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Streckenbach v. Van Densen

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 21, 2016

CHRISTOPHER S. STRECKENBACH, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES VAN DENSEN, Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

HON. RUDOLPH T. RANDA U.S. District Judge.

On April 16, 2015, plaintiff Christopher S. Streckenbach, who is representing himself, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) The Court screened the plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C §1915A(a) and allowed him to proceed with his claim that the defendant violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights when he destroyed the plaintiff’s property. (ECF No. 10.) This matter is before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 36, 39), which were fully briefed as of March 9, 2016. For the reasons stated in this decision, the Court grants the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and denies the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.

I. RELEVANT FACTS[1]

The plaintiff is a Wisconsin state inmate, currently incarcerated at Redgranite Correctional Institution (Redgranite), a medium security prison. (ECF No. 49 ¶ 1.) At the relevant times, defendant Charles VanDensen was employed at Redgranite as the Mail and Property Sergeant. (Id. ¶ 2.) In that role, the defendant’s responsibility was to supervise the mail and property department, which was responsible for the daily monitoring, delivering, and disposing of the inmates’ mail and property in accordance with the Wisconsin Administrative Code and Redgranite’s policies and procedures. (Id. ¶ 3.)

On November 25, 2014, the plaintiff filled out a form DOC-237, indicating that he would like specified property items to be disposed[2] of (i.e., sent out) through a visit. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.) On the form, the plaintiff elected to ship his property via UPS, if the property could not be disposed of through a visit. (Id. ¶ 31.) The defendant was not present when the plaintiff filled out the form. (Id. ¶ 32.)

The plaintiff’s property was not picked up from the visiting room within thirty days, so, per policy, it was sent back to the mail and property department for alternative disposal. (Id. ¶ 33.) On December 29, 2014, the defendant used UPS’s computer program to calculate the cost to ship the plaintiff’s property via UPS. (Id. ¶ 34.) The cost was $9.27. (Id.) The plaintiff’s institution account balance was $6.88. (Id. ¶ 35.)

According to the defendant, the then-current policy, which had been updated more than a year earlier in September 2013, required that he destroy the property, so he did. (Id. ¶ 36.) Specifically, policy 900.410.04 allows a prisoner to dispose of property through a visitor. (ECF No. 42-1.) However, at the time the prisoner makes the request, he must also designate a second disposal option in the event a visit does not occur within thirty days of the request. (Id.) As a second disposal option, a prisoner may elect to destroy the property or ship the property via a designated commercial carrier. (Id.) The policy cautions, more than once:

It is the inmate’s responsibility to ensure sufficient funds are available in his regular account to cover the cost of shipping.
If insufficient funds are not available in an inmate’s regular account when property is returned from the visiting room; the property will be destroyed.

(Id.)

The plaintiff disagrees that this was the policy in place at the time he made his request. He states that the first time he ever saw the policy relied upon by the defendant was when the defendant filed his proposed statement of facts in support of his motion for summary judgment.[3] (ECF No. 49 ¶ 25). According to the plaintiff, at that time, the policy available in the library (which is where he and other inmates could access institution policies), stated:

Property items that remain in the [visiting room’s] secured cabinet for a period of more than 30 days will be returned to the Property Department. The inmate will be summoned to the Property Department to choose an alternative way of disposing of these items.

(ECF No. 42-3 ¶ I(G).)

On December 30, 2014, in response to an inquiry from the plaintiff, the defendant returned the property receipt/disposition form to the plaintiff. (ECF No. 49 ¶ 37.) The receipt indicated that the plaintiff’s property had been destroyed because the plaintiff had lacked ...


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