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Clayborne v. Tecumseh Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 30, 2015

ROBERT EARL CLAYBORNE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
TECUMSEH DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Joseph F. Bataillon Senior United States District Judge

Plaintiff Robert E. Clayborne filed his Complaint (Filing No. 1) in this matter on May 28, 2015. This court has given Clayborne leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The court now conducts an initial review of Clayborne’s claims to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) or 1915A.

I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

Clayborne’s claims are based on incidents that occurred during an inmate-led prison riot on May 10, 2015, at the Tecumseh State Prison (“TSP”) in Tecumseh, Nebraska. Liberally construed, he asserts Eighth Amendment claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has sued Scott Frakes, Brian Gage, Keith Broadfoot, and other individuals he identified as Crop, Guthrie, Tompkins, and Sherman. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1.) Frakes is the director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, of which the TSP is a part, and the other defendants are employed at the TSP. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1.)

At all relevant times, Clayborne resided in the protective-custody unit (“PCU”) at the TSP. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 4.) On May 10, 2015, Crop, Guthrie, and Tompkins were working within the PCU. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.) Clayborne alleged the fire alarms sounded at around 4:00 p.m. on this date, at which time he exited his cell. Clayborne looked for staff so they could advise him as to where to go, but none could be found. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 4.)

Clayborne exited the unit through what he believed to be the fire exit, but quickly returned inside because there were general-population inmates in the area. Clayborne again looked for staff, this time to advise them that protective-custody inmates were “being mixed up” with general population inmates, but no staff could be found. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 4.) Clayborne then used the inmate phone to attempt to notify the department of corrections that there were inmates trapped in their cells. In addition, he attempted to contact the prison’s central control via an intercom to advise them to open the rest of the inmates’ doors, but he received no response. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 5.) At some point, he heard a voice over the intercom advising prisoners to go outside for safety. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 6.)

Clayborne alleged that no prison official came to his aid or the aid of the other protective-custody inmates for six to seven hours. During this time, general-population inmates entered the PCU, started fires, and committed acts of violence. Clayborne alleged that “for 6 to 7 hours [he] lived with the fear of being caught up in the death by the hands of an angry mob or deadly fires would take [his] life.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 6.) Clayborne believes prison staff “left [him] to die” within the PCU. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 6.)

Clayborne alleged these incidents caused mental, emotional, and physical injuries and exacerbated his previously-diagnosed mental illnesses. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 6-7.) He seeks unspecified injunctive and declaratory relief, and also one million dollars in money damages from each of the named defendants. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 9.)

II. 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 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. We ...


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