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Kulkay v. Roy

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 2, 2017

Steven Kulkay, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Tom Roy, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections; the Minnesota Department of Corrections; the State of Minnesota; Jeremy Schwartz, in his official and individual capacities; Alice Remillard, in her official and individual capacities; John Doe, in his official and individual capacities; Richard Doe, in his official and individual capacities, Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: November 17, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before BENTON and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and EBINGER, [1] District Judge.

          EBINGER, District Judge.

         Former inmate Steven Kulkay injured himself while using industrial equipment in the workshop of a Minnesota correctional facility. Kulkay sued the Minnesota Department of Corrections and related parties alleging violations of his civil rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as negligence of prison employees. The district court[2] dismissed all of Kulkay's claims. On appeal, Kulkay argues the district court erred in dismissing his Eighth Amendment claims against the individual defendants. We affirm.

         I.

         We accept as true the material allegations in the complaint and present the facts in the light most favorable to Kulkay. See Hager v. Ark. Dep't of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2013).

         In 2013, Kulkay was incarcerated at the Faribault, Minnesota, correctional facility. Officials assigned him to work in the prison's industrial workshop. After one-and-a-half months in the workshop, Kulkay was directed to operate the beam saw. The beam saw is a large, stationary machine that uses computers to automatically move and cut wood beams. After a worker loads a beam onto the saw's work table, sensors detect the beam's size and location. The machine moves the beam into position and circular blades extend to make the desired cuts. The operator is not required to manually start or stop the blade. The beam saw in the Faribault workshop was designed to utilize plastic safety guards to protect the operator from the blades. Kulkay alleges Faribault officials never installed the safety guards while he was an inmate and the parts sat unused in the workshop.

         By August 2013, Kulkay had worked in the workshop for two-and-a-half months and with the beam saw for one month. He received instruction on how to operate the saw from an inmate with experience on the saw; he did not receive any formal safety training from officials. Kulkay had never used or seen a beam saw before his assignment to the workshop. On August 5, 2013, Kulkay severed three of his fingers and part of a fourth while operating the saw. Doctors were unable to reattach the severed fingers.

         Kulkay brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against several institutional and individual defendants for violating his civil rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The defendants include the State of Minnesota; the Minnesota Department of Corrections; Tom Roy, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections; Alice Remillard, the safety director at the Faribault facility; Jeremy Schwartz, the supervising safety officer in charge of the facility's workshop; and two unknown prison employees. Kulkay also brought negligence claims against the State of Minnesota and its Department of Corrections based on vicarious liability.

         The defendants jointly filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) concluding the defendants' motion should be granted. The R&R determined a number of Kulkay's claims were barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, his Fourteenth Amendment claims could be brought only under the Eighth Amendment, and his Eighth Amendment claims failed because the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Kulkay objected only to the recommendation that his Eighth Amendment claims against the individual defendants be dismissed. The district court adopted the R&R in its entirety and held Kulkay's complaint failed to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment on the basis of qualified immunity. Kulkay appeals.

         II.

         This court reviews a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal based on qualified immunity de novo. Hager, 735 F.3d at 1013. We accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in favor of the plaintiff. Id. We do not, however, "presume the truth of legal conclusions couched as factual allegations." Id.; accord Wiles v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 280 F.3d 868, 870 (8th Cir. 2002) ("[T]he court is free to ignore legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.").

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "the complaint must include sufficient factual allegations to provide the grounds on which the claim rests." Drobnak v. Andersen Corp., 561 F.3d 778, 783 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). The stated claim for relief must be "plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although a plaintiff need not allege facts in painstaking detail, the facts alleged "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative ...


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