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Martin v. Frakes

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

September 25, 2017

CARL A. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
SCOTT FRAKES, Official Capacity, Individual Capacity; ADAM CROP, Official Capacity, Individual Capacity; BRIAN GAGE, Official Capacity, Individual Capacity; CHELSEA GUFFRIE, Official Capacity, Individual Capacity; and PAUL TOMPKINS, Official Capacity, Individual Capacity; Defendants.



         Plaintiff Carl A. Martin (“Martin”) filed a Complaint on July 13, 2017. (Filing No. 1.) He has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 7.) On August 17, 2017, he paid the initial partial filing fee. (See Docket Sheet.) The court now conducts an initial review of Martin's Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.


         Martin is a prisoner confined at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. He brings this action against five employees of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services: Scott Frakes, Adam Crop, Brian Gage, Chelsea Guffrie, and Paul Tompkins in their official and individual capacities[1]. Martin's “Statement of Claim” is as follows:

The defendants infringed and deprived the complainant his right to safe and human conditions of confinement because during a [g]eneral population inmate [r]iot on May 10th 2015 when assaults and fires [were] being started by these general population inmates. He was a protective custody inmate safe and secure in his unit; and these defendants placed his unit cell doors and yard doors on group access with [g]eneral population unit cell doors and yard doors together and allowing the [g]eneral population inmates to prey upon my persons and commi[t] fires, threats, and unit damage to property - resulting [in] heavy toxic smoke for 7 hours without correcting the error when they had reasonable time to correct the breach of safety. Under the 8th[A]mendment to the United States Constitution.

(Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 4-5.) Martin asserts that he suffered assault, exposure to toxic smoke, smoke inhalation, emotional distress and mental anguish, and exacerbated psychological harm because of the incident. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.) He seeks $5, 000, 000 in damages. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 6.)


         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, Martin 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).


         A. Sovereign Immunity

         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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