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Wilson v. Milwaukee County

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 28, 2018




         Plaintiff, Derrick Alan Wilson, Jr. (“Wilson”), proceeding pro se, filed a complaint alleging that Defendant, Milwaukee County, violated his rights. (Docket #1). Before the Court is Wilson's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). In order to allow a plaintiff to proceed without paying the filing fee, the Court must first decide whether the plaintiff has the ability to pay the filing fee and, if not, whether the lawsuit is frivolous or fails to state a viable claim. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a), (e)(2)(B). The Court will address each of these questions below.

         1. Plaintiff's Indigence

         On the first issue, regarding his inability to pay the filing fee, Wilson avers that he is unemployed, unmarried, and has no dependents. (Docket #2 at 1). He earns no regular income but has received $900 in the last twelve months from “Staff Works, ” a local temporary staffing agency. Id. at 2. Wilson reports that he is homeless, (Docket #1 at 1), and explains that he has no expenses or assets of any kind, (Docket #2 at 2-4). On these averments, particularly in light of the fact that Wilson is homeless, the Court finds that he has demonstrated that he cannot pay the $350 filing fee and $50 administrative fee.

         2. Screening the Complaint

         Notwithstanding any filing fee, the Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(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); Hutchinson ex rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997). 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. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109-10 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, a 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 and 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)). 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         Wilson's complaint concerns a wide variety of alleged unlawful acts. Unfortunately, his allegations are too scattered, incoherent, and bereft of detail to proceed at present. Put simply, Wilson has not told the Court and the defendants the “who, what, when, and where” of his claims. The essential function of a complaint is to provide notice, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), and defendants should not be forced to incur the cost of defending themselves in a federal lawsuit absent some indication that the plaintiff has a cognizable claim and enough information so they know what his claim is about. The Court will permit Wilson an opportunity to amend his complaint to rectify this and other problems, but first it will explain why each of his claims fall short.

         2.1 Harassment by Glendale Police Department

         First, Wilson says that he has been physically assaulted and harassed by members of the Glendale Police Department during a three-year span between 2014 and 2017. (Docket #1 at 2). He explains that on one or more occasions, his sister would call Glendale police officers to remove him from their grandfather's house. Id. Additionally, “one day, [the officers] racially profiled and illegally stopped, assaulted, and arrested me.” Id. Wilson contends that the harassment was so severe that officers would show up while he was shopping at a local store and arrest him without cause. Id.

         As to the alleged harassment, unlawful arrest, and use of excessive force by the Glendale police, Wilson may be able to proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. See Buchanan-Moore v. Cnty. of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009); Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). However, he must offer further detail as to the dates and circumstances of each incident he wishes to challenge as unlawful. Vague suggestions regarding what appear to be unrelated incidents that occur over a three-year timespan are not enough to meet even the low pleading standards required by Rule 8. See Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2011) (a complaint must specify “the bare minimum facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer”).

         Moreover, Wilson must name the individual officers involved as defendants. If he does not know their real names, he should identify them as John or Jane Does and they can be identified by their true names during discovery. Further, Wilson cannot simply sue Milwaukee County for the allegedly unlawful acts he has described even though the conduct appears to have occurred in Milwaukee County. Local government entities, such as municipalities and counties, cannot be held vicariously liable for constitutional violations committed by their employees. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Instead, such entities are liable only if their policies or widespread practices lead to the plaintiff's injury. Thomas v. Cook Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293, 303 (7th Cir. 2010). If Wilson believes that such a policy or practice exists in this case, he should name the relevant municipality, not Milwaukee County, and allege sufficient facts to raise a plausible inference that a such a policy or practice existed.

         2.2 Incidents in the Milwaukee House of Corrections

         Next, Wilson levies complaints against correctional officers at the Milwaukee County House of Corrections, though he does not explain when or why he was housed there. Id. at 2-3. First, Wilson claims he was assaulted without reason by a correctional officer whose last name is Janik. Id. at 3. Second, he states that he was sexually harassed by a different male correctional ...

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