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Thurston v. Morley

United States District Court, D. Vermont

August 24, 2015

Christopher Thurston, Plaintiff,
v.
Scott Morley, Bob Arkley, and Carl Davis, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (Docs. 44, 47)

JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Thurston, a Vermont inmate proceeding pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated when, after confiscating his mental health journal, Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) officials used information in the journal to put him in administrative segregation, and sent copies of his journal entries to the Vermont State Police. (Doc. 44.)[1] For relief, Thurston seeks the return of his journal, any copies the Vermont State Police might have, and for each officer involved to be reprimanded. (Id. )

Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Thurston's § 1983 claims against them in their official capacities for any money damages are barred by Vermont's sovereign immunity, and that Thurston has failed to allege a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. (Doc. 47 at 3-7.) Thurston has not filed any opposition. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 47) be GRANTED and that Thurston's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 44) be DISMISSED.

Background

Thurston alleges as follows.[2] While Thurston was incarcerated, mental health services gave him a composition book and asked him to write his thoughts in it. (Doc. 4 at 2.) Later, Defendant Bob Arkley confiscated Thurston's mental health journal. (Doc. 44.)[3] Information from the journal was then used to put Thurston in administrative segregation. (Id. )

Defendants Scott Morley and Carl Davis then sent copies of Thurston's journal entries to the Vermont State Police. (Id. ) Although Thurston has not been charged with anything as a result, he says he "did spend an uncomfortable half an hour being questioned by two detectives" who had copies of several of Thurston's journal entries. (Id. ) Arkley, Morley, and Davis were at all relevant times DOC officials. ( See Doc. 4 at 2; Doc. 18 at 3.)

Analysis

I. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

"To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Drimal v. Tai, 786 F.3d 219, 223 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "[T]his standard creates a two-pronged approach based on two working principles." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. ex rel. St. Vincent Catholic Med. Ctrs. Ret. Plan v. Morgan Stanley Inv. Mgmt. Inc., 712 F.3d 705, 717 (2d Cir. 2013) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "First, although a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, it must provide more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "Second, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

Courts must "liberally construe pleadings and briefs submitted by pro se litigants, reading such submissions to raise the strongest arguments they suggest.'" Bertin v. United States, 478 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)). "Nonetheless, a pro se complaint must state a plausible claim for relief." Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013). Even though Thurston has not filed an opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, the court must still determine the sufficiency of the Second Amended Complaint as a matter of law. See Goldberg v. Danaher, 599 F.3d 181, 183-84 (2d Cir. 2010).

II. Sovereign Immunity

Defendants assert that any claim for money damages that Thurston might be seeking against them in their official capacities should be dismissed as barred by Vermont's sovereign immunity. (Doc. 47 at 3-5.) Although Thurston's Second Amended Complaint does not appear to seek money damages, I conclude that Defendants-in their official capacities-are immune from any claim for money damages that Thurston might be asserting against them.

The Eleventh Amendment generally prohibits plaintiffs from recovering in federal court damages against state officials in their official capacities. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985); Davis v. New York, 316 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2002) ("[A] claim for damages against state officials in their official capacity is considered to be a claim against the State and is therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment."); see also Tsirelman v. Daines, No. 14-2154-CV, 2015 WL 4491766, at *2 (2d Cir. July 24, 2015) ("[R]etroactive claims seeking monetary damages from the state treasury are barred by the Eleventh Amendment because, even if state officials are the nominal defendants, the state is the real party in interest."). It is true that damages are available where a state has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity or where Congress has abrogated that immunity acting under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Gollomp v. Spitzer, 568 F.3d 355, 366 (2d Cir. 2009). But neither waiver nor abrogation is present here: Vermont has expressly preserved its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, 12 V.S.A. § 5601(g), and ...


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