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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). 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 alleges that on January 10, 2016, he was incarcerated at the Racine County Jail. (Docket #1 at 1). That day, Plaintiff was placed in a restraint chair. Id. at 2. While restrained, Defendants (various correctional officers) either struck Plaintiff repeatedly or watched as others did so without intervening. Id. at 2-4. Defendants also painfully tightened the restraints themselves. Id. These allegations state claims for excessive force, and a failure to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, as the force used was extreme and carried no apparent penological purpose. Green v. Chvala, 567 F. App'x 458, 461 (7th Cir. 2014) (police officer allegedly used excessive force when kneeing a motionless, handcuffed suspect; a failure to intervene claim is appropriate when “officers had a realistic opportunity to intervene to prevent the harm from occurring.” (quotation omitted)). Because it is not clear which Defendants participated in the beatings, and which merely looked on, Plaintiff will be permitted to proceed against all Defendants on both of these theories.

         Plaintiff also wishes to pursue a claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In this context, Plaintiff asserts a “class-of-one” style claim, wherein he must prove that he was “intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.” Engquist v. Ore. Dep't of Agr., 553 U.S. 591, 601 (2008). While most circuits require highly specific allegations regarding the “similarly situated” element to validly state such a claim, the Seventh Circuit has set an extremely low pleading standard. Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 747-48 (7th Cir. 2012). Consequently, though the Court has misgivings about whether Plaintiff can truly point to any similarly situated comparators, it must allow him to proceed on the claim at this time.

         In sum, the court finds that the plaintiff may proceed on the following claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b):

Claim One: Excessive force against Plaintiff, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, against all Defendants;
Claim Two: Failure to intervene to protect Plaintiff against the use of excessive force against all Defendants; and
Claim Three: Intentionally treating Plaintiff differently than other similarly situated persons, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, against all Defendants.

         Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee (in forma pauperis) ...

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