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Hernandez v. Ricketts

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 5, 2016



          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court upon review of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Filing No. 18.) For the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint will be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 28, 2015, Plaintiff, who is incarcerated in the Tecumseh State Prison, instituted this action, naming multiple defendants. (Filing No. 1.)

         Plaintiff raised three unrelated classes of claims in his initial Complaint. First, Plaintiff alleged Defendant Scott Frakes failed to correct "prison over-crowding." (Filing No. 8-1 at CM/ECF p. 6.) Second, Plaintiff alleged that other state official defendants conspired against him to ensure he was convicted of a crime. Third, Plaintiff alleged that his prison's librarian refused to copy case law, statutes, or exhibits for him. In addition, he complained that prison officials only allow him to spend one hour per week in the law library. (Filing No. 8.)

         On February 29, 2016, this court conducted an initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint (Filing No. 1) and his proposed amended complaint. (Filing No. 8-1; Filing No. 17.) The court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to state cognizable claims because (1) Plaintiff's claims regarding the alleged conspiracy to convict him of a crime was barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994); (2) Plaintiff's prison overcrowding claim was vague and conclusory; and (3) Plaintiff did not allege that the defendants erected an unreasonable barrier of access to the courts that prevented him from pursuing a non-frivolous legal matter.

         The court granted Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on March 14, 2016. (Filing No. 18.) Plaintiff submitted a supplement to his Amended Complaint on April 11, 2016. (Filing No. 20.)


         The Amended Complaint names Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and "Nebr. Dept. of Corrs. Drtr. Scott Frakes" as Defendants. Liberally construed, the Amended Complaint sets forth two categories of claims: (1) Defendants failed to correct prison overcrowding which placed Plaintiff's safety at risk; and (2) Defendant Frakes failed to take action on Plaintiff's complaints about being abused and discriminated against by prison staff in violation of state law. (Filing No. 18.)

         Plaintiff seeks an award of $13, 000, 000.00. Plaintiff also requests that "Federal Authorities be brought in to operate State Prisons." (Filing No. 18 at CM/ECF p. 8.)


         The court finds that the Amended Complaint fails to assert cognizable claims.

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint does not indicate whether Defendants are sued in their individual or official capacities. Because Plaintiff did not specify whether he is suing Defendants in their official or individual capacities, this court presumes they are sued in their official capacities only. See Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999) ("This court has held 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"). A claim against an individual in his official capacity is, in reality, a claim against the entity that employs the official, in this case, the State of Nebraska. 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") (internal citations omitted)).

         The Eleventh Amendment bars claims for damages by private parties against a state, state instrumentalities, and an employee of a state sued in the employee's official capacity. See, e.g., Egerdahl v. Hibbing Cmty. Coll., 72 F.3d 615, 619 (8th Cir. 1995); Dover Elevator Co. v. Arkansas State Univ.,64 F.3d 442, 446-47 (8th Cir. 1995). Any award of retroactive monetary relief payable by the state, including for back pay or damages, is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment absent a waiver of immunity by the state or an override of immunity by Congress. See, e.g., id.; Nevels v. Hanlon, 656 F.2d 372, 377-78 (8th Cir. 1981). Sovereign immunity does not bar damages claims against state officials acting in ...

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