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Carter v. Cummings

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 8, 2017

TOMMIE L. CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTONIO CUMMINGS, ROBERT PICKLE and JAY VAN LANEN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge

         Pro se prisoner Tommie Carter is proceeding on two claims: (1) defendants Antonio Cummings and Robert Pickle (both correctional officers) were aware of a substantial risk that plaintiff would seriously harm himself on October 17, 2013, but they consciously failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the harm, in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (2) defendant Jay Van Lanen (also a correctional officer) refused to take pictures of plaintiff's injuries on October 17, 2013, in order to prevent plaintiff from proving his claim, in violation of plaintiff's right to have access to the courts.

         Several motions are before the court: (1) plaintiff's motion for sanctions, dkt. #86; (2) defendants' motion for sanctions, dkt. #92; (3) plaintiff's motion to withdraw his motion for sanctions, dkt. #95; (4) defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. #97; and (5) plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, dkt. #110.

         Because plaintiff has withdrawn his motion for sanctions, I need not consider that motion. I am denying defendants' request to dismiss this case as a sanction, but I agree with defendants that it should have been clear to plaintiff when he filed his own sanctions motion that the motion was improper. Accordingly, I am requiring plaintiff to reimburse defendants for the reasonable expenses they incurred in responding to his sanctions motion before he withdrew it.

         With respect to the parties' motions for summary judgment, I conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact requiring a trial on plaintiff's claim against Cummings and Pickle. I am dismissing plaintiff's claim against defendant Van Lanen without prejudice because that claim is not ripe.

         OPINION

         A. Sanctions Motions

         In a motion the court received on October 17, 2016, plaintiff asked for “sanctions” and an “investigation” regarding an alleged failure of prison staff members to prevent plaintiff from harming himself in September 2016. Dkt. #87. None of the staff members discussed in the motion were parties to this case.

         In response, defendants argued that the motion should be denied because plaintiff's allegations are outside the scope of his claims and because the allegations are false. Dkt.#92. In addition, defendants filed their own motions for sanctions, asking the court to dismiss the case for the same reasons. Id. Because this court has sanctioned plaintiff in the past for making false allegations, defendants asked for an even more severe sanction, a general filing bar on future cases. Id.

         Plaintiff then moved to withdraw his own motion for sanctions. Dkt. #95. He said that he brought his sanctions motion “in good faith” and that he did not realize at the time he filed it that he could not obtain sanctions for conduct that was outside the scope of his claims. He asked that defendants' motion for sanctions be denied as moot.

         Defendants did not oppose plaintiff's motion to withdraw, but they did not withdraw their own sanctions motion. Instead, they argued that plaintiff's original motion showed his “disregard for the litigation process” and still required a sanction. Dkt. #96.

         Defendants' arguments have some force. Plaintiff lacks credibility when he says that he was unaware until defendants filed their motion for sanctions that it was inappropriate for him to seek sanctions against individuals who are not parties and about conduct that is outside the scope of the case. In the August 17, 2016 order in this case (only two months before plaintiff filed his motion for sanctions), I informed plaintiff multiple times that he cannot raise issues outside the scope of his complaint. Dkt. #72 at 5-6 (“Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction to stop prison officials from transferring him to different prisons within the state. However, neither of plaintiff's pending lawsuits in this court is related to his placement at a particular prison and he does not allege that any of the defendants are responsible for transfer decisions, so this issue is outside the scope of this lawsuit.”); id. at 7 (“[T]his motion raises issues that are outside the scope of these cases and is about officials who are not party to this case. If plaintiff believes that his cell conditions are unconstitutional, he will have to file a separate lawsuit.”); id. at 10 (“Although the allegations are disturbing, they are outside the scope of this lawsuit, like so many of the other motions plaintiff has filed. Again, plaintiff does not allege that defendants are involved in any of this conduct ..... He cannot insert new, unrelated issues into whatever lawsuits happen to be pending.”).

         In his previous cases, I gave plaintiff similar instructions that issues outside the scope of his claims should not be raised in the lawsuit. E.g., Carter v. Ashton, No. 14-cv-399-bbc (W.D. Wis. May 1, 2015), dkt. #62 at 7 (“Plaintiff does not explain how documents related to an alleged relationship with defendant Ashton are relevant to his claims, so that issue is outside the scope of this case.”); Carter v. Ashton, 14-cv-399-bbc (W.D. Wis. June 11, 2015), dkt. #65 at 3 (“Because plaintiff has not filed a subpoena and he has not explained how any of the records he wants are relevant to his claims, I am denying this part of his motion.”). Plaintiff fails to explain why he did not heed the court's repeated instructions.

         That being said, dismissal or an outright filing bar would be harsh sanctions for filing a motion that should have been filed as a separate lawsuit, even if the party has made the same mistake in the past. Defendants do not identify any case in which similar conduct was sanctioned in that manner.

         It is true that defendants seek sanctions not just because plaintiff's allegations are unrelated to the case, but also on the ground that the allegations are false. I dismissed both Carter v. Waterman, No. 13-cv-742-bbc (W.D. Wis.), and Carter v. Ashton, No. 14-cv-399-bbc (W.D. Wis.), as a sanction after finding that plaintiff had falsified allegations about prison staff. I declined to impose additional sanctions because plaintiff had not been sanctioned before, but I advised plaintiff that, if he “continues to make false allegations in this court and engages in other litigation misconduct, I will consider whether a more severe sanction is appropriate, including a monetary sanction and bar on filing additional lawsuits in this court.” Carter v. Waterman, No. 13-cv-742-bbc, 2016 WL 407331, at *9 (W.D. Wis. Feb. 2, 2016). I agree with defendants that plaintiff's past conduct is a relevant consideration in determining whether plaintiff should be sanctioned in this case. Averhart v. Sheriff of Cook County, ...


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