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Rodriguez v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 16, 2017

JOSE E. RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, SCOTT R. FRAKES, Director; DIANA SABATKA-RINE, Deputy Director; MICHAEL ROTHWELL, Deputy Director; and WAYNE CHANDLER, Mental Health Clinical Program Manager; Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 12, 2017. (Filing No. 1.) He has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 6.) As of April 10, 2017, Plaintiff paid his full initial partial filing fee. (See Docket Sheet.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff is a prisoner confined at the Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1.) He sues the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Director Scott R. Frakes, Deputy Director Diane Sabatka-Rine, Deputy Director Michael Rothwell, and Mental Health Clinical Program Manager Wayne Chandler. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have denied him access to programming (anger management, residential drug treatment, and sex offender treatment) prior to his first parole eligibility date[1] in violation of due process and state law. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 4-6.) Plaintiff fears that lack of programming will “force” his civil commitment as a sex offender. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.) He asserts that his needed programming is available at the Omaha Correctional Center, where Defendants refuse to transfer him because of his sentence structure. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 6, 8.) Plaintiff claims that he suffers from insomnia, mental anguish/trauma, high blood pressure, acid reflux, and depression as a result of Defendants' actions. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.) He seeks monetary damages and for immediate transfer to the Omaha Correctional Center. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 6.)

         II. APPLICABLE STANDARDS OF 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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Sovereign Immunity

         Plaintiff does not specify the capacity in which Defendants are sued. Where a plaintiff fails to “expressly and unambiguously” state that a public official is sued in his individual capacity, the court “assume[s] that the defendant is sued only in his or her official capacity.” Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999). 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 their personal capacities, nor does it bar claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 that seek equitable relief from state employee defendants acting in their official capacity.

         Here, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages against state employees. Plaintiff's claims for monetary relief against Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         B. Fourteenth Amendment ...


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