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Stokes v. White

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

June 7, 2016

SCOTT WHITE, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Michael Tee Stokes, Sr., a prisoner at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Filing No. 6.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff’s Complaint (Filing No. 1) to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A. For the reasons that follow, the court finds that Plaintiff’s pleadings do not state any claims on which relief may be granted. However, the court will allow Plaintiff to file an amended complaint.


         Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated for 10 months at the Kearney County Jail beginning in May 2014, Sheriff Scott White ignored his numerous requests for medical care related to severe back pain. Plaintiff’s worsening back condition prevented him from bending over and sitting, caused pain to shoot up his back and numbness in his legs, and required other inmates to help Plaintiff stand up. Plaintiff claims that White aggressively told him that Kearney County "did not have the money to pay for a MRI" and "he’d send [Plaintiff] to prison and they could pay for it." (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 5.) Plaintiff asserts that had White not intentionally ignored his repeated requests for treatment, he would not have been forced to endure a later-diagnosed herniated disc, pinched nerve, and spinal surgery. Plaintiff claims that four other inmates were given medical aid, but Plaintiff’s complaints went ignored.

         Plaintiff states that after he was sentenced in March 2015, he was moved to other correctional institutions, where his pain increased and he completely lost mobility. He eventually received X-rays, pain medication, and spinal surgery, but he still suffers pain. Plaintiff requests money damages and injunctive relief, claiming that defendant White violated his rights to medical care under the Eighth Amendment and to equal protection. Plaintiff also alleges "Racial discrimination, " which presumably relates to his equal-protection claim.


         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 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 does not specify whether he sues defendant White in his individual or official capacity. Where a plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which a defendant is sued, it is presumed that a defendant is sued in his official capacity only. See, e.g., Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999) (stating that "in order to sue a public official in his or her individual capacity, a plaintiff must expressly and unambiguously state so in the pleadings, otherwise, it will be assumed that the defendant is sued only in his or her official capacity."). In addition, a claim against an individual, in her official capacity, is in reality a claim against the entity that employs the official. See Parrish v. Luckie, 963 F.2d 201, 203 n. 1 (8th Cir. 1992) ("Suits against persons in their official capacity are just another method of filing suit against the entity. . . . A plaintiff seeking damages in an official-capacity suit is seeking a judgment against the entity. . . . Therefore, the appellants in this case will collectively be referred to as the City.") (quotations omitted). Accord Eagle v. Morgan, 88 F.3d 620, 629 n.5 (8th Cir. 1996) ("‘[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity."’) (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). Therefore, Plaintiff’s claims against defendant White in his official capacity are actually asserted against Kearney County, Nebraska.[1]

         As a municipal defendant, Kearney County may only be liable under section 1983 if its "policy" or "custom" caused a violation of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Doe By and Through Doe v. Washington County, 150 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). An "official policy" involves a deliberate choice to follow a course of action made from among various alternatives by an official who has the final authority to establish governmental policy. Jane Doe A By and Through Jane Doe B v. Special ...

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