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Davis-Clair v. Turck

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 12, 2017

C.O. TURCK, C. FRANCOIS, K. O'DELL, and JOHN DOES 1 - 2, Defendants.


          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (“WSPF”), 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 #6).[1] Plaintiff has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $18.36. 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. 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. (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)).

         Although he is currently housed at WSPF, Plaintiff's allegations relate to events which occurred at his previous institution, Green Bay Correctional Institution (“GBCI”). At some point (Plaintiff does not provide a date), Plaintiff was told that he would be transferred to WSPF. (Docket #1-2 at 1). Plaintiff spoke with a Defendant John Doe social worker that the move would lead him to attempt suicide, citing the increased distance from family support. Id. Later that day, Plaintiff wrote to “PSU, ” which the Court assumes stands for “Psychological Services Unit, ” asking to speak with someone about that concern. Id. The Defendant John Doe PSU supervisor did not respond to that request.

         On January 15, 2016, Plaintiff had a hearing with a “PRC” committee, which included Defendants K. O'Dell (“O'Dell”), an offender class specialist, and C. Francois (“Francois”), the GBCI corrections program supervisor. Id. Plaintiff informed them that a transfer to WSPF may prompt suicide attempts, but they responded that “you are just going to have to deal with it.” Id. Plaintiff attached an exhibit to his complaint which appears to be a report from that hearing. (Docket #1-2 at 5-6). The report indicates that the move to WSPF was prompted by Plaintiff's high security classification and his own misbehavior. Id. As support for denying Plaintiff's request to stay at GBCI, the committee cited Plaintiff's crime (murder), his two recent major conduct reports (both for assault), and certain unmet programming requirements. Id. The report acknowledges Plaintiff's threats of self-harm and says that his statements “should be communicated to PSU and Security staff at GBCI and at WSPF.” Id. at 5.

         On February 6, 2016, Defendant C.O. Turck (“Turck”) told Plaintiff that he was being transferred to WSPF the next day. (Docket #1 at 2). Plaintiff asked Turck to summon a PSU worker and have him taken to an observation cell. Id. He apparently did not do so. Id. When Turck walked away, Plaintiff grabbed a razor and began cutting his wrist. Id. Turck returned and told Plaintiff to stop cutting himself, and Plaintiff refused. Id. Turck then got a nearby sergeant involved, who also told Plaintiff to stop. Id. Eventually, after being threatened with pepper spray, Plaintiff stopped cutting himself and was taken to “HSU, ” presumably the “Health Services Unit, ” to “get cleaned up.” Id. Plaintiff was then taken to an observation cell in the restrictive housing unit. Id. The next day, Plaintiff was transferred to Dodge Correctional Institution, not WSPF; Plaintiff does not say when the eventual transfer to WSPF occurred. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that if Turck would have gotten a PSU worker, he never would have cut himself. Id. He maintains that, pursuant to an administrative code provision, security staff are required to tell a psychologist if an inmate threatens suicide. Id. at 3. Plaintiff further alleges that all Defendants were placed on notice of his risk of suicide. Id. He believes that they should have placed him in observation or otherwise obtained help from PSU. Id. Plaintiff asserts that all Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id.

         Claims for deliberate indifferent to an inmate's suicide risk are legion in federal courts, and so extensive case law has developed to interpret them. The basic formulation of the claim involves an objective and a subjective component. Collins v. Seeman, 462 F.3d 757, 760 (7th Cir. 2006). First, Plaintiff must show that the harm (or potential harm) was objectively, sufficiently serious and a substantial risk to his health. Id.; Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). “It goes without saying that ‘suicide is a serious harm.'” Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 733 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Estate of Cole by Pardue v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254, 261 (7th Cir. 1996)).

         Second, Plaintiff must establish that Defendants displayed deliberate indifference to his risk of suicide. Collins, 462 F.3d at 761; Sanville, 266 F.3d at 733. This, in turn, requires a dual showing that Defendants (1) subjectively knew that Plaintiff was at substantial risk of committing suicide and (2) were deliberately indifferent to that risk. Matos ex rel. Matos v. O'Sullivan, 335 F.3d 553, 556 (7th Cir. 2003). As to the first prong, Plaintiff must prove that Defendants knew-rather than merely should have known-of a significant likelihood that he might imminently seek to commit suicide. Estate of Novack ex rel. Turbin v. County of Wood, 226 F.3d 525, 529 (7th Cir. 2000); Matos, 335 F.3d at 557. Plaintiff's allegations do not satisfy this element. For all Defendants save Turck, the only warning they received from Plaintiff about a suicide risk was his statements that a transfer to WSPF might cause him to attempt suicide. None received any indication that Plaintiff would imminently begin self-harming activity, and indeed he did not; the first alleged suicide attempt was weeks after he made the statements. As to Turck, Plaintiff's statements were more direct. He informed Turck that he wanted to speak with psychological services right away but Turck ignored his request. Still, Plaintiff does not allege that he told Turck he was contemplating suicide, only that he desired to speak with a psychologist. This is insufficient to put Turck on notice of Plaintiff's potential for suicide. See Pittmann ex rel. Hamilton v. County of Madison, Ill., 746 F.3d 766, 776-78 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[A] prisoner's mere request to see a psychiatric crisis counselor does not, standing alone, put a prison officer on notice of the imminent possibility of suicide.”).

         As to the second prong, Plaintiff must establish that Defendants failed to take reasonable steps to prevent him from committing suicide. Estate of Novack, 226 F.3d at 529; Fisher v. Lovejoy, 414 F.3d 659, 662 (7th Cir. 2005). This is a heavy burden; the Seventh Circuit has emphasized that deliberate indifference “comprehends more than mere negligence but less than the purposeful or knowing infliction of harm.” Estate of Novack, 226 F.3d at 529; Peate v. McCann, 294 F.3d 879, 882 (7th Cir. 2002). Indeed, the Court of Appeals has characterized the required showing “as ‘something approaching a total unconcern for [the prisoner's] welfare in the face of serious risks.'” Collins, 462 F.3d at 762 (quoting Duane v. Lane, 959 F.2d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 1992)). Accordingly, ...

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