United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
MASON L. HUTTER, Plaintiff,
ST. CROIX COUNTY CLERK OF COURTS OFFICE, Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge.
Mason L. Hutter, an inmate at the Prairie du Chien
Correctional Institution, brings this lawsuit alleging that
St. Croix County officials placed incorrect information into
his criminal or driver-license records, leading to him being
arrested. Hutter has made an initial partial payment of the
filing fee, as previously directed.
next step in this case is to screen the complaint. In doing
so, I must dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous,
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by
law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. §§
1915 and 1915A. Because Hutter is a pro se litigant, I must
read his allegations generously. Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam).
reviewing the complaint with these principles in mind, I
conclude that Hutter's current complaint does not state
any federal claims for relief, but I will give him a chance
to amend his complaint to do so.
Mason L. Hutter is an inmate at the Prairie du Chien
Correctional Institution. But his allegations involve events
occurring in August 2015, when he was out of prison. On
August 28, 2015, Hutter was pulled over in Ellsworth,
Wisconsin and charged with operating after revocation and
tampering with an ignition interlock device. Hutter was
jailed for four days, even though he had a driver license and
was not on an interlock restriction.
source of the error was the St. Croix County Clerk's
Office, which erred when filling out paperwork about previous
cases: staff accidentally placed Hutter's driver license
number in a case involving another person who had been
convicted of second-offense operating while intoxicated
(presumably who also had his license revoked and had an
interlock requirement). Hutter says that “this”
is still on his record, that he has been “libeled and
slandered, ” and that he was wrongfully jailed. He has
filed a supplement in which he states that the
operating-while-intoxicated charge was removed from his
record but that the interlock-tampering charge remains, even
after he requested that it be removed. He believes that the
erroneous charge or other information in his record played
into a later false arrest that he is challenging in another
case in this court, No. 16-cv-717-jdp.
seeks money damages for “the negligence and careless
manner in which [the St. Croix County Clerk's Office] did
and continue to do their job.” Dkt. 1, at 4. But
negligence and the other state law causes of action
(such as libel and slander) mentioned in the complaint cannot
be heard by this federal court unless Hutter brings
federal claims in his lawsuit or he and defendant are
citizens from different states. See 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331 and 1332. Given the information in the
complaint and public court records I have reviewed in
conjunction with Hutter's allegations, there is no reason
to think anything other than that he is a Wisconsin citizen.
only federal claims plausibly contained in Hutter's
complaint are ones under the Fourth Amendment for false
arrest, because he apparently has been arrested twice at
least in part because of faulty records created by the St.
Croix County Clerk's Office. It is unclear exactly what
Hutter is saying remains on either his criminal record or
driver-license records, but it would seem to include either
past convictions, a revoked license, or ignition interlock
Hutter to be saying that he did not inform the clerk's
office about the mistaken information until after the first
arrest, so he cannot bring a claim about that arrest.
Reasonable mistakes by police officers do not subject them to
Fourth Amendment liability, and there is no reason to think
that a simple transposition mistake of the kind made by the
clerk's office here would be subject to liability either.
Cf. Tibbs v. City of Chi., 469 F.3d 661, 664 (7th
Cir. 2006) (reasonable mistake to arrest person having same
name, race, sex as target of warrant but different middle
initials and six-year age difference); Brown v.
Patterson, 823 F.2d 167, 168-70 (7th Cir. 1987) (no
Fourth Amendment violation when officer arrested man whose
name was listed as an alias on a warrant but whose birthday
and address did not match).
Hutter seems to be saying that he was arrested a second time
even after he alerted the clerk's office about the
mistake, and that to this day the clerk's office has not
fixed the problem, which will subject him to the same problem
in the future. If Hutter had named as a defendant the
individuals whom he says are intentionally refusing to
correct his records, he would likely state a Fourth Amendment
claim against those officials. However, he names only the St.
Croix County Clerk's Office as a defendant, and he does
not allege that the records were created erroneously because
of a county policy or custom, which is the only way a county
may be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Monell v.
Dept of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658,
it is possible that Hutter could state claims for relief by
amending his allegations, I will give him a short time to
submit an amended complaint that provides a better
explanation of his claims. He should draft his amended
complaint as if he were telling a story to people who know
nothing about his situation. In particular, he should explain
who he thinks is responsible for leaving the incorrect
information in his record. If he believes that this decision
was made because of a custom or policy of the county, he
should say so. If he believes that individual staff members
in the clerk's office are intentionally refusing to fix
his records, he should name those individuals as defendants.
If Hutter does not know the actual identities of those
individuals, he should refer to these individuals as
“John Doe No. 1, ” “John Doe No. 2, ”
and so on.
Hutter submits an amended complaint by the deadline set forth
below, I will screen it under §§ 1915 and 1915A. If
he does not, I will dismiss the entire case because Hutter
does not state any federal claims for relief. Hutter ...