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Adell v. Hepp

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 18, 2017



          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, 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 Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). The Court originally assessed Plaintiff an initial partial filing fee of 85 cents. (Docket #5); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). However, Plaintiff filed motions to waive payment of the initial partial filing fee, arguing that he has insufficient funds in his trust account and that prison officials will not allow him to overdraft the account or take a legal loan to pay the fee. (Docket #7 and #8).

         Although the records initially presented to the Court suggested that Plaintiff had the ability to pay an initial partial filing fee, the Court credits his representations in his motion that, in reality, he cannot. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff does not have the assets or means to pay the initial partial filing fee originally assessed. Because the Prison Litigation Reform Act mandates that a prisoner will not be prohibited from bringing a civil action for the reason that he lacks the assets and means to pay an initial partial filing fee, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4), Plaintiff will be granted a waiver of payment of the initial partial filing fee in this case. However, he is still obligated to pay the full filing fee pursuant to the statutory formula set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). See Id. § 1915(b)(1).

         Having determined that Plaintiff need not pay the initial partial filing fee, the Court next turns to screening his complaint. The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. Id. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Gladney v. Pendelton Corr. Facility, 302 F.3d 773, 774 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327; Gladney, 302 F.3d at 774. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); accord Paul v. Marberry, 658 F.3d 702, 705 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts, and his statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . .claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see Christopher v. Buss, 384 F.3d 879, 881 (7th Cir. 2004). However, a complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, “that is plausible on its face.” Id. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Christopher, 384 F.3d at 881.

         In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should follow the principles set forth in Twombly by first “identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must then “assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation was visited upon him by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Court is obliged to give the plaintiff's pro se allegations, “however inartfully pleaded, ” a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         Plaintiff alleges that the relevant events occurred while he was incarcerated at Foxlake Correctional Institution (“FCI”), where he was housed from March 11, 2014, until January 24, 2017. (Docket #1 at 5). Plaintiff claims he has chronic ulcerative colitis as a complication of Crohn's disease. Id. at 3. According to Plaintiff, this condition means that he has to use the restroom often and that the need to do so arises urgently and without warning. Id. In his view, he needs constant access to toilet facilities on demand to avoid the possibility of incontinence. Id.[1]

         In this case, Plaintiff claims that the warden and other high-level prison officials have created a policy of limiting toilet access to inmates during their recreation time. Id. at 5. The recreation facility contains both a gym and a music room. Id. Recreation periods last one hour, and inmates can stay for the whole hour or leave at the thirty-minute mark. Id. If an inmate leaves the recreation period for any reason, he may not return. Id. Further, during recreation periods no inmate is allowed access to a toilet. Id. Plaintiff was notified of this policy at the time of his intake into FCI. Id. Plaintiff decided not to attend recreation periods at all because he knew he would be denied toilet access and, if he had to leave to use the toilet, he could not return. Id. Plaintiff says that he had a meeting with Defendant Bruce Seidschlag (“Seidschlag”) around June 2015, during which Seidschlag forcefully asserted that no exception to the toilet-access ban during recreation time would be made for Plaintiff despite his bowel condition. Id. at 6. Plaintiff lodged an inmate grievance on the matter in December 2016, but the grievance was dismissed at each level of review. Id.

         Plaintiff identifies several legal claims which he believes arise from his factual allegations. These include: (1) deliberate indifference to his need for toilet access, in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (2) deprivation of his rights without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) denial of equal protection of the law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (4) denial of reasonable accommodations for his bowel conditions, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and/or the Rehabilitation Act. Id. at 4.

         None of Plaintiff's claims state a colorable basis for relief. First, to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, the plaintiff's allegations must raise the inference that he was denied the “minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Here, Plaintiff was, at worst, denied toilet access for one hour each day, which does not raise constitutional concerns. See Jaros v. Ill. Dep't of Corr., 684 F.3d 667, 670-71 (7th Cir. 2012) (affirming dismissal of Eighth Amendment claim where absence of grab bars in shower did not deprive inmate of ability to wash but only made it more difficult). In fact, Plaintiff was only denied toilet access if he chose to attend recreation time, which he says he did not do. In reality, although he mentions the Eighth Amendment in passing in his complaint, it appears that Plaintiff's true claim is that his disabilities should have been better accommodated. See Strominger v. Brock, 592 F. App'x 508, 511 (7th Cir. 2014) (on claim that shower chairs should have been provided, “the record suggests at most not that [the plaintiff] was denied life's necessities but only that he did not receive the level of accommodation that he wished”).[2]

         Next, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for deprivation of due process of law. To the extent he believes that he was denied due process by being subjected to the bathroom ban, this claim must fail because he was notified of the policy from the very start of his incarceration at FCI and was permitted to (and did) object to it. Dusenbery v. United States, 534 U.S. 161, 167 (2002) (observing that procedural due process generally requires only “notice and an opportunity to be heard”). Further, to the extent Plaintiff complains that his inmate grievances were erroneously denied, he has no due process right to gain relief through the grievance process. Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Prison grievance procedures are not mandated by the First Amendment and do not by their very existence create interests protected by the Due Process Clause, and so the alleged mishandling of [the plaintiff's] grievances by persons who otherwise did not cause or participate in the underlying conduct states no claim.”). Plaintiff states no due process claim where he merely files a grievance and disagrees with the outcome. See Conyers v. Abitz, 416 F.3d 580, 586 (7th Cir. 2005). Thus, no due process claim arises from Plaintiff's allegations.

         Third, Plaintiff's equal protection claim cannot proceed because the Supreme Court has not recognized individuals with bowel diseases, like Plaintiff, as constituting a suspect class under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Mlaska v. Schicker, Case No. 15-cv-00918-MJR, 2015 WL 6098733, at *11 (S.D. Ill. Oct. 16, 2015) (finding that group of inmates with a certain type of medical condition did not constitute a suspect class). Where a non-suspect class is implicated in such a claim, prison administrators are constitutionally entitled to treat prisoners differently “as long as the unequal treatment is rationally related to a legitimate penological interest.” Flynn v. Thatcher, 819 F.3d 990, 991 (7th Cir. 2016). A concern for security and order during recreation time, including keeping an eye on inmates moving freely about during recreation, could have rationally animated the ...

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