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Stenseth v. Karpen

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

November 15, 2019

ROBERT A. STENSETH, MICHELLE E. STENSETH, AND ROBERT J. STENSETH Plaintiffs,
v.
JULIE KARPEN, SOCIAL WORKER; DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA; DEB BOWMAN, DR. GREG DESAUTEL, SECRETARY OF SOCIAL SERVICES; AND STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Defendants.

          1915A SCREENING AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE

          ROBERTO A. LANGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Robert A. Stenseth (Stenseth), filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 1 at 279. Stenseth's complaint is a total of 379 pages, including attachments. Doc. 1. He filed motions to amend his complaint to add Michelle Stenseth and Robert J. Stenseth as plaintiffs. Docs. 11, 12. He also filed motions to file excess pages, to compel discovery, and to appoint counsel. Docs. 2, 4, 14.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1654, "[i]n all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel." Stenseth was the only plaintiff to sign the complaint filed with this court. See Doc. 1. Stenseth now seeks to add family members as fellow plaintiffs. "Pro se litigants may not represent the interests of other parties." Litschewski v. Dooley, 2012 WL 3023249 at *n. 1 (D.S.D. July 24, 2012); see e.g., Fymbo v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 213 F.3d 1320, 1321 (10th Cir. 2000) ("A litigant may bring his own claims to federal court without counsel, but not the claims of others."). Parents occasionally may bring pro se claims on behalf of their children, such as those for social security benefits; however, "no comparable exception has ever been recognized for a lawsuit based on § 1983 or general state tort law." Elustra v. Mineo, 595 F.3d 699, 705 (7th Cir. 2010).

         The motion, Doc. 11, by which Stenseth seeks to add Michelle Stenseth as a plaintiff, is titled "affidavit to admit Michelle . [sic] Stenseth into complaint as a plaintiff[.]" Id. The "affidavit" includes the statement that "Michelle Stenseth asks the court to move forward with complaint, and unless an attorney appears for the plaintiffs, request Robert A. Stenseth as Pro se for this complaint, like the other complaints filed in State and Federal courts." Id. at 2. Similar language appears in Doc. 12, regarding the addition of Robert J. Stenseth to the complaint. Doc. 12 at 2. Because Stenseth, a pro se litigant, cannot represent the interest of others, this Court will focus its screening on Stenseth's individual claims. If Michelle Stenseth or Robert J. Stenseth wish to bring claims in the District of South Dakota, they will need to file an action, rather than having pro se Plaintiff Stenseth start an action and then seek to add Michelle and Robert J. Stenseth as parties.

         I. Motions to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         A federal court may authorize the commencement of any lawsuit without prepayment of fees when an applicant submits an affidavit stating he or she is unable to pay the costs of the lawsuit. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). "[I]n forma pauperis status does not require a litigant to demonstrate absolute destitution." Lee v. McDonald's Corp., 231 F.3d 456, 459 (8th Cir. 2000). But in forma pauperis status is a privilege, not a right. Williams v. McKenzie, 834 F.2d 152, 154 (8th Cir. 1987). Determining whether an applicant is sufficiently impoverished to qualify to proceed in forma pauperis under § 1915 is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Cross v. Gen. Motors Corp., 721F.2d 1152, 1157 (8th Cir. 1983). Stenseth's application shows insufficient funds to pay the filing fee, so the motion to proceed in forma pauperis, Doc. 3, is granted.

         II. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

         Stenseth claims that his mother Corene Stenseth (Corene) died from being entangled in a bed while living at a Good Samaritan Society facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and this event caused "extreme undue duress, pain and suffering[.]" Docket 1 at 2.[1] An employee who worked at Corene's facility was allegedly convicted of rape. Id. Stenseth claims the Good Samaritan Society offered $10, 000 to the plaintiffs to settle claims related to Corene's death and that Stenseth considered this unacceptable. Id.

         Stenseth alleges that his children, Michelle Stenseth and Robert J. Stenseth, were subjected to years of incarceration with "unlimited transfers] with inhumane treatments of withheld contacts, loss of liberty, and physical takedowns of plaintiffs in facilities that plaintiffs were forced to live, by the defendants[.]" Id. at 3. Stenseth's complaint claims Michelle to be nine years old and Robert to be eleven years old when they were subjected to such treatment. Id. at 109. Stenseth claims that Michelle has been restrained in bed numerous times when she was at the facilities and that she was put in isolation. Id. at 110.

         Stenseth claims that the Honorable Judge Karen E. Schreier ruled on his previous federal case without having the facts of the case. Id. at 4. Stenseth alleges that defendants obstructed justice by their "non-compliance to Judge's orders and the rule of law, is illegal by law, and the use of these actions show that the truth (facts) is being denied by the defendants, to promote favorable decisions without facts or fair due process." Id. at 5. Stenseth asserts that the South Dakota Circuit Court and state Judge Robin Houwman "did not address any particulars" and the federal court ruling was "without discovery," thus denying the plaintiffs the "right to a fair hearing of facts, concerning the multiple lifetime damages and years of lost freedoms, including the withholding of the rights of the citizen plaintiffs." Id.; See Id. at 108.

         Stenseth claims that Michelle's daughter, Josalyn Stenseth[2], is seven years old and resides at Children's Home Society. Id. at 8. Josalyn has allegedly been restrained, and Michelle has not talked with her daughter for over a year "because of the facility and defendants['] restriction on any visitations." Id. Stenseth asserts that Josalyn is "experiencing acute behaviors and receiving forced facility treatments of takedowns and isolations by staff." Id. at 9. Stenseth is concerned that Josalyn is unable to go to parks or shopping with Stenseth. Id. at 30. Stenseth seeks to recover the "plaintiffs['] freedom from facilities to lead a normal happy life, as the Supreme law of the land demand[s] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Id. at 9. Stenseth asks this Court to remove Josalyn from the custody of others in order to give him custody of her. Id. Stenseth's prayer for relief asks for: (1) "a judgement on the damages and violations of laws against the plaintiffs, and award a judgement under the laws of the United State [sic] and South Dakota Constitutions, including 42 U.S.C. @ [sic] 1983[;]" (2) to stop the "patterns and practices of the defendants of withholding the rights of citizens, stop the physical takedowns in common practices of the defendants, and stop isolations of young children[;]" and (3) the court to "rule on these documents and pleadings, and have the plaintiffs receive a favorable judgment, as the laws require." Id. at 10.

         Stenseth's complaint alleges many violations of many different laws. Stenseth alleges violations of: (1)18 U.S.C. § 1503, Doc. 1 at 26; (2) the South Dakota Bill of Rights, id. at 31-36; (3) various "violations submitted to this Federal District Court and the South Dakota Circuit Court case #49CIV17-003016," id. at 40-41, 50-51; (4) 18 U.S.C. § 242, id. at 45, 71, 77, 90, 93, 219, 228, 240; (5) 18 U.S.C. § 1001, id. at 71; (6) 42 U.S.C. § 14141, id. at 46, 79, 91, 186, 222, 237; (7) the United States Constitution, id. at 48, 62, 79, 83-84, 101, 109, 209, 263; (8) 18 U.S.C. § 241, id. at 69, 217; (9) 35 U.S.C. § 271. Id. at 267; (10) South Dakota Codified Laws, id. at 58-59, 65; and (15) UNICEF's Articles 3 and 25, id. at 55-56.

         III. Section 1915A Screening

         The court must assume as true all facts well pleaded in the complaint. Estate of Rosenberg v. Crandell, 56 F.3d 35, 36 (8th Cir. 1995). Civil rights and pro se complaints must be liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Bediako v. Stein Mart, Inc., 354 F.3d 835, 839 (8th Cir. 2004). Even with this construction, "a pro se complaint must contain specific facts supporting its conclusions." Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985); see also Ellis v. City of Minneapolis, 518 Fed.Appx. 502, 504 (8th Cir. 2013). Civil rights complaints cannot be merely conclusory. Davis v. Hall, 992 F.2d 151, 152 (8th Cir. 1993); Parker v. Porter, 221 Fed.Appx. 481, 482 (8th Cir. 2007).

         A complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations ... [but] requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). If it does not contain these bare essentials, dismissal is appropriate. Beavers v. Lockhart, 755 F.2d 657, 663 (8th Cir. 1985). Twombly requires that a complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (footnote omitted) (citation omitted); see also Abdullah v. Minnesota, 261 Fed.Appx. 926, 927 (8th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (noting that a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations regarding all material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court must screen in forma pauperis complaints and dismiss them if they are "(1) frivolous, malicious, or fail[] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seek[] monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). "The Eighth Circuit has on several occasions affirmed decisions dismissing non[-]prisoner cases" under § 1915A. Key v. Does, 217 F.Supp.3d 1006, 1007 (E.D. Ark. 2016); see e.g., Stebbins v. Stebbins, 575 Fed.Appx. 705 (8th Cir. 2014) (unpublished per curiam); Fogle v. Blake, 227 Fed.Appx. 542 (8th Cir. 2007); Benter v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 221 Fed.Appx. 471 (8th Cir. 2007); Carter v. Bickhaus, 142 Fed.Appx. 937 (8th Cir. 2005) (unpublished per curiam).

         A. The State of South Dakota and the Department of Social Services

         Stenseth names the State of South Dakota arid the Department of Social Services as defendants. Docket 1 at 1. The Supreme Court has explained that Congress, in passing 42 U.S.C. § 1983, did not abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. Will v. Mich. Dep't. of State Police,491 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1989) (citations omitted). "Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to states and arms of the state[.]" Thomas v. St. Louis Bd. of Police Comm'rs,447 F.3d 1082, 1084 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation omitted). Stenseth's claims against the State of South Dakota and the ...


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