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Rutledge v. City of Danville

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 20, 2013

MERLE T. RUTLEDGE, JR, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF DANVILLE, VA, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACKSON L. KISER, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Merle T. Rutledge, Jr. ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, filed an application in this Court to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") on November 18, 2013. On November 21, 2013, I denied Plaintiff's IFP application and issued an Order to Show Cause why Plaintiff should not be subject to a pre-filing injunction [ECF No. 4]. Plaintiff appeared before this Court on December 5, 2013, and was provided an opportunity to be heard. After careful review and consideration, and for the reasons stated below, I will ENJOIN Plaintiff in accordance with the previously filed Pre-Filing Injunction [ECF No. 7].

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has a history of filing frivolous lawsuits against police officers, local government entities, and other defendants. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), I have denied at least four separate applications for Plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis. [1] On a separate occasion, I allowed Plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis, but later dismissed the claims.[2] Plaintiff has engaged in a similar pattern of behavior with courts in the Eastern District of Virginia, [3] and currently has at least one case pending before a court in that district.[4] Notwithstanding any state court litigation, Plaintiff has filed at least twelve (12) lawsuits in federal court since March of 2009. A brief survey of these cases is appropriate to provide some measure of context for the present Injunction.

On March 23, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis in a civil action against the City of Norfolk, the Norfolk Police Department, and Officer N.E. Karangelen. Plaintiff alleged that the police illegally stopped and questioned him while driving, and argued that the officer had a pretextual basis for the stop. See Complaint, Rutledge v. City of Norfolk, No. 2:09CV00129 (E.D. Va. Mar. 30, 2009), ECF No. 3, aff'd, 358 F.App'x 409 (4th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (unpublished). In particular, since the stop occurred on Valentine's Day, Plaintiff alleged that it caused him mental anguish. See Dismissal Order at 1, Rutledge, No. 2:09CV000129, ECF No. 22. Although Plaintiff was not arrested, ticketed, or cited for any violation of the law, and offered nothing more than his belief that race caused the stop, he argued that it infringed his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, id. at 1, 3-4, and demanded "$2 million dollars or a simple letter of apology and reprimand for the police officer, " Complaint at 5, supra. Although the district court allowed Plaintiff to proceed IFP, it subsequently dismissed the action for failure to state a claim on July 30, 2009. See Dismissal Order, supra. Plaintiff appealed, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. See Rutledge v. City of Norfolk, 358 F.App'x 409 (4th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (unpublished).

Prior to the district court's dismissal, however, Plaintiff had already filed another pro se suit in the Eastern District of Virginia. On April 8, 2009, sixteen (16) days after he filed the aforementioned suit, Plaintiff sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis against the City of Norfolk in a separate action. In this case, Plaintiff argued that the use of video surveillance in public places by the City of Norfolk violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and asserted a $10 million dollar claim on behalf of homeowners. See Complaint at 1-2, Rutledge v. City of Norfolk, No. 2:09CV00157 (E.D. Va. Apr. 16, 2009), ECF No. 3, aff'd, 334 F.App'x 567 (4th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (unpublished). Although he did not actually allege that he had been videotaped or injured in any way as a result of the videotaping, Plaintiff nevertheless sought to reform police procedures to eliminate warrantless video surveillance in all "public and private residences." See Dismissal Order at 1, Rutledge, No. 2:09CV000157, ECF No. 5. The district court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim on April 28, 2009, and the Fourth Circuit again affirmed the dismissal. See Rutledge v. City of Norfolk, 334 F.App'x 409 (4th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (unpublished).

During the pendency of the appeals of the two aforementioned cases, Plaintiff filed his third pro se action within a period of approximately six (6) months in the Eastern District of Virginia. On September 30, 2009, Plaintiff sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis in order to challenge a state court child support matter. See Motion, Rutledge v. Va. Dep't of Soc. Servs., No. 2:09CV00483 (E.D. Va. Sept. 30, 2009), ECF No. 1. In connection with events that had occurred two-and-a-half years prior, he claimed that he was not served with a show cause order, was improperly arrested for failure to appear, and was required to pay too much child support. See Complaint at 1-12, 20-21, Rutledge, No. 2:09CV000483, ECF No. 3.

Plaintiff sought to have the court overturn his state conviction for contempt, order a new paternity hearing, review his child support obligations, and award $200, 000 dollars "in punitive damages for intentional, willful, wanton, malicious character of wrongdoing [sic]." Id. The district court noted that it would be improper to weigh in on an ongoing child support case in light of Younger abstention and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[5] Dismissal Order at 3-4, Rutledge, No. 2:09CV000483, ECF No. 2. Accordingly, on November 5, 2009, the district court granted Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, but dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. Id. at 1, 4.

Less than one year later, Plaintiff initiated another series of pro se filings with the federal courts. On August 10, 2010, he filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis in the Western District of Virginia. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he was walking down the sidewalk when a uniformed police officer stopped him to ask a series of questions. See Complaint, Rutledge v. Town of Chatham, No. 4:10CV00035 (W.D. Va. Aug. 10, 2010), ECF No. 3. Although he was not arrested or cited for any violation of the law, Plaintiff argued that his constitutional rights were infringed by the encounter, and named approximately thirteen (13) different individuals and units of government as defendants.[6] He sought $36 million dollars in damages for "pain and suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, [and] injury to the plaintiffs reputation [sic]." Id. at 6.

I allowed Plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis, and the matter was fully litigated. After substantial briefing, I ultimately dismissed without prejudice the claims against all defendants, except Officer Roach, on the grounds they were either barred by the Eleventh Amendment or Plaintiff had failed to state a claim. Rutledge v. Town of Chatham, No. 4:10CV00035, 2010 WL 3835662, at *3-4 (W.D. Va. Sept. 30, 2010). I later dismissed the claims against Officer Roach with prejudice, concluding that the officer had not "seized" Plaintiff for Fourth Amendment purposes and, in any event, would be entitled to qualified immunity. Rutledge v. Town of Chatham, No. 4:10CV00035, 2010 WL 4791840, at *3-5, *8 (W.D. Va. Nov. 18, 2010). Plaintiff appealed, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed both decisions. Rutledge v. Roach, 414 F.App'x 568 (4th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (unpublished).

Prior to my final dismissal order in this case, however, Plaintiff had initiated another suit in the Western District of Virginia. On October 29, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis in what I characterized as "an attempt to revive the Chatham Defendants" from the previous lawsuit. See Rutledge v. Town of Chatham, No. 4:10CV00054, at 1 (W.D. Va. Nov. 5, 2010) (Memorandum Opinion denying IFP status). I observed that the "Proposed Complaint in the case at bar arises from precisely the same set of operative facts as the suit in 4:10CV00035, which the Plaintiff filed but three months ago, " and denied his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Id. at 1, 4. Plaintiff did not pay the filing fees, and his case was terminated on November 22, 2010.

On December 13, 2010, Plaintiff initiated his third federal lawsuit since August of that same year. Plaintiff claimed that his girlfriend's credit card had been improperly declined after dining at a Hooters restaurant, and alleged that the restaurant had violated his civil rights when they threatened him with criminal prosecution and defamed his character. See Rutledge v. Hooters of America, Inc., No. 2:10CV00608, at 1 (E.D. Va. Dec. 20, 2010) (Dismissal Order). In a Proposed Complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, Plaintiff named Hooters of America, Inc., Hooters Restaurant, and three employees as defendants in a civil rights action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff sought $500, 000.00 dollars in compensatory damages and $100, 000.00 dollars in punitive damages from each of the defendants.

With respect to the financial affidavit that Plaintiff included with his application to proceed IFP, the district court first observed:

Plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. Despite the suit's underlying premise that sufficient funds were available in the credit card account to pay for the Hooters meal, Plaintiff claims that he has no assets whatsoever other than $20 in his bank account and $20 in cash. Plaintiff has listed no expenses of any type. Plaintiff has sworn that the information he has provided is true. Therefore, ...

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