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Carter v. McGowan

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 9, 2017

TOMMIE L. CARTER, Plaintiff,


          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge.

         Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution, filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his civil rights were violated. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the Court on several of Plaintiff's recently filed motions, including: (1) a motion to compel discovery responses (Docket #20); (2) a motion for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (Docket #21); (3) two motions for protective order (Docket #22 and #23); and (4) a motion for sanctions (Docket #24). Defendants oppose each of these motions. (Docket #27). Plaintiff filed a short reply letter (Docket #28), and so the motions are now ripe for resolution. For the reasons stated below, all of Plaintiff's motions will be denied.

         1. Motion to Compel Discovery Responses

         Plaintiff's first motion requests that the Court address Defendants' failure to respond to his discovery requests within the time provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket #20 at 1). After receiving his discovery requests in late November 2016, Defendants' counsel sent Plaintiff a letter stating that she would provide responses after the Christmas holidays because of short-staffing and the breadth of the requests. Id. Plaintiff objects to this, noting that he did not consent to an extension of time. Id. Defendants rejoin that they responded to Plaintiff's discovery requests within thirty-seven days of service and produced over 300 pages of documents. (Docket #27 at 2). Defendants believe that Plaintiff has a litigation strategy of serving “oppressive amounts of discovery” while unfairly refusing to countenance even minor extensions of time. Id.

         Whatever his litigation strategy may be, Plaintiff's motion must be denied. Plaintiff did not certify that he first made a good-faith effort to meet and confer with Defendants' counsel about the subject of his motion before seeking the Court's intervention, as is required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Court's Local Rules. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1); Civ. L. R. 37. Although he received a letter from defense counsel about the anticipated date she would respond to his discovery requests, he did not actually confer with her regarding his objection to her proposed extension. The purpose of Federal and Local Rule 37 is to avoid just this sort of unnecessary court involvement in minor discovery disagreements. Ross v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Wisconsin Sys., No. 08-CV-230, 2008 WL 5129941, at *1 (E.D. Wis. Dec. 5, 2008) (“The court has neither the time, nor the inclination to act as a referee in every minor dispute between the parties during discovery.”). For this reason, the motion will be denied. Williams v. Frank, No. 06C1051, 2007 WL 1217358, at *1 (E.D. Wis. Apr. 19, 2007) (enforcing Local Rule 37 meet-and-confer requirements against pro se prisoner).[1]

         2. Motion for Protective Order Related to Destruction of Records

         Plaintiff's first motion for protective order concerns the alleged destruction of evidence. Plaintiff claims that disciplinary records in Defendants' personnel files will be “purged” after one year's time, thereby destroying material relevant to his claims, which occurred in 2015. (Docket #22). Defendants state that no such documents exist because none of them were disciplined in relation to their interactions with Plaintiff. (Docket #27 at 2-3). Thus, in Defendants' view the motion is moot. Id. The Court agrees-Plaintiff's fear of possible spoliation is grounded in pure speculation, not in fact. Plaintiff's reply in support of his motions does nothing to aid his argument, since he merely accuses defense counsel of lying. See (Docket #28). This motion will, therefore, be denied.

         3. Motions for Preliminary Injunctive Relief, Protective Order, and Sanctions Related to Searches and Suicide Threats

         Plaintiff's remaining motions are related and concern his continuing threats of suicide. Before turning to the motions, however, it is first important to appreciate the nature of this case. After screening, Plaintiff's lone remaining claim relates to his attempted suicide in his cell. Plaintiff alleges that on November 18, 2015, he informed Defendants that he would attempt to commit suicide. (Docket #11 at 3). They did nothing in response to this information, and he thereafter attempted suicide in his cell by cutting himself with a razor and overdosing on acetaminophen. Id. at 3-4.

         In his motion for preliminary injunctive relief, Plaintiff claims that he was ignored when he recently warned Defendants of renewed plans to commit suicide. (Docket #21 at 1-2). In particular, he requested that he be placed in “observation” status, but those requests were denied. Id. He asks that the Court order the prison to place him in observation status and in physical restraints whenever he makes such suicide threats. See Id. at 3. He argues that Defendants have been inept at keeping him from harming himself and that the Court should intervene to protect him from himself. See Id. at 2-3.

         Plaintiff's motion for sanctions is based on similar allegations. In it, he seeks sanctions against Defendants for their failure to prevent him from continuing to harm himself. (Docket #24 at 1). For instance, Plaintiff alleges that he has inflicted injuries on himself by scraping himself with staples while Defendants did nothing. Id. He also reiterates the claims he made in his motion for injunctive relief concerning his repeated, and ignored, suicide threats throughout December 2016 and January 2017. Id. at 1-2. On several occasions, he claims he managed to make himself bleed and smeared blood on his cell and his person, yet officers did not respond. Id. at 2. He calls for a “prompt investigation” of his allegations and that the Court order Defendants and other correctional staff to comply with the applicable policies and procedures when Plaintiff threatens suicide. Id.

         Finally, in his second motion for protective order, Plaintiff contends that correctional officers are repeatedly searching his cell and his person. (Docket #23 at 1). He says the searches occur “almost every other day” and involve officers “shuffling his legal files and strewing them around, hampering his preparation for this case.” Id. He also claims that there are sometimes late-night searches that include a strip-search of his person. Id. He accuses Defendants of trying to interfere with this litigation through these searches. Id. at 2. However, Plaintiff also acknowledges that the officers explained that the searches are being done in order to uncover items Plaintiff might use to hurt himself with. Id.

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's two motions relating to his continuing threats of self-harm-the motion for preliminary injunctive relief and the motion for sanctions-should be denied. (Docket #27 at 3). Defendants argue that Plaintiff's allegations concern many prison officials who are not defendants in this case and that Plaintiff inappropriately asks the Court to step in and oversee his mental health treatment. Id.

         Defendants also provided the declaration of Dr. Torria Van Buren, a psychologist at the prison, who gives a detailed account of Plaintiff's mental health treatment and opines that Plaintiff has been fabricating instances where he threatens self-harm. (Docket #25 at 4). On those instances where Plaintiff in fact expressed suicidal thoughts, he was placed in observation and then released when the danger passed. Id. at 5-6. According to the doctor, Plaintiff has expressly threatened to tell other inmates to engage in self-harm, and threatened Defendants with litigation, if Defendants and other prison staff do not respond to his suicide threats as he ...

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