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Hyatt v. Lukas

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 17, 2019



          William M. Conley District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Jason James Hyatt claims that defendants violated his constitutional rights to access the courts and to equal protection during his incarceration at the Portage County Jail in 2016. In particular, Hyatt claims that: (1) defendants denied him timely access to all of his legal materials in order to prepare adequately for a hearing in his criminal case; and (2) defendants discriminated against him by denying access to the phone and canteen, as well as to other materials he was ordinarily allowed to have in his cell.

         Now before the court are defendants' motion for summary judgment (dkt. #74), Hyatt's motion for a temporary restraining order (dkt. #112) and Hyatt's motion to compel and for a continuance (dkt. #120). As for Hyatt's motion for a temporary restraining order, it concerns matters and parties wholly outside the scope of the present lawsuit and, therefore, that motion must be denied. Since the evidence of record would not support a reasonable finding in plaintiff's favor on any of his claims, the court will grant defendants' motion, deny Hyatt's motion to compel as moot, and enter judgment in defendants' favor.


         Plaintiff Jason James Hyatt is currently incarcerated at Waupun, but the events comprising his claims in this lawsuit took place when he was incarcerated at the Portage County Jail. The three defendants were each working at the jail during the relevant time period. They are Portage County Sheriff Mike Lukas, Captain Nelson and Sergeant Boettcher.

         I. Jail Grievance Process and Hyatt's Use of that Process

         The Portage County Jail has an Inmate Orientation Handbook that is provided to all inmates when they are booked into the jail. The handbook provided the process jail inmates were required to use to grieve conduct by jail staff. In particular, it directed inmates who were unable to resolve issues informally to submit a grievance within fourteen (14) days of the alleged conduct's occurrence. Then, if inmates were dissatisfied with the decision they received, inmates were required to appeal that result to the Jail Administrator within five days of the initial decision on the grievance. During the time Hyatt was at the jail, the jail's policy was to collect non-emergency requests and grievances at 10:00 p.m. and to respond to them the following day.

         Hyatt was incarcerated at the Portage County Jail from April 26, 2016, through November 9, 2016. During that time, he filed 316 requests, grievances and appeals. Yet according to defendants, Hyatt only followed the jail's grievance process with respect to eight of his complaints. Moreover, defendants' assert that none of those grievances related to his class of one equal protection claim, nor do they mention that Hyatt was being treated differently than other similarly situated inmates with respect to the use of phones, canteen access or the amount of materials he was allowed to store in his cell. While Hyatt disputes this last fact, his only basis for doing so is that he does not understand what “similarly situated” means. More importantly, he does not direct the court to any grievance he filed that addressed these issues.

         II. Policies Related to Phones and Canteen, and Hyatt's Access to Phones and Canteen

         A. Jail Policies Related to Phone Use

         During the relevant time period, two phones were available to inmates inside each cell block for fifteen hours a day. Inmates were allowed to call anyone they wanted, including friends and family members, as well as employers. The jail did not place limits on who inmates could call on those phones. However, inmates were not allowed access to the phones when they were in solitary confinement or when the jail was in lockdown.

         There were two other phones located outside the cell blocks that inmates could ask to use in very limited circumstances. One was the so-called “jail staff phone”; the other was referred to as the “social worker's phone.” For example, inmates might be allowed to use the jail staff phone if they: (1) were being booked and needed to make their initial call, (2) were dealing with an emergency or (3) needed to contact their employer. If given permission, inmates could also use the social worker's phone. Inmates did not have to pay to use either of these two phones, although access was limited due to safety and security concerns, especially since conversations on these phones were not monitored or recorded by the jail. Finally, the jail did not have a written policy as to which staff should decide whether an individual inmate should be allowed access to the jail staff or social worker's phone.

         B. Hyatt's Use of the Phones

         Hyatt and other inmates regularly requested to use the jail staff and social worker's phones, rather than a cell block phone, and Hyatt claims that jail staff refused to allow him to use either of these phones. While Hyatt has provided no details about when those denials actually took place, he specifically alleges that they were in response to his requests to call his family and friends about an upcoming hearing in his criminal case. In contrast, defendants maintain that when Hyatt was denied access to those phones, jail staff had a legitimate reason: Hyatt's need for the phone did not constitute an emergency. Defendants further assert that jail staff believed Hyatt wanted to use the non-cellblock phones because he would not have to pay for the call. Hyatt responds that he only asked to use staff or social worker phones when he had an “objective legal emergency” and no other mode of communication was available, but also testified at his deposition that he did not want to use cell block phones for those purposes at “a dollar a minute.” (Hyatt Dep. (dkt. #82-2) at 111.)

         While Hyatt also suspects that Sheriff Lukas or Captain Nelson instructed jail staff to deny him access to the jail staff phone, he cites to no evidence, including any sworn statements about interactions with Lukas, Nelson or any other jail staff that would support his suspicion. To the contrary, Sheriff Lukas avers that, although he tries to visit the jail once or twice a week to meet with jail staff, he rarely meets with inmates or becomes aware of inmates' personal situations, since these responsibilities are typically delegated to jail staff. Moreover, Lukas specifically avers that he did not know Hyatt was being restricted with respect to phone use.

         With respect to other inmates' access to the jail staff phone, Hyatt provided two examples. First, Hyatt claims that another inmate, Adam Hughes, was allowed to use the phone in the booking area, although he also concedes that Hughes was acting in a way suggesting that his call was urgent. Second, Hyatt claims that an unknown inmate was allowed to use the jail staff phone to call his employer on a probation-related issue. In both examples, Hyatt also admitted that he was unable to actually hear what those inmates were saying during those phone calls. (Id. at 106.)

         III. Canteen Access

         During the relevant time period, Hyatt's inmate account was frozen. Captain Nelson was responsible for enforcing court orders and withholding money from inmate accounts to pay court filing fees. Since Hyatt had outstanding court filing fees due in at least two cases, Nelson explains that jail staff were required to forward Hyatt's money to the court to pay those fees. Nelson further explains that if there was not enough money left in Hyatt's account to pay for his canteen orders after these filing fees are withheld, then the jail canceled Hyatt's canteen orders. Hyatt has not only failed to come forward with any examples of other inmates who owed filings fees, it is undisputed that no other inmate at the jail had a pending lawsuit during the relevant time period.

         Hyatt's canteen orders included a request for envelopes, which he wanted to use for his legal matters. Before being put on indigent status, Hyatt understood that he, like other non-indigent inmates, could order thirty envelopes from the canteen. After he became indigent, Hyatt claims that he was unable to purchase envelopes from the canteen, apparently also due to his outstanding fees. Still, Hyatt has not come forward with any evidence that shows he was treated differently from other indigent inmates with respect to the use of the jail's canteen, nor could he answer how he was treated differently during his deposition.

         Hyatt does claim that the jail's policy or practice was to “pencil whip” the books, meaning that once indigent, his canteen orders automatically were cancelled, so that his other debts could be paid. Defendants deny having such a policy or practice. Rather, according to Captain Nelson, the jail had to withhold money from Hyatt's account to pay outstanding court fees. Accordingly, Hyatt's canteen orders were only cancelled if after those withdrawals, he lacked funds to pay for the items he ordered.

         IV. Hyatt's Materials in his Cell

         During Hyatt's time at the jail, the inmate handbook included a contraband policy. The purpose of this policy is to protect and promote the internal safety and security of the jail, including both inmates and staff. Among other things, this involves keeping the jail clean and eliminating potential fire hazards. In particular, the policy allowed inmates to ...

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