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Marvel Jones v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Officials

May 15, 2013

MARVEL JONES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES OFFICIALS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bataillon United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter on March 1, 2013. (Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff has previously been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 8.) The court now conducts an initial review of the Amended Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.

I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter on March 1, 2013, against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services ("NDCS") and 13 individual NDCS employees ("Individual Defendants"). (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 1-4.) Plaintiff sues the Individual Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. (Id.) Plaintiff is currently confined in the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh, Nebraska. (Id.)

Condensed, summarized, and liberally construed, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have repeatedly opened and read his legal mail, outside of his presence and without his permission.*fn1 (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 4-9.) Plaintiff alleges Defendants' actions have violated his constitutional rights and denied him meaningful access to the courts. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks $525,000.00 in monetary damages against each Defendant. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 9.)

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW

The court is required to review prisoner and in forma pauperis complaints seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

A pro se plaintiff must set forth enough factual allegations to "nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," or "their complaint must be dismissed" for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) ("A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."). Regardless of whether a plaintiff is represented or is appearing pro se, the plaintiff's complaint must allege specific facts sufficient to state a claim. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985). However, a pro se plaintiff's allegations must be construed liberally. Burke v. North Dakota Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., 294 F.3d 1043, 1043-44 (8th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS

A. Plaintiff's Monetary Damages Claims Against NDCS and the Individual Defendants in Their Official Capacities

The Eleventh Amendment bars claims for damages by private parties against a state, state instrumentalities and an employee of a state sued in the employee's official capacity. See, e.g., Egerdahl v. Hibbing Cmty. Coll., 72 F.3d 615, 619 (8th Cir. 1995); Dover Elevator Co. v. Arkansas State Univ., 64 F.3d 442, 446-47 (8th Cir. 1995). Any award of retroactive monetary relief payable by the state, including for back pay or damages, is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment absent a waiver of immunity by the state or an override of immunity by Congress. See, e.g., Dover Elevator Co., 64 F.3d at 444; Nevels v. Hanlon, 656 F.2d 372, 377-78 (8th Cir. 1981). Sovereign immunity does not bar damages claims against state officials acting in their personal capacities, nor does it bar claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 which seek equitable relief from state employee defendants acting in their official capacity.

Here, Plaintiff sues the NDCS and several individual state employees in both their individual and official capacities. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 1-4.) As set forth above, the Eleventh Amendment bars claims for damages by private parties against a state instrumentality and employees of a state sued in their official capacities. Consequently, Plaintiff's monetary damages claims against NDCS and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

B. Legal Mail

Although Plaintiff's monetary damages claims against the Individual Defendants in their official capacities are barred, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar Plaintiff's claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities. Liberally construed, Plaintiff alleges the Individual ...


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