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Decoteau v. Houston

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

June 8, 2015



JOHN M. GERRARD, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in this matter on August 13, 2014. (Filing No. 1). The court subsequently granted his Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Filing No. 7). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 18, 2015, in which he sought to add one named and one unnamed defendant to this action. (Filing No. 18). The court considers Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as supplemental to his Complaint. See NECivR 15.1(b) (stating the court may consider an amended pleading as supplemental to the original pleading in pro se cases).

The court now conducts an initial review of the Complaint and Amended Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.


Plaintiff brings this action pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, he alleges the following defendants exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical condition: Robert Houston, prison director; Michael Kenney, prison director; Diane Sabaka Rhine, warden; Christine Ferguson, prison doctor; Charles Coren, prison eye doctor; Randy Kohl, prison medical director; and Khrystyna Dority, secretary at the prison eye clinic. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2; Filing No. 18 at CM/ECF p. 2.) Liberally construed, Plaintiff also raises state-law claims for medical negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Nebraska State Penitentiary ("NSP"). Plaintiff apparently began having trouble with his eyesight on or before October 9, 2011. On March 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed an Inmate Interview Request in which he asserted Dr. Greg Sutton diagnosed him with Keratoconus - "[a] conic protrusion of the cornea caused by thinning of the stroma." Stedmans Medical Dictionary 468240 (26th ed. 1995).

For parts of the next two years, Plaintiff repeatedly insisted he was not being fitted for the specialized contact lenses recommended for him, nor was he allowed to see a specialist despite the fact that his condition was causing his eyesight to deteriorate. At one point, he was provided a pair of ill-suited and improperly fitted contact lenses, which adhered to his eye requiring a trip to the emergency room. The result was a corneal abrasion to his right eye. He further asserts various medical professionals at the NSP did not keep scheduled appointments with him at the medical or eye clinics within the NSP. Plaintiff states he exhausted his remedies at the NSP by filing formal and informal grievances, contacting the state ombudsman, and having his mother contact prison officials on his behalf. Based on the various Defendants' refusals to properly diagnose, treat, refer him to a specialist, and order the proper contact lenses, Plaintiff alleges his condition deteriorated to the point where his vision is significantly impaired and can only be cured through a corneal implant.


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 of it 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(b).

Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to "nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, " or "their complaint must be dismissed." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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.").

"The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'" Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, "[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties." Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Liberally construed, Plaintiff here alleges federal constitutional claims. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the United States Constitution or created by federal statute and also must show that the alleged deprivation was caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).


Plaintiff alleges the named defendants subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment because they were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. To show deliberate indifference, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered objectively serious medical needs, and that officials actually knew of but deliberately disregarded those needs. Johnson v. Hamilton, 452 F.3d 967, 972-73 (8th Cir. 2006). Society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified access to health care. Therefore, deliberate indifference to medical needs amounts to an Eighth Amendment violation only if those needs are serious. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-104 (1976)). "Deliberate indifference is equivalent to criminal-law recklessness, which is more blameworthy than negligence, ' yet less blameworthy ...

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