Hanson v. Domino et al
ORDER granting defendant Chris Erickson's 9 Motion to Dismiss (Written Opinion). Signed by Judge John R. Tunheim on May 23, 2011. (DML)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civil No. 10-3895 (JRT/JJK)
CHARMANE DOMINO, JEREMIAH
JESSEN, CHRIS ERICKSON, JOHN
DOE, and MARY ROE 1 THROUGH 5,
Nathan M. Hansen, LAW OFFICE OF NATHAN M. HANSEN, 2440
North Charles Street, Suite 224, North St. Paul, MN 55109, for plaintiff.
Marsha Eldot Devine, Assistant Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE
MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite
1100, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128, for defendant Chris Erickson.
Daniel P. Kurtz, Pamela L. VanderWiel, and William J. Everett,
EVERETT & VANDERWIEL, PLLP, 100 Center Drive, Buffalo, MN
55313, for defendants Charmane Domino and Jeremiah Jessen.
This matter is before the Court on defendant Chris Erickson‟s motion to dismiss.
Because the Court finds that plaintiff Karl Hanson has failed to plead, or to amend his
pleading in response to this motion, in a manner that would state a claim against Erickson
in an individual capacity, the Eleventh Amendment defeats the complaint. Although the
Court has concerns that, even amended, the complaint would be frivolous, the Court
dismisses the claim without prejudice and grants Hanson leave to file a motion to amend.
On September 11, 2009, Hanson was the subject of traffic stop by defendant
Charmane Domino of the Medina Police Department.
(Compl. ¶ 10.)
Jeremiah Jessen, also of the Medina Police Department, came to the scene to assist
Domino and the two officers administered a field sobriety test on Hanson. (Id. ¶ 12.)
Hanson failed the test and was arrested for driving under the influence. (Id.) Erickson is
a drug recognition expert for the Minnesota State Patrol and was called to the Medina
Police Headquarters to assess Hanson‟s sobriety.
(Id. ¶ 17.)
subsequently showed no evidence of intoxicating substances. (Id. ¶ 21.) Hanson‟s
complaint alleges defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Sixth,
and Fourteenth Amendments, among others, and asserts state law claims of false
imprisonment, assault and battery, and defamation. Erickson moves for dismissal for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
Standard of Review
In reviewing a complaint under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court
considers all facts alleged in the complaint as true, and construes the pleadings in a light
most favorable to the non-moving party. See, e.g., Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps. v.
Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R., 270 F.3d 637, 638 (8th Cir. 2001) (per curiam). To survive
a motion to dismiss, however, a complaint must provide more than “„labels and
conclusions‟ or „a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . . .‟”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). That is, to avoid dismissal, a complaint must include “sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted). “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.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that
are „merely consistent with‟ a defendant‟s liability, it „stops short of the line between
possibility and plausibility[,]‟” and therefore must be dismissed. Id. (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
The doctrine of sovereign immunity, embodied in the Eleventh Amendment,
protects states and state officials from liability in actions seeking monetary damages
when those damages would be paid from the state treasury. U.S. Const. amend. XI; Hans
v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15 (1890) (states immune from suits by own citizens). “Under
the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), a Federal Court retains jurisdiction,
notwithstanding the Eleventh Amendment, to direct State officials to conform their
practices to the requirements of Federal law . . . [but not to order] monetary damages
from individual State Officers, in their official capacities . . . .” King v. Dingle, 702
F. Supp. 2d 1049, 1069 (D. Minn. 2010). However, a state or state official may be held
liable if the state has waived its immunity through a clear and express waiver or if
Congress has abrogated that immunity. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 756 (1999);
Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673 (1974). This Court has previously noted that “the
State of Minnesota has [not] waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to
§§ 1981 or 1983 claims. Additionally, in enacting §§ 1981 and 1983, Congress did not
make a clear statement of intent to abrogate states‟ Eleventh Amendment immunity.”
Stahl Const. Co. v. State of Minn., No. 03-3104, 2004 WL 742058, at *3 (D. Minn.
March 4, 2004). State claims filed in federal court against a state also run afoul of the
sovereign immunity doctrine. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89,
Hanson‟s complaint fails to state whether he is suing Erickson in his official or
individual capacity. In addition, the complaint seeks monetary damages. “If a plaintiff‟s
complaint is silent about the capacity in which she is suing the defendant, we interpret the
complaint as including only official-capacity claims.” Egerdahl v. Hibbing Cmty. Coll.,
72 F.3d 615, 619 (8th Cir. 1995). As the complaint seeks monetary damages from
Erickson in his official capacity, under Ex Parte Young, the claim must fail. When
Erickson filed this motion to dismiss, Hanson could have amended his complaint as a
matter of course, yet instead chose to attach an affidavit from his attorney to his response
brief as to his intent to sue Erickson in his individual capacity. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
15(a)(1)(B) (“A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within . . . 21
days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b) . . . .”); see also Great Lakes Gas
Transmission Ltd. P’ship v. Essar Steel Minn., LLC, No. 09-3037, 2010 WL 234764, at
*1 (D. Minn. Jan 14, 2010) (describing a plaintiff‟s choice to amend its complaint so as
to not lose the right as a matter of course). As a result of this failure to cure, the Court
finds the complaint fails to state a claim.
Additionally, the Court finds that the complaint suffers from other deficiencies,
such as a failure to state specific actions or responsibilities of Erickson that would
warrant liability even if the Court were to read the complaint as against Erickson in an
individual capacity. As a result, the Court will grant leave for Hanson to file a motion to
amend rather than accept the affidavit as addressing the concerns raised in Erickson‟s
motion to dismiss. Such a motion will allow the Court to assess the merits of the claims
and determine if an amendment would be futile because the claims are frivolous. See
Becker v. Univ. of Neb. at Omaha, 191 F.3d 904, 908 (8th Cir. 1999) (“Likelihood of
success on the new claim or defenses is not a consideration for denying leave to amend
unless the claim is clearly frivolous.”).
Based on the foregoing, and all the files, records, and proceedings herein, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED that defendant Chris Erickson‟s Motion to Dismiss [Docket
No. 9] is GRANTED. Plaintiff may file a motion to amend within 30 days of this order.
DATED: May 23, 2011
at Minneapolis, Minnesota.
JOHN R. TUNHEIM
United States District Judge
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