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Hoskins v. Walker

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 13, 2018

MICHAEL S. HOSKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT WALKER, et al., Defendants.

          SCREENING ORDER

          WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE

         The plaintiff, who is currently serving a state prison sentence at Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) and representing himself, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the full filing fee and to screen the complaint, as well as his motion to waive the initial partial filing fee. ECF Nos. 2, 5.

         MOTION TO PROCEED WITHOUT PREPAYMENT OF THE FILING FEE

         The plaintiff is required to pay the $400.00 filing fee for this action, which includes the $350.00 statutory filing fee and a $50.00 administrative fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). If a prisoner does not have the money to pay the filing fee, he can request leave to proceed without prepayment of the full filing fee. In that case, the prisoner plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis is required to pay the full amount of the $350.00 statutory filing fee but not the $50.00 administrative fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). The plaintiff asserts that he lacks the funds to pay the partial filing fee and asks the court to waive it. ECF No. 5. The motion will be granted, and the court waives the initial partial filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4).

         SCREENING OF THE COMPLAINT

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must 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(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).

         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). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in the plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, the complaint's allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff named two defendants in this action: Scott Walker, who is the Governor of the State of Wisconsin, and Cathy Jess, who is the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. He contends that he wrote letters to Governor Walker in April, May, and June of 2018 raising concerns about the conditions of his confinement at WCI. Specifically, he contends that his letters to Governor Walker asserted that he was denied recreation, isolated in a poorly ventilated cell, attacked by his cell mate, and denied access to the shower. Plaintiff contends that Governor Walker never responded to his letters. He also asserts that he filed several inmate complaints but never received responses to them. As a result, he claims that he also wrote letters to Secretary Jess alerting her to the lack of response to his complaints, his concerns about the conditions of his confinement, and his desire to have cameras installed in the cell hall and offices at WCI. Plaintiff alleges that Secretary Jess did not respond to his letters, either.

         THE COURT'S ANALYSIS

         A plaintiff may prevail on a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by showing that he was (1) deprived of a federal right (2) by a person acting under color of state law. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The conditions of confinement of a prison violate the Eighth Amendment “when (1) there is a deprivation that is, from an objective standpoint, sufficiently serious that it results ‘in the denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, ”' and (2) where prison officials are deliberately indifferent to this state of affairs.” Gray v. Hardy, 826 F.3d 1000, 1005 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). However, § 1983 “does not establish a system of vicarious responsibility.” Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Monell v. N.Y. City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978)). Liability depends on a defendant's personal actions and knowledge and does not arise out of the actions of people a defendant supervises. Id.

         The Seventh Circuit has expressly disclaimed liability for public officials such as Governor Walker and Secretary Jess under the circumstances described in Plaintiff's complaint:

Public officials do not have a free-floating obligation to put things to rights, disregarding rules (such as time limits) along the way. Bureaucracies divide tasks; no prisoner is entitled to insist that one employee do another's job. The division of labor is important not only to bureaucratic organization but also to efficient performance of tasks; people who stay within their roles can get more work done, more effectively, and cannot be hit with damages under § 1983 for not being ombudsmen. Burks's view that everyone who knows about a prisoner's problem must pay damages implies that he could write letters to the Governor of Wisconsin and 999 other public officials, demand that every one of those 1, 000 officials drop everything he or she is doing in order to investigate a single prisoner's claims, and then collect damages from all 1, 000 recipients if the letter-writing campaign does not lead to better medical care. That can't be right. The Governor, and for that matter the Superintendent of Prisons and the Warden of each prison, is entitled to relegate to the prison's medical staff the provision of good medical care. See Durmer v. O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64 (3d Cir.1993).

Burks, 555 F.3d at 595. Plaintiff's entire claim turns upon an assumption that writing letters to high-level state officials such as the Governor and a department Secretary is sufficient to give those officials subjective knowledge of the unconstitutional conditions that he alleges. But the Seventh Circuit's reasoning in Burks clearly forecloses liability under these circumstances. Accordingly, this plaintiff has provided no arguable basis for relief, having failed to make any rational argument in law or fact to support his claims. See House v. Belford, 956 F.2d 711, 720 (7th Cir. ...


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