United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
GRAHAM L. STOWE, Plaintiff,
GREGORY VANRYBROCK, MEL CHRISTIANSEN, MELISSA PLUMLEY, and KEVIN LAETSCH, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. CONLEY, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Graham L. Stowe filed a proposed civil complaint, seeking to
proceed against defendants on claims related to his move to a
unit at the Mendota Mental Health Institute
(“Mendota”) that is not wheelchair accessible.
Since plaintiff seeks to proceed in this lawsuit in forma
pauperis, the court is required to screen this complaint
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In addressing any
pro se litigant's complaint, the court must read the
allegations of the complaint generously. Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972). Even under this
generous standard, however, this complaint must be dismissed,
although the court will give Stowe the opportunity to file an
amended complaint that addresses the deficiencies described
Gregory Stowe, a patient at Mendota, is wheelchair bound.
Stowe alleges that he was moved to the Admission Treatment
Unit (“ATU”) from December 27, 2016, through
December 18, 2017, but that unit is not wheelchair
accessible. He claims that defendants Melissa Rumley
(the ATU manager); Mel Christensen (the forensic program
director); and Director Gregory VanRybrock were all
responsible for the transfer.
claims that defendants violated his rights under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by
discriminating against him because he is disabled, and that
defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical need. However, plaintiff cannot proceed on either
claim because his complaint violates Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8, which requires a “‘short and plain
statement of the claim' sufficient to notify the
defendants of the allegations against them and enable them to
file an answer.” Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d
965, 968 (7th Cir. 2006).
plaintiff claims that defendants violated his rights under
the ADA, the court will infer that he is also seeking leave
to proceed on a claim under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.
§ 701 et seq. See Norfleet v. Walker, 684 F.3d
688, 690 (7th Cir. 2012) (noting uncertainty as to whether
ADA violations that do not implicate constitutional rights
may be brought in federal court and suggesting district
courts read in a Rehabilitation Act claim). Still, he will
not be allowed to proceed under either act, at least as
currently pled. The ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134,
prohibits discrimination against qualified persons with
disabilities. To establish a violation of Title II of the
ADA, a plaintiff “must prove that he is a
‘qualified individual with a disability,' that he
was denied ‘the benefits of the services, programs, or
activities of a public entity' or otherwise subjected to
discrimination by such an entity, and that the denial or
discrimination was ‘by reason of' his
disability.” Wagoner v. Lemmon, 778 F.3d 586,
592 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Love v. Westville Corr.
Ctr., 103 F.3d 558, 560 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 12132)). The Rehabilitation Act is
substantially identical to the ADA; it provides that
“[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability
. . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be
excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits
of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 29
U.S.C. § 794(a). A claim under § 504 of the Act has
four elements: (1) an individual with a disability; (2) who
was otherwise qualified to participate; (3) but who was
denied access solely by reason of disability; (4) in a
program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Jaros v. Illinois Dep't of Corr., 684 F.3d 667,
671 (7th Cir. 2012).
purposes of screening, the court will assume that
plaintiff's need for a wheelchair renders him
“disabled” within the meaning of the first
element. However, plaintiff's current allegations do not
satisfy either the second or third elements of the prima
facie case. Although Mendota is considered a “public
entity, ” plaintiff does not claim to be excluded from
any service, program, or activity offered to other prisoners.
42 U.S.C. § 12132. Indeed, the Seventh Circuit has
already held that refusing to accommodate a prisoner's
severe leg spasm condition by installing guardrails on his
bed did not implicate the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act,
because “incarceration, which requires the provision of
a place to sleep, is not a ‘program' or
‘activity.'” Bryant v. Madigan, 84
F.3d 246, 249 (7th Cir. 1996). Bryant also clarifies
that while denying a special cell accommodation may
constitute medical malpractice, because the plaintiff in that
case was “not complaining of being excluded from some
prison service, program, or activity, for example an exercise
program that his paraplegia would prevent him from taking
part in without some modification of the program, ” the
ADA does not provide any remedy for this lack of services.
Id. Accordingly, since plaintiff has provided no
allegations suggesting that his stay in the ATU precluded him
access to any services he would be qualified for at Mendota,
he may not proceed on a claim under the ADA or the
plaintiff proceed on an Eighth Amendment claim, at least on
his current allegations. A prison official who violates the
Eighth Amendment in the context of a prisoner's medical
treatment demonstrates “deliberate indifference”
to a “serious medical need.” Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). Forbes v.
Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 266 (7th Cir. 1997). “Serious
medical needs” include (1) life-threatening conditions
or those carrying a risk of permanent serious impairment if
left untreated, (2) withholding of medical care that results
in needless pain and suffering, or (3) conditions that have
been “diagnosed by a physician as mandating
treatment.” Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d
1364, 1371 (7th Cir. 1997). “Deliberate
indifference” encompasses two elements: (1) awareness
on the part of officials that the prisoner needs medical
treatment and (2) disregard of this risk by conscious failure
to take reasonable measures.
even accepting that the fact that plaintiff's use of a
wheelchair satisfies the serious medical need requirement,
plaintiff has not pled any facts that would support a
reasonable inference that any of the defendants acted with
reckless disregard for that need. Indeed, beyond alleging
that he is wheelchair bound and that the ATU is not
handicap-accessible, plaintiff has not pled any facts
suggesting that he actually faced any challenges, impediments
or actual physical harm as a result of his placement in the
ATU. For example, plaintiff has not pled that any of the
defendants knew that he needed any sort of medical attention
related to his handicap, much less that they failed to take
reasonable measures to address that need.
the court is dismissing Stowe's complaint without
prejudice, but because Stowe's complaint was so short on
allegations, the court will give him a small window of time
within which he can file an amended complaint that corrects
the deficiencies outlined above. Should he choose to file an
amended complaint by the deadline set forth below, the court
will screen it under § 1915(e)(2). In preparing an
amended complaint, plaintiff should take care to provide
specific information about exactly how his time in ATU
violated his rights under the ADA and/or the Eighth
Amendment. Plaintiff should use the legal standards set forth
above as his guideline.
plaintiff should draft his complaint as if he is telling a
story to someone who knows nothing about the situation.
Plaintiff should explain: (1) what happened to make him
believe he has a legal claim; (2) when it happened; (3) which
defendants did it; (4) why; and (5) how the court can assist
him in relation to those events. Plaintiff ...