2019

William Spencer and Spencer Bros. LLC
v.
New Hampshire State Police, et al.

          ORDER

          LANDYA MCCAFFERTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         William Spencer, proceeding pro se, brings 16 claims, each under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the New Hampshire State Police and certain current and former officers, the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General and two of its employees (collectively, with the New Hampshire State Police and its officers, the “state defendants”), the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and three of its employees, and the United States Department of Transportation and two of its employees.[1]Spencer's suit arises from the circumstances of a traffic stop and subsequent events. The state defendants move to dismiss the claims brought against them.[2] Spencer did not file a response to the state defendants' motion.[3]

         I. Sovereign Immunity

         The state defendants move to dismiss all claims against them on the ground that they are protected by sovereign immunity and cannot be sued under § 1983. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits in federal courts against a state unless the state has waived its sovereign immunity or Congress has exercised its power to override sovereign immunity. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989).

         Section 1983 provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 (emphasis added).

         The Supreme Court has held that a state is not a person within the meaning of § 1983 and, therefore, Congress has not abrogated sovereign immunity in civil rights cases brought under that section. Will, 491 U.S. at 64. Because the state is not a person and cannot be sued for damages in a § 1983 claim, state agencies and individuals sued in their official capacities as officers, employees, or agents of a state are also not persons for purposes of § 1983. Fantini v. Salem State College, 557 F.3d 22, 33 (1st Cir. 2009) (“It is well settled that neither a state agency nor a state official acting in his official capacity may be sued for damages in a section 1983 action.” (internal alterations, citations, and quotations omitted)).

         Count I alleges a § 1983 claim against the New Hampshire State Police and Count XIV alleges a § 1983 claim against the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General. Those claims are barred by sovereign immunity and are dismissed for the reasons stated above. In addition, Counts II - VI, XV, and XVI, which allege § 1983 claims against current and former individual employees of either the state police or the Attorney General's Office, are dismissed on the same ground to the extent they are brought against the individuals in their official capacities.

         II. Failure to State a Claim

         The only remaining claims against the state defendants are Counts II - VI, XV, and XVI, to the extent they are asserted against current or former state officials acting in their individual capacities. The state defendants move to dismiss those claims on the ground that they fail to state claims on which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         In considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court determines whether the complaint alleges facts that “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 667 (2009). That process requires the court to take the factual allegations in the complaint as true and to draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Gilbert v. City of Chicopee, 915 F.3d 74, 80 (1st Cir. 2019).

         As mentioned above, Spencer's suit arises from the circumstances of a traffic stop and subsequent events. He states in his complaint that he is bringing a “federal civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Doc. no. 1 at 2.

         Section 1983 does not provide substantive rights but instead “provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). For that reason, a plaintiff bringing a claim under § 1983 must allege facts that show the defendants' conduct violated a federal constitutional or statutory right. Garcia-Gonzalez v. Puig-Morales, 761 F.3d 81, 87 (1st Cir. 2014). In the absence of specific allegations that identify what constitutional or statutory right the plaintiff is alleging the defendants violated, “the Complaint lacks a ‘short and ...


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