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Brown v. Milwaukee County Jail

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 12, 2016

ENNIS LEE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
MILWAUKEE COUNTY JAIL, ATTORNEY J. HICKS, SARA B. LEWIS, JOHN BARRETT, JEREMY PERRI, OFFICE OF LAWYER REGULATION, and JANE AND JOHN DOES, Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS (DKT. NO. 2), DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO APPOINT COUNSEL (DKT. NO. 9), DENYING PLAINTIFF’S PETITION FOR JOHN DOE (DKT. NO. 14), DENYING THE PLAINTIFF’S PETITION TO LEAVE PROCEEDS OF SUIT TO FAMILY UPON DEATH (DKT. NO. 18), AND SCREENING COMPLAINT

HON. PAMELA PEPPER United States District Judge

The pro se plaintiff is a prisoner at Waupun Correctional Institution. He filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, Dkt. No. 1, along with a petition to proceed in forma pauperis, Dkt. No. 2. He has also asked the court to appoint him counsel, Dkt. No. 9, and has made other requests. This order resolves those requests and motions, and screens the plaintiff’s complaint.

Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

On May 21, 2015, the court issued an order requiring the plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee of $14.13. Dkt. No. 8. The court received that initial partial filing fee from the plaintiff on June 1, 2015. Accordingly, the court will grant the plaintiff’s petition to proceed in forma pauperis because he lacks funds to prepay the full filing fee, see 28 U.S.C. §1915(b), and will allow him to pay the remainder of the $350 filing fee in installments as described at the end of this order.

Motion for Appointment of Counsel

In his motion to appoint counsel, the plaintiff states that his imprisonment will greatly limit his ability to litigate this complex case and that he has limited knowledge to the law library. Dkt. No. 9 at 1. The plaintiff also alleges that he has a “severe mental disability, ” and that other inmates have assisted him with this case. Id. at 2. He states that he has “made repeated efforts” to find an attorney on his own, and attaches five letters from lawyers (all dated in late April or early May 2015) indicating that they cannot represent him. Id. at 2; Dkt. No. 9-1.

In a civil case, the court has discretion to decide whether to recruit a lawyer for someone who cannot afford one. Navejar v. Iyola, 718 F.3d 692, 696 (7th Cir. 2013); 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(1); Ray v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 706 F.3d 864, 866-67 (7th Cir. 2013). First, however, the person has to make a reasonable effort to hire private counsel on their own. Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 653 (7th Cir. 2007). After the plaintiff makes that reasonable attempt to hire counsel, the court then must decide “whether the difficulty of the case - factually and legally - exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to coherently present it.” Navejar, 718 F.3d at 696 (citing Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655). To decide that, the court looks, not only at the plaintiff’s ability to try his case, but also at his ability to perform other “tasks that normally attend litigation, ” such as “evidence gathering” and “preparing and responding to motions.” Id.

The plaintiff has met the first prong of the Pruitt test-he has demonstrated to the court that he made efforts to find counsel on his own, and was unable to do so.

With regard to the second prong of the Pruitt test, however, the court concludes that, at this point, the plaintiff’s case is not so complex that he cannot handle it himself. Indeed, as the court discusses below, the complaint raises arguments that the plaintiff has raised in two other cases in this court. He has made these arguments before-he clearly states them in this case. He hints at other arguments that he has not made in previous cases, and as stated below, the court is going to give him the opportunity to amend his complaint to flesh out those arguments. But they, too, are factual arguments- all he will need to do in an amended complaint is explain who did what to him, and when. The court is confident that at this stage of the proceedings, the plaintiff is capable of competently representing himself. If things become more complicated later in the case, the plaintiff can renew his request that the court appoint a lawyer to assist him.

Petition for a Civil Rights Investigation/John Doe Investigation

On July 22, 2015, the plaintiff filed a document entitled “Petition for Civil Right Investigation per 18 U.S.C. 241 & 42 U.S.C. 1414 Petition for John Doe Per: Wis.Stat. 968.26.” Dkt. No. 14. The heading of the document names both the court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The plaintiff addresses the pleading to Judge Pepper (the judge in this federal case), Chief Justice Patience Roggensack (who is the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court), and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Id. at 1. But in the body of the pleading, the plaintiff asks Chief Justice Roggensack to open a John Doe investigation under Wisconsin law.

The first law the plaintiff cites in this motion is 18 U.S.C. §241. This statute is a federal criminal statute that allows the United States government- the federal prosecutor-to bring charges if two or more people conspire to deprive someone of his or her civil rights. A private citizen, such as the plaintiff, cannot sue someone under 18 U.S.C. §241; only a federal prosecutor (such as the United States Attorney or the Attorney General) may bring charges under this statute. This court does not have the authority to begin an investigation into whether violations of this statute occurred. If the plaintiff wishes someone to begin such an investigation, he should report his allegations either directly to the United States Attorney General or to the United States Attorney’s Office.

The second statute the plaintiff cites is 42 U.S.C. §1414. There is no section 1414 in Title 42 of the United States Code.

The final statute the plaintiff cites is Wis.Stat. §968.26. This is the section of the Wisconsin statutes that states that if a district attorney asks a Wisconsin judge to do so, the judge shall convene a John Doe proceeding to investigate whether a crime has been committed. Wis.Stat. §968.26(1m). The statute requires that if the person making the request is not a district attorney, the Wisconsin judge must refer the complaint to the district attorney or another prosecutor. Wis.Stat. ยง968.26(2)(am). This court is a federal court. It does not have the authority to open a John Doe investigation; only Wisconsin judges or justices have that authority. And only a district attorney has the authority ...


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