United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHEN L. CROCKER MAGISTRATE JUDGE
April 5, 2018, this court granted summary judgment to
plaintiff G'esa Kalafi, f/n/a Stanley Felton on his claim
that defendants retaliated against him in violation of his
clearly established First Amendment rights when it punished
him for writing an article in which he disparaged defendant
Shana Becker and other unnamed members of the psychology
staff at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, where Kalafi
is an inmate. In the same order, the court granted summary
judgment to defendant Craig Tom on Kalafi's claim that
Tom, who presided over Kalafi's conduct hearing, was a
biased decisionmaker. Dkt. 81.
sides seek reconsideration of that order pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). See dkts. 84, 88. For the
reasons discussed below, plaintiff's motion will be
denied and defendants' motion will be granted solely with
respect to their contention that I erred in finding defendant
Shana Becker liable for damages with respect to Kalafi's
Standard of Review
59(e) allows a party to move the court for reconsideration of
a judgment within 28 days following the entry of the
judgment. A motion for reconsideration serves a very limited
purpose in federal civil litigation; it should be used only
“to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to
present newly discovered evidence.” Rothwell Cotton
Co. v. Rosenthal & Co., 827 F.2d 246, 251 (7th Cir.
1987) (quoting Keene Corp. v. Int'l Fidelity Ins.
Co., 561 F.Supp. 656 (N.D. Ill. 1982),
aff'd 736 F.2d 388 (7th Cir. 1984)). “A
‘manifest error' is not demonstrated by the
disappointment of the losing party. It is the
‘wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure to
recognize controlling precedent.'” Oto v.
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir.
2000) (quoting Sedrak v. Callahan, 987 F.Supp. 1063,
1069 (N.D. Ill. 1997)). Apart from manifest errors of law,
“reconsideration is not for rehashing previously
rejected arguments.” Caisse Nationale de Credit
Agricole v. CBI Industries, Inc., 90 F.3d 1264, 1270
(7th Cir. 1996). Whether to grant a motion for
reconsideration “is left to the discretion of the
district court.” Id.
First Amendment/Qualified Immunity Analysis
the same cases cited in their summary judgment briefs,
defendants insist that Kalafi's statements in the article
found in his cell were defamatory and as such, enjoy no First
Amendment protection. They go on to argue that, even if
Kalafi's statements were protected, the law establishing
such protection was not clearly established at the time he
was disciplined, and defendants consequently are entitled to
of defendants' arguments persuades me that it was
manifest error to find that, under clearly established law
existing in 2012, Kalafi's statements were protected
under the First Amendment even if defendants could prove they
were defamatory. Regardless whether the Supreme Court was
deciding the precise question before this court, the Court
spoke plainly when it declared in Procunier v.
Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1974), that “[p]rison
officials may not censor inmate correspondence simply to
eliminate unflattering or unwelcome opinions or factually
inaccurate statements.” Id. at 413. Indeed, in
1979, the Fifth Circuit found that Martinez not only
barred prison officials from suppressing an inmate's
outside correspondence “[e]ven if it is libelous,
” but that the case's holding was so clear that
qualified immunity was not available to the defendants.
McNamara v. Moody, 606 F.2d 621, 624 (5th Cir.
1979). Similarly, in Ross v. Reed, 719 F.2d 689, 695
(4th Cir. 1983), the Fourth Circuit observed that
in late 1979-early 1980, the law was clear that prison
authorities could not as a regular practice censor inmate
mail, even if the letter unduly complains or magnifies
grievances or is defamatory; rather, as was clear,
censorship-and other restrictions on inmates' first
amendment rights-must be justified by using narrowly drawn
means to further substantial governmental interests in
security, rehabilitation, and order.
Id. (emphasis added). Four years later, the Third
Circuit reached a similar conclusion, finding that prison
officials violated an inmate's clearly established rights
under Martinez when they punished him for making a
false and defamatory statement about a female prison guard in
a letter that he had written to the NAACP. Brooks v.
Andolina, 826 F.2d 1266, 1268 (3rd Cir. 1987).
acknowledge that the facts in Brooks are largely
indistinguishable from those in the instant case, and they do
not address Moody. As for Ross, they argue
that the case actually augurs in favor of qualified immunity
because the court questioned whether the inmate's
campaign of writing letters containing false or unsupportable
statements even was protected by the First Amendment and
granted immunity to the defendants. Ross, 719 F.2d
facts of Ross are inapposite. There, the inmate sent
a series of letters to a state records custodian, addressed
to a congressman and the news media, in which Ross accused
the custodian of deliberately falsifying his parole
eligibility date because she was racist and had been bribed.
Id. at 691-92. At the time, Ross had a lawsuit
pending against the custodian in which he alleged that she
had violated his constitutional rights by not crediting two
years during which he had escaped from prison as time served
towards completion of his sentence. Id. at 691.
Finding that the facts before it were “different in
kind” from the situations encountered in
Martinez and Moody, the court agreed with
defendants' contention that Ross's letters were not
“ordinary correspondence” but were part of
“an arguably illegal effort to coerce official action
by making allegations known to be false or
unsupportable.” Id. at 695-96.
case, by contrast, defendants make no suggestion that they
disciplined Kalafi for engaging in a course of conduct aimed
“to gain a benefit to which he was not entitled,
” as the defendants successfully argued in
Ross. Here, defendants acknowledge that they
disciplined Kalafi for making defamatory statements in his
article. Under Martinez, Moody and
Brooks, that action was plainly unlawful. Indeed,
even Ross supports this conclusion, insofar as the
court found it to be settled law as of 1980 that
“prison authorities could ...