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Price v. Strahota

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 9, 2019

MARK H. PRICE, Plaintiff,
v.
DON STRAHOTA, DAN WINKLESKI, LARRY FUCHS, CARL HENRICHSEN, CORY M. RAHLF, and ERIC A. WEIGEL, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Mark H. Price, appearing pro se, is a prisoner at Stanley Correctional Institution. Price brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that when he was incarcerated at New Lisbon Correctional Institution, defendant prison officials investigated him and convicted him of a disciplinary infraction without him receiving proper due process. He qualified for in forma pauperis status and followed by paying the entire $350 filing fee.

         The next step is for me to screen Price's complaint and dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. In doing so, I must read his pro se complaint generously, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam), and accept his allegations as true, see Bonte v. U.S Bank, N.A., 624 F.3d 461, 463 (7th Cir. 2010).

         I conclude that Price's current allegations do not state any claims for relief. I conclude that at least some of his allegations are too vague to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. I will dismiss his complaint and give him a chance to file an amended complaint.

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         During the events central to this case, plaintiff Mark H. Price was incarcerated at New Lisbon Correctional Institution. On February 27, 2017, Price was sent to temporary lockup by defendant Captain Corey Rahlf, pending an investigation into Price possessing contraband drugs. Defendant Correctional Officer Eric Weigel said that he saw “a white powder substance” fall out of a pair of Price's underwear and also saw it on a drinking cup of Price's. Dkt. 1, at 2. Weigel also found a “discolored toothpaste tube with a liquid inside.” Id. Weigel and defendant Carl Henrichsen, the Restrictive Housing Unit manager, tested the powder and liquid using a “Nark II” field testing kit. The powder tested positive for oxycodone and the liquid tested positive for methamphetamine. These defendants were not well trained in use of the Nark II kit, and the Nark II kit is notoriously unreliable and known for producing false positives. Weigel wrote Price a conduct report for possessing drugs. The contraband substances were turned over to local police for a criminal investigation.

         Henrichsen ordered Price placed in an observation cell in the Restrictive Housing Unit. In that cell, the water was turned off, the room was constantly lit, Price was allowed no properly, including hygiene items, he was closely monitored, and his bodily fluids were collected and inspected. Price stayed in that cell for about a day. Price believes that Henrichsen placed him in the cell “to harass and intimidate” him. Id. at 3.

         Price maintained that the items were soap, not drugs. He waived the 21-day time limit for holding his disciplinary hearing in the hope that a second, “confirmation” drug test would prove that the substances were not drugs. Price wrote to defendant Security Director Larry Fuchs, asking to postpone the hearing to wait for the confirmation test, but Fuchs denied those requests despite knowing that the Nark II kit produced unreliable results.

         Price's disciplinary hearing was held on March 17, 2017. Defendant Rahlf conducted the hearing over Price's objection that the confirmation test results had not yet come back. Price says that he could not respond to various questions posed by Rahlf because Price had been given his Miranda warnings a week earlier by police officers when they interviewed him. Rahlf “became enraged” and had Price removed from the hearing. Rahlf found Price guilty of possessing drugs and sentenced him to 300 days of solitary confinement, despite knowing that the Nark II kit produced unreliable results. Price was sent to Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) to serve his term of solitary confinement. This also eventually led to his placement back into maximum-security prison.

         Price appealed the decision to defendant Don Strahota, then the warden, but Strahota denied it. Strahota was also aware that the Nark II kit produced unreliable results.

         In July 2017, the state crime lab reported that the substances from Price's cell tested negative for contraband drugs. Price's disciplinary conviction was vacated and he was transferred to a medium-security prison. He ended up serving 139 days in solitary confinement and 52 days in a maximum-security cell with what he calls abhorrent conditions. In particular, I take Price to be saying that for at least part of his time at CCI, he had a cellmate with terrible hygiene who was “a health hazard, ” and Price was forced to wear clothes that smelled like urine. Id. at 7.

         ANALYSIS

         I take Price to be contending that his constitutional rights were violated in several ways in conjunction with the investigation and conviction for possession of drugs. But his current allegations do not state any claims for relief.

         Price says that he was given a conduct report on thin, unreliable evidence from the Nark II drug test. But allegations of a false conduct reports do not state a claim for deprivation of due process, much less Price's allegations that the test is unreliable. See Lagerstrom v. Kingston, 463 F.3d 621, 624-25 (7th Cir. 2006) (false conduct reports do not ...


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