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Burkett v. State

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

June 28, 2018




         Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint for an alleged violation of his civil rights. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). In order to allow a plaintiff to proceed without prepaying 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. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a), (e)(2)(B)(I). On the first question, Plaintiff avers that he is unemployed and collects $800 in government assistance payments. (Docket #2 at 2). Plaintiff's expenses total $700. Id. at 2-3. He has no other property of value. Id. at 3. Plaintiff's sworn statements reveal that he would be unable “to provide himself . . . with the necessities of life” if required to prepay the $400 filing fee in this matter. Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948); Brewster v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 461 F.2d 649, 651 (7th Cir. 1972).

         However, notwithstanding the payment of any filing fee, the Court must dismiss a complaint if it raises claims that are “frivolous or malicious, ” which 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, 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 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).

         In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should follow the principles set forth in Twombly by first, “identifying 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, second, “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/she was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the deprivation was visited upon him/her by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Vill. of N. Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The court is obliged to give a 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)).

         Plaintiff alleges that the Milwaukee Police Department falsely arrested him on February 4, 1998, without evidence or even a belief that he had violated any laws. (Docket #1 at 2). He apparently gave a statement during the subsequent interrogation. Id. The statement was, in turn, used in several prosecutions against him in Wisconsin state courts in 1998 and 1999. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff was convicted in those cases and was imprisoned for many years. Id. at 3. He was then released on supervision, the term of which ended in October 2017. Id. Plaintiff requests that the Court order Defendants to pay him for each day he spent in prison and on supervision. Id. at 4. He further asks that the Court “clear his name” as to the convictions. Id.

         This is the latest in a long line of actions brought by Plaintiff seeking to collaterally attack his now twenty-year-old convictions. His most recent prior filing was in 2015. Former District Judge Charles N. Clevert described Plaintiff's litigation history and explained why dismissal of that action was appropriate:

Andre Burkett filed this case using a form civil complaint on which he contends that the State violated his due process rights. Although the allegations are unclear, Burkett appears to assert that a district attorney committed perjury and used a falsified police report related to state-court cases 98CF2857, 98CF2858, 99CF2211, and 99CF1892. As relief, Burkett asks this court to dismiss the charges in those cases because the district attorney made a perjurious statement to the state court.
. . .
This is at least the fourth case Burkett has brought concerning these convictions. On July 14, 2006, Judge Adelman denied and dismissed Burkett's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas case regarding the convictions in cases 98CF2857, 99CF1892, and 99CF2211, based on untimeliness. Burkett v. Champagne, No. 05-C-1139, slip op. (E.D. Wis. July 14, 2006). On February 27, 2010, this court dismissed a civil case Burkett filed against the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, concerning cases 99CF1892 and 99CF2211. Burkett had asserted that in those cases he was innocent of the crimes, he was maliciously prosecuted, and a fundamental miscarriage of justice had occurred; this court dismissed the claims against the courts or its judges based on judicial immunity. In addition, this court indicated that to the extent the complaint was intended to be a petition for writ of habeas corpus, Burkett would have to file a proper habeas pleading and could be barred from filing a second or successive petition. Burkett v. Wis. Sup. Ct., No. 10-C-140, slip op. (E.D. Wis. Feb. 27, 2010). Thereafter, on September 29, 2014, Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin dismissed another habeas petition regarding state cases 98CF2587, 99CF2211, and 99CF1892, as a second or successive petition barred under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b). Burkett v. State of Wisconsin, No. 14-C-1160, slip op. (E.D. Wis. Sept. 29, 2014).
Here, Burkett again seeks dismissal of these state-court charges against him under the guise of a civil rights case. But his request is one for habeas relief, not § 1983 relief. Burkett's prior habeas attacks on these fifteen-year-old convictions have failed. The issues he raises have already been decided against him. And he cannot execute an end-run around the merits decision in Judge Adelman's case or the second-and-successive bar by rewriting his attack as a civil rights claim. See Dalton v. United States, No. C 09-05452 SI, 2010 WL 1644701, *2 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 21, 2010) (“Perhaps in an attempt to circumvent this Court's many prior dismissals of his successive habeas petitions, Mr. Dalton has styled the present action not as a habeas petition but as a civil rights action arising under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 . . . . Mr. Dalton is attempting once again to attack the validity of his conviction and sentence by challenging the DEA agent's conduct leading up to his arrest. Such a challenge must be brought in a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Court has advised Mr. Dalton on multiple occasions that he may not file any additional habeas petitions with this Court unless the Ninth Circuit expressly gives him permission to do so.”).
To the extent that Burkett could be seeking other remedies in this civil rights action, such as damages, if he remains subject to a form of custody (his address suggests that he is out of prison, but he may be under supervision on release) the claim raised in this action is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, under which there is “no cause of action under § 1983 unless and until the conviction or sentence is reversed, expunged, invalidated, or impugned by the grant of a writ of habeas corpus.” 512 U.S. 477, 489 (1994). In other words, unless and until the cited criminal convictions are overturned, Burkett has no ยง 1983 claim. If Burkett is no longer under any form of supervision, he cannot ...

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