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Vargas v. Mann

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

December 19, 2016

CONRAD LEE VARGAS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MANN, BARRY CLARK, SGT. MINSHALL, MR. BONNER, LIZZIE TEGELS, JODI DOUGHERTY, CHRISTOPHER BRUESGEN, CHARLES FACKTOR, CINDY O'DONNELL, and JOHN/JANE DOES, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         Plaintiff Conrad Lee Vargas, a state of Wisconsin inmate currently confined at the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility, brings this lawsuit alleging that he was severely injured while working in the welding department at the Jackson Correctional Institution. Vargas has made an initial partial payment of the filing fee, as previously directed by the court.

         The 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 Barber is a pro se litigant, I must read his allegations generously. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam).

         After reviewing the complaint with these principles in mind, I conclude that Vargas states Eighth Amendment claims against several defendants for making him use unsafe equipment. I will give him a short time to amend his complaint to better explain his other claims and to show that he has complied with Wisconsin's notice-of-claim statute, which is a requirement for him to bring state law claims in this lawsuit.

         ALLEGATIONS OF FACT

         Plaintiff Conrad Lee Vargas was a “maintenance worker” in the welding department at the Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI). Vargas was severely injured “due to faulty/broken equipment”: a tendon in his thumb was severed in an accident. Vargas had surgery, but his thumb is now disfigured and he remains in severe pain and emotional distress.

         Defendants Barry Clark, Sgt. Minshall, Robert Mann, and Mr. Bonner were responsible for maintaining the safety of the equipment Vargas worked with but they failed to update or fix it.

         Vargas filed an inmate grievance about the incident, but defendants Jodi Dougherty, Christopher Bruesgen, Charles Facktor, and Cindy O'Donnell denied his grievance and appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         Vargas alleges that he was injured in a workplace accident that could have been avoided had defendants Clark, Minshall, Mann, and Bonner properly maintained the equipment. I take him to be attempting to bring claims under both federal and state law theories of relief.

         Prison officials may violate an inmate's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by failing to protect the inmate from a threat of harm. To state a claim for a prison official's failure to protect him from harm, a prisoner must allege that (1) he faced a “substantial risk of serious harm” and (2) the prison officials identified acted with “deliberate indifference” to that risk. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); see also Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 909 (7th Cir. 2005). Although Vargas's allegations are somewhat vague, I take him to be saying that defendants Clark, Minshall, Mann, and Bonner knew that the equipment he worked with was dangerous but did not take proper precautions to make it safe. I conclude that Vargas states Eighth Amendment claims against these defendants.

         Vargas also names JCI Warden Lizzie Tegels as a defendant, and says that she “is responsible for the staff doing their jobs accordingly and the safety of prisoners.” Dkt. 1, at 3-4. Tegels's mere status as a supervisor is not enough to state an Eighth Amendment claims against Tegels. Vargas cannot “rely on the doctrine of respondeat superior to hold supervisory officials liable for the misconduct of their subordinates.... Rather, the supervisory officials also must have had some personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation, essentially directing or consenting to the challenged conduct.” Doyle v. Camelot Care Ctrs., Inc., 305 F.3d 603, 615 (7th Cir. 2002). Therefore, I will not allow Vargas to proceed on an Eighth Amendment claim against Tegels.

         Vargas alleges that defendants Dougherty, Bruesgen, Facktor, and O'Donnell denied his grievance and appeals, stating that “[t]hey could have helped me but chose not to and now I'm in complete pain.” Dkt. 1, at 4. These allegations are too vague to state a claim against the defendant complaint examiners, because Vargas does not explain how they could have helped him. It is unclear whether he is saying that he warned them about the dangerous equipment, whether he complained about medical problems following the incident, or something else. If Vargas complained about an event that had already occurred, a complaint examiner does not violate the constitution by rejecting a grievance about it. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609-10 (7th Cir. 2007). If Vargas complained about a problem the examiners could fix, he might be able to bring an Eighth Amendment claim against them, but without knowing more about Vargas's complaint, I cannot allow him to procced on claims against the examiners.

         I will stay service of the complaint and give Vargas a short time to submit an amended complaint better explaining how defendants Dougherty, Bruesgen, Facktor, and O'Donnell could have helped him. Vargas should explain when he filed his complaint, what he ...


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