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Williams v. Litscher

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 13, 2020

JON E. LITSCHER, et al., Defendants.



         Eugene Williams brings this action for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against employees of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. He alleges that the defendants failed to promptly correct an error relating to his criminal sentence that resulted in the extension of his extended supervision past the statutory maximum. The plaintiff was in jail on a supervision hold when one of the defendants noticed the error, and he spent 36 days in jail before the error was corrected and he was released. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference in failing to correct the error in his sentence faster than they did, and that therefore they violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Before me now is the defendants' motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her complaint to add a new defendant, Rita Haroski.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2004, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court entered a judgment convicting Williams of two counts of attempted armed robbery with threat of force and a third count of substantial battery with intent to cause bodily harm. On each of the attempted armed robbery counts, the court sentenced the plaintiff to five years' imprisonment and 10 years' extended supervision. On the battery count, the court sentenced the plaintiff to 18 months' imprisonment and 24 months' extended supervision. All sentences were to run concurrently.

         On March 11, 2004, staff members in the records department of Dodge Correctional Institution (who are not defendants here) calculated the plaintiff's sentence. They determined that his “max discharge date” was April 19, 2018. Def. Prop. Finding of Fact (“PFOF”) ¶ 11.[2] In 2008, Williams was released from prison and began serving the extended-supervision component of his sentence. In March 2014, defendant Susan Wundrow became Williams' probation agent.

         On Sunday, May 7, 2017, Williams was arrested and taken into custody after a woman claimed he battered her. Williams also admitted to snorting cocaine and was found with drug paraphernalia. On the following Monday, Wundrow learned of the arrest. A day later, her supervisor placed a “supervision hold” on Williams, which had the effect of keeping him in jail pending a revocation decision. Def. PFOF ¶ 19. That same day, May 9, 2017, Wundrow sent an email to the general mailbox for the records department at Dodge Correctional Institution for the purpose of finding out how much time was left on Williams' sentence. She intended to use this information to guide her revocation decision.

         Wundrow's email to the records department attached a form known as DOC-416. Agents regularly use this form when requesting sentence computations from the records department. The agent completes the top half of the form. The records department enters the sentence computation on the bottom half of the form and returns it to the agent. The typical timeline from when a DOC-416 form is emailed to the records department to when it is completed and returned to the agent is 1-2 weeks.

         On May 9, 2017, defendant Amber Devries (formerly known as Amber Parenteau) received Wundrow's email and was assigned to perform the sentence computation. Prior to that date, Devries was not involved with Williams' case; she was not the records employee who calculated Williams' max-discharge date in 2004. When she received the email, she did not know that Williams was on a probation hold.

         On May 12, 2017, Devries completed the sentence computation for Williams. In the course of doing so, she noticed that the court's judgment of conviction contained an error. In counts 1 and 2, Williams was convicted of attempted armed robbery. Under Wisconsin law, when a person is convicted of an attempted crime, the maximum term of extended supervision is one-half the maximum term for the completed crime. See Wis. Stat. 939.32(1m)(b). Williams' armed-robbery conviction was a Class C felony. The maximum term of extended supervision for a completed Class C felony is 15 years. See Wis. Stat. § 973.01(2)(d)2. Thus, the maximum term of extended supervision to which the court could have sentenced Williams on each of counts 1 and 2 was 7.5 years. However, the court actually sentenced him to 10 years' extended supervision on each count, thus creating an excessive sentence.

         When Devries finished her sentence computation, she sent it to the “Central Records Office” for “proofing, ” as she was required to do under the department's procedures. Def. PFOF ¶ 30. The proofing process usually takes a week to complete. Here, proofing was complete on May 17, 2017, and the proofer determined that Devries' computations were correct.

         When the Department of Corrections notices a possible sentencing error, it notifies the sentencing court. Def. PFOF ¶ 31. On May 18, 2017, Devries sent a letter to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court notifying it that the records department believed the court had made a mistake in sentencing Williams to 10-year terms of extended supervision on the attempted armed robbery counts. ECF No. 10-1 at p. 1 of 24. After she sent this letter, Devries had no further involvement in Williams' case.

         Meanwhile, on May 15, 2017, Wundrow and her supervisor decided that they would not revoke Williams' extended supervision based on his recent arrest. Instead, they planned to send him to a halfway house and see that he received mental-health treatment and treatment for alcohol abuse. However, because a bed at the halfway house was not immediately available, Williams continued to be confined at the jail.

         On May 22, 2017, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court entered an order commuting Williams' terms of extended supervision to 7.5 years. The court agreed that the original terms of 10 years exceeded the amounts allowed under the Wisconsin Statutes. On May 24, 2017, the court entered an amended judgment of conviction reflecting the reduced terms.

         An amended judgment of conviction does not specify a new release date; it simply amends the sentence. When the Department of Corrections receives an amended judgment, it computes a new sentence and identifies a new release date. There is generally a delay of a couple of weeks between when the court enters the judgment and when the Department of Corrections routes it to an employee who performs the new sentence calculation. Def. PFOF ¶¶ 64-65. The delay ...

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