This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
COURT OF APPEALS
Henry L. Woodruff,
Cal Ludeman, et al.,
Filed December 18, 2007
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C5-06-1934
Henry L. Woodruff, 1111 Highway 73, Annex, Moose Lake, MN 55767 (pro se appellant)
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Jonathan Geffen, Assistant Attorney General, 900 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2127 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
Pro se appellant Henry Woodruff, a residential patient of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, challenges the district court’s dismissal of his complaint against respondents for failure to state a claim. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
In November of 1997, appellant was indeterminately civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) as a sexual psychopathic personality (SPP) and a sexually dangerous person (SDP). Under MSOP’s personal-property policy a number of appellant’s personal items are considered contraband, including his stereo equipment, storage tubs, and personal computer. Consequently, these items were removed from appellant’s room by MSOP staff.
In March of 2006, appellant filed and served on respondents a complaint and petition for temporary and permanent injunction complaining about both MSOP’s personal-property policy and his transfer to a different treatment center. Named respondents included the Commissioner of Human Services and several other MSOP employees. Respondents filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and the district court granted respondents’ motion. Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02 (e).
Appellant now challenges the court’s dismissal of his complaint, arguing that he stated a claim upon which relief could be granted and that he was unfairly denied the right to appointed counsel. We disagree.
When reviewing a district court’s grant of dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, an appellate court’s sole task is to determine “whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief.” Barton v. Moore, 558 N.W.2d 746, 749 (Minn. 1997). Thus, we review the legal sufficiency of appellant’s claim de novo. Janssen v. Best & Flanagan, 645 N.W.2d 495, 497 (Minn. App. 2002).
The Commitment Act
Appellant argues that he properly alleged that respondents violated the Commitment Act (Act). But because the Act does not provide a private cause of action and appellant has failed to allege a cognizable claim under the Act, we disagree.
The Act governs the rights of patients who are civilly committed as SDPs or SPPs. Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subds. 7(a), (b) (2006). This court utilizes a three-factor analysis in deciding whether a statute establishes a private cause of action
(1) whether the plaintiff belongs to the class for whose benefit the statute was enacted; (2) whether the legislature indicated an intent to create or deny a remedy; and (3) whether implying a remedy would be consistent with the underlying purposes of the legislative enactment.
Flour Exch. Bldg. Corp. v. State, 524 N.W.2d 496, 499 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Feb. 14, 1995). Courts may not imply a private right of action from legislative silence. Id. at 498-99. Although appellant’s indeterminate commitment under the Act demonstrates that he belongs to the class for whose benefit the statute was established, there is no language in the statute indicating that the legislature intended to create a private cause of action for alleged violations of the Act. Further, there is no caselaw supporting appellant’s argument that a private right of action exists for a claimed violation of section 253B.185 of the Act.
Moreover, appellant has failed to allege a cognizable claim under the Act. The commissioner or his designee is authorized to limit a patient’s statutory rights “as necessary to maintain a therapeutic environment or the security of the facility or to protect the safety and well-being of patients, staff, and the public.” Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 7(a). Although appellant argues that MSOP cannot limit his property rights without first showing that he abused those property rights, the Act requires no such showing. Id. Further, appellant fails to allege any facts showing that MSOP’s personal-property policy was not necessary to maintain a therapeutic environment or to maintain the safety of patients, staff, and the public.
In addition, the Act authorizes the commissioner to transfer a committed SPP or SDP from one treatment center to another, as long as the new facility “is capable of providing proper care and treatment.” Minn. Stat. § 253B.14 (2006). Thus, even though appellant alleges that his transfer was impermissible because it caused him “pain and suffering,” such unspecified allegations are insufficient to negate the legislature’s liberal grant of transfer authority to the commissioner. Accordingly, the district court did not err in finding that appellant failed to state a claim under the Act.
The Patients’ Bill of Rights
Appellant also asserts that respondents violated the Patients’ Bill of Rights (PBR). But because the statute does not provide a private cause of action and appellant failed to plead specific facts amounting to a violation of the statute, we disagree.
The PBR was enacted to promote patients’ interests and well-being. Minn. Stat. § 144.651, subd. 1 (2006). As stated above, this court considers three factors in determining whether a statute establishes a private right of action. Flour Exch., 524 N.W.2d at 499.
Although appellant’s status as an indeterminately committed patient demonstrates that he belongs to the class of individuals for whose benefit the statute was established, again there is no language in the statute indicating that the legislature intended to create a private cause of action. Minn. Stat. § 144.651 (2006). Instead, the statute sets forth grievance procedures for enforcement of its provisions and authorizes the Commissioner of the Department of Health to remedy any substantial violations of the statute by issuing correction orders. Minn. Stat. §§ 144.651, subd. 20, subd. 20, .652, subd. 2 (2006). Furthermore, federal courts have expressly declined to recognize a private cause of action under a PBR. See Monahan v. Dorchester Counseling Ctr., Inc., 961 F.2d 987, 994-95 (1st Cir. 1992); Smith v. Au Sable Valley Cmty. Mental Health Servs., 431 F. Supp. 2d 743, 750-51 (E.D. Mich. 2006).
In addition, appellant has failed to sufficiently plead a specific violation of the PBR. Because appellant’s complaint does not allege that MSOP is without safety, medical, or programmatic reasons for limiting his right to possess said personal property, appellant has not shown that MSOP’s personal-property policy exceeds the personal-property limitations set forth in the PBR. Minn. Stat. § 144.651, subd. 22 (allowing confiscation of a patient’s personal property if required by “medical, safety, or programmatic reasons.”). Accordingly, appellant failed to state a cognizable claim here.
Federal and State Constitutional Violations
Appellant further asserts that respondents violated his state and federal constitutional rights by denying him meaningful access to the courts. Because appellant failed to sufficiently plead this cause of action, we disagree.
The First Amendment provides the right to access the courts in a civil case. U.S. Const. amend. I. But the Supreme Court has narrowly interpreted this right to mean having “a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the court.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351, 116 S. Ct. 2174, 2180 (1996) (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U. S. 817, 825, 97 S. Ct. 1491, 1496 (1977)). And it has been recognized that “the deprivation of personal liberty of one involuntarily committed as a mentally ill and dangerous patient is not so dissimilar to that of one incarcerated under the criminal law . . . .” In re Schmidt, 443 N.W.2d 824, 829 (Minn. 1989). Further, a prisoner cannot maintain an action for denial of access to the courts unless he shows that the defendants caused him “actual injury” that “hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 354, 116 S. Ct. at 2180.
Appellant’s argument that he was denied access to the courts as a result of improper service is without merit. The record shows that appellant was, in fact, served with the motion, notice of the hearing, and defendants’ memorandum in support of their motion more than two months before the hearing.
Appellant also asserts that MSOP’s confiscation of his computer and failure to answer his grievance prevented him from “litigat[ing] effectively.” But simply alleging the inability to litigate effectively is insufficient to support a claim for denial of access to the courts. Id. at 354, 116 S. Ct. at 2181. Although the permanent confiscation of a prisoner’s legal files that impairs his ability to defend himself at trial is an injury sufficient to support a valid claim for denial of access to the courts, the prisoner must allege “that the confiscation interfered in a specific manner with his access to the courts.” Tyler v. Woodson, 597 F.2d 643, 644-45 (8th Cir. 1979).
Here, the record indicates that appellant was given advance warning that his computer would be confiscated. In addition, appellant was given the opportunity to request a copy of the legal materials that he needed to retrieve from his hard drive, and there is a dispute as to whether appellant was, in fact, able and willing to name the specific files that he needed. And because appellant’s complaint does not identify any specific files that he needed, he has failed to show that any actual injury resulted from his lack of access to the files. Moreover, the fact that appellant was able to file his complaint, amended complaint, request for a temporary restraining order, and appellate brief demonstrates that he did have adequate access to the courts. In sum, because appellant’s denial-of-access-to-the-courts claim does not meet the requisite “actual injury” standard, its dismissal was not in error.
Appellant also asserts generally that respondents violated his constitutional rights. We disagree because his claim was improperly pleaded. Pleadings must put the opposing party on notice by “contain[ing] a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and a demand for judgment for the relief sought . . . .” Minn. R. Civ. P. 8.01. Because appellant’s generalized allegation of a constitutional violation fails to meet this notice-pleading standard, its dismissal was proper.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in not appointing counsel for him in this matter. We disagree.
In deciding whether to appoint counsel for an indigent civil litigant, a district court considers (1) the complexity of the case; (2) the indigent litigant’s ability to investigate and present his claims; and (3) whether the court will benefit from having the indigent litigant represented by counsel. McCall v. Benson, 114 F.3d 754, 756 (8th Cir. 1997). This court will not reverse a district court’s decision regarding whether to appoint counsel for a claimant absent an abuse of its discretion. Id.
Here, the district court’s denial of appellant’s request for appointment of counsel was within its discretion. Because respondents’ motion to dismiss did not challenge the truth of the facts asserted by appellant in his complaint, it was reasonable for the court to decide that this case did not involve complex legal or factual disputes requiring significant discovery. Further, appellant has experience as a pro se litigant. Woodruff v. Goodno, No. A04-1897 (Minn. App. May 17, 2005), review denied (Minn. July 19, 2005); Woodruff v. Rosburg, No. C7-01-141 (Minn. App. Sept. 18, 2001). Accordingly, the district court reasonably determined that it would not benefit substantially from the appointment of counsel for appellant.
Alternatively, appellant argues that the Commitment Act provides him with a statutory right to representation. We disagree. The Act requires court-appointed representation in commitment cases only. Minn. Stat. § 253B.07, subd. 2c (2006) (stating that an attorney shall be appointed at the time a petition for commitment is filed). And no Minnesota court has interpreted the Commitment Act as creating a right to representation in this context. Here, appellant has filed a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and thus has no statutory right to representation. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court was within its discretion in denying appellant’s request for appointment of counsel.