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Pieper v. Sabatka-Rine

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

November 20, 2018

JOHN W. PIEPER, Plaintiff,
DIANE J. SABATKA-RINE, Warden at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, in her individual capacity; MARIO PEART, former L.C.C Warden, in his individual capacity; CATHY SHEAIR, Deputy Warden, in her individual capacity; RICK HARGREAVES, former L.C.C. Unit Administrator, in his individual capacity; MATT TRACY, Unit Administrator at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, in his individual capacity; PAULA SPARKS, former Captain at L.C.C, in her individual capacity; SALVADOR CRUZ, L.C.C Unit Manager, in his individual capacity; AMANDA CHADWICK, L.C.C. Unit Manager, in her individual capacity; WAYNE CHANDLER, Behavior Health Programs Manager, L.C.C. Mental Health, in his individual capacity; DR. ELIZABETH GEIGER, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist Supervisor, N.S.P., in her individual capacity; BRANDY LOGSTON, V.R.P. Clinical Program Manager at Tecumseh State Prison, in her individual capacity; KERRI PAULSON, Licensed Mental Health Practitioner, in her individual capacity; MARY BRUYETTE, Intel-Secretary, in her individual capacity; and MATT HECKMAN, former Deputy Warden, in his individual capacity; Defendants.


          Robert F. Rossiter, Jr., United States District Judge

         Plaintiff John W. Pieper (“Pieper”) is an inmate incarcerated at the Lincoln Correctional Center (“LCC”) in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (“department”). Defendants Diane J. Sabatka-Rine (“Sabatka-Rine”), Mario Peart (“Peart”), Cathy Sheair (“Sheair”), Rick Hargreaves (“Hargreaves”), Paula Sparks (“Sparks”), Amanda Chadwick (“Chadwick”), Wayne Chandler (“Chandler”), Dr. Elizabeth Geiger (“Geiger”), Brandy Logston (“Logston”), Kerri Paulson (“Paulson”), Mary Bruyette (“Bruyette”), and Matt Heckman (“Heckman” and collectively, “defendants”) all worked for the department at the relevant time. On July 31, 2018, Pieper filed a Second Amended Complaint (Filing No. 57) in this case seeking monetary relief from each of the defendants in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights under the First, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution during his incarceration.

         Now pending before the Court is the defendants' Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint (Filing No. 64) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[1] The defendants further argue they are entitled to qualified immunity. Pieper opposes dismissing any defendant. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Pieper is serving state time for an assault conviction. He is currently assigned to the LCC. While in prison, Pieper joined the Peckerwood prison gang. Pieper eventually left the gang to the chagrin of the other members, some of whom threatened him. Pieper notified prison officials of the threats, including Sparks, who was then a Captain at the LCC, and Sabatka-Rine, who was then the Warden at the Nebraska State Penitentiary (“NSP”).

         Beginning May 9, 2007, Pieper's department classification file indicated prison staff should “contact Central Monitoring office Central manager Coordinator prior to transferring Pieper.” As of October 9, 2012, his classification file noted staff should separate him by institution from Peckerwood gang members based on the perceived threat to his safety.

         At LCC, Pieper was on “administration confinement” and segregation for almost four-and-a-half years in large part to protect him from other inmates. Even so, on January 7, 2011, two other inmates assaulted Pieper with weapons. Pieper was taken to the hospital to treat his injuries. While in segregation for that assault, Pieper completed several inmate-request forms describing his safety concerns.

         Although the Peckerwood gang has a strong presence at the department's other institutions, the threat at LCC-due in part to Pieper's efforts-is comparatively low. The gang would send members to LCC to attempt to harm Pieper, but Pieper would persuade them to leave him alone and better themselves instead.

         In 2014, the department's “clinical violent offenders program committee recommended” that Pieper participate in a “violence reduction program” (“VRP”)-the most stringent violence-prevention class the department offered. Pieper understood that his participation in the VRP would require transferring him to the NSP-the only department facility which offered the VRP at that time.

         Concerned for his safety, Pieper repeatedly tried in person and by letter to persuade department officials to allow him to take another class, such as Anger Management, that would not require his transfer to the NSP. Pieper believed the VRP recommendation was unnecessary and arbitrary. Many other inmates convicted of more violent crimes than Pieper have received recommendations for Anger Management or other less-stringent programs.

         Pieper repeatedly told Paulson, his Mental Health Practitioner at the time, and Cruz, his Unit Manager, about his safety concerns to no avail. Paulson told Pieper she would convey his concerns to Logston, the Violent Offenders Program Clinical Program Manager at Tecumseh State Prison; Geiger, the Clinical Psychologist Supervisor at the NSP; and Chandler, the Behavior Health Programs Manager at the LCC; and even speak on his behalf at a Clinical Violent Offender Review Team (“CVORT”) meeting.

         Between March 2014 and August 2015, Pieper also wrote several inmate interview request forms to Paulson and Chandler. In request forms dated May 12, 2014, and June 10, 2014, Pieper explained to Chandler why he should not be transferred to NSP and expressed his desire to participate in an alternative program at LCC. Chandler consistently responded that the VRP recommendation would not change. On June 27, 2014, Paulson likewise advised Pieper that the CVORT had reviewed and addressed his concerns and still recommended his participation in the VRP. No. one ever called Pieper down to Mental Health to discuss his concerns.

         Pieper also communicated his safety concerns to officials at the NSP. In response to a letter from Pieper, Geiger advised him that the department took his concerns seriously but “based on clinically assessed level of risk and need, the CVORT has determined that the VRP is the most appropriate treatment recommendation” for Pieper at that time. As for Pieper's safety, Geiger assured “we will continue to take all central monitoring concerns into consideration in order to determine the most appropriate way to address risk factors.” On October 27, 2014, Pieper wrote a letter to Sabatka-Rine. She too told Pieper the department took his safety concerns seriously and would review his situation to determine if any action was needed but assured him “your situation is not unique and that we have successfully managed situations similar to yours on prior occasions in an effort to ensure . . . the opportunity to participate in recommended programming.” Copies of that response were placed in Pieper's file and sent to Geiger; Peart, the Warden at LCC; and Tracy, the Unit Administrator at NSP. According to Pieper, Tracy and Rick Hargreaves, the Unit Administrator at LCC, were aware of his safety concerns if transferred to NSP.

         On February 11, 2016, Chadwick, Unit Manager at LCC and Pieper's case manager, completed an institutional progress report for Pieper that noted that the CVORT recommended Pieper complete the VRP at NSP, but that he was not allowed to transfer to NSP due to central monitoring issues. Chadwick joked with Pieper about the impending transfer, telling him he would have to start over if transferred but refusing to explain to Pieper what she meant. The day Pieper was transferred, ...

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