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Reliford v. Haney

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 26, 2017




         Plaintiff Christopher Lamont Reliford (“Reliford”), who is presently housed at the Mendota Mental Health Institute, 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 Reliford's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). Reliford lacks the funds to pay an initial partial filing fee. (Docket #11); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4).

         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. 28 U.S.C. § 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. 28 U.S.C. § 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. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted); 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, second, “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) (citing Kramer v. Village of North Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); 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)).

         On March 22, 2016, someone complained that Reliford had assaulted a person at the Atkinson library. (Docket #1 at 4). Christopher Ottoway (“Ottoway”), a police officer, was dispatched to the library. Id. When he arrived, fire department personnel were already treating the victim's injuries. Id. Ottoway interviewed witnesses, including the victim, a security guard, and a librarian. Id. at 5. He also took pictures of the scene and obtained some video surveillance footage. Id. Reliford was apparently not present throughout Ottoway's investigation.

         Reliford was arrested two days later by the John and Jane Does, also police officers, at a different library. Id. Reliford complains that no warrant was issued for his arrest. Id. He also states that no witnesses ever positively identified him prior to his preliminary hearing which occurred in December 2016. Id. Reliford seems to believe that the witnesses' identification of him as the perpetrator in the preliminary hearing was fabricated due to “officer corruption, ” apparently referencing Ottoway. Id.

         Reliford alleges that his public defender, Robert E. Haney (“Haney”), and Jame C. Griffin (“Griffin”), the district attorney, conspired together “to process [him] and move [him] forward without an out of court identification made by [the victim or] witnesses.” Id. Haney had Reliford examined by mental health professionals in an attempt to “[use] incompeten[cy] proceeding[s] to suppress the above proof.” Id. Reliford alleges that the “conspiracy” regarding his incompetency included the doctors who examined him. Id. Though he does not name those doctors in the body of the complaint, the Court assumes they are Mary K. Luzi (“Luzi”) and Dr. Collins (“Collins”), identified as “mental doctors” in the caption. Id. at 1.

         Reliford complains about various aspects of Haney's conduct, including that he withheld relevant documents. Id. at 6. The Court cannot determine the meaning of the next relevant sentence, so it transcribes the sentence verbatim: “Due to these Defendants malice conduct of depriving the plaintiff of his constitutional rights stated above and further abusing the process of continuingly using the psychiatric evaluation in order to plaintiff from having his request plea without and N.G.I. are the direct and proximate cause of plaintiff mental suffering and night mare.” Id. Reliford requests $5, 000, 000 in damages for “false imprisonment base[d] on mistaken arrest and detention was i[m]proper because police lacked probable cause to arrest.” Id. He also references retaliation for filing grievances, but he alleged no facts related to such a claim. Id.

         As best the Court can discern, Reliford advances two claims. First is against Ottoway, and potentially the John and Jane Doe officers, for arresting him without probable cause. Specifically, Reliford contends that they have the wrong person; no witness identified him as the culprit until many months after the arrest. These allegations state a claim for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Williams v. Rodriguez, 509 F.3d 392, 398-99 (7th Cir. 2007).

         Nevertheless, this claim may run afoul of the Heck doctrine, which holds that a claim for damages may not be pursued if its success would necessarily imply the invalidity of the criminal conviction or sentence. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). However, Heck does not automatically preclude Fourth Amendment claims related to conduct underlying a conviction. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 394 (2007). As long as a plaintiff's claims do not impugn the validity of his conviction or sentence, courts can entertain Section 1983 suits based on police investigative conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment. Gilbert v. Cook, 512 F.3d 899, 901 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Public records indicate that Reliford was charged with battery and disorderly conduct. See State of Wisconsin v. Christopher Lamont Reliford, No. 2016-CF-1315, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, available at: Reliford's claim, if proven, would necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction on these charges; he alleges that police arrested the wrong person based on insufficient identification, and thus that he is entirely innocent. The criminal case is still pending, however. On March 21, 2017, the court conducted a competency hearing and determined that Reliford was incompetent to proceed in the case at the time, but was likely to ...

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