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Liddell v. Racine County Clerk of Courts

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 20, 2017



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

         Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution, 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 #2). Plaintiff has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $15.77. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

         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. 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's 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. Vill. of N. 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 15, 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (“WDOC”) falsely imprisoned him in the Racine County Jail after a string of events involving clerical errors in his criminal record that are apparently the fault of the Racine County Clerk of Court and the Circuit Court Access Database. The first error involves violations he says he did not commit, and the second involves a charge he says was dismissed.[1] These errors, he says, are defamatory and have proven a barrier to his “freedom and employment.” (Docket #1 at 3). Apparently, an erroneous portion of Plaintiff's criminal record was referenced by probation agent Mike Emmerich (“Emmerich”), who is not named as a defendant, when Emmerich sought to have Plaintiff re-confined in the Racine County Jail. Plaintiff states that “[t]he agent was not truthful during the preliminary when he told public defender Shelia Smith, [magistrate] Jason Lubetke and the Plaintiff that the battery, child abuse, endanger safety was not a charge on file nor was it being used against the Plaintiff. Agent states that ‘the questioned child neglect is just an example of guidelines that we use.'” (Docket #1 at 3-4). Plaintiff mentions the due process clauses of the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments as sources of the constitutional rights implicated here.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed two “supplements” to his complaint in which he appears to withdraw his claim under the Fourteenth Amendment but add claims under the First, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Amendments. (Docket #9 and #11). The only additional fact alleged in these supplements is that every grievance Plaintiff files gets dismissed. (Docket #9 at 1).

         Plaintiff seeks as relief compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the removal from his criminal record of a charge that he claims has been dismissed. (Docket #1 at 4). He also demands that “clerks not . . . neglect their duties” and that a cross-reference system be implemented to prevent future clerical errors related to criminal records. Id.

         Setting aside the procedural defects in Plaintiff's piecemeal submissions, Plaintiff's complaint, even when liberally construed to include all supplements, suffers from fatal defects. The first relates to immunity.

         The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit against a state, in federal court, regardless of the relief sought, unless Congress has overridden the state's immunity or the state has waived it. Ryan v. Ill. Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 185 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 1999). Section 1983 does not abrogate Wisconsin's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989). Nor has Wisconsin waived its immunity. Buchanan v. City of Kenosha, 57 F.Supp.2d 675, 677 (E.D. Wis. 1999). Therefore, Plaintiff's claim against the State of Wisconsin is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         Next, Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to state or governmental entities that are considered “arms of the State.” Will, 491 U.S. at 70. As a state agency, defendant WDOC enjoys the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity from federal lawsuits. Alvarado-Reyes v. Reynolds, No. 14-CV-101-WMC, 2015 WL 901826, at *2 (W.D. Wis. Mar. 3, 2015); see also Kroll v. Board of Trustees of Univ. of Ill., 934 F.2d 904, 907 (7th Cir. 1991). Like his claim against the State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff's claim against WDOC is also barred.

         Plaintiff next names as a defendant the “Circuit Court Access Database, ” which he says is also known as “CCAP.” (Docket #1 at 2). “CCAP” is an acronym for Wisconsin's Consolidated Court Automation Programs, “a case management system” that “provides public access online to reports of activity in Wisconsin circuit courts for those counties that use CCAP. Circuit court employees enter all CCAP data in the county where the case files are located, and the information feeds into the statewide access system.” State v. Bonds, 717 N.W.2d 133, 138 (Wis. 2006). The Wisconsin ...

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