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Davila v. Teeling

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 23, 2017



          J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge.

         Plaintiff Raymond J. Bergeron Davila, who is incarcerated at Columbia Correctional Institution, proceeds in this matter pro se. He filed a complaint alleging that the defendants violated his constitutional rights. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's petition to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee (in forma pauperis). (Docket #2).[1] Plaintiff has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $0.36. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

         The court shall 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. 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); Hutchinson ex rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997). 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. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109-10 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

         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)). However, a complaint that offers mere “labels and conclusions” or a “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's allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         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. Section 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)).

         Plaintiff's allegations relate to a time when he was incarcerated in the Racine County Jail (the “Jail”). (Docket #1 at 2). Two of his claims are based on an allegedly improper body cavity search. Id. at 5-14. Specifically, Plaintiff states that in early 2016, Defendant Brad Friend (“Friend”) sought a search warrant to conduct a body cavity search on Plaintiff, solely to punish Plaintiff for his continual self-harming behavior. Id. at 5. Plaintiff alleges that Friend had influence with Defendant Judge Faye Flancher (“Flancher”) of the Racine County Circuit Court, and he used it to obtain his desired warrant. Id. at 6-7.

         On June 8, 2016, Plaintiff was taken to a local hospital by Defendant Anthony Lacombe (“Lacombe”) and other officers. Id. at 8-9. The search warrant provided that Plaintiff could be subjected to medical imaging scans as well as a physical cavity search. Id. An x-ray did not show any foreign objects in Plaintiff's body. Id. at 10. Nevertheless, Lacombe insisted that Plaintiff should be cavity searched. Id. The hospital's medical staff performed the cavity search at Lacombe's request, and it too apparently turned up no foreign objects. Id. at 11-12. Plaintiff was then returned to the Jail. Id. at 12. Plaintiff alleges that Lacombe and the other jail staff taunted him about the cavity search, suggesting that it would teach him a lesson. Id.

         Plaintiff's first claim with respect to the cavity search is for cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 3, 14, 21-26. His second claim is that the cavity search was done in violation of the Fourth Amendment because probable cause was absent. Id. at 4, 14, 21-26. Both claims are asserted against Friend, Flancher, and Lacombe. Id. at 14.

         Plaintiff may proceed on a claim for cruel and unusual punishment against Friend and Lacombe for the cavity search incident. A strip or cavity search of a prisoner can violate the Eighth Amendment when it “was motivated by a desire to harass or humiliate rather than by a legitimate justification, such as the need for order and security in prisons.” King v. McCarty, 781 F.3d 889, 897 (7th Cir. 2015). Plaintiff adequately alleges that Friend and Lacombe's sole motivation was to humiliate and punish him. Though Friend was not physically present for the search, Plaintiff alleges that he obtained the warrant with a malicious purpose and the intent that the search be carried out. Further, Friend is identified as a lieutenant, and Lacombe as a sergeant, so the Court can infer that Friend had ordered Lacombe to carry out his will.

         Plaintiff may also proceed against Friend and Lacombe under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment requires that searches conducted by government agents be done in a reasonable manner. Id. at 899. Prisoners like Plaintiff have extremely limited Fourth Amendment rights, but they do at least extend to bodily integrity. Id. at 900. Plaintiff's allegations support the inference that the cavity search was unreasonable, given that the x-ray had been negative for the presence of contraband. Friend and Lacombe may later argue that the warrant immunized their conduct or that the search was otherwise reasonable, but the Court will let them decide which defenses, if any, may be applicable to this case.

         Plaintiff may not proceed on any claims against Flancher. As a judicial officer in Wisconsin, Flancher “cannot be sued for damages under § 1983 or state law for judicial actions, even if the judge commits a procedural error or acts in excess of authority, unless the judge acts in clear absence of jurisdiction.” Da Vang v. Hoover, 478 F. App'x 326, 327 (7th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff does not allege that Flancher lacked jurisdiction, only that she was complicit in the search by issuing the warrant.[2] Flancher must be dismissed from this action with prejudice.

         Plaintiff's third and fourth claim arises from events soon after the search. (Docket #1 at 15-20). These claims involve Defendants Barbara Teeling (“Teeling”), Friend, Sergeant Melissa Moran (“Moran”), John Doe Deputy Inspector 1 (“Inspector 1”), and John Doe corrections officers 2 through 5 (“Officer 2, ” etc.), all of whom were correctional personnel at the Jail (the “Corrections Defendants”). Id. at 16. On June 16, 2016, Plaintiff was put in a restraint chair, apparently due to suicidal thoughts or actions related to the cavity search. Id. While strapped in the chair, he bit himself enough to cause bleeding. Id. at 17. The Corrections Defendants all witnessed this (at various times, while performing their other duties) but did nothing to stop it; at most, they asked him to stop and did no more after he ...

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