United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division
ROBERT A. STENSETH, MICHELLE E. STENSETH, AND ROBERT J. STENSETH Plaintiffs,
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.
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.
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).
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.
Motions to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
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.
Facts Alleged in the Complaint
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. 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
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
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.
claims that Michelle's daughter, Josalyn
Stenseth, 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.
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.
Section 1915A Screening
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.
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).
The State of South Dakota and the Department of Social
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 ...