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Arthur Triplett v. Charles Palmer

December 28, 2012

ARTHUR TRIPLETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLES PALMER, JASON SMITH, MARY BENSON, AND DR. VEIT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donald E. O'Brien, Senior Judge United States District Court Northern District of Iowa

INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

This matter is currently before the Court on Arthur Triplett's [hereinafter Mr. Triplett] Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, Motion for Appointment of Counsel, and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 Complaint. Mr. Triplett is an involuntarily committed patient at the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders (CCUSO) in Cherokee, Iowa.*fn1

II. IN FORMA PAUPERIS

The filing fee for a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 petition is $350.

28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). The doctrine of in forma pauperis allows a plaintiff to proceed without incurring filing fees or other Court costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). However, prisoners must meet certain requirements in order to have their filing fee waived. 28 U.S.C. 1915(a)-(b). A prisoner is defined as "any person incarcerated or detained in any facility" for "violations of criminal law . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h). Under the statute, prisoners are required to pay filing fees over time and are not entitled to proceed in forma pauperis as to filing fees. Id. However, CCUSO is not a prison facility; it "provides a secure, long term, and highly structured environment for the treatment of sexually violent predators."*fn2 Moreover, the Iowa Code specifies that the types of persons confined at CCUSO are not prisoners. They are civilly committed patients who suffer from a "mental abnormality."

I.C.A. § 229A (generally); I.C.A. § 229A.2(11). Accordingly, individuals held due to civil commitment under I.C.A. § 229A are not prisoners and are not subject to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)-(b). See Kolocotronis v. Morgan, 247 F.3d 726, 728 (8th Cir. 2001), stating that those committed to state hospitals are not prisoners as defined under 28 U.S.C. § 1915; Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 321-22 (1982), stating that individuals who are involuntarily committed "are entitled to more considerate treatment than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish;" and Michau v. Charleston County, S.C., 434 F.3d 725 (4th Cir. 2006), cert. denied Michau v. Charleston County, S.C., 126 S. Ct. 2936 (2006), stating that:

[h]owever, [plaintiff] is presently being detained under the SVPA, which creates a system of civil, not criminal, detention. ... see also Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346, 365-69 (1997) (concluding that Kansas's Sexually Violent Predators Act established civil rather than criminal detention scheme). Because [plaintiff's] detention under the SVPA is not the result of a violation of criminal law, or of the terms of parole, probation, or a pretrial diversionary program, he does not meet the PLRA's definition of [a prisoner]. See ... Page v. Torrey, 201 F.3d 1136, 1139-40 (9th Cir. 2000) (concluding that a person detained under state's civil sexually violent predator act is not a prisoner within meaning of PLRA). Accordingly, the PLRA provides no basis for the dismissal of [plaintiff's] complaints.

Id. At 727-28. (Some internal citations omitted).

In order to qualify for in forma pauperis status, a plaintiff must provide this Court an affidavit*fn3 with the following statements: (1) statement of the nature of the action, (2) statement that plaintiff is entitled to redress, (3) statement of the assets plaintiff possesses, and (4) statement that plaintiff is unable to pay filing fees and court costs or give security therefor. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Mr. Triplett's applications substantially meet the above requirements. Mr. Triplett's Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis is granted. The Clerk of Court shall file Plaintiff's Complaint forthwith. No filing fee will be assessed.

However, once any portion of a filing fee is waived, a court must dismiss the case if a the Plaintiff's allegations of poverty prove untrue or the action in question turns out to be frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

III. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 INITIAL REVIEW STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Pro se complaints, no matter how "inartfully pleaded are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings as drafted by a lawyer." Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (internal citations omitted).

Although it is a long-standing maxim that a complaint's factual allegations are to be accepted as true at the early stages of a proceeding, this does not require that a court must entertain any complaint no matter how implausible. The facts pled "must [still] be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In other words, the claim to relief must be "plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A claim is only plausible if a plaintiff pleads "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Where the complaint does "not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 1950 (citing Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2)). In addition, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. at 1949.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

IV. ISSUE AND ANALYSIS

Mr. Triplett is alleging a violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Triplett argues that the Defendants, the administrators and medical professionals at CCUSO, have violated his rights while acting under the color of government authority. Specifically, Mr. Triplett alleges that the Defendants ignored his medical complaints for over a year. Mr. Triplett alleges that he had difficulty speaking, but was mis-diagnosed by CCUSO as having acid reflux disease. After a year of ineffective treatment, CCUSO finally allowed Mr. Triplett to be examined by outside medical professionals, who diagnosed Mr. Triplett with throat cancer. Mr. Triplett alleges he was damaged by the Defendants' failure to seriously investigate and treat his medical issue.

The Court notes that, "[p]ersons who have been involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish." Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 321-22. There has been some debate regarding the appropriate standard in this type of case. In the context of inmate medical-care claims, Courts have stated that:

[t]he Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which embodies "broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency," prohibits punishments which are incompatible with "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). It thus requires that the government provide "medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration." Id. at 103. The Eighth Amendment safeguards the prisoner against a lack of medical care that "may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose." Id. Accordingly, "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs" of a prisoner constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain forbidden by the Constitution. Id. at 104.

Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 828 (7th Cir. 2009) (parallel citations omitted). Recently, Courts have begun applying the deliberate indifference standard to civilly committed individuals. See Senty-Haugen v. Goodno, 462 F.3d 876, 889 (8th Cir. 2006) which applied the deliberate indifference standard to a medical-care claim raised by a patient involuntarily committed as a sexually violent predator under the 14th Amendment. However, this Court is not persuaded that deliberate indifference is necessarily the appropriate standard in all civil detainee cases. The Court believes that in some, if ...


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