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O'Keefe v. Beatrice Police Department

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 11, 2016

BILLY O’KEEFE, Plaintiff,


Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.

This matter is before the court on initial review of plaintiff Billy O’Keefe’s Complaint. (Filing No. 1.) O’Keefe, an inmate at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against various city, county, and state entities and officials as a result of an incident that occurred before Plaintiff was incarcerated. For the reasons that follow, the court finds Plaintiff’s Complaint states plausible claims for relief, and this case may proceed to service of process.


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).

Plaintiff brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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 that Nebraska State Trooper Jeffrey Rutan pulled Plaintiff’s vehicle over in Beatrice, Nebraska, at 1:00 a.m. on March 29, 2014, for failure to yield at an intersection. After Rutan administered physical sobriety and Breathalyzer tests and determined that Plaintiff’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit and that his driver’s license was invalid, Rutan arrested and handcuffed Plaintiff, placed him in Rutan’s patrol car, and read him his Miranda rights. Rutan told Plaintiff he was going to take him to the hospital for a blood-alcohol test. Plaintiff told Rutan this was unnecessary because “I’m drunk . . . I’m guilty.” Rutan then threatened to charge Plaintiff with refusing the blood test and, when Plaintiff objected, with threatening to fight with a police officer.

Rutan, Beatrice police officer Robert Soldo, and Robert Sandersfeld-who was a Beatrice Community Hospital security guard and deputy Gage County sheriff-escorted Plaintiff into the hospital, and they “repeatedly shoved Plaintiff into doors and walls with enough force that he would bounce back from the impact.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 9.) After Rutan threatened him, Plaintiff repeatedly verbally consented to a blood draw. Because he had verbally consented, Plaintiff refused Rutan’s instructions to sign a form regarding the blood test.

Without having his blood drawn, Plaintiff was escorted out of the hospital to Rutan’s police car. While attempting to move Plaintiff’s hands from the front of his body to behind his body, officers Rutan and Soldo “slammed Plaintiff violently into the trunk of the vehicle” and “slammed Plaintiff onto the ground.” Soldo “grabbed Plaintiff by his hair and when on the ground, forced Plaintiff’s face into the pavement in a grinding motion.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 10.)

Sandersfeld and Beatrice Police Sergeant Jay Murphy witnessed Rutan’s and Soldo’s actions, but did nothing to intervene. During Soldo and Rutan’s attempt to take Plaintiff back to the hospital for treatment, Plaintiff accidentally spit blood onto Rutan because he “could not properly control his mouth, ” resulting in an eventual criminal charge of assaulting an officer with bodily fluids. (Id.)

Plaintiff’s examination at the hospital revealed that his jaw was broken in two places, requiring stitches, eventual surgery, and expensive prescription medication. This injury left Plaintiff with a “large, disfiguring scar.” Plaintiff later discovered that one of his teeth was also cracked, which required a crown. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 11.) After Plaintiff was examined at the hospital on the date of the incident, the police released him and did not file criminal charges against him until two months later.

Plaintiff brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the Beatrice Police Department and its officers Soldo and Murphy, the “Nebraska State Police” and its officer Rutan, Gage County and its deputy sheriff Sandersfeld, the City of Beatrice, and the State of Nebraska, requesting a declaratory judgment stating that the defendants’ use of force against him was excessive, $1, 739, 420 in monetary damages, and punitive damages. Plaintiff sues the individual defendants in both their official and individual capacities.

Plaintiff makes the following claims:

(1) The defendants used excessive force against Plaintiff, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, ...

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