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Mitchell v. Dane County Sheriff Department

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 20, 2017

Roy Mitchell, Plaintiff,
v.
Dane County Sheriff Department, et al. Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          STEPHEN L. CROCKER MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Roy Mitchell is proceeding in this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on Fourteenth Amendment claims that various Dane County officials subjected her to conditions of confinement so dangerous that they violated her due process rights. Defendants' motion for summary judgment was recently taken under advisement by the presiding judge. (Dkt. 261.) In the meantime, I will resolve Mitchell's outstanding motions. Specifically, Mitchell has filed four discovery-related motions (dkts. 135, 156, 182, 236, 259), which I am denying, as well as a motion for assistance in recruiting counsel (dkt. 239), which I am denying without prejudice.

         Motion for Sanctions (dkt. 135)

         In her motion for sanctions, Mitchell takes issue with portions of the defendants' Answer to her complaint in which they deny her allegations in her complaint. Mitchell contends that all of her allegations are conclusively true because of the publicity surrounding the conditions at the Dane County Jail, and she supports her motion with numerous citations and exhibits about those conditions; therefore, it is sanctionable for defendants to deny what she alleges to be true. As a general matter, defendants in civil lawsuits routinely respond to the complaints against them by denying the substantive allegations. Discovery follows, motions are filed, and facts are determined as the case proceeds, often establishing the accuracy of facts that defendants denied in their answers. That's the way the process is wired, so the court is not going to impose sanctions for defendants following a pretty standard front-end operating procedure.

         Motions regarding Spoilation (dkts. 156, 182)

         In two motions, Mitchell requests sanctions and for default judgment because she believes that defendants permitted relevant evidence to be destroyed. She filed these motions because she attempted to respond to defendants' exhaustion summary judgment motion by obtaining certain grievances related to her claims. Defendants have since withdrawn their exhaustion motion. Therefore, these motions will be denied as moot.

         Motion Following Deposition (dkt. 236)

         In this motion, Mitchell is seeking a remedy related to certain allegedly improper deposition questions defendants' counsel asked during her August 29, 2017, deposition. Specifically, she complains that defendants improperly asked her about another settlement agreement that she reached in a lawsuit involving Dane County. It is unclear what relief Mitchell is seeking related to these questions, but I asked for defendants to respond to clarify what happened during the deposition. Defendants provided the excerpt of that exchange, which shows that their attorney showed Mitchell the settlement agreement and asked her to identify it. Mitchell answered that she recognized the document but would not discuss it because she did not want to infringe upon any of its terms, and counsel did not press the issue further. This exchange does not suggests that these questions were improper. Counsel simply asked Mitchell to identify the settlement agreement, she did not ask Mitchell to divulge any of the details. Accordingly, the motion will be denied.

         Motion to Compel (dkt. 259)

         Mitchell withdrew her most recent discovery motion because defendants complied with the request. As such, I'm denying it as moot.

         Motion for Assistance in Recruiting Counsel (dkt. 239)

         Finally, Mitchell has filed a motion for assistance recruiting counsel. She explains that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and reiterates her complaints about the discovery process and her belief that defendants' counsel has acted inappropriately throughout the course of this lawsuit.

         As Mitchell knows, there is no right to counsel in civil cases. Olson v. Morgan, 750 F.3d 708, 711 (7th Cir. 2014). Rather, a party who wants court assistance recruiting counsel must meet several requirements. Santiago v. Walls, 599 F.3d 749, 760-61 (7th Cir. 2010). Mitchell has met the first requirement by establishing that she is unable to afford counsel. However, she has not yet made an adequate showing that she made reasonable-but unsuccessful- efforts on his own to find a lawyer to represent her. Mitchell states that she has been unsuccessful in her attempts to retain counsel and I do not doubt this statement. Even so, if it were important to the court's decision at this time, then I would direct Mitchell to submit three attorney rejection letters for this lawsuit (or provide the names and addresses of the attorneys that she contacted about this lawsuit but who did not respond). But I won't make Mitchell do this because I still would be declining to recruit a volunteer attorney for her at this time.

         Indeed, I am not persuaded that this is one of those few cases in which it appears from the record that the legal and factual difficulty of the case exceeds the plaintiff's ability to prosecute it. Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 654-55 (7th Cir. 2007). The question is not whether a lawyer will do ...


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