Cavanaugh v. Hall County Department of Corrections
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER that Plaintiff's claims for equitable relief are dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff shall have 30 days from the date of this Memorandum and Order to file an amended complaint in accordance with this Memorandum and Order . Failure to file an amended complaint will result in dismissal of this matter without prejudice and without further notice. ( Pro Se Case Management Deadline set for 8/25/2014 to check for amended complaint.) Ordered by Judge Joseph F. Bataillon. (Copy mailed to pro se party) (KMG)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
HALL COUNTY DEPARTMENT
Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter on March 24, 2014. (Filing No. 1.)
He was given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 6.) The court now
conducts an initial review of the Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal
is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.
I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT
Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Nebraska State Penitentiary (“NSP”).
In January of 2013 he was incarcerated in the Hall County Jail in Hall County,
Nebraska. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 4.) Plaintiff alleges he was “[p]laced in
segregation for filing grievances against the jail.” (Id.) He also alleges he was
completely prevented from accessing the Hall County Jail’s “grievance system” by
Director Ruiz. (Id.)
Plaintiff requests the court order Hall County to pay him $250,000 in damages
for the depravation of his right to file grievances and for the pain and suffering that
resulted from the county’s action. Plaintiff further seeks to have Director Ruiz
replaced and “a new grievance system” put in place—one “the jail has no control
over.” Plaintiff also requests punitive damages. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 6.)
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARD
The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine
whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court
must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof 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.
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” for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 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.”). Regardless of whether a plaintiff is represented or is
appearing pro se, the plaintiff’s complaint must allege specific facts sufficient to state
a claim. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985). However, a pro
se plaintiff’s allegations must be construed liberally. Burke v. North Dakota Dep’t
of Corr. & Rehab., 294 F.3d 1043, 1043-44 (8th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).
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).
III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS
Claims for Equitable Relief
Plaintiff seeks to have Director Ruiz “replaced” at the Hall County jail and asks
the court to order the jail to replace its “grievance system.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF
p. 6.) However, Plaintiff is no longer an inmate at the Hall County jail. “[A]
prisoner’s claim for injunctive relief to improve prison conditions is moot if he or she
is no longer subject to those conditions.” Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337
(8th Cir. 1985). Plaintiff is now imprisoned at NSP, and there is no indication in the
Complaint that Plaintiff may return to the jail in Hall County. Thus, Plaintiff’s claims
for changes in prison conditions at the Hall County jail are moot. Plaintiff has no
standing to bring claims on behalf of those currently imprisoned in the Hall County
jail. See id. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims for equitable relief must be dismissed.
Claims for Monetary Damages
Plaintiff alleges his constitutional rights were violated because he was punished
for filing grievances, and was eventually denied access to the grievance system
entirely. “A prisoner’s right under the First Amendment to petition for redress of
grievances under a prison’s grievance procedures is clearly established in [the Eighth
Circuit].” Nelson v. Shuffman, 603 F.3d 439, 449 (8th Cir. 2010). Further, “actions
taken in retaliation for an inmate’s filing a grievance are actionable under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983.” Id. at 450 (internal citations omitted).
While Plaintiff has identified a potential violation of his constitutional rights,
as pled, his Complaint fails as a matter of law. Plaintiff has named only the Hall
County Department of Corrections as a defendant in this action. For a municipality
to be found liable under § 1983, “individual liability first must be found on an
underlying substantive claim.” McCoy v. City of Monticello, 411 F.3d 920, 922 (8th
Cir. 2005). A municipality or government entity cannot be held vicariously liable for
the actions of one of its agents. Brockinton v. City of Sherwood, Ark., 503 F.3d 667,
674 (8th Cir. 2007). Rather, there must be a showing a governmental employee was
acting in accordance with a government policy or custom in order for liability to
attach to the municipality under § 1983.
“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 and Through Jane Doe B v. Special
School Dist. of St. Louis County, 901 F.2d 642, 645 (8th Cir. 1990)(quoting Pembaur
v City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483 (1986)). “The fact that a particular
official—even a policy making official—has discretion in the exercise of particular
functions does not, without more, give rise to municipal liability based on an exercise
of that discretion.” Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 481-82. Rather, “[t]he official must also
be responsible for establishing final government policy” that led to the alleged
constitutional violation “before the municipality can be held liable.” Id. at 483.
In order to establish the existence of a governmental custom, a plaintiff must
The existence of a continuing, widespread, persistent pattern of
unconstitutional misconduct by the governmental entity’s employees;
Deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of such conduct by the
governmental entity’s policymaking officials after notice to the officials
of that misconduct; and
That plaintiff was injured by acts pursuant to the governmental entity’s
custom, i.e., that the custom was the moving force behind the
Jane Doe, 901 F.2d at 646.
Plaintiff has not named any individual defendants nor has he asked the court
to make a finding of individual liability against any Hall County employees—a step
necessary for a finding of municipal liability. See McCoy, 411 F.3d at 922. Plaintiff
also does not assert that the alleged constitutional violation occurred because prison
officials were acting in accordance with official government policy or that any
individual who carried out the actions against Plaintiff was responsible for
establishing an official policy. In addition, Plaintiff does not allege there was a
continuing, widespread, persistent pattern of unconstitutional misconduct by Hall
County Department of Corrections or its employees, or that the Hall County
Department of Corrections’ policymaking officials were deliberately indifferent to or
tacitly authorized any unconstitutional conduct. Finally, Plaintiff does not allege that
an unconstitutional custom was the moving force behind his injuries. Accordingly,
Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to “nudge” his claims against the Hall
County Department of Corrections across the line from conceivable to plausible under
the Jane Doe standard.
On the court’s own motion, the court will permit Plaintiff 30 days in which to
amend his Complaint to sufficiently allege a claim against the Hall County
Department of Corrections and name any other proper defendants.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s claims for equitable relief are dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff shall have 30 days from the date of this Memorandum and Order
to file an amended complaint in accordance with this Memorandum and Order.
Failure to file an amended complaint will result in dismissal of this matter without
prejudice and without further notice.
The clerk’s office is directed to set a pro se case management deadline
in this matter: August 25, 2014: Check for amended complaint.
DATED this 23rd day of July, 2014.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Joseph F. Bataillon
United States District Judge
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