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Caldwell v. Palmer

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

October 9, 2014



DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.


This matter is currently before the Court on Rocky Caldwell's [hereinafter Mr. Caldwell's] Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, Docket No. 1; Motion for Appointment of Counsel, Docket No. 2; and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 Complaint, Docket No. 1, Att. 1. The Plaintiff is an involuntarily committed patient at the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders (CCUSO) in Cherokee, Iowa.[1]


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."[2] 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).[3] 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].[4] 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[5] 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). The Plaintiff's application substantially meets the above requirements. The Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis is granted. The Clerk of Court shall file and serve the Plaintiff's Complaint according to the attached service forms. No filing fee will be assessed.

However, once any portion of a filing fee is waived, a court must dismiss the case if a 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).


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 Corp. 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....


The Plaintiff argues that he does not want to have medical services provided by Nurse Mary Benson and that the Defendants have failed to treat pain in his legs and feet.


A. Medical Care by Nurse Benson

In his Complaint, Mr. Caldwell argues that he does not like Nurse Benson, that she is mean to him, and he is scared of her. He requests that the Court have her fired or force CCUSO to use other medical personal instead. That request is beyond the power of the Court. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court has the power to address and fix alleged constitutional violations. The fact that Mr. Caldwell does not like, and does not get along with, Nurse Benson does not rise to a constitutional violation. Accordingly, that portion of his Complaint must be dismissed.

B. Feet and Leg Pain

The Plaintiff is alleging a violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Caldwell argues that the Defendants, the administrators and medical professionals at CCUSO, have violated his rights while acting under the color of government authority. As stated above, Mr. Caldwell specifically alleges that the Defendants have failed to treat chronic pain in his legs and feet.

At the outset, 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. 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). This deliberate indifference standard is used routinely in prisoner cases related to medical care.

Courts also apply 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. See also Scott v. Benson , 742 F.3d 335, 339 (8th Cir. 2014), stating, "where a patient's Fourteenth Amendment claim is for constitutionally deficient medical care, we apply the deliberate indifference standard from the Eighth Amendment. Senty-Haugen , 462 F.3d at 889-90."

Under the deliberate indifference standard, Mr. Caldwell must show the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious illness or injury. Senty-Haugen , 462 F.3d at 889. A successful deliberate indifference claim is comprised of both an objective and a subjective element. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). First, Mr. Caldwell must demonstrate that, objectively, the deprivation he suffered was "sufficiently serious; that is, it must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Walker v. Benjamin , 293 F.3d 1030, 1037 (7th Cir. 2002). In the medical care context, this objective element is satisfied when a plaintiff demonstrates that his medical need itself was sufficiently serious. Gutierrez v. Peters , 111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir. 1997). Second, Mr. Caldwell must establish that the defendants acted with a "sufficiently culpable state of mind'" to support liability under § 1983. Greeno v. Daley , 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005).

Although negligence or inadvertence will not support a deliberate indifference claim, a plaintiff need not establish that officials actually intended harm from the failure to provide adequate care. Walker , 293 F.3d at 1037. "[I]t is enough to show that the defendants knew of a substantial risk of harm to [the plaintiff] and disregarded the risk." Greeno , 414 F.3d at 653. A successful plaintiff need not show that he was literally ignored in his demands for medical treatment, and a defendant's showing that a plaintiff received some treatment does not resolve the issue conclusively if the treatment was "blatantly inappropriate." Greeno , 414 F.3d at 653-54 (internal citations and quotation omitted). Finally, the Eighth Amendment "protects [a plaintiff] not only from deliberate indifference to his or her current serious health problems, but also from deliberate indifference to conditions posing an unreasonable risk of serious damage to future health." Board v. Farnham , 394 F.3d 469, 479 (7th Cir. 2005). "Deliberate indifference must be measured by the official's knowledge at the time in question, not by hindsight's perfect vision.'" Schaub v. VonWald , 638 F.3d 905, 915 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Lenz v. Wade , 490 F.3d 991, 993 n.1 (8th Cir. 2007)).

As stated above, to show deliberate indifference, Mr. Caldwell must first show that, objectively, the deprivation he suffered was "sufficiently serious; that is, it must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Walker , 293 F.3d at 1037 (7th Cir. 2002). In the medical care context, this objective element is satisfied when a plaintiff demonstrates that his medical need itself was sufficiently serious. Gutierrez , 111 F.3d at 1369. Accordingly, to succeed in his claim, Mr. Caldwell must show that he has a significantly serious medical condition and that the Defendants acted with a sufficient culpable state of mind.

As was discussed above, at this early stage of the case, the Court must take Mr. Caldwell's allegations as true and can only dismiss the case if there is no way, given those facts, that the Plaintiffs can prevail. In this case, it is clear that Mr. Caldwell's leg/foot pain could be a serious medical condition. It is also true, given Mr. Caldwell's allegations, that the Defendants could be violating Mr. Caldwell's rights by refusing to treat his pain. Accordingly, the Court will allow Mr. Caldwell's claim to proceed past the initial review stage. However, the Court notes that to ultimately succeed in his claim, Mr. Caldwell must show that his pain is sufficiently serious such that the Defendants' failure to treat it amounted to a constitutional violation.


Mr. Caldwell also filed a pro se Motion to Appoint Counsel.[6] 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(1) provides that appointment of counsel for a person unable to afford counsel is within this Court's discretion. Given Mr. Caldwell's current financial situation and the nature of his claim, his Motion for Appointment of Counsel, Docket No. 2, is GRANTED. The Court hereby appoints an attorney Pamela Wingert under Library Fund Administrative Order No. 14-AO-0007. After consulting with the Plaintiff regarding the nature of the alleged claim, appointed counsel will file an Amended Complaint specifically setting out the Plaintiff's legally viable claims within 45 days.


For the reason set out above, the Plaintiffs' application to proceed in forma pauperis, Docket No. 1, is GRANTED. The Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Complaint is allowed to proceed as described above. The Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel, Docket No. 2, is GRANTED. Appointed counsel will file an Amended Complaint within 45 days.


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