United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
BARBARA B. CRABB DISTRICT JUDGE.
Laera Reed and Paige Ray-Cluney, both residents of Iowa, have
brought a number of constitutional and state law claims
against several defendants arising out of alleged abuse they
suffered while confined at the Copper Lake School for girls
in Irma, Wisconsin. Plaintiffs were confined at Copper Lake
pursuant to court orders from Iowa state courts. At the time
of their confinement, the State of Iowa had contracted with
the State of Wisconsin to house girls at Copper Lake. Acting
in his position as the director of the Iowa Department of
Human Services, defendant Charles Palmer had authorized the
contract on behalf of the State of Iowa. Plaintiffs contend
that Palmer should be held liable for the harm they suffered
while at Copper Lake because he knew, or should have known,
of the abuse at the Copper Lake but failed to take any steps
to remove plaintiffs.
before the court is defendant Palmer's motions to dismiss
plaintiffs' claims against him on numerous grounds. Dkt.
#8 in 17-cv-590-bbc and 17-cv-591-bbc. (Unless otherwise
noted, citations to docket numbers in this opinion refer to
case number 17-cv-590.) As explained below, I am granting
Palmer's motions to dismiss because I conclude that he is
entitled to qualified immunity with respect to
plaintiffs' federal claims, plaintiffs concede they have
not exhausted their state law tort claims and I decline to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff Reed's
constitutional claims arising under Iowa's constitution.
Therefore, I am dismissing Palmer from these cases.
bring claims for monetary damages against defendant Palmer
(and all of the other defendants) under the Fourth, Eighth
and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Iowa state law.
Plaintiff Reed also brings several claims for monetary
damages under the Iowa Constitution. Defendant Palmer moves
to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against him on the grounds
that: (1) this court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction
over him; (2) Wisconsin is an inconvenient forum; (3) Iowa
has not waived sovereign immunity for plaintiffs'
constitutional claims; (4) this court should abstain from
determining undeveloped questions of Iowa law; (5) plaintiffs
have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted; (6) Palmer has absolute immunity; (7) Palmer has
qualified immunity; (8) plaintiffs cannot recover monetary
damages; (9) plaintiffs did not exhaust their tort claims;
and (10) Iowa has not waived sovereign immunity for claims of
false imprisonment. Plaintiffs concede they have not
administratively exhausted their tort claims arising under
Iowa law, dkt. #19 at 18. Thus, I will dismiss those claims
without prejudice and without further discussion. Segura
v. State, 889 N.W.2d 215, 224 (Iowa 2017) (courts lack
jurisdiction to consider tort claims that have not been
I would address defendant's personal jurisdictional
arguments next. However, because plaintiffs' federal
constitutional claims against defendant Palmer are barred by
the doctrine of qualified immunity and I decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over the state law constitutional
claims, I need not address defendant's personal
jurisdiction arguments. 4 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1067.6
(stating that a court can “resolv[e] the suit on the
merits when they clearly must be decided in favor of the
party challenging [personal] jurisdiction, thereby obviating
any need to decide the question”) (collecting cases);
Evangelical Benefit Trust v. Lloyd's Underwriters
Syndicate Nos. 2987, 1607, 1183 & 2001, No. 09 C
4004, 2010 WL 2927404, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 19, 2010)
(granting motion to dismiss on merits without resolving
question of personal jurisdiction).
Palmer argues that he is entitled to immunity for
plaintiffs' constitutional claims against him in his
individual capacity. Qualified immunity protects government
employees from liability for civil damages for actions taken
within the scope of their employment unless their conduct
violates “clearly established . . . constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
See also Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001);
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
“[A] defendant cannot be said to have violated a
clearly established right unless the right's contours
were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in
the defendant's shoes would have understood that he was
violating it. In other words, existing precedent must have
placed the statutory or constitutional question confronted by
the official beyond debate.” Plumhoff v.
Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2023 (2014) (quotations and
citations omitted). Qualified immunity “give[s]
government officials breathing room to make reasonable but
mistaken judgment about open legal questions.”
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011).
Although qualified immunity is an affirmative defense, the
plaintiff has the burden of defeating it once the defendant
raises it. Archer v. Chisholm, 870 F.3d 603, 613
(7th Cir. 2017).
forth in their complaints, plaintiffs' specific
constitutional claims arise under the Fourth, Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments and are based on allegations that
plaintiffs were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and
excessive force while housed at Copper Lake. With respect to
defendant Palmer in particular, however, plaintiffs'
complaints contain few allegations about his involvement in
the alleged constitution violations. Specifically, the only
allegations regarding Palmer are that:
(1) “[F]or $301 per day per girl, the State of Iowa, by
and through Charles Palmer, contracted with the State of
Wisconsin for use of the Wisconsin Girls State Training
School, ” Cpt. ¶ 20;
(2) “In June 2015, [plaintiff] was in the custody of
the Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services,
defendant Charles Palmer, pursuant to Court Order, ”
Cpt. ¶ 21;
(3) “At all times material hereto, the State of Iowa,
by and through Charles Palmer and the Iowa Department of
Human Services, monitored and received reports concerning
[plaintiff's] confinement at Copper Lake, ” Cpt.
(4) “At all times relevant hereto, Defendant Palmer
knew or should have known of the systemic and excessive use
of isolation cells at Copper Lake. Despite such knowledge,
Palmer failed to remove the Iowa girls placed at Copper Lake
and acted with deliberate indifference in doing so.”
Cpt. ¶ 66.
clarify in their brief that they are “not claim[ing
that their] initial detention or restraint [at Copper Lake]
[was] unlawful, [but] instead [are] challeng[ing] the
conditions of [their] detention and restraint.”
Plts.' Br., dkt. #19, at 18. They further argue that
Palmer in particular violated their rights by failing to take
steps to remove them from Copper Lake after learning about
the systemic and excessive use of isolation cells there.
Id. at 14. They concede that “it is true that
to remove [plaintiffs] from their Copper ...