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Lonas v. Oshkosh Corrections Inst.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 20, 2017

DESSIE RUSSELL LONAS, Plaintiff,
v.
OSHKOSH CORRECTIONS INST. and DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Plaintiff Dessie Russell Lonas, a Wisconsin Department of Corrections prisoner housed at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution, brings this lawsuit alleging that he is not receiving proper treatment for a broken nose and hernia. Lonas 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 Lonas is a pro se litigant, I must read his allegations generously. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam).

         After considering Lonas's allegations, I conclude that although he describes problems with his medical treatment that likely support claims for relief under the Eighth Amendment, he does not name any defendants capable of being sued in this type of lawsuit or explain who is responsible for his lack of treatment. Therefore, I will dismiss the complaint and give Lonas a chance to file an amended complaint identifying the prison officials who harmed him.

         ALLEGATIONS OF FACT

         Plaintiff Dessie Russell Lonas is a prisoner at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. In September 2016, Lonas broke his nose playing baseball, but prison staff will not treat it. In late October, Lonas was injured at his job and now has a hernia. He reported his pain at 6 out of 10. Prison staff said that they would monitor it, and they told him to wear a “bra-type” belt, but they have not done more to help him. Lonas feels like the hernia is “tearing more each day, ” and at the end of the day his pain is up to 9 out of 10. He constantly takes naproxen for pain but I take him to be saying that it is not effective in treating the pain. Lonas continues to contact medical staff and higher level prison officials but they have done nothing to help him.

         ANALYSIS

         Lonas alleges that prison medical staff is not properly treating either his broken nose or his hernia. These allegations would usually be enough to support claims that the lack of adequate medical care amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits prison officials from acting with deliberate indifference to prisoners' serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976). A “serious medical need” may be a condition that a doctor has recognized as needing treatment or one for which the necessity of treatment would be obvious to a lay person. Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d 579, 584-85 (7th Cir. 2006). To be considered “deliberately indifferent, ” an official must know of and disregard “an excessive risk to an inmate's health or safety; the official must both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Snipes v. Detella, 95 F.3d 586, 590 (7th Cir. 1996).

         But there are problems with Lonas's complaint. Lawsuits about unconstitutional medical treatment are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which allows a plaintiff to bring claims against a “person” acting under color of state law who deprived the plaintiff of his rights. State of Wisconsin prisoners who file claims regarding their treatment in DOC facilities must bring claims against individuals who are responsible for directly harming them or failing to take action to help them despite knowing of the problem, or for creating a policy or custom that caused the problem. Lonas names the Oshkosh Correctional Institution and the Department of Corrections as the only defendants in this lawsuit, but the state or its agencies cannot be sued for constitutional violations because they are not “persons” within the meaning of § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1989).

         In addition to Lonas's failure to name any individual DOC or prison staff members as defendants, he fails to explain in his allegations who is responsible for the decisions to withhold treatment or disregard the complaints he filed. Therefore, I conclude that his allegations violate Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Rule 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). Even if Lonas had named individual persons as defendants, they would not be able to tell from his allegations what they each did to harm him.

         I will dismiss Lonas's complaint and give him a short time to file an amended complaint fixing these problems. 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 (1) name individual DOC or prison staff members as defendants in the caption; and (2) explain how each of them was responsible for failing to address his medical needs. If Lonas does not know the identity of particular defendants, he may label them as John Doe #1, John Doe #2, and so on, and the court has procedures by which he may make discovery requests to identify those defendants. But for now he must file an amended complaint explaining his improper treatment and identifying the officials responsible for it.

         If Lonas does not submit an amended complaint by the deadline set forth below, I will dismiss this case for his failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and assess him a strike under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         Lonas has also filed a series of letters in this case and his three other currently pending cases regarding his prison trust fund account. First, he says that he and other prisoners are having finds deducted from their accounts to pay “supervision fees” from decades ago. He asks for an order telling the DOC to stop deducting these funds. Dkt. 15.

         I will deny this motion because it has nothing to do with the current case or his other pending lawsuits in this court. This court can resolve only the legal issues that are raised in the complaint, and this case is about the medical treatment Lonas received for his broken nose and hernia. Even if he tried to amend his complaint to include allegations about the deduction of his funds, they would almost certainly not belong in this lawsuit ...


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