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Holland v. Lancaster County Sheriffs Department

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

December 13, 2018




         Plaintiff, Ernest E. Holland, a pretrial detainee being held in the Lancaster County Adult Detention Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, filed his Complaint (Filing 1) on November 15, 2018. Plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and has paid an initial partial filing fee. 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.


         This is a § 1983 action brought against three Defendants: (1) Lancaster County Sheriffs [sic] Department; (2) J. Schwarz; and (3) Matthew F. Meyerle. Meyerle is employed by the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office and was appointed to represent Plaintiff in connection with criminal charges that were filed in the County Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska, in State v. Holland, No. CR17-15447. Schwarz is a Sheriff's Deputy who provided testimony at a preliminary hearing that was held on August 27, 2018.

         Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Schwarz “has admitted comitting [sic] perjury on the stand, ” and “this is the sole reason for me being bound over to District Court” (Filing 1, p. 3); that “Judge Phillips [and] the prosecutor knowingly let it get bound over to district court with purjered [sic] testimony under the color of law” (Filing 1, p. 5); and that “[Plaintiff's] attorney is working in conjunction with the State, rather than discharging his functions” (Filing 1, p. 4). Plaintiff claims he has been falsely imprisoned and his constitutional rights have been violated (Filing 1, pp. 4-5). Plaintiff requests that his criminal case be dismissed and that he be awarded damages (Filing 1, p. 5).

         Attached to the Complaint is a copy of an Additional Case Information (“ACI”) report that was prepared by Deputy Schwarz, in which he states he testified at the preliminary hearing that Plaintiff refused to provide a DNA sample, but after the hearing Schwarz discovered he had misread a report and it was another individual who had refused to exit his pod at the detention facility for an interview. (This individual is identified in the report as being a passenger in Plaintiff's vehicle at the time of his arrest for burglary.) Schwarz further states he testified that he subsequently lost the physical characteristics order for obtaining Plaintiff's DNA sample, but in checking into the matter after the hearing he could find no record that an order had been requested or that he had contacted Plaintiff at the jail. The report indicates Schwarz conveyed this information to the prosecutor, and a copy of the ACI report was later provided to Plaintiff's attorney. (Filing 1 at pp. 12-13).


         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.” Id., at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


         Whether a party, other than an individual or a corporation, has the capacity to be sued is determined “by the law of the state where the court is located[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b). Each county in Nebraska may sue and be sued in its own name, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 23-101, but the same is not true of county offices or departments. See Holmstedt v. York County Jail Supervisor (Name Unknown), 739 N.W.2d 449, 461 (Neb.App. 2007) (York County Sheriff's Department was not proper defendant), rev'd on other grounds, 745 N.W.2d 317 (Neb. 2008); Winslow v. Smith, 672 F.Supp.2d 949, 964 (D. Neb. 2009) (Gage County Sheriff's Office was not proper defendant). Because the Douglas County Sheriff's Department is not legal entity which is subject to suit, it will be dismissed as a party.

         Defendants Schwarz and Meyerle are sued in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff's official-capacity claims against these Defendants are, in effect, claims against Lancaster County. See Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999) (“A suit against a public employee in his or her official capacity is merely a suit against the public employer.”).

         In order to state a plausible claim against Lancaster County, Plaintiff must allege that a “policy” or “custom” caused a violation of his constitutional rights. See Doe By and Through Doe v. Washington County, 150 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). An official policy involves a deliberate choice to follow a course of action made from among various alternatives by an official who has the final authority to establish governmental policy. Jane Doe A By & Through Jane Doe B v. Special School Dist. of St. Louis County, 901 F.2d 642, ...

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