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Schmidt v. Lentch

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

July 7, 2014

MR. LENTCH, Ag. Seg. Unit Manager; MR. BEIBER, Hill SHU Unit Manager; ROB, Ad. Seg. Mental Health staff; CHRISTINE, Ad. Seg. Mental Health staff; DR. DAVIDSON, Psychiatric doctor; MR. FRAIN, Ad. Seg. Unit Coordinator; C.O. BRUSCHNER, Correctional Officer, Unit C Trustee Unit Guard; and S.D.S.P.D.O.C. HEALTH SERVICES, Defendants.


KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Charles Francis Schmidt, is an inmate at the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Schmidt filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Dockets 1, 2. On March 6, 2014, the court granted Schmidt leave to proceed in forma pauperis and ordered him to pay an initial partial filing fee by April 7, 2014. Docket 6. Schmidt has since paid the initial partial filing fee. Docket 16.

The court must now screen Schmidt's complaint to determine whether any claims should be dismissed. Pursuant to the PLRA, the court must dismiss an action or any portion thereof if the prisoner has raised a claim that "(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii).


A claim "is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous when it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or where the factual contentions "are clearly baseless." Id. at 327. The court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim when the plaintiff fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In reviewing a complaint for failure to state a claim, "[t]he court must presume that the factual allegations in the complaint are true and accord all reasonable inferences from those facts to the [pleader]." Valiant-Bey v. Morris, 829 F.2d 1441, 1443 (8th Cir. 1987) (citing Holloway v. Lockhart, 792 F.2d 760, 762 (8th Cir. 1986)).

Pro se complaints, "however inartfully pleaded, ' [are] held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)); see also Frey v. City of Herculaneum, 44 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 1995) (noting that "civil rights pleadings should be construed liberally"). Nonetheless, a pro se complaint must comply with the minimal requirements set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which specifically require pleadings to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although a pro se complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Simply stated, a pro se complaint must "allege facts sufficient to support the claims advanced." Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004). The court is not required to "supply additional facts, nor will [it] construct a legal theory that assumes facts that have not been pleaded." Id. (citing Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1197 (10th Cir. 1989)). If the complaint does not contain these bare essentials, dismissal is appropriate. Beavers v. Lockhart, 755 F.2d 657, 663 (8th Cir. 1985).


"[T]o state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show (1) that the defendant(s) acted under color of state law, and (2) that the alleged wrongful conduct deprived the plaintiff of a constitutionally protected federal right.'" Zutz v. Nelson, 601 F.3d 842, 848 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Schmidt v. City of Bella Villa, 557 F.3d 564, 571 (8th Cir. 2009)). In the instant case, Schmidt claims that defendants have violated his rights under the First Amendment by "thwart[ing] and delay[ing] [his] attempts at exhausting [his] legal rights and legal mail." Docket 1 at 9. Secondly, Schmidt claims that defendants have acted with deliberate indifference toward his serious medical needs, thus violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 4-5, 8-14. Schmidt also claims that defendants have violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to protect him from the threat of harm posed by other inmates at SDSP, by over-medicating him, and by placing him in segregated housing despite his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Id. at 6-7, 10-14. Lastly, Schmidt alleges that defendants have subjected him to disciplinary measures despite admissions that Schmidt did not commit the prohibited act for which he was punished. Id. at 5.

To remedy these alleged constitutional violations, Schmidt requests "[a] declaration that the acts and omissions described herein violated plaintiff's rights under the Constitution and the laws of the United States." Docket 1 at 14. Schmidt also requests preliminary and permanent injunctions against particular defendants. Id. at 15. Finally, Schmidt requests compensatory and punitive damages, along with a jury trial and any costs associated with this action. Id. at 15-16.

I. Schmidt Has Not Alleged Facts Sufficient to Support an Access to Courts Claim Under the First Amendment.

Schmidt has vaguely alleged that defendant Frain violated his First Amendment rights by threatening to prevent Schmidt from using the grievance process at SDSP and by delaying the sending of Schmidt's legal mail. Docket 1 at 9, 13. For purposes of initial review, the court has construed these allegations as access to courts claims.

It is well established "that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). To prevail on an access to courts claim, a prisoner must establish that he has sustained "an actual injury." Moore v. Plaster, 266 F.3d 928, 933 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Klinger v. Dep't of Corr., 107 F.3d 609, 617 (8th Cir. 1997)). To demonstrate "actual injury, " the prisoner must show "that a nonfrivolous legal claim had been frustrated or was being impeded.'" Id. (quoting Johnson v. Missouri, 142 F.3d 1087, 1089 (8th Cir. 1998)).

In the instant case, Schmidt has not alleged that defendant Frain's alleged actions either frustrated or impeded a nonfrivolous legal claim. Because Schmidt has failed to establish that he has sustained an actual injury, the court finds that Schmidt has failed to plead facts sufficient to support access ...

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