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Paulsen v. Foxall

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 24, 2015



JOSEPH F. BATAILLON, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Harold Paulsen ("Paulsen") filed his Complaint (Filing No. 1) in this matter on October 30, 2014. The court granted Paulsen's request to proceed in forma pauperis and assessed an initial partial filing fee in the amount of $10.63. Paulsen paid his initial partial filing fee on June 5, 2015. The court must now conduct an initial review of Paulsen's Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.


Paulsen is currently incarcerated at the Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. His claims are based on incidents that occurred while he was incarcerated with the Douglas County Department of Corrections. Liberally construed, he asserts Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He sued Director Foxall, Sargent Bobby Hyek, Sargent Barbee, Officer McClaren, Deputy Director Pat Hubbard, Sargent Walker, and Captain Earley. None of these individuals are referred to in Paulsen's allegations.

Paulsen alleged jail officials removed him from his housing assignment in "Module 14" because he served as a lookout for two inmates fighting. Paulsen was sentenced to five days in "Module D" as a result. During these five days, Paulsen "repeatedly" asked to be placed in protective custody because he did not feel safe returning to Module 14. Jail officials refused to place him in protective custody. They returned him to Module 14 on a Tuesday. The following Friday, eight inmates assaulted him. Paulsen sustained injuries that resulted in "8 staples in [his] head, 3 stitches by [his] right eye, [ ] 2 chipped teeth, as well as a black eye, and 3 days in the hospital." (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 5.) For relief, Paulsen seeks one million dollars in monetary damages. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 6.)


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).


It is not clear from Paulsen's allegations whether he was a pretrial detainee or a convicted prisoner at the time of the incidents described in his Complaint. Pretrial detainee § 1983 claims are analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, rather than the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Holden v. Hirner, 663 F.3d 336, 341 (8th Cir. 2011). However, the distinction "makes little difference as a practical matter" because "[p]retrial detainees are entitled to the same protection under the Fourteenth Amendment as imprisoned convicts receive under the Eighth Amendment." Kahle v. Leonard, 477 F.3d 544, 550 (8th Cir. 2007).

In order to establish that prison officials failed to prevent harm, Paulsen must prove he was "incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). In addition, Paulsen must establish prison officials were deliberately indifferent to inmate health or safety. Id. "This is a subjective requirement, mandating the prisoner prove the official both knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.'" Holden, 663 F.3d at 341 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837).

Here, Paulsen alleged he suspected he would be assaulted if he returned to his previous housing assignment so he "repeatedly" asked to be placed in protective custody. Prison officials refused to place him in protective custody and returned him to his previous housing assignment where he was assaulted by eight inmates. While these allegations suggest a constitutional violation ...

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