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Reed v. Ourada

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

December 28, 2017

LAERA REED, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN OURADA, PAUL WESTERHAUS, WAYNE S. OLSON, WENDY PETERSON, BRAIN GUSTKE, LORI MCCALISTER, KYLE HOFF and CHARLES PALMER, Defendants. PAIGE RAY-CLUNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN OURADA, PAUL WESTERHAUS, WAYNE S. OLSON, WENDY PETERSON, BRAIN GUSTKE, LORI MCCALISTER, CHARLES PALMER, DARRELL STETZER and ANDREW YORDE, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs 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.

         Now 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.

         OPINION

         Plaintiffs 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 administratively exhausted).

         Generally, 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).

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Defendant 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).

         As set 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. ¶ 22;
(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.

         Plaintiffs 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 ...


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