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Bennett v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 20, 2016

GARY LEE BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, REDGRANTIE CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION, MICHAEL MEISNER, TERRY SAWALL, MICHELLE SMITH, MICHAEL REIGH, ASHLEY FREITAG, and DAISY CHASE, Defendants.

SCREENING ORDER

RUDOLPH T. RANDA, District Judge.

The pro se plaintiff is a Wisconsin state prisoner. He filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. This matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's petition to proceed in forma pauperis. He has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $16.04.

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Hutchinson ex rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997). The Court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. "Malicious, " although sometimes treated as a synonym for "frivolous, " "is more usefully construed as intended to harass." Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109-10 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts and his statement need only "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, a complaint that offers "labels and conclusions" or "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, "that is plausible on its face." Id. (quoting 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." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should follow the principles set forth in Twombly by first, "identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court must, second, "assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id.

To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the deprivation was visited upon him by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Village of North Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Court is obliged to give the plaintiff's pro se allegations, "however inartfully pleaded, " a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

The plaintiff is incarcerated at Redgranite Correctional Institution. He alleges that the defendants retaliated against him for filing an inmate grievance by issuing him a conduct report, finding him guilty, and upholding the guilty finding on appeal. The plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.

The Court finds that the plaintiff may proceed on a claim that the defendants retaliated against in violation of the First Amendment. However, defendants Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Redgranite Correctional Institution will be dismissed because they are not suable entities under § 1983. See Wagoner v. Lemmon, 778 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2015).

Motion to Appoint Counsel

The plaintiff has filed a motion to appoint counsel. 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.

Here, the plaintiff states that he has contacted four attorneys to try to find an attorney on his own. Despite this, the plaintiff appears competent to proceed on his own at this time. His complaint demonstrates that he has high writing and reasoning abilities. Also, the plaintiff is proceeding on one claim and appears to have good knowledge of the claim. In sum, the Court concludes that the plaintiff may proceed on his own at this stage.

ORDER

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ...


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