United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
PAUL M. NIGL and SANDRA JOHNSTON, Plaintiffs,
JON LITSCHER, MICHAEL MEISNER, SARA HUNGERFORD, and ZACHARY SCHROEDER, Defendants.
Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge
Paul M. Nigl (“Nigl”), a prisoner, and Sandra
Johnston (“Johnston”), his fiancée, filed
a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging their civil rights were violated. (Docket #1).
Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants
violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth
Amendments by not allowing them to marry and by denying them
visitation privileges. Nigl paid the filing fee on July 31,
plaintiffs consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction and, on
August 7, 2017, the magistrate judge originally assigned to
this case screened the plaintiffs' complaint. (Docket
#16). The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”)
requires the court to screen complaints brought by prisoners
seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or
employee of a governmental entity and 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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a) and (b).
screening, the magistrate judge allowed the plaintiffs to
proceed with their claim that the defendants
unconstitutionally burdened their right to marry. (Docket #16
at 4). However, the magistrate judge dismissed the
plaintiffs' claim that the defendants acted
unconstitutionally by denying visitation. Id. at
4-5. Finally, the magistrate judge denied the motion for a
preliminary injunction that the plaintiffs had filed along
with their complaint. Id.
plaintiffs then filed an objection to the magistrate
judge's screening order. (Docket #17). In it, they
contend that the magistrate judge erred both in dismissing
their First Amendment claim based on denial of visitation
rights and in failing to screen their Fourteenth Amendment
equal protection claim based on denial of visitation rights.
the plaintiffs' objection was filed, the defendants
entered the case and refused to consent to magistrate judge
jurisdiction. (Docket #18-20). At that point, the case was
reassigned to this branch of the Court. The plaintiffs have
since filed several motions now pending before this Court,
including another motion for a preliminary injunction,
(Docket #23), a motion to appoint counsel and to be
transferred to another institution, (Docket #27), a motion
for a hearing, (Docket #28), and a motion to vacate the
magistrate judge's screening order, (Docket #30). The
Court addresses each motion below.
SCREENING OF THE COMPLAINT
all parties have an opportunity to consent to magistrate
judge jurisdiction, a magistrate judge presiding over a case
may not enter an order that disposes of an entire case.
See Coleman v. Labor & Indus. Review Comm'n,
860 F.3d 461, 475 (7th Cir. 2017). “Rather than
entering final judgments, they must issue proposed findings
of fact and conclusions of law to be reviewed de
novo by the district court.” Id.
(quotation omitted). District courts in this circuit have
interpreted Coleman to apply not only to a
magistrate's proposed dismissal of an entire case, but to
dismissal of a single claim as well. See, e.g., Jones v.
Marcus, No. 17-C-1265, 2017 WL 5032719, at *1 (E.D. Wis.
Oct. 31, 2017) (considering magistrate judge's
recommendation that one of the three claims in the
plaintiff's complaint be dismissed).
explained above, before this case was reassigned to this
branch of the Court, the magistrate judge entered a screening
order dismissing one of plaintiffs' claims. (Docket #16).
This Court will treat the magistrate's screening order as
a recommendation and review its factual findings and legal
conclusions de novo. The Court will consider, as
part of its review, the plaintiffs' objection to the
screening order. (Docket #17). The Court will deny as moot
plaintiffs' motion to vacate the magistrate judge's
screening order. (Docket #30).
Court concurs with the magistrate's recital of the
relevant factual allegations, repeated here for the sake of
completeness. Nigl has been a prisoner since 2001. From 2013
to 2015, Johnston worked as a psychologist at Waupun
Correctional Institution, where she met Nigl. On January 10,
2015, Johnston left her job at Waupun and began to work at
the Wisconsin Resource Center, which is not a Department of
Corrections' (“DOC”) facility and is
therefore not governed by DOC policies. A couple of days
after Johnston left her job at Waupun, Nigl asked his brother
to find her contact information on the internet. Nigl then
wrote and called Johnston on a regular basis. In April 2015,
Nigl asked Johnston to marry him, and she said yes.
13, 2015, the DOC rehired Johnston for a job at its central
office in Madison, Wisconsin. That day, she tried to submit a
fraternization policy exemption request form so that she
could have contact with Nigl. Johnston's supervisor, Gary
Ankarlo (“Ankarlo”) refused to accept the form
and admonished her. According to plaintiffs, Ankarlo was
later demoted and reassigned, in part, for refusing to accept
the form. Despite Ankarlo refusing to accept the form,
plaintiffs continued to have contact with one another.
October 31, 2015, Johnston's position at the central
office was administratively eliminated because of her contact
with Nigl. In November 2015, Johnston requested to be added
to Nigl's visitor list. The request was denied based on
DOC policy because Johnston had been an employee of the DOC
within the last twelve months.
November 2016, Johnston again requested to be added to
Nigl's visitor list. On November 30, 2016, defendant Sara
Hungerford (“Hungerford”) recommended denial of
the request because: 1) the warden had reasonable grounds to
believe that Johnston had attempted to bring contraband into
the institution or that she posed a threat to the safety and
security of visitors, staff, offenders, or the facility; 2)
the warden had reasonable grounds to believe that Nigl's
reintegration into the community or rehabilitation would be
hindered; and 3) the warden had reasonable grounds to believe
that Nigl's offense history indicated there could be a
problem with the visitation. Defendant Zachary Schroeder,
Hungerford's supervisor, adopted Hungerford's
December 8, 2016, plaintiffs submitted a request to be
married, which included written confirmation from an
officiant willing to perform the ceremony. On January 25,
2017, Hungerford recommended denial of the request. She
stated that “there are reasonable grounds to believe
the marriage poses a threat to the security of the facility
or a threat to the safety of the public, or threatens other
legitimate penological interests” and “[t]he
proposed spouse has not been on the visiting list for at
least one year and is not able to demonstrate a longstanding
relationship.” (Docket #1 at 5). Nigl submitted
numerous inmate ...