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Gage v. Department of Veteran Affairs

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

May 3, 2018

DENTON W. GAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERAN AFFAIRS / OKLAHOMA CITY VETERANS HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ronald A. White United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner who is incarcerated at Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, filed this civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking monetary relief for alleged constitutional violations related to his incarceration (Dkt. 1). He has named four defendants: Department of Veterans Affairs/Oklahoma City Veterans Hospital; Oklahoma Department of Corrections/State of Oklahoma; Veterans Affairs Treatment Court; and Payne County District Court. Id. at 2-3.

         Screening/Dismissal Standards

         Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         The pleading standard for all civil actions was articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must present factual allegations, assumed to be true, that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. A court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 555-56.

         A pro se plaintiff's complaint must be broadly construed under this standard. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The generous construction to be given to the pro se litigant's allegations, however, “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding a pro se plaintiff's various mistakes or misunderstandings of legal doctrines or procedural requirements, “if a court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so . . . .” Id. A reviewing court need not accept “mere conclusions characterizing pleaded facts.” Bryson v. City of Edmond, 905 F.2d 1386, 1390 (10th Cir. 1990).

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that from approximately June 1, 2014, to August 28, 2015, he was incarcerated at the following facilities: LeFlore County Jail in Poteau, Oklahoma; Jim E. Hamilton Correctional Facility in Hodgen, Oklahoma; Union City Correctional Center in Union City, Oklahoma; Mangum Work Center in Mangum, Oklahoma; Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Lexington, Oklahoma; and Tulsa County Jail in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also served time related to the Veterans Treatment Court in Tulsa. He complains about the length of his conviction and his security level related to an unspecified misconduct. He further states he is seeking monetary damages for the time of his incarceration and for violations of Department of Corrections administrative procedures. (Dkt. 1 at 13).

         Plaintiff asserts that after he was released from the LeFlore County Jail, he was unable to find a job, and he attempted suicide on multiple occasions when no agency or facility was able to assist him in finding gainful employment. He claims he was prescribed a placebo medication for anxiety at the Veterans Affairs Hospital/Mental Health Facility in Oklahoma City, which caused him stress and anxiety related to his unemployment and resulted in his “attempted involuntary suicide.” He alleges the sentence he presently is serving for Assault with a Dangerous Weapon actually arose from the “involuntary” attempt at suicide.[1] he was suicidal, he allegedly was denied access to his Judgment and Sentence, forms, or writing instruments with which to file an appeal, and his public defender was ineffective. Plaintiff is asserting the acts of the State of Oklahoma/Department of Corrections and the Veterans Affairs administration denied him the right of access to the courts. Id. at 13-14.

         Defendants are not Proper Parties

         As an initial matter, the Court finds the defendants named in the complaint are not proper parties for a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has sued numerous state and federal agencies and facilities, a state district court, and the State of Oklahoma. A § 1983 action, however, provides a cause of action against state officials, not federal agencies. See Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1225 (10th Cir. 2013). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). See also Tarabishi v. McAlester Reg'l Hosp., 827 F.2d 648, 651 (10th Cir. 1987) (“The provisions of § 1983 apply only to persons who deprive others of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and who act under color of state statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage”). It is well-established that absent an unmistakable waiver by the State of its Eleventh Amendment immunity, or an unmistakable abrogation of such immunity by Congress, the amendment provides absolute immunity from suit in federal courts for states and their agencies. Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241, 243 (1985); Florida Dep't of Health and Rehabilitative Servs. v. Florida Nursing Home Ass'n, 450 U.S. 147, 150, 101 (1981) (per curiam). See also Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (holding that states and governmental entities considered arms of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes are not “persons” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1237 (10th Cir. 1999) (holding that “a cause of action under § 1983 requires a deprivation of a civil right by a ‘person' acting under color of state law”).

         Access to the Courts

         Plaintiff alleges he was denied access to the courts to file an appeal. He, however, admits he was represented by counsel. “[A]n inmate's right of access to the court is adequately protected where the inmate is represented by counsel, even if the inmate is not allowed access to legal materials to personally conduct legal research.” Smith v. Harvey County Jail, 889 F.Supp. 426, 431-32 (D. Kan. 1995) (citations omitted).

         Ineffective ...


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