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Nicholson v. Eckstein

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 5, 2016



          HON. PAMELA PEPPER, United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Ronnie Frank Nicholson, Jr., a state prisoner, is representing himself. He filed a civil complaint alleging that the defendants denied him access to the courts when they seized his legal documents from another inmate. Dkt. No. 1. The plaintiff has paid the full filing fee.

         The law requires the court 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)). A complaint that offers “labels and conclusions, ” however, 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)).

         A. The Allegations in the Complaint

         The plaintiff alleges that, at some time in the past, his skin was disfigured when he was sprayed with chemical agents and then not allowed to shower for three days. Dkt. No. 1 at 2. While the plaintiff was an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution (Columbia), he sought out the assistance of a jailhouse lawyer, Benjamin Biese, to help him bring a deliberate indifference claim against prison officials. The plaintiff gave Biese all of his legal documents so Biese could become familiar with the facts of his case, conduct research to determine the plaintiff’s legal claims, and prepare a complaint. Id. Before he was able to prepare the plaintiff’s complaint, however, Biese was transferred from Columbia to Redgranite Correctional Institution. Id. The plaintiff was not able to retrieve his documents from Biese before his transfer; Biese had approximately 200 pages of the plaintiff’s legal documents. Id. at 2-3.

         The plaintiff corresponded with Biese for seven months, and eventually became dissatisfied with the assistance Biese was providing. At that time, the plaintiff wrote to Biese and asked him to return the plaintiff’s legal documents. Initially, Biese did not respond to the plaintiff’s request, but Biese eventually told the plaintiff that he would return his documents via the United States Postal Service. The plaintiff continued to write and implore Biese to return his documents, but he did not get them back. The plaintiff eventually learned that there were other inmates who had been relying on Biese who did not receive any results. Id. at 3.

         Ultimately, the plaintiff spoke to his housing unit social worker at Columbia about the situation, and she told the plaintiff she would see what could be done about the situation. The social worker told the plaintiff that the prison officials at Redgranite intended to look into the matter and would report their findings back to her. Id. The social worker was able to obtain legal files and documents for two other inmates, but she provided the plaintiff with only twenty pages of his legal documents. Id. at 4.

         The plaintiff again wrote to Biese and requested that he return all of the plaintiff’s legal documents, but the plaintiff never heard back from Biese. In 2011, the plaintiff was transferred to Redgranite, but Biese already had been transferred to Waupun Correctional Institution. Id.

         On or about April 19, 2014, another inmate named Randy Mataya, who previously had been at Columbia with the plaintiff and Biese, arrived at Redgranite. Mataya asked the plaintiff if he had been able to get anywhere with his lawsuit after he got his file back from Biese. The plaintiff told Mataya that “Biese had not returned [the plaintiff’s] legal files and as a result he was unable to pursue his claims.” Id.

         Mataya told the plaintiff that he had just been at Waupun with Biese, and that Biese said the plaintiff had the “police” at Redgranite search his room and property for the plaintiff’s legal documents when all Biese was trying to do was help the plaintiff. Id. Mataya also told the plaintiff that Biese said that defendant Eckstein (then deputy warden at Redgranite) and a “white shirt” had taken three stacks of the ...

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