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Judge dismisses prisoner suit

January 1, 2008
A federal judge in Fort Wayne has dismissed a pro se complaint against a local sheriff and jail officials because it doesn't adequately state a claim to recover for alleged sexual harassment during a weapons strip search.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon ruled in Nathan W. Romine v. Nick Yoder, et al., No. 1:08-CV-036 PS, which involved a suit from an Adams County Law Enforcement Center inmate. Romine said he was sexually harassed at the jail during a strip search for a razor blade but didn't make accusations that he was improperly touched or that the search wasn't proper.

The complaint claimed a guard snickered during the search and made "unnecessary, sexual comments" about his genitals.

In his decision, Judge Simon relied on caselaw changes in the past year from the Supreme Court of the United States to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. He relied on Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007), and Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197 (2007), that dealt with pleading standards - Twombly held that factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above speculation, while Erickson held in the context of pro se suits that complaints must be liberally construed and held to less stringent standards than those where attorneys are involved.

Interpreting those two SCOTUS rulings, the 7th Circuit in August read those two cases together in Airborne Beepers & Video Inc v. AT&T Mobility, 499 F.3d 6663 (7th Cir. 2007), to mean that "at some point, the factual detail in a complaint may be so sketchy that the complaint does not provide the type of notice of the claim to which defendant is entitled."

Judge Simon determined that Romine didn't state a claim and that fear of an injury that didn't occur doesn't state a claim.
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