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Brown v. Milwaukee County Sheriffs Department

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

November 21, 2019



          William C. Griesbach, District Judge

         Plaintiff Christopher Daniel Brown, an inmate at the Milwaukee County House of Corrections, filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated while in custody at the Milwaukee County Jail. This matter comes before the court on Brown'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

         Although the plaintiff is no longer incarcerated, he remains subject to the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) because he was incarcerated at the time he filed his complaint. The PLRA gives courts discretion to allow plaintiffs to proceed with their lawsuits without prepaying the $350 filing fee, as long as they comply with certain requirements. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. One of those requirements is that the plaintiff pay an initial partial filing fee. The plaintiff has been assessed an initial partial filing fee of $71.53; he paid $72.00 on October 15, 2019. The plaintiff is required to pay the remainder of the fee over time as he is able.

         Screening of the Complaint

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Hutchinson ex rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in the plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, the complaint's allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         Allegations of the Complaint

         On the evening of June 29, 2019, Brown was brought to Milwaukee County Jail in a sheriff's department vehicle. He was pulled out of the Sheriff's Department vehicle and dropped on his head by Deputy John Doe. Brown alleges that he sustained a mouth laceration from this fall, which also caused him to go in and out of consciousness.

         Brown was not provided medical attention after he was dropped. Instead, he alleges he was handcuffed and leg-cuffed to a metal chair in a sitting area. Brown was left in the chair until the officers unstrapped him and told him to be a “man” so they could take his photo. When Brown could not hold himself up, several officers held him up so his photograph could be be taken. After his photo, Brown was placed in segregation and remained there for several days without medical care as he went in and out of consciousness. Food was brought to Brown's secured cell because he could not move to eat. Brown alleges that he was not medically cleared for over a week when he filed a medical request and a grievance.

         The Court's Analysis

         As an initial matter, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department is not a suable entity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It is “not a legal entity separable from the county government which it serves and is therefore, not subject to suit.” Whiting v. Marathon Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 382 F.3d 700, 704 (7th Cir. 2004). While the County is a suable entity, Brown fails to allege any claim against it. “A local governing body may be liable for monetary damages under § 1983 if the unconstitutional act complained of is caused by: (1) an official policy adopted and promulgated by its officers; (2) a governmental practice or custom that, although not officially authorized, is widespread and well settled; or (3) an official with final policy-making authority.” Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 604 F.3d 293, 303 (7th C2010) (citing Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. at 658, 690 (1978). Brown alleges no such policy, practice or custom here. Nor does he allege a violation by a person with final policy-making authority. The Sheriff's Department will therefore be dismissed.

         The allegation that he was dropped on his head by Deputy John Doe may state a claim for excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishment, assuming Brown had been convicted, Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992), or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, if he had not. Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015). Likewise, the allegation that Brown was not provided medical care and left in segregation for several days, even though he was drifting in and out of consciousness, may state a claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments, again depending upon whether he was an inmate serving a sentence or a pretrial detainee. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Pardue v. Fromm, 94 F.3d 254 (7th Cir. 1996). The problem with these claims, however, is that Brown has failed to identify the person or persons who may be liable.

         Individual liability under § 1983 is personal; the doctrine of respondeat superior, under which the acts of the employee in the scope of employment are attributable to the employer, does not apply. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). “Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Id. Moreover, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) requires that the complaint give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513 (2002); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is ...

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