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Cooper v. Meyer

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 20, 2017

DEMETRIUS COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY MEYER, PATRICK GORMAN, and CORY SABISH, Defendants.[1]

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         I previously granted pro se plaintiff Demetrius Cooper leave to proceed with Eighth Amendment excessive force, failure to protect, and deliberate indifference claims against defendants Jeffrey Meyer, Patrick Gorman, and Cory Sabish of the Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) concerning a February 2016 incident in which Gorman hurt Cooper while placing handcuffs on him, Meyer and Sabish failed to protect Cooper from Gorman, and all three defendants were deliberately indifferent to Cooper's resulting pain. Dkt. 10. Cooper has filed several motions for assistance in recruiting counsel, all of which I have denied. But in his most recent motion, Cooper indicated that he was unable to purchase the materials necessary to communicate with the court. Dkt. 23. I ordered defendants to show cause why I should not order that Cooper be provided legal supplies reasonably necessary to litigate the case, including writing utensils, paper, photocopies, envelopes, and postage. Dkt. 24. Defendants have responded to my order. Although I gave Cooper the opportunity to oppose defendants' response, he has not done so. Instead, he has filed two motions for leave to amend his complaint, Dkt. 30 and Dkt. 32, and a motion for a “protective order.” Dkt. 33. I will address defendants' response to the order to show cause and Cooper's motions.

         A. Order to show cause

         In Cooper's most recent motion for assistance in recruiting counsel, he explained that WCI staff denied his January 5, 2017 request for a legal loan because he had other funds available, as shown by his purchase of a razor and paper at the canteen. WCI records confirm that he spent 50 cents at the canteen on December 28, 2016, and was denied a legal loan because of “recent canteen spending.” Dkt. 23-1, at 6. Cooper contended that without a legal loan, he would not be able to pay for postage or other materials so that he may submit new filings with the court.

         The Constitution guarantees prisoners the right to have “meaningful access to the courts, ” Lehn v. Holmes, 364 F.3d 862, 868 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 823 (1977)), and part of this right is that “indigent inmates must be provided at state expense with paper and pen to draft legal documents with notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail them.” Bounds, 430 U.S. at 824-25. So on March 3, 2017, I ordered defendants to show cause why I should not order that Cooper be provided legal supplies reasonably necessary to litigate the case, including writing utensils, paper, photocopies, envelopes, and postage. Dkt. 24.

         Defendants responded on March 13, arguing that Cooper has not demonstrated that he is unable to purchase legal supplies reasonably necessary to litigate his case. In support, defendants point to Cooper's canteen purchase history and inmate bank account records, which indicate that Cooper usually earns about $4 every few weeks, he spent more than $6 on non-legal supplies at the canteen during the month of February, and he had $2.91 in his regular account as of March 6. See Dkt. 29-2 and Dkt. 29-3. These are meager amounts, but they indicate that Cooper should be able to budget for legal supplies.

         Although my March 3 order to show cause indicated that Cooper could file a response to defendants' brief within 14 days of receiving a copy of it, Cooper did not do so. I do not take Cooper's silence to indicate that he is unable to communicate with the courts, because his account records show that he had enough money in his account to afford paper, a pen, and a stamped envelope, and because he recently filed a motion for leave to amend his complaint.

         Although defendants' silence about whether they supply Cooper, or any indigent inmate, with paper, pen, and stamps to draft and mail legal documents regardless of the legal loan program gives me pause, Cooper has not indicated that he is unable to litigate his case using the money available in his regular account. At this point, I see no need to order defendants to supply Cooper with legal supplies necessary to litigate his case. Should Cooper find himself without sufficient funds to litigate aspects of this case, he should let the court know, but he will need to explain what tasks he is unable to complete.

         B. Motions for leave to amend

         Cooper moves to amend his complaint to (1) identify the correct date of the events forming the basis of his claims; (2) to add two more claims for “deliberate indifference to mental health needs” and “corporal punishment” concerning the same incident at issue in his original complaint, Dkt. 30, at 1; and (3) to add claims against Gorman and Jason Rosenthal concerning events arising after Cooper filed his original complaint. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 the court should freely give leave to amend a complaint when justice so requires. I will grant Cooper's motion to amend his complaint to state that the events at issue occurred on February 2, 2016, not February 4, as he alleged in his original complaint. As for Cooper's request to add new claims, I must screen his proposed claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, just as I screened the claims in his original complaint. I will allow him to move forward with new claims against defendants Gorman and Meyer, and I will accept his amended complaint, Dkt. 31, as supplemented by his most recent motion to amend, Dkt. 32, as the operative pleading. I will order defendants to answer Cooper's amended complaint.

         1. Claims concerning the February 2016 incident

         Cooper first contends that during the February 2016 incident, Gorman, Meyer, and Sabish were deliberately indifferent to his mental anguish. To state this claim, Cooper must allege that defendants were aware of a serious medical need and consciously failed to take reasonable measures to help him. Duckworth v. Ahmad, 532 F.3d 675, 679 (7th Cir. 2008). Cooper alleges that when he asked Meyer to place him in clinical observation because he had suicidal thoughts and may harm himself if left alone in his cell, Meyer did not take Cooper to clinical observation but instead restrained Cooper (hurting Cooper's wrist in the process) and, with Gorman's help, secured Cooper to a strip-cage door for at least 90 minutes. Gorman then asked Cooper if he wished “to go into clinical observation and continue to be in restraints or alternatively go back to [his] cell.” Dkt. 31, at 5. Drawing all reasonable inferences in Cooper's favor, his allegations show that Meyer and Gorman were aware of his mental anguish and risk of suicide-a serious harm, see Minix v. Canarecci, 597 F.3d 824, 831 (7th Cir. 2010)-but refused to provide him with appropriate mental health care and instead restrained him. Although the act of restraining Cooper may have rendered him incapable of committing suicide, it did not reasonably address his mental anguish. And although Gorman offered Cooper the opportunity to go to clinical observation, he made it clear that if Cooper accepted the offer, he would have to remain in the restraints that had been hurting him. Cooper states a claim against Meyer and Gorman. But Cooper does not allege that Sabish was aware of Cooper's suicidal thoughts or mental anguish. He alleges only that Sabish was aware of Cooper's complaints about his physical pain from the handcuffs that Meyer applied too tightly. So he does not state a claim against Sabish.

         Second, Cooper contends that Meyer and Gorman violated his Eighth Amendment rights by subjecting him to corporal punishment by handcuffing Cooper to the strip-cage door “for several hours in an awkward position while resting on his very wrist he complained of pain.” Dkt. 31, at 9. I already granted Cooper leave to proceed on an excessive force claim against Meyer for applying the handcuffs too tightly, deliberate indifference claims against Gorman and Sabish for failing to intervene or loosen the handcuffs, and deliberate indifference claims against all three defendants for denying Cooper medical treatment for his resulting pain. I am convinced that this is the proper way to characterize Cooper's claims. See Ajala v. Tom, 658 F.App'x 805 (7th Cir. 2016) (indicating that an excessive force claim for the application of too-tight handcuffs and deliberate indifference claims for the refusal to loosen the handcuffs during a four-hour period in which the prisoner was shackled to the floor was the proper characterization); see also Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1578, 1582-83 (7th Cir. 1994) (concluding that shackling prisoners “by their hands and feet to their cells standing ankle-deep in water” for three hours, “although uncomfortable, ” and although “there was another location that the prisoners could have been placed while the water was removed, does not violate any constitutional right”).

         Cooper argues that he states a claim under Gates v. Collier, a ...


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