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Greene v. Lake

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 24, 2018

GUY I. GREENE, Plaintiff,
v.
KELLY LAKE; PAUL COUGHLIN, BRIAN BELICH, DAVE KAMUNEN; JASON WILMES; CAMMI WERNER; TRAVIS WARNYGORA; JOHN DOES, an unknown number; JANE DOES, an unknown number; and TOM ROY; Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KATHERINE MENENDEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Guy I. Greene brought this action asserting several civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and supplemental state law claims. All of these claims arise out of a period when Mr. Greene was confined at Carlton County Jail from March through August 2017. He makes several allegations about the conditions of his confinement while he was held in the Jail. [See Am. Compl., ECF No. 25.] Among the defendants Mr. Greene named in the Amended Complaint is Tom Roy, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections. [Am. Compl. at 1 (caption); id. at 2, ¶ 5; id. at 24, ¶ 116.] Mr. Greene alleges that Commissioner Roy “failed to properly train and supervise the other defendants and [his] actions/failures to act to correct [the] known violations of the plaintiffs' civil rights, led to, and proximately caused those violations.” [Am. Compl. at 24, ¶ 116.] In his Prayer for Relief, Mr. Greene seeks an injunction and damages. [Am. Compl. at 30-31 (Prayer for Relief).]

         Commissioner Roy has filed a Motion to Dismiss, which is now before the Court. [Def. Roy's Mot., ECF No. 30.] Commissioner Roy argues that any claim against him for damages in his official capacity should be dismissed pursuant to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. [Def.'s Mem. at 3-4, ECF No. 32.] He next argues that Mr. Greene's claims for injunctive relief should be dismissed because Greene is no longer confined in the Carlton County Jail. [Id. at 4-5.] And finally, Commissioner Roy argues that the Amended Complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to state an individual-capacity claim against him. [Id. at 5-6.] For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that Commissioner Roy's motion to dismiss be granted.

         I. Immunity and Official Capacity Damages Claims

         States enjoy sovereign immunity from claims for damages asserted in federal lawsuits. Thomas v. St. Louis Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 447 F.3d 1082, 1084 (8th Cir. 2006). This immunity applies to a suit for damages asserted against a State official sued in his official capacity because such claims are no different than a claim against the State itself. Id. (noting that sovereign immunity “bars private parties from bringing actions for damages against unconsenting states in federal courts”); see also King v. Dingle, 702 F.Supp.2d 1049, 1068 (D. Minn. 2010). “Thus, the Eleventh Amendment bars actions, in Federal Court, which seek monetary damages from individual State Officers, in their official capacities, . . . for the recovery of money from the state.” King, 702 F.Supp.2d at 1069 (quotation omitted). Section 1983 does not abrogate a State's sovereign immunity. Thomas, 447 F.3d at 1084 (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979)).

         In addition to individual capacity claims, the Amended Complaint asserts claims against Commissioner Roy in his official capacity. Because Commissioner Roy is an employee of the State of Minnesota, Mr. Greene's official-capacity claims against Commissioner Roy are no different than a suit against the State itself. See King, 702 F.Supp.2d at 1069 (“A suit against a public employee in that person's official capacity is merely a suit against the public employer.”). Mr. Greene's Prayer for Relief seeks compensatory, punitive, and any other monetary damages to which he may be entitled. The doctrine of sovereign immunity bars these official-capacity damages claims. Mr. Greene provides no basis for the Court to conclude otherwise in his response to the motion to dismiss. [Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 40.] Accordingly, the Court concludes that the official-capacity claims for damages against Commissioner Roy should be dismissed.

         II. Mootness and Claims for Prospective Injunctive Relief

         Commissioner Roy argues that Mr. Greene cannot maintain a claim for prospective injunctive relief because he is no longer confined in Carlton County Jail, essentially asserting mootness. When a plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, he must show that he “faces a threat of future or ongoing harm.” Park v. Forest Serv. of the United States, 205 F.3d 1034, 1037 (8th Cir. 2000). Speculation that a future injury may occur is inadequate to support a claim for injunctive relief, Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 (1983), and the plaintiff must show that the threat is “real and immediate, ” O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 496 (1974). If a plaintiff is able to show that a threat of future harm is real and immediate, he can show that injunctive relief “will remedy the alleged harm.” Stell Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 108 (1998). However, “[c]laims for equitable and injunctive relief are moot when the plaintiff is no longer subject to the conditions of confinement of which he complains.” Roblero-Barrios v. Ludeman, No. 07-cv-4101 (MJD/FLN), 2008 WL 4838726, at *10 (D. Minn. Nov. 5, 2008) (citing Senty-Haugen v. Goodno, No. 04-cv-1077 (ADM/JJG), 2005 WL 2917464, at * 3 (D. Minn. Nov. 4, 2005)).

         The record here demonstrates that Mr. Greene is no longer held in the Carlton County Jail. On August 12, 2017, Mr. Greene filed a notice of change of address, which indicates that, as of that date, he was no longer confined at the Jail. Because Mr. Greene is no longer held in Carlton County Jail, he is no longer subject to the conditions of confinement that are the subject of the allegations in his Amended Complaint. Therefore, he cannot show that he faces a real and immediate threat of future harm. This reality makes his claims for prospective equitable and injunctive relief moot.

         In response to this argument, Mr. Greene does not assert that he is still confined at the Jail. Instead, he argues that this case is not moot because he pled it as a putative class action and it “involves ongoing injury to class members at the Carlton County Jail who do not know what's going on in this litigation. . . .” [Pl.'s Resp. at 5.] However, this reasoning is unpersuasive. Although Mr. Greene has asserted that he was bringing this case on behalf of others in the same situation, as this Court explained in recommending denial of his motion for class certification, Mr. Greene cannot represent the interests of anyone other than himself in federal court because he is not an attorney.

         Accordingly, the Court recommends that Mr. Greene's claims for prospective injunctive relief be dismissed as moot because he is no longer confined in Carlton County Jail.[1]

         III. Failure to State a Claim

         With respect to the claims against Commissioner Roy in his individual-capacity, the motion to dismiss asserts that Mr. Greene has failed to plead facts sufficient to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 500 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This standard does not require the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” in a pleading, but the complaint must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In applying this standard, the Court must assume the facts in the complaint to be true and must construe all reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). But the Court does not need to accept as true any wholly conclusory allegations, Hanten v. School District of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir.1999), or legal conclusions that the plaintiff draws from the facts pled, Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).

         Because Mr. Greene is representing himself in this litigation, the Court reads his complaint liberally. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). “When we say that a pro se complaint should be given liberal construction, we mean that if the essence of an allegation is discernible . . . then the district court should construe the complaint in a way that permits the layperson's claim to be considered within the proper legal framework.” Id. (citing Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004)). The Court will also consider statements in Mr. Greene's memorandum in response to the motion to dismiss in analyzing the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint. See Pratt v. Corrections Corp. of Am., 124 Fed. App'x 465, 466 (8th Cir. Feb. 14, 2005) (“Initially, we note the district ...


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