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Larson v. Jesson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 9, 2018

Hollis J. Larson, Plaintiff,
Lucinda Jesson, Cal Ludeman, Dennis Benson, Greg Carlson, Scott Benoit, David Prescott, Tim Gorr, David Bornus, Terry Kneisel, Shelby Richardson, Janine Herbert, Erik Skon, Lou Stender, Nancy Johnston, Barry Anderson, Marnie Dollinger, Jim Lind, Steve Sajdak, Susan Johnson, Daniel Doran, Julianna Beavens, Julianna Beattie, David Hansen, Aubrey Barker, Kevin Carlson, Laurie Severson, Eric Hattenberger, Joanne Christenson, Jessica Olson, Lindsey Deering, Jeanne Dreher, Justin Wright, Suzanne Eccles, Ryan Fahland, Joseph Fink, Mark Kuhlman, Melissa Preteau, Jason Anderson, Megan Agenter, Steve Ronning, Troy Swartout, Cory Vargason, Kevin Schleret, Nathan Johnson, Daniel Hattenberger, Saul Sheff, Lori Aldrin, Justin Gamst, Lindsey Fjosne, James Christensen, Cheryl Halverson, Jane Stinar, Elizabeth Wyatt, Jenny Abson, Brooks Midbrod, Brian Ninneman, Steven Sayovitz, Ronald Fischer, Kristi Wagner, Jessica Ranem, Jason Weyrauch, Arthur Miller, Tom Snedker, William Gullickson, Arthur Christenson, Cindy Cherro, Kevin Dreher, Kelly Klimp, Arnold Johnson, Jeff Laine, Matthew Brown, Corrine Hoadley, Timothy Pederson, Zane Swenson, Johnnie Eargle, James Fetters, Scott Giannini, Louis Kneisel, Brad Brown, Tom Cherro, Carl Lundgren, Pam Sater, Scott Limoseth, Jon Hibbard, Steven Youngs, Marlene Huima, Tami Godbout, Hector Ortiz, Darian Menten, Daniel Werner, Jennifer Gross, Lauren Ripley, Tammy Shelton, Gwen Farrell, Michael Anderson, Steven Janz, Leslie Barfknecht, Gary Grimm, Peter Steen, Jonathon Klingaman, Julie Rose, Matthew Turner, Cornelia Lough, Becky Olson, Alex Radzak, Mindy Siegert, Randy Valentine, Yvette Anderson, Jenifer Chesbrough, Jason Johnson, Chelli Leutschaft-Miller, Ann Linkert, Thane Murphy, Ross Peterson, John Rosasco, Robert Bender, Tresta Brown, Russell Dahl, Randall Gordon, Michael Hennen, Sarah Krueger, Sara Kulas, Ronda White, John Busha III, Charles Cluka, Matthew Dahl, Bonnie Denzler, Luke Eller, Michele Flynn, Eric Gist, Shelby Hall, Craig Berg, John Gorkiewicz, Jennifer Isaacson, Derrick Koecher, Heather Larson, Kenneth Olsen, Jr., Matthew Prachar, David Royer, David Taplin, Terri Barnes, Colleen Bednar, Michael Buetow, Stephanie Danielson, Tara Halverson, Anthony Hollis, Mary Hyke, Darrell Jensen, Jacob Kantonen, Kevin Moser, Kevin Nelson, Richard O'Connor, Sybil Pivoran, Thorne Torgerson, Becky Wekseth, Mike Zimmerman, Nicole Kielte, and Kane Nelson, all sued in their individual capacities, and variously sued in their official capacities, Defendants.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.


         In 2009 and 2010, at the time of the events giving rise to this litigation, Plaintiff Hollis J. Larson was civilly committed in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”) in Moose Lake, Minnesota.[1] He alleges that nearly 160 MSOP employees and other state corrections officials violated his constitutional rights in numerous ways. Indeed, he appears to have sued nearly every individual who was employed at MSOP during the time in question, as well as state officials in the Minnesota Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services.

         In January 2012, this matter was stayed as part of the litigation that addressed the constitutionality of Minnesota's Civil Commitment and Treatment Act, Karsjens v. Piper, No. 11cv3659 (DWF/TNL). In August 2017, this Court determined that the claims raised here were unrelated to those at issue in the Karsjens matter, lifted the stay, and ordered Larson to re-plead. In that Order, the Court noted that Larson's habit of naming multiple individual Defendants in each claim violated both Rule 8(a)(2) and Rule 11(b)(2), and encouraged Larson to comply with the Rule that a complaint be a “short and plain statement” of the claims at issue. (See Docket No. 41 at 3 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).) Rather than reduce the number of Defendants or otherwise streamline his pleadings, however, Larson added more Defendants and complexity. (See Am. Compl. (Docket No. 48).) The Court previously warned Larson that it could sua sponte dismiss without prejudice any pleading for failure to comply with Rule 8. (Docket No. 41 at 4.) The Amended Complaint is not a “short and plain statement” of Larson's claims and is subject to dismissal on that basis alone. For the sake of bringing this long-running litigation to a close, however, the Court will also evaluate Larson's claims on the merits.

         In his 80-page Amended Complaint, Larson challenges his confinement in MSOP's high security area (“HSA”) from August 9, 2009, to September 1, 2009, and again for shorter periods in late 2009 and 2010. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2-3, 48, 71, 133.) He contends that, during his time in the HSA, Defendants violated his rights by, among other things, placing him on administrative restriction pending the outcome of his supervised release revocation hearing (id. ¶ 4); subjecting him to an unclothed visual body cavity search before he was placed in HSA (e.g., id. ¶ 57); threatening him, handcuffing him, and depriving him of food, cleaning supplies, and other necessary items (id. ¶¶ 64, 67, 117, 144, 154); punishing him without a trial (id. ¶ 32); fabricating reports (e.g., id. ¶ 48); not giving him access to legal materials when requested (id. ¶ 15); threatening him with the use of “chemical munitions” (id. ¶ 120); using excessive force against him (e.g., id. ¶¶ 122-23, 25); not sufficiently treating him for injuries he suffered (id. ¶¶ 128-29, 132); cutting off his clothes (id. ¶ 137); providing him with insufficient clothing for the temperature of his cell and cutting out the drawstring in the shorts provided to him (id. ¶¶ 142-43); depriving him of due process by finding him guilty of rule violations without a trial (id. ¶ 156); and promulgating or adhering to unconstitutional unwritten policies related to the treatment of individuals at MSOP (e.g., id. ¶ 158). Larson claims that Defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment (id. ¶ 175), Fourth Amendment (id. ¶ 177), Fourteenth Amendment (id. ¶¶ 181, 183, 185, 189), Sixth Amendment (id. ¶ 187) and under the Minnesota Constitution. He also contends that Defendants' actions constituted an invasion of his privacy (id. ¶ 179), and that certain Defendants defamed him (id. ¶ 33), falsely imprisoned and “tortur[ed]” him (id. ¶ 31), and “committed fraud . . . and misrepresentation” (id. ¶ 34).


         Larson first argues that the Court's order requiring Defendants to respond to the Amended Complaint means that the Court determined that he has sufficiently stated claims on which relief can be granted and that none of his claims are subject to immunity defenses. But the Court's determination that Larson had sufficiently complied with 28 U.S.C. § 1915 has no bearing on whether the Amended Complaint survives scrutiny under Rule 12. Moreover, Larson's belief that Defendants have failed to answer the allegations in the Amended Complaint is procedurally incorrect, as civil defendants must bring a motion to dismiss before they file an answer to a complaint. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (providing that certain defenses must be raised in a motion filed before filing a responsive pleading). Should Defendants' Motion be denied, they would then be required to answer the Amended Complaint. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(4) (providing that a motion to dismiss postpones the time for answering a complaint until 14 days after such motion is denied.)

         Rather, Defendants challenge all of Larson's claims under Rule 12, contending that the Amended Complaint fails to plausibly allege any claims on which relief can be granted and that, in any event, they are entitled to immunity from those claims. When considering a Motion to Dismiss, the Court must accept plausible factual allegations as true, Gomez v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 676 F.3d 655, 660 (8th Cir. 2012), but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient to support a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To meet the plausibility standard, a claim must allow the Court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         Most of Larson's claims stem from his insistence that the Constitution prohibits any punishment of civilly committed individuals. (Pl.'s Opp'n (Docket No. 63) at 14.) This belief, however, is incorrect. The Constitution does not prohibit punishing a civilly committed person for violating the rules of the committing institution. And as Defendants point out, the same concerns that prevent courts from second-guessing disciplinary decisions regarding incarcerated persons-security of the staff and residents of the institution, first and foremost-also apply in the civil-commitment area. See Revels v. Vincenz, 382 F.3d 870, 874 (8th Cir. 2004) (“Although an involuntarily committed patient of a state hospital is not a prisoner per se, his confinement is subject to the same safety and security concerns as that of a prisoner.”). Thus, Larson's contention that prison-discipline cases are inapposite to his claims is misplaced.

         A. Official-Capacity and Supervisory Claims

         Larson has sued 25 Defendants in their individual and official capacities.[2] But state officials are immune from official-capacity suits unless the suit seeks prospective injunctive relief. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 n.10 (1989). In other words, a suit must seek to remedy an ongoing or future constitutional violation to be cognizable against state officials in their official capacities. See Ashokkumar v. Elbaum, 932 F.Supp.2d 996, 1006-07 (D. Neb. 2013) (discussing prospective injunctive relief). Larson's Amended Complaint concerns incidents that occurred eight or nine years ago. Any prospective relief, even if sufficiently pled, would not remedy the violations he has alleged. His official-capacity claims therefore must be dismissed.

         As to 14 Defendants, [3] Larson only alleges that they took no action to curb a known pattern of abuse, not that they themselves took an allegedly unconstitutional action against him. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 158-63.) But liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is personal; there is no supervisor liability for violations of constitutional rights. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. Moreover, “a bare allegation that someone in supervisory authority has been deliberately indifferent, without any specification of that person's contact in fact with the plaintiff, [or] even an explicit charge of inadequate training or supervision of subordinates, is [not] sufficient to state a [§ 1983] claim.” Estate of Rosenberg ex rel. Rosenberg v. Crandell, 56 F.3d 35, 38 (8th Cir. 1995). Larson's claims against these 14 Defendants are nothing more than bare allegations that these individuals were deliberately indifferent, and thus fail as a matter of law.

         B. Conspiracy

         One of Larson's claims is that multiple Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) and (3). (E.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 57, 85, 89, 108.) Broadly speaking, § 1985 proscribes conspiracies to deprive a person of equal protection of the laws. Therefore, to state a claim for a violation of § 1985, a pleading must allege that the motivating force behind the conspiracy was discrimination on the basis of a suspect classification or characteristic. See Larson ex rel. Larson v. Miller, 76 F.3d 1446, 1454 (8th Cir. 1996) (discussing requirement that § 1985 plaintiff prove class-based animus).

         Larson argues that sex offenders are a suspect class for purposes of § 1985 because they are subject to discrimination. But merely because individuals share a characteristic and may be subject to differential treatment on the basis of that characteristic does not mean that this differential treatment violates their equal protection rights. “The Equal Protection Clause does not mandate identical treatment of different categories of persons.” Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 243 (1982). Only “irrational classification[s]” run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause. U.S. Dep't of Agric. v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 532 (1973). Thus, the Supreme Court has limited the types of classifications that are subject to protection under the Clause to those that share “an immutable characteristic determined solely by the accident of birth, ” Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 686 (1973), or that have been subject to a “history of purposeful unequal treatment, or relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process.” San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 28 (1973). Classifications that are subject to protection under the Clause are limited to those such as race, alienage, national origin, religion, and gender; these classes share “some immutable characteristic beyond their control” and “require special protection by the courts because of vast discrimination . . . or their political powerlessness.” Gallagher v. City of Clayton, 699 F.3d 1013, 1018 (8th Cir. 2012). No case has held that sex offenders constitute a suspect classification to which the Equal Protection Clause applies, and in fact courts have held the opposite. See, e.g., United States v. Lafferty, 608 F.Supp.2d 1131, 1144 (D.S.D. 2009) (“Sex offenders are not a suspect or quasi-suspect class.”). And “[t]he Supreme Court has rejected the notion that a classification is suspect when ‘entry into th[e] class . . . is the product of voluntary action.'” United States v. Coleman, 166 F.3d 428, 431 (2d Cir. 1999) (alteration in original) (quoting Plyler, 457 U.S. at 219 n.19). Larson's claims under § 1985(2) and (3) fail as a matter of law.

         C. Unclothed Body Search

         Larson argues that MSOP's policy of performing an unclothed body search on a detained individual before that individual enters the HSA violates his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has noted that “civilly committed persons retain the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches that is analogous to the right retained by pretrial detainees.” Beaulieu v. Ludeman, 690 F.3d 1017, 1028 (8th Cir. 2012). And, again, the security concerns implicated in a prison setting are also implicated at MSOP. Revels, 382 F.3d at 874. While the question whether searches are ...

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