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Lewis v. Stamper

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 25, 2019

EDWARD MAX LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE STAMPER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY, District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Edward Max Lewis filed this lawsuit on June 18, 2014, seeking to proceed on claims arising out of his being held at the Forest County Jail from October 26, 2003, to June 28, 2004, during which the defendants allegedly violated his constitutional, statutory and state law rights by (1) failing to provide him with adequate medical and mental health treatment and (2) subjecting him to inhumane conditions of confinement. When the lawsuit was first filed in 2014, the court dismissed it at the screening stage on statute of limitations grounds. (Dkt. #13.) However, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed that judgment, concluding that it was error to dismiss Lewis’s claims on statute of limitations grounds without any factual development, especially in light of his pro se status. See Lewis v. Stenz, 637 F. App’x 943 (7th Cir. 2016). The Seventh Circuit specifically held that Lewis’s suit would be “timely if he was mentally ill, as Wisconsin defines that term, from October 2003 until the day he filed his complaint in June 2014.” Id. at 944.

         On remand, therefore, this court granted Lewis leave to proceed on November 30, 2016, and subsequently Lewis prosecuted his lawsuit pro se. Unfortunately, Lewis had ongoing difficulties representing himself, in particular balking at defendants’ discovery requests for documents related to his mental health between 2003 and 2014. These issues came to a head in late 2017 and early 2018, when defendants moved for summary judgment and to dismiss for failure to prosecute since Lewis continued to refuse to comply with their valid discovery requests despite being warned of the consequences of that refusal. (Dkt. ##107, 114.)

         Fortunately for Lewis, in May of 2018, he was able to secure counsel, at which point the court held a telephonic status conference, and all the parties and their counsel agreed that the most efficacious course of action would be to set briefing on the limited issue of defendants’ statute of limitations defense. (Dkt. #130.) More specifically, the court directed the parties to submit briefing and proposed findings of fact and evidence with respect to Lewis’s argument that his mental incapacity since 2004 tolled the applicable six-year statute of limitations. Having now reviewed those submissions, the court concludes that Lewis has not proven by a preponderance of evidence that the statute of limitations was tolled for any period between October of 2004 and June of 2014, when he ultimately filed this lawsuit. As such, defendants are entitled to judgment in their favor on their statute of limitations defense.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         I. Lewis’s Mental Health Before 2003

         On August 17, 2000, Lewis was diagnosed by a therapist, Karen East, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), stemming from sexual and physical abuse that he and his siblings endured during their time in foster care. (Pl. Ex. A (dkt. #132-1).) The record of Lewis’s August 17 appointment, as well as Lewis’s subsequent December 11, 2000, appointment indicate that Lewis reported “spells” in which he would black out for “brief periods, ” and he could not recall the details of what he did during those black outs. (Pl. Exs. A, B (dkt. ##132-1, 132-2).)

         Later in 2000, Lewis and his siblings initiated a lawsuit against the Forest County Department of Health and Human Services over their placement in a violent home. As a part of that lawsuit, another psychologist, Dr. Thomas Daniels, issued a psychological evaluation of Lewis and his siblings on June 28, 2001. (Pl. Ex. D. (dkt. #132-4).)[1] In the report, Dr. Daniels walked through Lewis’s history, that undisputedly involved physical and emotional abuse. As a part of the evaluation, Lewis also underwent a personality test, called the Minnesota Personality Inventory -2 (“MMPI-2”).[2] According to Dr. Daniels’ report, the results showed severe problems, finding that Lewis’s “responses [were] similar to those given by hospitalized psychiatric patients” and that Lewis showed symptoms of PTSD and periods of depression and suicidal thinking. Still, Dr. Daniels also found that Lewis’s answers to the questions suggested that Lewis was fatigued by the end of the test, and he may have attempted to “overstate psychological problems for the purpose of the current legal action.” (Id. at 14.) For this reason, Dr. Daniels did not consider Lewis’s MMPI-2 results in opining on his psychological functioning at that time, ultimately concluding that Lewis “does not appear to have any diagnosable psychological problems at this time.” (Id.)

         On March 22, 2002, East authored a “Discharge Summary, ” providing an overview of her treatment of Lewis. While confirming her PTSD diagnosis, she concluded that his “prognosis for continuing positive adaptation is good.” (Pl. Ex. C (dkt. #132-3).)

         II. Lewis’s Mental Health Record Between 2003 and 2014

         On October 26, 2003, Lewis was arrested in Forest County, Wisconsin. Upon his intake at the Forest County Jail, an inmate medical screening form was filled out for him. (Pl. Ex. F (dkt. #132-6).) As recorded, Lewis answered “yes” under the following categories: mental health, psychiatric treatment, attempted suicide (with the note “4 yrs ago”), and AODA treatment (with a note “1999”). Id. Lewis also indicated that he was prescribed Paxil at that time.[3]

         On November 4, 2003, Lewis reported to jail staff that he was hearing voices and wanted to sleep all the time. He was then placed in J Block for medical observation. The record of Lewis’s treatment indicates that Lewis had not been receiving his Paxil during this period. On January 9, 2004, Lewis underwent an evaluation to determine whether he was competent to stand trial with respect to the criminal charges arising from his October 2003 arrest. Answering in the affirmative, Dr. Michael Galli found as follows:

[Lewis] has a thorough and accurate understanding of the charge he is facing. He has a fairly comprehensive understanding of the legal process ahead of him, having had contact with the system in the past. He knows what his attorney is supposed to do for him, even though he persistently expresses doubts about his ability to tell his attorney things Mr. Lewis thinks must be understood about him. As best as I can glean from what he was willing to tell me, he wants to have his motives and actions understood, and sees this as an essential component to his defense. His reported inability to discuss these issues does not appear to be the result of any diagnosable mental disease or defect, but rather reflects that he is presenting as his general comfort level with discussing these things. As I understand the intent of this portion of the statute, a finding that the defendant is unable to work with an attorney should be due to some involuntary condition. Claiming to be uncomfortable or anxious or overly emotional in discussing things which can otherwise be adequately talked about might make a defendant unwilling to work with an attorney, but this does not appear to make him unable to do so.
Based on all of the above, my conclusion, held to the requisite degree of professional certainly, is that Edward Max Lewis is competent to proceed ...

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