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Bates v. Zimdars

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 12, 2018

DON M. BATES III, Plaintiff,


          J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at Racine Correctional Institution (“Racine”), filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). Plaintiff has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $37.86. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). The Court now turns to screening the complaint pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. Id. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b). A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Gladney v. Pendelton Corr. Facility, 302 F.3d 773, 774 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327; Gladney, 302 F.3d at 774. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109 (7th Cir. 2003); Paul v. Marberry, 658 F.3d 702, 705 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts; his statement need only “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the. . .claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); Christopher v. Buss, 384 F.3d 879, 881 (7th Cir. 2004). However, a complaint that offers “‘labels and conclusions'” or “‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, “‘that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Christopher, 384 F.3d at 881.

         In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should first “identif[y] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must “assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the deprivation was visited upon him by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. Cnty. of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009); Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Court is obliged to give Plaintiff's pro se allegations, “‘however inartfully pleaded, '” a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         2. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff's allegations primarily concern the conditions of supervised release imposed upon him in connection with a state conviction for a sex offense. Defendants are all employees of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Division of Community Corrections (the “DCC”). Plaintiff alleges that he was released from imprisonment into a term of extended supervision on February 10, 2015. (Docket #1 at 1). His supervised release status was revoked nine days later. Id. It is not clear whether Plaintiff's present confinement, nearly three years after the relevant events, stems from that revocation or from some other infraction. (Plaintiff reports that he is to be released from imprisonment on February 13, 2018.)

         Plaintiff's complaint takes the form of a laundry list of grievances against his supervising probation officer and the officer's supervisors within the DCC. Plaintiff says that Defendants imposed unwarranted and overly burdensome release conditions, enforced those conditions in an unfair way because of personal animus against him, and secured his revocation based on trumped-up violations of the conditions. The vast number of alleged unlawful acts, each tied to their own set of relevant and irrelevant federal laws and constitutional provisions, makes divining the viable claims difficult. To that end, the Court finds it expedient to first describe the legal constraints on claims like Plaintiff's, then identify the numerous deficiencies in the complaint, and finally set Plaintiff the task of amending the complaint.

         2.1 Legal Principles Governing Challenges to Supervision

         The Court begins by reviewing the applicable law. First, to the extent Plaintiff seeks release from his present confinement, such a claim must be made in a habeas petition, not a Section 1983 action. The Seventh Circuit holds that conditions of probation are a form of custody. Drollinger v. Milligan, 552 F.2d 1220, 1225 (7th Cir. 1977); Williams v. Wisconsin, 336 F.3d 576, 580 (7th Cir. 2003). A challenge to those conditions is an attack on the fact or duration of the plaintiff's confinement, which “is the traditional function of the writ of habeas corpus.” Drollinger, 552 F.2d at 1225. Plaintiff has not named the prison warden or expressly sought release, so the Court will not transform his complaint into a habeas petition. Henderson v. Bryant, 606 F. App'x 301, 303-04 (7th Cir. 2015). Any such claim will have to be brought, if at all, in a separate proceeding.

         Second, Plaintiff may not proceed on a claim “for having been recommitted based on the violation of release conditions that he contends are unconstitutional[.]” Id. This is so because, if he was successful, it would “vitiate the basis for his commitment, and Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars civil damages actions where a ‘judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.'” Id. Thus, to the extent Plaintiff was revoked on fabricated violations of release conditions, however unfair he may think those conditions were, Heck bars any challenge thereto. His opportunity to dispute the appropriateness of the conditions and the facts underlying the alleged violations thereof was at the revocation hearing and through whatever state appeals or federal habeas actions may have followed; a Section 1983 damages action is no substitute. See Reilly v. Herrera, 622 F. App'x 832, 834 (11th Cir. 2015). In the event Plaintiff successfully overturns his revocation, he may revisit this claim. See Henderson, 606 F. App'x at 304.[1]

         Third, Plaintiff cannot be allowed to seek an order preventing future imposition of release conditions, even ones similar to those that preceded his revocation. See Id. “[U]nless and until they are imposed on him again, that type of challenge is premature.” Id. Because he is presently incarcerated, he is not subject to the conditions and cannot challenge them at this time. Id.

         With those claims set aside, the Court turns to the lone type of claim that the Seventh Circuit in Henderson held could survive screening in cases like Plaintiff's:

Henderson appears to seek damages for having had to endure for three months the restrictive conditions of release (or abusive actions of the defendants) that did not lead to his recommitment but which he contends to have been unconstitutional. Because a successful damages action challenging those conditions or actions would not imply the invalidity of his current confinement, Heck does not bar a § 1983 claim challenging them. But these claims face a different hurdle: insofar as they seek damages from the defendants for enforcing release conditions that a court specifically ordered, the defendants may be protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity, which would bar any recovery. But for two reasons it is too soon to treat these claims as blocked by absolute immunity. First, Henderson contends that, by barring all contact with family members and entering and searching his home at night while he slept, the defendants enforced the court's order in an unconstitutional manner; a claim that a defendant enforced a court order in an unconstitutional manner is not necessarily barred by quasi-judicial immunity. Second, the defendants have not yet been served and so have not yet advanced any defenses, which the district court should ordinarily consider in the first instance. Henderson may thus proceed on this one aspect of his case.

Id. at 304-05 (citations omitted). Thus, Henderson teaches that a parolee may proceed only on claims that he was subjected to conditions beyond those authorized in the applicable criminal judgment or other valid orders, that he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions which did not form the basis for his revocation, or that his probation officer imposed ...

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