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Debauche v. James

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 11, 2016




In this pro se prisoner litigation, plaintiff David DeBauche alleges that two employees at Columbia Correctional Institution (“CCI”) retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Specifically, DeBauche claims that: (1) defendant David James confiscated and destroyed his legal materials and other personal property; and (2) defendant Dustin Kingsland intentionally placed him with dangerous cellmates, hoping that they would cause him bodily harm. Before the court are the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.[1] (Dkts. ##66, 86.) Because DeBauche has not shown that his protected activity was a motivating factor in the allegedly retaliatory actions, the court will grant defendants’ motion, deny plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, and deny plaintiff’s remaining motions.[2]


A. Parties

Plaintiff David DeBauche is a Wisconsin Department of Corrections (“DOC”) inmate currently confined at CCI. Defendant James is a Correctional Officer II at CCI and is also the property officer for the Disciplinary Segregation 2 (“DS2”) unit. Defendant Kingsland is a correctional sergeant at CCI and participated in assigning inmates to cells.

B. August 2012 Lockdown

DOC policy limits the amount of property that an inmate can have in his cell. With the exception of certain items (such as a typewriter or fan), an inmate’s personal property/clothing, hobby materials and legal materials must fit into boxes of specified dimensions.

On August 20, 2012, CCI began an institution-wide lockdown so that staff could search all cells, common areas and inmates to find contraband and ensure compliance with the property restrictions. Before searching an inmate’s cell during lockdown, correctional officers first remove the inmate. If they discover that an inmate has excess property in his cell during a lockdown search, the inmate can choose whether to have it stored or destroyed.

Prior to the start of the lockdown, a memorandum was placed in each inmate’s cell, including DeBauche’s cell in DS2. The memo instructed inmates to sort their property “according to allowable limits before the property is removed from the cell.” The memo warned DeBauche and other inmates that if they did not separate the items they wanted to keep from those to be disposed, then staff would make that determination for them.

DeBauche did not separate his property before he was removed from his cell while staff searched it pursuant to the lockdown. DeBauche alleges that among the things he left behind directly on top of his desk in plain sight was an unfinished draft of a restraining order against defendant James. In it, he complained that James, as the property officer, refused to bring him documents related to a pending state court case. As he was being escorted out of his cell by another officer, DeBauche asserts that he saw James enter his cell and begin to search it, so James must have seen the restraining order on his desk. James denies ever seeing or otherwise knowing about the restraining order; in fact, he claims that he did not even search DeBauche’s cell because he was in the dayroom in DS2 at the time.

The parties also disagree about what happened later that day when James approached DeBauche with a property disposition form. The form indicated that DeBauche had a total of 130 publications in his cell, well over the limit of twenty-five.[4]According to DeBauche, the form also had the option to destroy his excess property preselected. DeBauche further asserts that James denied his request to inspect his confiscated property and responded that it would cost $100 to have his property sent home rather than destroyed. James also purportedly threatened to keep DeBauche in the “rec. cage” and to give him a conduct report if he refused to sign the form.[5] Finally, DeBauche claims that James destroyed certain legal materials, including his draft restraining order against James. James again denies all of these allegations and claims that DeBauche chose to have his excess publications destroyed instead of stored.

C. Cellmate Pairings

Generally, the correctional sergeants or officers who operate each unit determine which cells inmates occupy, with reference to a “Double Celling” guide that reports the “doubling status” of each inmate. Inmates marked “OK” to double may be readily assigned to a cell with another suitable inmate. For inmates designated “Pair with Care” (“PWC”), however, the sergeant or officer charged with making the cell assignments first determines why the inmate is considered PWC. Inmates who are not permitted to have a cellmate are “red-tagged, ” or listed as “do not double.” If an inmate seeks to be physically separated from a particular inmate or staff member, he can also request a Special Placement Need (“SPN”).

After filing this lawsuit, but before amending his complaint, Debauche claims that he was paired with five dangerous cellmates: (1) Tony, whose last name remains unknown; (2) Nick Aiken; (3) Francisco Torres; (4) Dale Robinson; and (5) Lance Pinkens. DeBauche alleges that defendant Kingsland retaliated against him for drafting the restraining order against James and/or filing this lawsuit by intentionally pairing him with cellmates who (he hoped) would harm DeBauche. DeBauche asserts generally that Kingsland knew about his First Amendment activity because Kingsland had control of his property, including his legal materials. Kingsland responds that he did not know about his draft of a restraining order against ...

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