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Hamre v. Sprout

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 20, 2019

John Phillip Hamre, Plaintiff,
Officer Sprout, et al., Defendants.



         This matter came before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge upon routine supervision of the cases that pend before the Court pursuant to a general assignment made in accordance with the provision of 28 U.S.C. § 636.

         For the reasons discussed herein, the undersigned recommends the present action be dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff John Phillip Hamre has also filed a Motion for Complaint Package, [Docket No. 21], requesting copies of various court forms specific to the present case; the Court recommends Plaintiff's Motion for Complaint Package, [Docket No.21], be denied without prejudice as moot.

         Plaintiff's Complaint's caption names as Defendants “Officer Sprout #326”; “Ryan Nelson #207; “Officer Fildes #330”; “Robert Matheson #206”; the City of Moorhead, Minnesota; and “Officer Lopez #316.” (Compl., [Docket No. 6], at 1).[1] The Complaint's list of Defendants in the body of the form-Complaint also includes Wayne Ebbinger, “Ch[ie]f of Police”; the Fargo Forum, and the Moorhead Police Department. (Id. at 4).

         The crux of Plaintiff's Complaint concerns an encounter on December 31, 2015, between Plaintiff and numerous police officers employed by the City of Moorhead. (Id. at 5-7). Plaintiff alleges that while he was unloading a truck at a storage facility, law enforcement officers approached him and (1) falsely accused him of being involved in various burglaries; (2) suggested that he had been “on the sauce”; and (3) were rude to him and kept him out in freezing temperatures for an inappropriately long time. (Id. at 5-6). Several days later, various purported media outlets (including the Fargo Forum) published stories stating that a Moorhead police officer had remembered seeing Plaintiff breaking into a storage facility. (Id. at 5-7). Plaintiff's Complaint purports to bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on these assertions, and Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. (Id. at 1, 8).

         Plaintiff initiated the present case on July 5, 2018, by filing his Complaint and accompanying documents in the United States District Court, District of North Dakota. (Compl. [Docket No. 6]). Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (hereinafter “IFP Application”) alongside his Complaint. (Appl. to Proceed In Forma Pauperis [Docket No. 1]). Upon initial review of that IFP Application, the Honorable Alice R. Senechal-United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court, District of North Dakota-conditionally granted the IFP Application, on the condition that Plaintiff provide the Court additional financial information. (Order [Docket No. 5]). Plaintiff later provided the requested information, as well as, several additional documents, including letters to the Court. (See, Order [Docket No. 8]).[2]

         Upon review of all the documents submitted by Plaintiff, the Honorable Alice R. Senechal-United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court, District of North Dakota-ordered that the present case be transferred to this District. (Order [Docket No. 19]). In her Order Magistrate Judge Senechal, also dismissed Defendant Fargo Forum from the present action, and noted that ‘[f]urther review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A [was] reserved for the transferee court.” (Order [Docket No. 19]).

         Magistrate Judge Senechal's Order, in relevant part, did two things. (Order [Docket No. 19]). First, the Order dismissed the Fargo Forum as a Defendant, on the grounds that (1) the Fargo Forum was not a “person” or “state actor” subject to suit under § 1983 and (2) Plaintiff's claim against the Fargo Forum appeared to be a defamation claim which one cannot bring under § 1983. (Id. at 4-5). Second, the Order considered venue and determined that the present matter should be transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, given that none of the remaining Defendants were North Dakota residents and that the events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims took place in Minnesota. (Id. at 5). The Order also noted that any further prescreening should be done by the transferee court. (Id.).

         The Court sees no need or reason to reconsider Magistrate Judge Senechal's determination that Plaintiff qualifies to proceed in forma pauperis nor Magistrate Judge Senechal's dismissal of the Fargo Forum from the present action. Thus, the Court proceeds to screen Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 as to the remaining Defendants.

         An action will be dismissed when an IFP applicant has filed a complaint that fails to state a cause of action on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e); Atkinson v. Bohn, 91 F.3d 1127, 1128 (8th Cir. 1996) (per curiam); see also, Carter v. Schafer, 273 Fed.Appx. 581, 582 (8th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (“[T]he provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) apply to all persons proceeding IFP and are not limited to prisoner suits, and the provisions allow dismissal without service.”). In reviewing whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, this Court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Varga v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 764 F.3d 833, 838 (8th Cir. 2014). The complaint's factual allegations need not be detailed, but they must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. In assessing the complaint's sufficiency, the court may disregard legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Hager v. Ark. Dep't of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Pro se complaints are to be construed liberally, but they still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced. Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004).

         Reviewing Plaintiff's allegations concerning the December 2015, incident, it is evident to this Court that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a cause of action for which relief may be granted.

         Plaintiff purports to bring claims against all the Defendants in their official capacities. (See, Compl., [Docket No. 6], at 2-4). “A suit against a government official in his or her official capacity is ‘another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Baker v. Chisom, 501 F.3d 920, 925 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). Indeed, “[t]he real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official.” Id. (quoting Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991)). Therefore, because the remaining individual Defendants are all employees of the City of Moorhead, the Court must consider the official-capacity claims against the remaining Defendants as claims against the City of Moorhead.

         However, “[l]iability for a constitutional violation will attach to a municipality only if the violation resulted from an official municipal policy, an unofficial custom, or a deliberately indifferent failure to train or supervise an official or employee.” Bolderson v. City of Wentzville, 840 F.3d 982, 985 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Atkinson v. City of Mountain View, 709 F.3d 1201, 1214 (8th Cir. 2013)). The Eighth Circuit has explained how to prove each of these forms of liability. See, e.g., Brewington v. Keener, 902 F.3d 796, 800-02 (8th Cir. 2018) (discussing legal standards); Bolderson, 840 F.3d at 985-86 (same). But lengthy discussion of each is unnecessary in the present case because Plaintiff's Complaint wholly fails to allege any manner of policy, custom, or failure to train that could support municipal liability. Plaintiff's Complaint involves a single incident that occurred in December 2015. Therefore, the undersigned recommends that all official capacity claims in Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed.

         The recommended dismissal of Plaintiff's official capacity claims leaves for this Court's consideration Plaintiff's individual ...

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