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Montin v. Moore

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 19, 2017

John Maxwell Montin Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Y. Scott Moore, M.D.; Mario Scalora, Ph.D.; Mary Paine, Ph.D. Defendants-Appellees Stephen Paden, M.D. Defendant Lisa Woodward, Ph.D. Defendant-Appellee Chin Chung, M.D.; Marco Baquero, M.D.; Eugene Oliveto, M.D. Defendants Ann Evelyn, M.D.; Dinesh Karumanchi, M.D.; Rajeev Chaturvedi, M.D.; Joanne Murney, Ph.D.; Sherri Browning, Ph.D.; Lorrene Jurgens, Nurse Practitioner; Mindy Abel, Psy.D. Defendants-Appellees Cynthia Petersen, Nurse Practitioner; James Allison, Ph.D. Defendants Corrine McCoy, Program Manager; Jennifer Cimpl, Psy.D.; Shannon Black, Psy.D.; Zakaria Siddiqui, M.D. Defendants-Appellees Roberto Alves, Psy.D. Defendant Kathleen Barrett, Psy.D.; Klaus Hartmann, M.D. Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: October 25, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Lincoln

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, BEAM and LOKEN, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         John Maxwell Montin was committed to the Lincoln Regional Center (LRC) for a period of almost twenty years after a jury found him not responsible by reason of insanity. After his release, Montin brought suit in federal district court against various psychologists, psychiatrists, and other employees of the LRC, alleging defendants committed medical malpractice under Nebraska state law. Montin also alleged defendants violated his constitutional rights to be free from unnecessary confinement and free from retaliation for seeking access to courts. The district court[1]dismissed Montin's state law malpractice claim as barred by sovereign immunity, and dismissed Montin's unnecessary confinement claim, ruling defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Because we conclude Montin's state law malpractice claim was improperly filed in federal court under the Nebraska State Tort Claims Act, and defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Montin's unnecessary confinement claim, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A Nebraska state court committed Montin to the LRC on August 13, 1993, after a jury found Montin not responsible by reason of insanity on two felony charges. On July 16, 2013, almost twenty years after his initial commitment, that state court found Montin no longer dangerous to himself or others and ordered him unconditionally released. Defendants were all employees of the LRC during the time Montin was committed there and rendered professional healthcare services to Montin by conducting forensic evaluations, administering psychological testing, formulating and implementing treatment plans, and providing annual court reports.

         In July 2014, Montin brought suit against defendants in federal court. Montin asserted, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, defendants violated his federal civil right to be free from unnecessary confinement by creating unreliable evaluations and reports and failing to evaluate and treat Montin properly so that Montin continued to be unnecessarily confined. Montin claimed this failure to evaluate and treat him adequately violated his fundamental right to freedom from physical restraint. Montin further asserted defendants violated his federal civil rights by retaliating against him for seeking relief in state and federal courts. Montin also alleged defendants failed to meet the standard of care in their respective disciplines under Nebraska state law by incorrectly labeling Montin as mentally ill and subjecting Montin to unnecessary and inappropriate treatment and confinement.

         The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the state law malpractice claim because the claim was barred by sovereign immunity and not waived by Nebraska under its State Tort Claims Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 81-8, 209, et seq. The district court also granted defendants' Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed Montin's federal civil rights claims, concluding defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Montin appeals the district court's orders dismissing his claims, and we have jurisdiction to hear his appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. State Law Malpractice Claim

         Montin alleged defendants committed medical malpractice under Nebraska state law. The district court dismissed this claim following defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) and (6) motion to dismiss.[2] We review such a dismissal de novo and interpret all factual allegations in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Nelson v. Midland Credit Mgmt. Inc., 828 F.3d 749, 751 (8th Cir. 2016).

         All defendants were state employees at the time of the events alleged in Montin's amended complaint. Sovereign immunity bars any suits against states and their employees in their official capacities. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712-13 (1999). Congress can abrogate sovereign immunity, like it has for claims filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or states can waive sovereign immunity, but in the absence of such abrogation or waiver, sovereign immunity bars all suits. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54-55 (1996).

          Nebraska has waived sovereign immunity for a limited set of claims. See Nebraska State Tort Claims Act (STCA), Neb. Rev. Stat. § 81-8, 209, et seq. For suits not barred by sovereign ...


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