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Grissom v. Stange

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 26, 2019




         Plaintiff Terrance Grissom, appearing pro se, is an inmate at Waupun Correctional Institution. Grissom is a frequent litigator in this court (he has brought more than 60 cases here since 1990) who has “struck out” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) and has been barred from filing new complaints in this court unless his allegations show that he is in imminent danger of serious physical injury.

         Grissom filed a joint complaint and motion for preliminary injunctive relief, in which he alleged that staff at Columbia Correctional Institution placed him close to “known enemies, ” at least one of which threatened to kill Grissom. When Grissom raised this problem, defendant Kelsey Stange, a member of the psychological services staff, would not move him. Instead, she said that if he continued to complain, she would have CCI officers kill Grissom. An unidentified correctional officer then punched Grissom in the face.

         Stange responded to the motion for preliminary injunctive relief, denying threatening Grissom and saying that the DOC does not have any documented evidence of the alleged November 13, 2018 incident in which Stange threatened Grissom or another officer punched him. Stange also said that after the events discussed in Grissom's complaint, he was sent to temporary lockup status, housed alone, with no known threats to his safety. Stange says that he was placed there because he threw a milk carton full of feces and urine at an officer.

         In my last order, I gave Grissom an opportunity to file a reply brief addressing Stange's response. See Dkt. 10. I also directed him to respond regarding his possible falsification of court materials. I previously noted that it appeared that Grissom had crossed out figures on his trust fund account statement to obscure the fact that he had some money in his release account. Dkt. 4, at 2. In responding to Grissom's motion for preliminary injunctive relief, Stange contended that Grissom fraudulently altered the notary certification on his motion. See Dkt. 1, at 3.

         I stated that the notary certification page is almost certainly a copy of page 11 of Grissom's complaint in No. 14-cv-808-jdp, a case he co-filed with inmate Robert Kidd:

It looks like Grissom crossed out Kidd's signature and the dates of both his and Kidd's signatures. Then, notary Angelia Kroll's statement about the date she witnessed Grissom's signature is altered to change “2014” to “2017, ” and the year of Kroll's notary expiration date was changed from 2016 to 2019. Kroll provides an affidavit detailing some of these points, and stating that she works at Waupun Correctional Institution, so she could not have notarized the current document.

         Dkt. 10, at 2-3.[1] I set a deadline for Grissom to respond regarding this issue, although I stated that “it is difficult to imagine what Grissom could say to mitigate what appears to be a blatantly fraudulent document.” Id. at 3.

         Now Grissom has filed a declaration, Dkt. 11, and what he calls an “order to show cause for a temporary restraining order, ” Dkt. 12. Grissom does not elaborate on the November 13 incident or the danger he faces from Stange. He says that his legal property was taken, that his incoming mail has been blocked, and is being held in a cold cell. He asks to be transferred to a facility run by the Department of Health Services, presumably the Wisconsin Resource Center.

         But this case is not about a cold cell or Grissom's mental health treatment. I have reason to doubt that Grissom is blocked from his legal materials, given that he attached exhibits to his reply. But regardless of this issue, he fails to elaborate on Stange's threats to him or his current risk of harm by explaining events in his own declaration, which he could have done without additional legal materials. In addition, Grissom has filed two new complaints, Nos. 19-cv-270-jdp and 19-cv-271-jdp, which show that he has been transferred to Waupun Correctional Institution. Because the preliminary injunction briefing and Grissom's transfer give me no reason to think that Grissom is currently in danger from Stange, I will deny his motion for preliminary injunctive relief.

         That leaves the issue of the falsified notary certification. Grissom responds that Kroll is committing perjury and that she “did notarize[] a document to William Pollard case.” Dkt. 11, at 1. I take “William Pollard case” to mean Grissom's 2014 case with co-plaintiff Kidd, because Pollard was the defendant in that case. Grissom does not elaborate further so it is not clear whether he actually disputes whether Kroll notarized his complaint in this case. Given how closely the notary certification page in this case resembles the page from the 2014 case, no reasonable factfinder could conclude anything other than that Grissom copied the page and then doctored it to use it in this case.

         “A district court has inherent power to sanction a party who ‘has willfully abused the judicial process or otherwise conducted litigation in bad faith.'” Secrease v. W. & S. Life Ins. Co., 800 F.3d 397, 401 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Salmeron v. Enterprise Recovery Systems, Inc., 579 F.3d 787, 793 (7th Cir. 2009). Grissom's behavior in fabricating the notary page is unacceptable and it merits sanctions against him. Grissom already has three strikes under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) and a separate filing bar for all but habeas corpus petitions and imminent-danger cases, so a relatively lesser sanction would not have any effect on Grissom's filings.

         I conclude that it is appropriate to sanction Grissom in two ways. First, I will dismiss this case and his other two pending cases. I note that this is not as substantial a penalty as it may seem, because Grissom's two new complaints-the '270 and '271 cases-are fundamentally flawed in other respects. In the '270 case, Grissom alleges that prison staff has unlawfully withdrawn funds from his trust fund account, which threatens his right of access to the courts. But these are not imminent-danger claims, so I would dismiss the case anyway under the current filing bar. In the '271 case, Grissom alleges that inmates at Columbia Correctional Institution are threatening him, but he does not name as a defendant anyone acting under color of state law, so he cannot bring constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         I will also modify his current sanctions. He is currently barred from bringing civil-rights lawsuits unless he alleges that he is in imminent danger of serious physical harm. But in those imminent-danger cases, he was still allowed to bring claims for money damages. I remain convinced that it is appropriate for Grissom to be able to seek court intervention to keep him safe, but I conclude that he has forfeited the opportunity to seek money damages. So I will beef up the sanctions against Grissom by stating that for the next two years, this court will not consider any claims ...

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