United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge.
Timothy Coleman, an inmate at the Dodge Correctional
Institution, brings this lawsuit alleging that the
imprisonment and extended supervision he ended up serving in
three criminal cases was longer than the sentences allowed.
Coleman has made an initial partial payment of the filing
fee, as previously directed by the court.
next step in this case is to screen the complaint. In doing
so, I must dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous,
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by
law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. §§
1915 and 1915A. Because Coleman is a pro se litigant, I must
read his allegations generously. Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam).
reviewing the complaint with these principles in mind, I
conclude that Coleman's vague allegations violate Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Coleman cannot obtain relief
unless he can show what parts of his sentences were
unlawfully extended and show deliberate indifference of the
part of one or more government officials. I will dismiss
Coleman's complaint, but I will give him a chance to file
an amended complaint that fixes these problems.
February 2006, plaintiff Timothy Coleman was convicted of
battery and carrying a concealed weapon in two separate Dane
County misdemeanor cases. Dane County Case Nos. 2006CM1162
and 2006CM1461. He received a total of three months' jail
time for these sentences, although the electronic record of
those cases shows that he was ordered to spent that time in
prison, along with prison sentences he was serving for
another conviction.Coleman says that he was released from
prison in September 2008 and placed on extended supervision
for the misdemeanor cases. That extended supervision lasted
more than two years.
says that the same problem “has happen[ed] again”
with regard to a 2013 conviction for possession of narcotic
drugs. Dane County Case No. 2013CF1360. Coleman was sentenced
to a year of jail time, to be served in prison consecutively
to time on another sentence. Coleman was placed on extended
supervision for more than 15 months. Coleman states that he
has “done more than enough time to discharge but I
still have to serve more time too for this charge.”
a prisoner to detention beyond the termination of his
sentence can violate the Eighth Amendment's proscription
against cruel and usual punishment. Childress v.
Walker, 787 F.3d 433, 438 (7th Cir. 2015). It is
unsettled whether a claim that a plaintiff was forced to
serve extra time on extended supervision implicates the
plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights or substantive due
process rights. See Perrault v. Wisconsin, No.
15-CV-144-BBC, 2015 WL 5032656, at *3 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 25,
2015). But under either theory, Coleman must prove the same
things: (1) he indeed was punished for a longer time period
than the sentence allowed; and (2) a government official was
aware of the problem but failed to take effective actions to
fix it. Id. Mere mistakes or neglect by government
officials is not enough to support a constitutional claim.
point, Coleman's allegations are too vague to support
claims for damages. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)
requires a complaint to include “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.” Under Rule 8(d), “each allegation
must be simple, concise, and direct.” The primary
purpose of these rules is fair notice. A complaint
“must be presented with intelligibility sufficient for
a court or opposing party to understand whether a valid claim
is alleged and if so what it is.” Vicom, Inc. v.
Harbridge Merchant Serv's, Inc., 20 F.3d 771, 775
(7th Cir. 1994).
allegations do not comply with Rule 8 in part because he is
unclear about what portions of his punishment he believes
were unlawfully extended. In his request for relief, Coleman
asks for damages for every extra day he spent in jail and for
each extra year he “spent on paper, ”
id. at 4, which I take to mean his extended
supervision. So it seems as if he is challenging both his
extra incarceration time and his extended supervision. But it
is unclear which portions of the three sentences discussed in
his complaint were unlawfully extended.
suggests that his current extended supervision is
unlawful, which raises a different problem: he cannot proceed
on claims for damages under § 1983 that challenge the
fact, duration, or validity of his custody unless he first
obtains a ruling that his conviction or sentence has been
reversed, expunged, or invalidated in state court. Heck
v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994); Preiser v.
Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973). The way to accomplish
that is to raise his claim in the state court system and, if
necessary, seek a petition of writ of habeas corpus in
also does not explain who violated his rights. He alleges
that “they acted knowingly, and I think this is a
product of deliberate indifference, ” Dkt. 1, at 2, but
he does not explain who “they” are. He originally
named the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and
“Probation and Parole” as defendants, but the
state and its departments cannot be sued in a lawsuit for
violations of federal law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Will v. Michigan Dept of State Police, 491 U.S. 58,
66-67 (1989). He has submitted a motion to amend his
complaint to add as defendants the state of Wisconsin, the
Dane County sheriff, Dane County judges, and court officials.
I have already explained that he cannot sue the state itself.
It is unlikely that he can sue all of the individuals he
wishes to name. For instance, the judges who sentenced him
are entitled to absolute immunity from claims arising out of
acts performed in the exercise of their judicial functions.
See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 10 (1991). Apart
from the immunity question, Coleman faces a bigger problem:
he does not explain how each of these officials was aware of
his unlawful incarceration or extended supervision and what
each official did about it. As discussed above, it is not
enough for any of these officials to have mistakenly
subjected Coleman to unlawful punishment; he needs to show
that officers were deliberately indifferent to the problem.
dismiss Coleman's complaint and give him a short time to
file an amended complaint that better explains his claims. He
should draft his amended complaint as if he were telling a
story to people who know nothing about his situation. In
particular, he should explain (1) which parts of his
punishment were too long; (2) what government officials were
aware of the problem and how they became of aware of it; and
(3) how they responded to the problem. At this point, Coleman
does not need to know the actual names of the individual
government officials who violated his rights: if he plausibly
explains how he knows that officials acted with deliberate
indifference to his unlawful incarceration or extended
supervision, he will be able to pursue his claims. If Coleman
does not know the identity of particular defendants, he may
label them as John Doe #1, John Doe #2, and so ...