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Richards v. Gutho

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 2, 2018

RONALD E. RICHARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. MICHAEL GUTHO, Defendant.

          DECISION AND GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (DKT. NO. 21) AND DISMISSING THE CASE

          HON. PAMELA PEPPER United States District Judge

         I. Background

         The plaintiff, a Wisconsin state prisoner who is representing himself, filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution. Dkt. No. 1. On December 19, 2016, the court screened the complaint and allowed the plaintiff to proceed on a claim that the defendant violated his First Amendment rights when he interfered with the plaintiff's personal, non-legal, non-privileged mail. Dkt. No. 8 at 5. The court explained that prison staff may read non-privileged mail on a “spot check” basis to screen for contraband or escape plans, but that any other conduct involving the mail must be reasonably related to a legitimate prison interest. Id. at 4-5. The court concluded that the plaintiff stated a claim when he alleged that the defendant opened a letter addressed to the defendant and told other inmates about its content, despite the fact that someone in the prison mailroom already had inspected the letter and placed a seal on it; the court concluded that the plaintiff had raised a question as to whether the defendant had a legitimate penological reason to open, read or share the contents of the letter. Id. at 5.

         11. Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         A. Timeliness

         The defendant answered the complaint on February 17, 2017. Dkt. No.12. As of that date, the pleadings in the case were closed.

         On April 7, 2017, the court issued a scheduling order. Dkt. No. 16. That order required the parties to complete all discovery by July 7, 2017, and to file dispositive motions by August 7, 2017. Id. The court did not set dates for a final pretrial conference or a trial.

         On August 7, 2017-the date dispositive motions were due-the defendant filed this motion for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. No. 21. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the rule that allows a party to file a motion for judgment on the pleadings, says that the moving party may file the motion “[a]fter the pleadings are close-but early enough not to delay trial.”

         The defendant filed his motion for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings closed (on February 17, 2017), but early enough not to delay trial, because there is no trial date. The motion was timely filed.

         The plaintiff argues, however, that the court should treat the defendant's motion as a motion for summary judgment. He cites Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), which states that if a party who files a Rule 12(c) motion presents to the court “matters outside the pleadings” that are “not excluded by the court, ” the court must treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, and must give all parties “a reasonable opportunity to present all material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). Because the plaintiff believes the court should treat the defendant's motion as a motion for summary judgment, he argues that the defendant has not complied with this court's local rules governing summary judgment.

         The plaintiff is right about the law, but he is incorrect that the court should apply that law to convert the motion for judgment on the pleadings into a motion for summary judgment. The defendant did not attach any extrinsic documents to the motion for judgment on the pleadings, nor did he ask the court to consider any. The plaintiff filed a number of attachments to his response, but those attachments are not appropriate for a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and the court has not reviewed them and does not consider them in its decision. In his reply, the defendant asks that if the court is going to consider extrinsic evidence, the court allow him to file a motion for summary judgment, so that he can comply with all of the rules and submit evidence. There is no need for the court to do that.

         As the court explains below, it has concluded, based solely on the facts he alleges within the four corners of his complaint, that the plaintiff cannot prevail as a matter of law. This is true even if the court accepts every one of the plaintiff's factual allegations as true. Given that, there is no basis for the court to accept factual evidence through the summary judgment process. The defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings was timely filed, and was appropriately filed as a Rule 12(c) motion.

         B. Rule 12(c) Standard

         Under Rule 12(c), a motion for judgment on the pleadings is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728-29 (7th Cir. 2014). “To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' . . . Factual allegations are accepted as true at the pleading stage, but ‘allegations ...


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