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Richards v. Gutho

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

December 19, 2016



          HON. PAMELA PEPPER United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, a Wisconsin state prisoner who is representing himself, filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that the defendants violated his rights at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution. Dkt. No. 1. On November 17, 2016, the plaintiff paid the $400.00 civil case filing fee in full. The case is before the court for screening of the plaintiff's complaint.


         A. Standard for Screening Complaints

         Regardless of fee status, the Prison Litigation Reform Act requires federal courts 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 may dismiss an action, or part of it, if the claims alleged are “frivolous or malicious, ” fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B).

         To state a claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint need not plead specific facts, and need only provide “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “Labels and conclusions” or a “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).

         The factual content of the complaint must allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Indeed, allegations must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Factual allegations, when accepted as true, must state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Federal courts follow the two step analysis set forth in Twombly to determine whether a complaint states a claim. Id. at 679. First, the court determines whether the plaintiff's legal conclusions are supported by factual allegations. Id. Legal conclusions not supported by facts “are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. Second, the court determines whether the well-pleaded factual allegations “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. The court gives 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)).

         B. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

         On March 22, 2016, Sergeant Michael Gutho worked second shift on Unit 12. Dkt. No. 1 at 3-4. At approximately 2:45 p.m., Gutho sorted mail while the plaintiff was away from his cell. Id. at 4. The plaintiff states that “when Sgt. Gutho ran accross [sic] a letter addressed to the plaintiff, he not only cut the tape that secures the contents in the envelope, but he read the letter.” Id. The plaintiff further explains that mailroom staff typically place a piece of tape across the envelope after they have already “opened [and] inspected” the mail. Id. at 3.

         After reading the letter, Gutho took the letter outside to the courtyard and told several inmates “exactly what he read in the plaintiff's letter.” Id. at 4. Gutho then went to the plaintiff's room and performed a room search. Id. Gutho left the letter he had read with several other letters that were already in the plaintiff's cell from before the search. Id. The plaintiff believes that Gutho was “trying to conceal the letter at that point, possibly covering up what he had done.” Id. at 4-5.

         Three days later, the plaintiff approached Sergeant Schue and explained what had happened. Id. at 5. As a result of the conversation with Schue, the plaintiff wrote to Captain Andrew Nielson and Warden Robert Humphreys, and he filed an inmate grievance. Id. Kathy Schmidt responded to the inmate grievance, stating that “the matter was resolved during the investigation.” Id. The plaintiff states that “there wasn't one person that spoke to the plaintiff” regarding the incident. Id. For relief, the plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief “to stop opening outgoing mail to check for art work such as pictures, cards, etc.” Id. at 6.

         C. Legal Analysis of Alleged Facts

         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)). The plaintiff states that he believes his “rights were ...

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