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Goodvine v. Meisner

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 30, 2016

MICHAEL MEISNER, et al., Defendants.


WILLIAM M. CONLEY, District Judge.

This case is on remand from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to screen pro se plaintiff Christopher Goodvine’s claims in this lawsuit challenging conditions in segregation at Columbia Correctional Institution (“CCI”). Goodvine alleges that CCI knowingly employed flawed policies and practices in handling inmates with mental illness who spent significant periods of time in segregation, including himself.

In an order dated July 28, 2015, the court raised several procedural issues that may affect the claims to be screened. (Dkt. #49.) Specifically, the court noted that:

(1) Goodvine had recently settled another lawsuit with the state arising from conditions in segregation at CCI. Goodvine v. Meisner, No. 12-cv-134-wmc (W.D. Wis.). The court was not privy to the details of the settlement, but it may be that the settlement precludes some or all of the claims made in the amended complaint in this case.
(2) Goodvine had filed a new lawsuit against prison staff at Columbia regarding conditions of segregation and treatment of his mental illness. Goodvine v. Meisner, No. 15-cv-146-wmc (W.D. Wis.). That case has not yet been screened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, but a review of the complaint reveals that at least some of the claims appear to be the same or similar to those raised in the amended complaint in this case, as do some of the defendants, making it likely that these two cases should be consolidated.
(3) Goodvine is no longer in the custody of the Department of Corrections, meaning that his claims for injunctive relief are likely moot.

In light of these developments, the court directed Goodvine to file a second amended complaint that addressed these three issues, was more streamlined and identified the specific claims on which he wished to proceed in this lawsuit. Goodvine responded on August 10, 2015, stating that he would like to consolidate the claims in cases 14-cv-278 and 15-cv-146, but he could not file an amended complaint at this time because: (1) his claims are complex; (2) he has limited access to his case materials, many of which were destroyed when he was transferred from CCI; and (3) he was working full-time outside of the county jail and did not have adequate resources or time to conduct the research necessary to respond to the court’s order. (Dkts. ##50, 51.) Goodvine further requests assistance in recruiting counsel for the same reasons, and represents that he already contacted multiple lawyers, all of whom refused to represent him. (Dkt. #51.) Finally, Goodvine filed a motion to stay this case to allow him to pursue settlement of his claims with defendants, as well as focus on his transition back into the community. (Dkt. #53.) The court addresses each of these matters below.


I. Goodvine’s Motion to Stay.

Goodvine’s motion to stay was based on his admirable desire to settle this litigation and focus on working and transitioning from incarceration back into society. Unfortunately, the court received notice that Goodvine had been taken back into DOC custody on new criminal charges in October 2015 and is currently incarcerated at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. (Dkt. #56.) Obviously, Goodvine’s arrest and incarceration not only affects his priorities, but may also impact his desire to litigate these cases. Still, having initiated these lawsuits, Goodvine has an obligation to prosecute them. Indeed, one of these cases has been pending for more than a year and has already been to the court of appeals; the other case is several months old. Neither case has advanced past the screening stage. The court is, therefore, disinclined to grant a stay that would delay progression of these cases any further. Accordingly, although the court agrees with Goodvine that the parties should consider mediation at the appropriate time -- and will help recruit counsel for at least this limited purpose -- the court will not stay the cases for this purpose alone.

II. Goodvine’s Motion for Assistance Recruiting Counsel.

As Goodvine suggests in his motion requesting recruitment of counsel, the process of sorting out his claims, and ultimately litigating or mediating this case, would be simpler if the court were able to recruit counsel for him. However, counsel would be helpful in nearly every case involving a pro se litigant. Moreover, some of the particular impediments Goodvine cites, such as being busy, are not unique to him. Many pro se litigants, as well as many lawyers, are busy, but that is not sufficient reason to appoint counsel.

The reality is that there are not enough lawyers available and willing to represent all of the pro se litigants who would benefit from the assistance of counsel. The court must, therefore, exercise discretion in deciding whether assistance recruiting counsel is necessary in a particular case. In doing so, the court considers whether the legal and factual difficulty of this case exceeds the litigant’s ability to litigate it. Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 654, 653-56 (7th Cir. 2007).

Goodvine’s claims are complex, in that he has challenged a range of prison policies applying to mentally-ill inmates in segregation, as well as several specific instances in which defendants allegedly failed to provide him adequate mental health treatment and failed to intervene to protect him from harming himself. His claims will likely require significant discovery, and he will likely need the testimony of experts to prove some of his claims. Such considerations weigh in favor of recruiting counsel in this case.

In contrast to many pro se litigants, however, Goodvine is an experienced and competent litigator who has litigated these types of claims before. His pleadings in these cases reflect that he understands the applicable legal standards. His pleadings are also clear and easy to understand, and he has paired allegations appropriately with specific defendants and specific legal theories. Goodvine further understands court procedures and has demonstrated an understanding of the rules of evidence and civil procedure. Indeed, he succeeded in challenging this court’s dismissal of his claims in Case No. 14-cv-278 on appeal. Such considerations suggest that Goodvine has the ability to litigate this case on his own, at least during the early stages of the case.

After weighing all of the relevant factors, the court concludes that it is not necessary to recruit counsel before the screening stage. The court is dismissing several of Goodvine’s claims as moot in light of his transfer from CCI, and it may be that other claims will be dismissed as barred by the settlement agreement in Case No. 12-cv-134-wmc. Additionally, some claims may be dismissed at the motion to dismiss stage on exhaustion grounds or as barred by issue or claim preclusion based on court decisions in related cases.

Until the scope of this case is clearer, the court is disinclined to recruit counsel, particularly where Goodvine possesses the knowledge to decide which claims to pursue. Like other busy litigants and lawyers, Goodvine must decide for himself how to prioritize this case among all of the other important activities in his life.

All that being said, Goodvine may renew his motion for assistance in recruiting counsel if at any point in this case exceeds his capacity to litigate it. In particular, should defendants join in Goodvine’s request for an early mediation, the court would recruit counsel for that limited purpose. Moreover, if this case proceeds to summary judgment or trial, the court will likely consider recruiting counsel for Goodvine sua sponte.

III. Consolidation and Screening of Cases Nos. 14-cv-278-wmc and 15-cv-146-wmc.

Turning to the pleadings in cases 14-cv-278 and 15-cv-146, the court agrees with Goodvine that the claims he raises in both cases are substantially related and should be consolidated. Although it would have been helpful if Goodvine had filed an amended complaint to consolidate and streamline the claims, the court is sympathetic to Goodvine’s explanation that drafting an amended complaint at this time would be difficult for him. Nevertheless, it remains necessary to determine whether any of Goodvine’s claims are moot based on his changed circumstances.

As mentioned, all of Goodvine’s allegations concern prison policies and practices relating to mentally ill inmates who are held in segregation at CCI. The allegations in his complaints can be grouped into three categories: (1) CCI security policies and practices fail to protect mentally ill inmates from harming themselves when housed in segregation; (2) CCI fails to provide adequate mental health treatment for inmates in segregation, subjecting inmates instead to conditions that exacerbate their mental illness; and (3) on several, specific occasions, various individual defendants failed to respond appropriately to Goodvine’s threats of self-harm. Goodvine asserts claims for this alleged misconduct under the Eighth Amendment, as well as under state negligence and malpractice law.

As discussed below, the court will permit Goodvine to proceed on several of his claims, but several defendants will be dismissed from the case because Goodvine’s allegations do not state any claim for relief against them. Additionally, Goodvine has failed to provide any reason that he should be permitted to proceed on his numerous claims for specific injunctive relief in the form of policy changes at CCI, now that he is no longer in DOC custody at CCI. Those claims will, therefore, be dismissed as moot unless Goodvine advises within fourteen (14) days of any good grounds to proceed.

A. Policies Relating to Mentally Ill. Inmates Housed in Segregation.

Goodvine alleges that several of the defendants should be liable for implementing or enforcing deficient policies and practices relating to mentally ill inmates housed in segregation. Specifically, he alleges that the following defendants were aware that mentally ill inmates housed in segregation frequently engage in self-destructive behavior and that these defendants had the ability to make or recommend needed changes to policies to reduce this behavior, but failed to do so: Ed Wall (DOC secretary), Michael Meisner and Michael Dittman (wardens of CCI), Hautamaki (deputy warden), Janel Nickel and Lucas Weber (security directors), Michael Morrison (DS-1 unit security supervisor), and David Melby (DS-1 unit manager). Goodvine also alleges that several other defendants responsible for mental health care of inmates should have recommended policy and training changes, including: Dr. Laurent, Dr. Wood, Dr. Buhr, Dr. Norge (psychologists); Dr. Maier (DS-1 unit psychiatrist); and Karen Anderson (health services manager).

Goodvine further alleges that instead of making policy modifications that would have protected inmates from self-harm, these defendants allowed the prison to operate pursuant to the following flawed practices that worsened Goodvine’s and other inmates’ mental illness and increased their risk of self-harm:

• Mentally ill inmates are not screened by security staff before they are transferred to segregation to determine whether certain restrictions or requirements should be imposed, such as restrictions on receiving medications in solid form, receiving metal or sharp objects, or for needing to be placed on “direct observation” status.
• Mentally ill inmates are not monitored regularly by correctional officers after they are placed in segregation.
• Guards are not systematically notified that certain inmates have self-harm propensities and must be monitored closely. In particular, defendants were aware that Goodvine often harmed himself while in segregation or on observation status, but failed to warn or train guards about his behavior.
• Even when guards know that an inmate has self-harm propensities, they are not routinely trained to handle such inmates. While on observation, guards do not know how to handle inmates who hide medications, smuggle objects to cut with, or conceal cutting activity. For example, they are not trained ...

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