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Brown v. Milwaukee County

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 16, 2018



          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Order Plaintiff Aston Brown, who is currently incarcerated at the Oneida County Jail 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.

         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 has filed a certified copy of his prison trust account statement for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of his complaint, as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2), and has been assessed and paid an initial partial filing fee of $32.06. The plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee will be granted.

         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 alleges that Judge Christopher Dee of Milwaukee County violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial during the fall of 2017. According to Plaintiff, a 90-day deadline for his trial began to run on June 5, 2017. During a jury trial scheduled for September 5, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that he asserted that the 90-day deadline for holding his trial had expired 48 hours earlier, but Judge Dee allegedly stated that the 90 days had not expired because weekends did not count toward the 90-day total. Plaintiff alleges that Judge Dee ignored him when he claimed that nothing under Wisconsin's speedy trial law said that weekends do not count toward the 90-day limit. He further alleges that Judge Dee rescheduled the trial for a later date despite the 90-day limit elapsing. Plaintiff seeks damages for violations of his right to a speedy trial, as well as for being held in what he alleges was unlawful custody by Milwaukee County.

         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). “A municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 based on a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability, ” meaning a “municipality only may be held liable under § 1983 for constitutional violations caused by the municipality itself through its own policy or custom.” Jenkins v. Bartlett, 487 F.3d 482, 492 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). The complaint names only Milwaukee County as a defendant, so the unavailability of respondeat superior liability under § 1983 means that the complaint fails to state a claim to the extent it seeks damages from the County for Judge Dee's actions. Although Plaintiff also asserts a claim directly against the County for allegedly detaining him unlawfully, such a claim arises out of Judge Dee's alleged error in counting Plaintiff's time in custody for speedy trial purposes-rather than out of a particular practice or policy of the County-and therefore fails to state a claim against the County in the manner permitted by Monell. Plaintiff's claims against the County will therefore be dismissed.

         Normally, where a plaintiff representing himself names only the County as a defendant rather than individuals who allegedly violated his rights, it would be appropriate to dismiss the complaint but grant the plaintiff leave to amend. Here, however, Judge Dee is the only individual who Plaintiff alleges took any action that violated his rights. Because Judge Dee is absolutely immune from a suit for money damages based on actions taken in his judicial capacity, any claim against him for alleged violations of Plaintiff's speedy trial rights would necessarily fail. See Myrick v. Greenwood, 856 F.3d 487, 488 (7th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (“[J]udges are absolutely immune from awards of damages for acts taken in a judicial capacity, whether or not the judges erred in conducting the litigation.” (first citing Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991); then citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978)). Plaintiff's complaint will therefore be dismissed in its entirety because he 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. 1992) (quoting Williams v. Faulkner, 837 F.2d 304, 308 (7th Cir. 1988), aff'd sub nom. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989)).

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2) is GRANTED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this action is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1915(e)(2)(B) and ...

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