United States District Court, D. Minnesota
HOLLIS J. LARSON and GUY I. GREENE, Plaintiffs,
CARLTON COUNTY JAIL; KELLY LAKE, Carlton County Sheriff; PAUL COUGHLIN, Carlton County Jail Administrator; BRIAN BELICH, Carlton County Deputy Sheriff; JASON WILMES, Carlton County Jail Sergeant; CAMMI WERNER, Carlton County Jail Employee; TRAVIS WARNYGORA, Carlton County Jail Employee; DAVE KUMANEN, Carlton County Jail Sergeant; JOHN DOES and JANE DOES, an unknown number; all in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.
ORDER ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
E. Brasel United States District Judge.
Court has received the June 10, 2019 Report and
Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth
Cowan Wright. [ECF No. 124 (“R&R”).] In the
R&R, Judge Wright recommends granting Defendants'
motion for summary judgment in part. Both parties filed
objections. This Court reviews de novo those portions of the
R&R to which objections are made and “may accept,
reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also D. Minn. L.R.
72.2(b)(3). For the reasons below and based on a de novo
review, the Court accepts the R&R as modified.
object to the R&R, arguing: (1) that the fictitious
parties should be dismissed with prejudice, and (2) that
Plaintiff Greene's Free Exercise and Equal Protection
claims against Jail Administrator Paul Coughlin should be
dismissed. As to the fictitious parties, courts
routinely dismiss unknown defendants without prejudice if
they remain unidentified following discovery. See,
e.g., Brown v. City of Bloomington, 280
F.Supp.2d 889, 892 (D. Minn. 2003). Defendants rely
on Thornton v. U.S. Depʹt of Justice, 93
F.Supp.2d 1057, 1064 (D. Minn. 2000) to support their
argument for dismissal with prejudice. This reliance is
misplaced, because in Thornton, Chief Judge Tunheim
dismissed the fictitious parties without prejudice.
See id. (“… The Court accordingly
dismisses them without prejudice.”). Defendants'
objection on this basis lacks merit; the R&R was correct.
second objection questions the sufficiency of the allegations
that purport to set forth the basis for Greene's Free
Exercise and Equal Protection claims. [ECF No. 25, First
Amended Complaint (“Complaint” or “Am.
Compl.”) ¶¶ 113-14.] Before Judge Wright,
Defendants challenged the sufficiency of the Complaint under
Rule 12(c) and, in the alternative, sought summary judgment
under Rule 56. [ECF No. 98.] The R&R focused exclusively
on the Defendants' summary judgment motion. Defendants
now argue that the Court must first consider whether the
Complaint adequately pleads a claim upon which relief can be
granted before determining whether summary judgment is
proper. [ECF No. 125 at 6 (citing Brooks v. Roy, 776
F.3d 957, 960 (8th Cir. 2015).] Indeed, where the operative
complaint fails to provide notice of the basis for a
plaintiff's allegations and leaves the defendant without
enough information to compose an adequate response, it is
properly dismissed, even before a contemporaneous summary
judgment motion is considered. See, e.g.,
Brooks, 776 F.3d at 960. Thus, before examining the
R&R's recommendation on summary judgment, the Court
looks at the sufficiency of the Complaint.
12(h)(2) provides that a party may raise the defense of
“[f]ailure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted . . . by a motion under Rule 12(c).”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2). Courts apply the same standards to
analyze a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings for
failure to state a claim as a pre-answer Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See, e.g.,
In re Levaquin Prods. Liab. Litig., 752 F.Supp.2d
1071, 1076 (D. Minn. 2010); see also In re Pre-Filled
Propane Tank Antitrust Litig., 893 F.3d 1047, 1056 (8th
Cir. 2018) (“As a general rule, a Rule 12(c) motion for
judgment on the pleadings is reviewed under the same standard
as a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” (quoting Ginsburg
v. InBev NV/SA, 623 F.3d 1229, 1233 n.3 (8th Cir.
2010))). Accordingly, the Court reviews the Complaint for a
“short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). The Complaint must “contain sufficient factual
matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “Specific facts are not necessary;
the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice
of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
93 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). And
while pro se complaints are liberally construed, pro se
plaintiffs must still “allege sufficient facts to
support the claims advanced.” Stone v. Harry,
364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004).
Complaint, measured against this standard, falls far short.
It alleges that on “information and belief, that while
plaintiff eye-witnessed the unprofessional attitude that
defendants operate under, allows defendants to be deliberate
indifferent to class members First Amendment constitutional
right to practice their Native American religion.” [Am.
Compl. ¶ 113.] It also alleges that “Defendants
simply fail to be a friend and a neighbor to the Native
American community and provide the necessary resources and
programming as it offers white people or Caucasian inmates to
reduce recidivism.” (Id. ¶ 114.) It does
not allege any specific conduct that infringed Greene's
right to religious freedom. Because the Complaint's
allegations are conclusory and advance no facts supporting a
constitutional claim, the Court is unable to discern the
“essence of [the] allegation.” Stone,
364 F.3d at 915. Even under a liberal construction, the Court
cannot “supply additional facts or fashion a legal
theory that assumes facts that have not been pleaded.”
Benjamin v. Experian Info. Sols., Inc., No.
14-CV-810 (JRT/JJG), 2014 WL 3509044, at *2 (D. Minn. July
15, 2014) (citing Stone, 364 F.3d at 914-15). Thus,
the Court concludes that the Complaint does not give the
Defendants fair notice of the basis for any alleged Free
Exercise or Equal Protection violations. The Court grants the
Defendants' 12(c) motion [ECF No. 98] and dismisses the
Free Exercise and Equal Protection claims without
multiple filings,  Plaintiffs bring these objections: (1) the
R&R misconstrues several facts and did not view the
evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs; (2)
Defendants are not entitled to qualified or official
immunity; (3) Plaintiffs are entitled to injunctive relief;
(4) Plaintiffs have shown viable Monell claims; (5)
the Court should appoint counsel for Plaintiffs; and (6)
Defendants committed perjury by misrepresenting the facts.
After a de novo review of the record, the Court agrees with
the R&R's astute analysis and overrules these
issues raised in Plaintiffs' objections warrant
explanation. As to the first objection, Larson concedes that
many of the facts that he claims Judge Wright misrepresented
in the R&R are irrelevant to the disposition of his
claims. [See ECF No. 126 at 3.] Because any alleged
factual dispute “must be outcome determinative under
prevailing law, ” Larson cannot rely on these
irrelevant facts to successfully oppose summary judgment.
State Automobile Ins. Co. v. Lawrence, 359 F.3d 982,
985 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Holloway v. Pigman, 885
F.2d 365, 366 (8th Cir. 1989)). Further, although the Court
must view facts in the light most favorable to the
non-movant, to resist a motion for summary judgment a
non-movant “'must do more than simply show that
there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts,' and must come forward with ‘specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'”
Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042
(8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.,
Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87
(1986)). The Court agrees with the R&R's
determination that Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden
because, after the Defendants satisfied their initial burden
by showing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of
law, Plaintiffs did not come forward with such specific
facts. Indeed, with respect to several key events the video
evidence “blatantly contradicted” Plaintiffs'
version of the facts. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372,
380 (2007). In these circumstances, the R&R properly
determined that Plaintiffs could not generate a dispute of
material fact and resist summary judgment. Finally,
requesting that the Court find Defendants in contempt for
perjury is procedurally improper. The Court denies this
on all the files, records, and proceedings here, the Court
ACCEPTS as modified the R&R [ECF No. 124]. Accordingly,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
or Alternatively for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 98] is GRANTED
Plaintiffs' claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to the
extent they seek injunctive relief;
Plaintiffs' claims against Carlton County Jail are
SUMMARILY DISMISSED ...