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Williams v. Fry

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 30, 2017

SARA FRY and TRAVIS HAAG, Defendants.


          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Plaintiff Roosevelt Williams, a prisoner at the Columbia Correctional Institution, brings claims that defendant prison officials violated his due process rights by confiscating his wedding ring and funds from his release account, and violated his Eighth Amendment rights by denying him a lower bunk restriction. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Williams responded by filing a series of motions alleging that prison officials engaged in various misconduct, including withholding disclosure of documents until Williams's summary judgment response deadline passed, and tampering with pieces of evidence. In a September 20, 2016 order, I denied his various motions for sanctions for the time being but gave him a chance to submit supplemental materials in opposition to the summary judgment motion and supporting his assertions that defendants tampered with evidence. Dkt. 76.

         Williams has submitted supplemental materials and defendants have responded. After considering the parties' submissions, I see no reason to reconsider my previous rulings denying his motions for sanctions. I also conclude that defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted on all of Williams's claims.

         A. Sanctions

         In the September 20 order, I stated that Williams made two arguments about prison officials tampering with evidence:

• Ms. Pafford “deliberately and intentionally alter and purposely made different [a health service request] form Williams sent to [the Health Services Unit], ” Dkt. 53, at 1, but he does not explain how the document was altered, and how it affects any of his claims in this lawsuit.
• prison official Kim Carl “tampered with evidence, ” and that she has opened some of his legal mail and prevented a copy of his interrogatories from reaching the court, Dkt. 67 but it is unclear whether he means that Carl has altered documents, or he is referring to Carl blocking the mailing of the interrogatories.

Dkt. 76, at 3-4. I instructed Williams that to prevail on renewed motions for sanctions he would have to “explain what he means by ‘tampering' in detail, how he knows the evidence has been tampered with, what accurate copies of the evidence looked like before they was tampered with, and how his claims have been affected by this evidence.” Id. at 4.

         Williams now says that Pafford added her writing onto his copies of “authenticated HSU forms.” He says that he has submitted two copies of a form-one with her writing and one without-but those documents do not seem to be included in his supplemental submissions, because there are no documents fitting his description. He does not identify the document with enough particularity to even guess at which document he is referring to. This does not address my concerns with his previous motions for sanctions.

         Williams says that Carl intercepted a set of interrogatories he intended to send to the court in June 2016, presumably along with his summary judgment response, but he does not explain how he knew this intentional tampering happened, other than that she was working in the mail room when it allegedly disappeared. This speculation cannot be the basis for sanctions. He does not cite to these interrogatories in his proposed findings of fact or brief, so it is unclear how the interrogatories would have made a difference in his litigation of the case. He later submitted a set of unanswered interrogatories dated October 12, 2016, Dkt. 78, but he does not explain whether these were a copy of what went missing earlier, or provide any other reason for submitting them. Because Williams falls far short of fulfilling my instructions for supporting his renewed motions for sanctions, I will deny his motions.

         B. Summary Judgment

         To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Brummett v. Sinclair Broad. Grp., Inc., 414 F.3d 686, 692 (7th Cir. 2005). All reasonable inferences from the facts in the summary judgment record must be drawn in the nonmoving party's favor. Baron v. City of Highland Park, 195 F.3d 333, 338 (7th Cir. 1999). If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment for the moving party is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         1. Findings of fact

         Plaintiff Roosevelt Williams is a state of Wisconsin prisoner incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI), a maximum security institution located in Portage, Wisconsin. During the time relevant to this case, defendant Sara Fry was a corrections unit supervisor at CCI. While at CCI Fry was a member of the “Special Needs Committee, ” which meets weekly to consider inmate complaints and accommodation requests related to inmates' physical conditions. Defendant Travis Haag is a correctional sergeant at CCI.

         a. Ring and release account funds

         Under Division of Adult Institutions policy 309.20.03, for security reasons, only inmates that can document they are married or widowed are permitted to wear a wedding ring. This rule is in place to limit the use of personal property as a status symbol or as currency in gambling within the prison.[1]

         In July 2012, Williams was transferred from the Waupun Correctional Institution to the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. The property inventory form associated with that transfer showed that Williams possessed a wedding ring. Inventories from his November 19, 2013 transfer to the Dodge Correctional Institution and November 21, 2013 transfer to CCI had this field blank, although the state concedes that “[i]t is possible that the ring was on Williams's finger at the time the inventories were completed and not properly included on the Property Inventor(ies).” Dkt. 58, at 2. The CCI inventory also shows that a wedding ring was added to his list of possessions at some point.

         Even though Williams had a wedding ring at CCI, he did not possess documentation (such as a marriage license) that he was authorized to possess it as of July 10, 2014. In July 2014, defendant Haag told Fry that Williams had a ring on but had no documentation that he was married. Fry “looked into this further and found no evidence that [Williams] was married.” On July 10, Fry told Haag to confiscate the ring. Williams gave the ring to Haag.[2] Fry says that she told Williams that she would keep it in her desk pending receipt of his proof of marriage. Williams says that Fry never told her this.

         Williams filed an inmate grievance stating that Fry and Haag took his ring without permission and threatened punishment if he did not comply with their orders. The inmate complaint examiner recommended dismissal because Williams did not have proof of his marriage. The inmate complaint examiner also recommended that staff follow up with Williams because under prison rules, his ring could be disposed of after 30 days if the prison did not receive proof of the marriage. The warden affirmed the dismissal of Williams's complaint and Williams appealed. On appeal, corrections complaint examiner Charles Facktor obtained a letter from the Dane County Register of Deeds office, which he accepted as sufficient proof of Williams's marriage. On August 12, 2014, he recommended affirming Williams's appeal with the modification that the ring should be returned and a copy of the letter be placed in Williams's social services file.

         While this was happening, Williams was trying to get the documentation of marriage himself. On August 12, 2014, presumably before he received Facktor's ruling, Williams completed a form seeking disbursement of release account funds to pay for a copy his marriage certificate (Williams had no money in his regular account). Because of the importance of the wedding ring, Fry says that she requested special permission from the warden to use release account funds for this purpose.[3] Two days later, $20 were transferred to Williams's regular account, and a check for $20 was sent to the state office of vital records.

         On August 26, 2014, DOC secretary-designee Deirdre Morgan ruled on Williams's grievance appeal, stating the following:

The attached Corrections Complaint Examiner's recommendation to AFFIRM WITH MODIFICATION this complaint is not accepted as the decision of the Secretary. My decision is to affirm this appeal.

Dkt. 42-2, at 7.[4]

         Fry says that she gave the ring back to Williams when the corrections complaint examiner's recommendation was issued (by this time Haag did not work on Williams's unit, so he was not involved in the decision to return the ring). She does not say what day she returned the ring, but her declaration makes clear that it was before Morgan's ruling on August 26. Williams disputes Fry's version, saying that Fry did not give him his ring back when she claims to have. He cites to a “property receipt/disposition” form showing that he received the ring back on September 3, 2014. I will credit Williams's version.

         On August 27, 2014, Williams submitted an “Interview/Information Request” form asking Lindsay Walker to stop payment on the check. I take it to be undisputed that this did not happen.

         Williams filed another inmate grievance (dated August 28 and received September 2, 2014), alleging that Fry had failed to comply with instructions to return his ring. The institution complaint examiner recommended dismissing the new grievance because Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.15(1) allows staff 30 working days from an affirmed complaint to implement that decision, and this complaint was filed only six working days after Morgan issued her final order. The warden dismissed the complaint on September 12, 2014. Williams did not appeal this decision. Nor did Williams file a later grievance about the ring.

         On September 19, 2014, Williams filed a third grievance, this one alleging that the business office violated policy by deducting $20 from his release account without the proper authorities' consent. Defendants say that this grievance was dismissed because Williams intended to use those funds to pay for a copy of his marriage certificate. That is not quite true. Williams's complaint was “affirmed with modification.” The institution complaint examiner's decision, which was adopted by all subsequent reviewers, was that although marriage certificates were not an approved use of release account funds, and thus should not have been approved, Williams indeed asked for the disbursement and received a copy ...

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