United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON, DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiff Daniel Patrick Pickett, a state prisoner
incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, has
filed a proposed complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
alleging that he did not have the same telephone privileges
as other inmates while he was incarcerated in the segregation
unit at the Green Bay Correctional Institution. Dkt. 1. The
court has granted him leave to proceed in forma
pauperis. Dkt. 9. The next step is to screen the
complaint and dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous,
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by
law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. §§
1915, 1915A. In screening any pro se litigant's
complaint, the court must read the allegations of the
complaint generously. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519, 520-21 (1972). After reviewing the complaint with these
principles in mind, I conclude that Pickett does not state a
federal claim and the case must be dismissed because this
court does not have jurisdiction over a state-law claim in
the absence of diversity of citizenship.
complaint, Pickett alleges the following facts.
used to be incarcerated at the Green Bay Correctional
Institution (GBCI). From September 2014 to November 2015, he
was housed in the GBCI segregation unit. There are no phone
jacks near the cells in the segregation unit (save for cells
in the 400 and 500 wings, which are for temporary
observation). Pickett alleges that defendant the building and
maintenance superintendent for the Department of Corrections
made sure there were no phone jacks near these cells solely
to deprive inmates of the ability to use a phone. Defendant
Brian Foster, the GBCI warden, grants telephone privileges to
only “Step Three” inmates, not “Step
One” or “Step Two” inmates. As a result,
Pickett was not able to call his family members while he was
in segregation, except when he was in temporary observation.
The stress of not being able to call his family caused him
“mental breakdowns and attacks of high anxiety, ”
which resulted in him being placed in observation status.
Dkt. 1, at 3.
seeks “mental and emotional stress damages” in
addition to punitive and compensatory damages. Id.
filed his complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which
provides a cause of action “to enforce individual
rights under federal statutes as well as the
Constitution.” City of Rancho Palos Verdes
v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 119 (2005). This is the usual
vehicle for suits against state officials. But Pickett does
not identify a federal right that defendants have violated,
and I can think of none. Although “prisoners have a
right to communicate with those outside the prison, [the
Seventh Circuit has] expressed doubt that this amounts to an
unqualified right for a prisoner to have access a
telephone.” Boriboune v. Litscher, 91 F.
App'x 498, 499 (7th Cir. 2003); see also Arsberry v.
Illinois, 244 F.3d 558, 564-65 (7th Cir. 2001)
(“Not to allow [prisoners] access to a telephone might
be questionable on other grounds, but to suppose that it
would infringe the First Amendment would be doctrinaire in
the extreme . . . .”). And even if there is a right to
a telephone, access “may be limited as long as the
regulation is reasonably related to a legitimate penological
interest.” Boriboune, 91 F. App'x at 499.
Here, Pickett himself suggests the legitimate penological
interest: disciplinary segregation.
only federal right that might arguably be implicated by
Pickett's allegations is the one conferred by the
Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The
purpose of the Equal Protection Clause “is to secure
every person within the State's jurisdiction against
intentional and arbitrary discrimination.” Engquist
v. Or. Dep't of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 611 (2008)
(quoting Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S.
562, 564 (2000) (per curiam)). It directs “that all
persons similarly situated should be treated alike.”
City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S.
432, 439 (1985).
complaint seems to be that Step One and Step Two inmates in
disciplinary segregation do not have the same telephone
privileges as other inmates. But Pickett's allegations
make clear that he was not similarly situated to all other
inmates, or even all other inmates housed in the segregation
unit. Instead, he was similarly situated with all other Step
One and Step Two inmates, and he alleges that all Step One
and Step Two inmates were treated alike. And even if he were
treated unequally, “unequal treatment among inmates . .
. is justified if it bears a rational relation to a
legitimate penal interest.” Williams v. Lane,
851 F.2d 867, 881 (7th Cir. 1988); accord Stojanovic v.
Humphreys, 309 F. App'x 48, 52 (7th Cir. 2009).
Again, Pickett alleges a legitimate penal interest: he was in
the early phases of disciplinary segregation. So I will not
allow him to proceed on an equal protection claim.
might be attempting to bring a claim of negligent infliction
of emotional distress, but that is a state-law claim that
cannot be brought under § 1983. More important, a
state-law claim does not establish this court's
jurisdiction. “Federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction.” Int'l Union of Operating
Eng'rs, Local 150 v. Ward, 563 F.3d 276, 280 (7th
Cir. 2009). Unless a complaint raises a federal question or
alleges complete diversity among the parties and an amount in
controversy exceeding $75, 000, the case must be dismissed
for want of jurisdiction. Smart v. Local 702 Int'l
Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 562 F.3d 798, 802 (7th Cir.
2009). A state-law claim does not raise a federal question,
and Pickett alleges that he and Foster are both citizens of
Wisconsin, so he fails to establish that this court has
subject matter jurisdiction on the basis of the parties'
diversity of citizenship. I see no way that Pickett could
amend his complaint to cure these fundamental problems, so I
will dismiss this case.
1. This case is DISMISSED for lack of subject matter