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Maus v. Baenen

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 16, 2018

BRIAN A. MAUS, Plaintiff,



         The plaintiff, a state prisoner who is representing himself, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that the defendants violated his constitutional rights. Dkt. No. 1. On December 18, 2017, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which replaced the original complaint. Dkt. No. 7; See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15. Even though the plaintiff paid the full $400 filing fee, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires the court to screen the amended complaint, because the plaintiff is a prisoner seeking relief against employees of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. §1915A(a).


         The court must dismiss a complaint if a plaintiff raises 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(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). 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 claim under the federal notice pleading system, a plaintiff must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff does not need to plead every fact supporting his claims; he only has to “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)). That said, a complaint that offers only “labels and conclusions” or “a 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). Rather, 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).

         To proceed under 42 U.S.C. §1983, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to support the inference that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the defendant was acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Village of North Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The court gives a pro se plaintiff's 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)).


         As noted above, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) states that a complaint “must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” There is a reason that the rule specifies a “short and plain” statement. “Rule 8(a) requires parties to make their pleadings straightforward, so that judges and adverse parties need not try to fish a gold coin from a bucket of mud.” U.S. ex rel. Garst v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 378 (7th Cir. 2003). The plaintiff cannot leave the court “to guess what claims [he] intends to assert against which defendants.” Dunigan v. St. Clair Cnty. Jail Med. Staff, No. 15-CV-487, 2015 WL 2455505, *2 (S.D. Ill. May 22, 2015). “[L]ength may make a complaint unintelligible, by scattering and concealing in a morass of irrelevancies the few allegations that matter.” Kadamovas v. Stevens, 706 F.3d 843, 844 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Garst, 328 F.3d at 378). “District judges are busy, and therefore have a right to dismiss a complaint that is so long that it imposes an undue burden on the judge, to the prejudice of other litigants seeking the judge's attention.” Id.

         In this case, the plaintiff's amended complaint consists of twenty handwritten pages with more than 100 paragraphs of factual and legal assertions. Dkt. No. 7. As the Seventh Circuit indicated in Kadamovas, if the plaintiff has included any factual allegations that have merit, they are buried in pages and pages of conclusions, allegations and excessive and unnecessary detail.

         Not only is the complaint long and wordy, but, as best the court can tell, it appears to contain allegations of different kinds of injuries allegedly committed by different groups of defendants over the span of more than two years. The plaintiff appears to allege, for example, that a correctional officer sexually assaulted him during multiple searches; that other correctional officers stole property from his cell and retaliated against him by placing him in segregation; and that another correctional officer retaliated against him after he threatened to sue her.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a) allows a plaintiff to “put in one complaint every claim of any kind against a single defendant, ” but a plaintiff may “present claim #1 against Defendant A, and claim #2 against Defendant B, only if both claims arise ‘out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences.' Rule 20(a)(2)(A).” Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2012). Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)(B) states that individuals may be joined in a case as defendants only if there are questions of law or fact common to “all” defendants. In other words, “[a] litigant cannot throw all of his grievances, against dozens of different parties, into one stewpot.” Id. (citing George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605 (7th Cir. 2007)).

         The plaintiff appears to have done what the Seventh Circuit, and Rules 18 and 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, state that he cannot do. He has sued twenty different individuals relating to a number of different incidents and allegations. The one thing that all of these individuals have in common is that the plaintiff came into contact with them as a result of his incarceration. That is not a sufficient basis for the court to conclude that his claims are all related or that there are questions of law and fact common to all of the defendants.

         Before this case goes any further, the court will require the plaintiff to file a second amended complaint that complies with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, 18 and 20. The amended complaint must provide a “simple, concise, and direct” statement of his claims. Bennett v. Schmidt,153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998). The plaintiff should “avoid a rambling, incoherent complaint.” Ford v. Flannery, No. 2-07-CV-267, 2008 WL 821686, *2 (N.D. Ind. March 26, 2008). The plaintiff does not need to include every detail giving rise to his claim(s); he needs to provide only enough facts that the court can reasonably infer that the defendants did what the plaintiff alleges they did. The plaintiff must be careful to choose from among his many claims only those claims that are related to one another and that arise out of the same underlying circumstances or events. For example, if he chooses to file a complaint alleging that certain defendants violated his right to file a grievance, he should include in that complaint only the facts relating to the grievance process, and ...

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