Lefever v. Dawson Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't

Decision Date03 August 2020
Docket Number4:20CV3066,4:20CV3067,4:20CV3068
CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska

Plaintiff, Luke LeFever ("LeFever") a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution,1 filed three separate actions on June 11, 2020. The actions were consolidated on the court's own motion on June 15, 2020, as involving common questions of law or fact,2 see Fed. R. Civ. P. 42, and LeFever was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis with the obligation to pay only a single filing fee under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b). Now that LeFever has paid the required initial partial filing fee, the court conducts an initial review of his three complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

A. Case No. 4:20CV3066

Defendants named in Case No. 4:20CV3066 are the Dawson County Sheriff's Department and its employee, Deputy Ivan Castellanos. LeFever characterizes hisclaims as involving "police brutality, excessive force, assault, and attempted murder, police negligence." (Filing 1 at 2.) He alleges:

June 4th 2018, Dawson County Neb. Deputy Ivan Castellanos stopped to assist a broke down car on a gravel road near Gothenburg, Nebraska. I was helping remove a tire that needed replaced. Castellanos pat searched me finding nothing. I asked if I was under arrest and he said no. As I was walking away he assaulted me by shooting me in the back with his taser. Probe was later found in my back at the hospital. In fear for my life I ran away (still not breaking any laws). He gave a wrong radio announcement of "shots fired" after he discharged his service weapon 1 time at me while I was unarmed. After he attempted to murder me and made the "shots fired" call I was relentlessly chased/hunted by the Nebraska State Patrol and Lincoln County Sheriffs. Because of Castellanos actions the other agencies fired at least 40 time(s) but maybe upwards of 70 times into the vehicle hitting me 9 times.
Because of Castellanos's assault and attempted murder and criminal negligence I was gravely wounded in the attempted murder by other officers acting on Castellanos actions. I was wounded so bad that my leg was amputated above the knee.

(Filing 1 at 5-6.)

B. Case No. 4:20CV3067

Defendants named in Case No. 4:20CV3067 are the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Jerome Kramer, Deputy Roland Kramer, and Deputy Brett L. Schmidt. LeFever claims he was "brutalized by police" and subjected to "excessive force, attempted murder, police negligence." (Filing 1 at 2.) He alleges:

June 4th 2018, Lincoln County Nebraska. The Sheriff and his Deputies are responsible for firing at least 54 shots into the vehicle I was unarmed in. I was struck 9 times resulting in amputation of my right leg above the knee. I nearly lost my life.
They attempted to murder me by blindly firing into the vehicle. They used firearms to commit felon[ies], caused life threatening bodily harm.

(Filing 1 at 5-6.)

C. Case No. 4:20CV3068

Defendants named in Case No. 4:20CV3068 are the Nebraska State Patrol and Trooper Carlos Trevino. LeFever claims "attempted murder, assault with deadly weapon, use of firearm to commit felony, negligence." (Filing 1 at 2.) He alleges:

June 4th 2018, Lincoln County Nebraska. Trooper Trevino ra[m]med into the vehicle I was in unarmed then he jumped out and fired 14 - 45acp rounds from his service revolver. During this attempted murder I was gravely wounded. Had my leg amputated and nearly lost my life.
Because of his actions my life was put in jeopardy. He attempted to murder me after he assaulted me with a deadly weapon to wit - motor vehicle.

(Filing 1 at 5-6.)


The court is required to conduct an initial review of "a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). On such initial review, the court must dismiss the complaint if it: "(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C.A. § 1915A(b). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (requiring dismissal of in forma pauperis complaints "at any time" on the same grounds as § 1915A(b)).

"The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party 'fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'" Topchian v.JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). Plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to "nudge[ ] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," or "their complaint must be dismissed." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.").

"A pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties." Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This means that "if the essence of an allegation is discernible, even though it is not pleaded with legal nicety, then the district court should construe the complaint in a way that permits the layperson's claim to be considered within the proper legal framework." Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 915 (8th Cir. 2004). However, even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980).


Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). "The basic statutory grants of federal-court subject-matter jurisdiction are contained in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. Section 1331 provides for '[f]ederal-question' jurisdiction, § 1332 for '[d]iversity of citizenship' jurisdiction." Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513 (2006). "A plaintiff properly invokes § 1331 jurisdiction when she pleads a colorable claim 'arising under' the Constitution or laws of the United States. She invokes § 1332 jurisdiction when she presents a claim between parties of diverse citizenship that exceeds the required jurisdictional amount, currently $75,000." Id.

Liberally construing LeFever's three complaints, he is claiming Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (made applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment), and he is bringingsuit under authority of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, LeFever is asserting various claims under Nebraska law.

Because LeFever does not allege that his citizenship lies outside of Nebraska, this court's ability to entertain the state-law claims cannot be predicated on § 1332, but instead must depend upon 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), which provides that "in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." When the district court has disposed of all federal claims that conferred original jurisdiction, it may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over remaining state law claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (c)(3). Usually, the dismissal of the federal claims "will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims." Wilson v. Miller, 821 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted).

A. Federal Claims

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the United States Constitution or created by federal statute, and also must show that the alleged deprivation was caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Generally, a public employee acts under color of state law while acting in his official capacity or while exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law. Id. at 50.

It is reasonable to infer from LeFever's pleadings that Deputy Castellanos, Sheriff Kramer, Deputy Kramer, Deputy Schmidt, and Trooper Trevino were all acting under color of state law when they allegedly violated his constitutional rights. However, because LeFever does not specify that these Defendants are being sued in their individual capacities, the court must presume they are being sued only in their official capacities. Baker v. Chisom, 501 F.3d 920, 923 (8th Cir. 2007). "Because section 1983 liability exposes public servants to civil liability and damages, [theEighth Circuit] ha[s] held that only an express statement that they are being sued in their individual capacity will suffice to give proper notice to the defendants. Absent such an express statement, the suit is construed as being against the defendants in their official capacity. A suit against a public employee in his or her official capacity is merely a suit against the public employer." Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted); see Baker, 501 F.3d...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT