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Mineau v. Van Hecke

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 20, 2017

JEREMIAH VAN HECKE, et al., Defendant.


          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Terrance Mineau, who is incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution, filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. This matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's petition for leave to proceed without prepaying the full filing fee.

         Plaintiff is required to pay the $350.00 statutory filing fee for this action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). If a prisoner does not have the money to pay the filing fee, he can request leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Plaintiff has filed a certified copy of his prison trust account statement for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing fee of his complaint, as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2), and has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $1.41. Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or 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. 28 U.S.C. § 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).

         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). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in the plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, 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).

         Mineau's complaint arises from an ultimately denied motion to recuse that Mineau filed with Judge McGinnis in his Wisconsin criminal case 2012-CF-773. Mineau alleges that he filed a motion for recusal with Judge McGinnis and that at the final conference hearing for that case Judge McGinnis stated that he referred the motion for recusal to Jeremiah Van Hecke, the executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.[1] Van Hecke responded to Judge McGinnis's referral. Judge McGinnis subsequently denied Mineau's motion for recusal. Mineau alleges that the communication between Judge McGinnis and Van Hecke “led directly to [his] current conviction.[2]” ECF No. 1 at 3.

         Additionally Mineau alleges that prior to the denial of his motion to recuse, he filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission alleging improper and prejudicial comments by Judge McGinnis. Mineau states that the Commission denied his claims on June 29, 2017. As relief, Mineau demands “monetary damages for using confidential information, which led up to my conviction of 8 years.” Id. at 5. Mineau argues that this was a violation of his due process rights.

         This plaintiff has provided no arguable basis for relief, having failed to make any rational argument in law or fact to support his claims. See House v. Belford, 956 F.2d 711, 720 (7th Cir. 1992) (quoting Williams v. Faulkner, 837 F.2d 304, 308 (7th Cir. 1988), aff'd sub nom. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989)). Reading Mineau's complaint liberally, as I must do at this stage of the proceedings, he seeks to bring a claim for violation of his constitutional due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the denial of his motion for recusal.

         However, Mineau's entire complaint is barred by the doctrine of Heck v. Humphries, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Under Heck, a “convicted criminal who brings a civil rights suit that if successful would demonstrate the invalidity of his conviction must show that the conviction has been invalidated.” Id. at 487 (emphasis added); see also McCurdy v. Sheriff of Madison Cty., 128 F.3d 1144 (7th Cir. 1997). However, Mineau has not alleged that his conviction has been invalidated.[3]Because Mineau's success in this case would implicitly invalidate his state court conviction, he cannot proceed unless he shows that his conviction has already been invalidated.

         However, even if Mineau's claims were not barred by the Heck doctrine, Mineau fails to state a claim against any of the defendants. See Polzin v. Gage, 636 F.3d 834, 83738 (7th Cir. 2011) (holding that a district court may bypass Heck and address the merits of the case). Mineau cannot bring a claim against Judge McGinnis for the results of his criminal conviction. Judicial immunity provides judges absolute immunity from their judicial acts, even if they act maliciously or corruptly. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991). This immunity is not for the protection or benefit of a corrupt or malicious judge, but rather for the benefit of the public, which has as interest in having a judiciary that is free to exercise its judicial functions without the fear of harassment by unsatisfied litigants. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967). Therefore, Judge McGinnis has absolute judicial immunity for the judicial actions he took and his ultimate decision in the denial of Mineau's motion for recusal.

         Additionally, any claim against Van Hecke for his investigation of Mineau's complaint about Judge McGinnis is also protected by quasi-judicial immunity. See Tocholke v. Wagner, No. 07-C-0831, 2008 WL 302369, at *3 (E.D. Wis. 2008) (citing Kissell v. Breskow, 579 F.2d 425, 430 (7th Cir. 1978)) (explaining that the executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission has quasi-judicial immunity for his investigations into attorneys and judges). Likewise, any claim against Van Hecke for information he sent to Judge McGinnis in response to Judge McGinnis's referral of Mineau's motion for recusal is protected by quasi-judicial immunity. Id.

         Lastly, Mineau cannot bring a claim against the Wisconsin Judicial Commission because it is a state agency and not a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and is otherwise entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Will v. Mich. Dep't. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989); see also Thomas v. Illinois, 697 F.3d 612, 61314 (7th Cir. 2013).

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2) is GRANTED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this action is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim and as frivolous. See Moore v. Pemberton, 110 F.3d 22, 24 (7th Cir. 1997) (explaining that a complaint ...

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