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Savada v. Meisner

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 23, 2019

CONNOR Q. SAVADA, Plaintiff,


          William C. Griesbach, Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Connor Savada, who is currently being detained at the Lincoln 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 Savada'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

         Savada submitted his complaint, accompanied by a “Prisoner Request To Proceed In The District Court Without Prepaying The Full Filing Fee, ” to the Clerk on March 8, 2019. Dkt. Nos. 1- 2. Since he was not in custody at the time he submitted his request, Savada was not subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which requires payment of an initial partial filing fee with the balance to be paid over time. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and (b). Confused by the forms he had completed, the Clerk initially sent a letter directing Savada to file a certified copy of his institutional trust account statement for the last six months. Dkt. No. 3. The Clerk later realized Savada was not a prisoner and sent a second letter on March 15, 2019, directing him to file a motion for leave to proceed without prepayment of the full filing fee (in forma pauperis) within the next 21 days. Dkt. No. 4. On April 15, 2019, Savada sent a letter advising the court that he was again in jail and had not been receiving his mail. Savada requested that “any missed deadlines be forgiven and I re-file as an incarcerated person filing in forma pauperis.” Dkt. No. 5. Since the “Prisoner Request To Proceed In District Court Without Prepaying The Full Filing Fee” that accompanied his complaint is sufficient to establish his indigency, I will grant his request to proceed without paying the filing fee and screen Savada's complaint to determine whether it states a claim.

         Screening of the Complaint

         Although for the reason set forth above this case is not governed by the PLRA, the court is authorized “to screen complaints filed by all litigants, prisoners and nonprisoners alike, regardless of fee status.” Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)). This is to insure that people named as defendants in suits brought by individuals with no education or training in the law are not forced to incur the expense of hiring a lawyer to defend them in a federal suit that has no basis in the law. It also frees up judicial resources for cases involving serious disputes over colorable claims. A court should therefore dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). To survive screening, the complaint must state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In other words, it must allege sufficient facts to permit “the reasonable inference that defendant is liable for the injury alleged.” Id. In determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court accepts all of the plaintiff's allegations as true and gives them a liberal construction when the plaintiff is proceeding pro se. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Nevertheless, the complaint's allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted).

         Allegations of the Complaint

         In December of 2017, Savada was taken into custody for two or three days on a misdemeanor non-appearance bench warrant that was issued when he failed to appear for a status conference. Although Savada claims that he was unaware of the status conference, there is no allegation that the warrant was invalid. While he was being booked at the Lincoln County Jail, Savada alleges that two members of the Lincoln County Sherriff's Office Correctional staff-Jason Meisner and a Jane Doe officer-slammed him to the floor of a cell in the holding area while both of his arms were being held behind his back. Savada alleges that this was done because he was refusing to answer personal health questions while he was being booked. Savada further alleges that these staff members also mocked him and made a facial gesture to him indicating that they could “accidentally forget” to inform the court that he was available to appear while he was in their custody. Dkt. No. 1 at 4.

         Ten minutes later Meisner allegedly approached Savada's cell and asked if he needed or wanted any medical care. Savada states that he declined any medical care despite injuries to his knees and one elbow out of fear that he would be harmed again by Meisner and the officers would act on their threat not to inform the court that he was available to appear. Savada also states that he was afraid to ask for assistance because of the jail's close proximity to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and his belief “that these people, and this location are dangerous and willing to violate the Constitution.” Id. at 5.

         Savada also alleges that he was denied access to prescription medication related to his recovery from an infection. Savada states that the jail's staff was informed and aware of his recent illness and injury. Savada alleges that, at some point during his time at the jail, when he called out to a Jane Done nurse the nurse ran away from him. Savada is seeking monetary relief.

         The Court's Analysis

         Because Savada's arrest took place pursuant to a bench warrant, “this case concerns detention following a judicial determination of sufficient cause.” Armstrong v. Squadrito, 152 F.3d 564, 569-70 (7th Cir. 1998). Consequently, his claims are analyzed under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Villanova v. Abrams, 972 F.2d 792, 797 (7th Cir. 1992) (The Fourth Amendment “governs the period of confinement between arrest without a warrant and the preliminary hearing at which a determination of probable cause is made, while due process regulates the period of confinement after the initial determination of probable cause.”).

         The standard for judging an excessive force claim under the due process clause, like the standard under the Fourth Amendment, is objective unreasonableness. Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2471 (2015). “‘Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers,' violates the Fourth Amendment.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) (quoting Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1033 (1973)). “Considerations such as the following may bear on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used: the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.” Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473.

         Taking Savada's allegations as true, which the court must do at this stage, his complaint states a claim for excessive force against Jason Meisner and the Jane Doe officer. Slamming an inmate to the floor of a jail simply because he refuses to answer questions is not objectively reasonable, and no person should condone such brutality. But allegations, especially uncorroborated allegations, are not proof, and relieving an indigent inmate of even the burden of paying the filing fee eliminates any incentive the inmate might otherwise have not to file false or exaggerated claims. True, one of the factors to be considered in determining whether the force used was unreasonably excessive is the extent of the plaintiff's injury. This makes sense if the Court's statement acknowledging that “not every push or shove” will amount to a constitutional violation is to serve as any kind of a meaningful limitation on the ability of an inmate to force his jailers to incur the expense of defending a federal lawsuit. But the Court has also said that while the absence of serious injury is relevant to the ...

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