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Burns v. Fritz

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 21, 2019

JUSTIN BURNS, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN FRITZ and DENISE BONNETT, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. P. STADTMUELLER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Justin Burns proceeds in this matter pro se. He filed a complaint alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's petition to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee (in forma pauperis). (Docket #2). Plaintiff has been assessed and has paid an initial partial filing fee of $22.53. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b).

         The court shall screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an 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. Id. § 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). 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 mere “labels and conclusions” or a “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's 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. Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the deprivation was visited upon him 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 the 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 is a Wisconsin state prisoner who is currently housed at Columbia Correctional Institution. (Docket #1 at 1). His allegations stem, however, from his time at the Wisconsin Resource Center (“WRC”). Id. Defendants are employed at the WRC, presumably as part of the facility's medical staff. Id. While at the WRC, Plaintiff was prescribed an antidepressant. Id. On January 24, 2018, Defendant Megan Fritz (“Fritz”) miscopied a medical record, leading to Plaintiff being given far more of the medicine than had been prescribed. Id. at 2. The overdose caused Plaintiff pain, heart palpitations, and mood issues. Id. The next day, Defendant Denise Bonnett (“Bonnett”) stopped administration of the antidepressant. Id. This, in turn, caused Plaintiff headaches, extreme depression, and suicidal ideation. Id. These problems ceased when Plaintiff's prescription was resumed four days later. Id.

         Plaintiff asks to proceed on two types of claims. The first is based on his Eighth Amendment right to medical care. Prison officials violate this right when they “display deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners.” Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). Deliberate indifference claims contain both an objective and a subjective component: the inmate “must first establish that his medical condition is objectively, ‘sufficiently serious, '; and second, that prison officials acted with a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind,' - i.e., that they both knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health.” Lewis v. McLean, 864 F.3d 556, 562-63 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (internal citations omitted)).

         Generously construed, Plaintiff's allegations state a claim for deliberate indifference against Bonnett. She intentionally took Plaintiff off of the antidepressant, causing him severe pain and psychological symptoms. Whether Bonnett was justified in that decision is an argument she may make at a later time. By contrast, Plaintiff may not proceed against Fritz on a constitutional claim. He avers that she made a mistake in miscopying the medical record. Accidental conduct cannot support a claim for deliberate indifference.

         Plaintiff also seeks to pursue medical negligence claims against both Defendants. He may do so, as his allegations suggest negligence by both of them. However, Plaintiff should note that negligence claims are founded in state law, and Wisconsin has strict requirements for providing notice of such claims when they are brought against state officials. See Wis. Stat. § 893.82. If he has not complied with the notice requirement, Defendants will likely seek dismissal of the negligence claims. Without any evidence regarding the notice issue, the Court will leave it to Defendants to raise the issue.

         In light of the foregoing, the Court finds that Plaintiff may proceed on the following claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b):

Claim One: Deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, ...

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