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Griffin v. State

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 2, 2018

ARTHUR JAMES GRIFFIN JR., Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEBRASKA and JAY D. POPPE, State Trooper, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Arthur James Griffin, Jr., a pretrial detainee at the Lancaster County Jail in Lincoln, Nebraska, filed his Complaint (Filing 1) on July 5, 2018, and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis on July 12, 2018 (Filing 9). 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)(2) and 1915A.

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action seeking to recover damages from the State of Nebraska and a State Trooper, Jay D. Poppe. Plaintiff claims he was falsely arrested and imprisoned for trespassing on April 23, 2018. In support of this claim, he alleges “No Trespassing was not posted” on the property (Filing 1 at p. 5).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS ON INITIAL 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).

         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).

         III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS

         “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Liberally construing Plaintiff's Complaint, he is claiming Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights.[1]

         The Eleventh Amendment bars claims for damages by private parties against a state. See, e.g., Egerdahl v. Hibbing Cmty. Coll., 72 F.3d 615, 618-19 (8th Cir. 1995); Dover Elevator Co. v. Arkansas State Univ., 64 F.3d 442, 446-47 (8th Cir. 1995). Thus, Plaintiff's claims against the State of Nebraska must be dismissed.

         Plaintiff does not specify whether he sues Defendant Poppe 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.”). A claim against an individual in his 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.”) Because Defendant Poppe is employed by the State of Nebraska, no official capacity-suit for damages can be maintained.

         Although Defendant Poppe would not be immune from suit in his individual capacity, such an action may be barred by the rule that in order “to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). “A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.” Id. at 87. “Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Id.

         Plaintiff's Complaint does not indicate that he was convicted of trespassing, or, for that matter, even charged with the offense, but in a habeas action filed in this court on May 24, 2018 (Case No. 8:18CV229), Plaintiff stated that he was convicted of “criminal trespass, 2nd degreeā€ on May 22, 2018. If this information is correct, and if such conviction stemmed from the allegedly unlawful arrest that is at issue in the present action, then Plaintiff ...


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