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Ingram v. Fond Du Lac County Department of Social Services

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 15, 2019



          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

         Plaintiff Darnell Ingram, who was confined at Fond du Lac County Jail at the time of filing, filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. Along with his complaint, Ingram filed a motion for leave to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee and a copy of his prisoner trust account statement. In an order dated January 16, 2019, the court waived the initial partial filing fee and directed Ingram to notify the court within 21 days whether he wished to voluntarily dismiss this action to avoid the possibility of incurring a strike under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). On February 6, 2019, Ingram filed a motion for the release of documents related to several state court cases. On February 8, 2019, instead of notifying the court of his intent to dismiss this action, Ingram filed a motion to stay the case pending his receipt of free legal advice.

         Ingram's motions for the release of documents and to stay will be denied. Ingram's motion to release documents, to the extent it seeks to obtain discoverable material relevant to this action, will be denied as premature. If Ingram's complaint survives screening, he will be able to use the tools of discovery in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to gather facts relating to his claims. Now is not the appropriate time to request documents, as the court has not yet screened the complaint, and in any event, discovery requests are not to be served on the court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(d). Regarding his motion to stay, Ingram chose to file this action while he was confined in Fond du Lac County Jail. He could have waited to file his complaint until his release on January 31, 2019, or he could have notified the court of his intent to withdraw this action. Either of these options would have allowed him to obtain legal advice and modify his complaint. Granting an indefinite stay would frustrate the court's obligation to screen his complaint “as soon as practicable after docketing, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), and would only further delay this matter. Moreover, since the case will proceed, Ingram is free to continue to seek assistance of counsel and amend his complaint should counsel advise him to do so in the future. His motion to stay will therefore be denied, and his complaint will be screened.

         Motion to Proceed without Prepayment of the Filing Fee

         Although Ingram is no longer confined, he remains subject to the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) because he was incarcerated at the time he filed his complaint. The PLRA gives courts discretion to allow plaintiffs to proceed with their lawsuits without prepaying the $350 filing fee, as long as they comply with certain requirements. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. One of those requirements is that the plaintiff pay an initial partial filing fee. The court previously waived the initial partial filing fee. ECF No. 7. Ingram's motion to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee will therefore be granted. Ingram is still required to pay the remainder of the fee over time as he is able.

         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

         Ingram alleges that, on November 13, 2017, he reported his ex-wife, with whom he shares two children, to Fond du Lac County Social Services (FDLCSS) for child neglect. He alleges that intake social worker Cathy Rienhart refused to investigate his complaint because he is African-American and that she made negative comments concerning his mental health. Ingram alleges that, around April 1, 2018, Rienhart received a child neglect report against Ingram's ex-wife filed by his ex-wife's father. Ingram alleges that Rienhart investigated this claim because the complainant, Ingram's ex-father-in-law, is white.

         According to Ingram, on April 16, 2018, Rienhart and FDLCSS Director Patricia L. removed all children from his ex-wife's home due to child neglect and placed Ingram's children in foster care. Ingram alleges that he received notice of this removal around May 1, 2018, and that he was not previously informed about his children's living situation or about a hearing. Ingram alleges that, in August and September 2018, he made several complaints about the acts of his children's foster mother to Patricia L., supervisor Jessica, and Kayla Powers, who are all FDLCSS employees. Ingram alleges that his children's foster mother kept his children in unsafe, unhealthy conditions. He alleges that no action was taken in response to his complaints because he is African-American and because the foster parents are white.

         Around the same time, about August or September 2018, Ingram alleges that he received from Patricia L. a “falsely documented disposition” depriving him of seeing his children for three weeks. ECF No. 1 at 5. He also alleges that Patricia L. did not provide him service, insulted his mental health, and supported his three-week separation from his children.

         Ingram claims that, around October 4, 2018, his probation agent informed him that his children's foster mother made allegations against him, which resulted in him being placed in the Fond du Lac County Jail. Ingram claims that an investigation revealed that the allegations against him were false, which led him to file a civil suit against the foster mother in Fond du Lac County Circuit Court in December 2018. Ingram believes that FDLCSS and his children's foster mother are not submitting his letters to his children. Ingram alleges that, on January 4, 2019, he received a handwritten statement from agent Sue Schwartz containing “intentional, malicious non-truth, ” and “creat[ing] a disposition of fabricated, altered and falsified evidence to assure injury and punishment.” ECF No. 1-1 at 1. He alleges that, on January 9, 2019, Jessica and Kayla Powers visited him and confirmed that “nothing will change, ” that his “children will stay with Foster parents, ” and that FDLCSS will not agree to place his kids with him. ECF No. 1-4.

         Ingram alleges that, on January 19, 2019, he received a letter dated January 15, 2019, from Deputy Director Richard W. Gedemer, who works for FDLCSS. According to Ingram, the letter refused “to remedy the wrong of all defendants . . . [and] did not address all concerns, appearing to giving [sic] supplant [sic] answers, dishonesty, manipulation, and even praising the acts of social workers.” ECF No. 12 at 1. Ingram alleges that Gedemer supported probation officer Aleesha Gillingham in her fabricated allegations. Ingram further alleges that FDLCSS refuses to give him his children ...

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