Freer v. Lincoln et al

Filing 14

SCREENING ORDER re 1 Plaintiff's Complaint signed by Judge J P Stadtmueller on 3/27/2024. 2 Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed Without Prepayment of the Filing Fee is GRANTED; agency having custody of Plaintiff to COLLECT the b alance of the filing fee as specified. 11 Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel is DENIED without prejudice. 1 Plaintiff's Complaint FAILS to state a claim. By 4/17/2024, Plaintiff to FILE an amended complaint as provided. Failure t o timely do so will result in dismissal of this case and issuance of a "strike." See Order. (cc: all counsel, via mail to James G Freer with prisoner amended complaint form and prisoner/pro se guides and to Warden (order only) at Redgranite Correctional Institution)(jm)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN JAMES G. FREER, Plaintiff, v. Case No. 23-CV-1720-JPS C.O. LINCOLN, C.O. BARRIBEAU, and JOHN DOES, ORDER Defendants. Plaintiff James G. Freer, an inmate confined at Redgranite Correctional Institution (“RGCI”), filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the defendants violated his federal rights. ECF No. 1. This Order resolves Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee, motion to appoint counsel, and screens his complaint. 1. MOTION FOR LEAVE TO PROCEED WITHOUT PREPAYING THE FILING FEE The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) applies to this case because Plaintiff was a prisoner when he filed his complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h). The PLRA allows the Court to give a prisoner plaintiff the ability to proceed with his case without prepaying the civil case filing fee. Id. § 1915(a)(2). When funds exist, the prisoner must pay an initial partial filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). He must then pay the balance of the $350 filing fee over time, through deductions from his prisoner account. Id. On January 8, 2024, the Court ordered Plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee of $0.29. ECF No. 6. Following an extension, Plaintiff paid that fee on February 26, 2024. The Court will grant Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee. ECF No. 2. He must pay the remainder of the filing fee over time in the manner explained at the end of this Order. 2. SCREENING THE COMPLAINT 2.1 Federal Screening Standard Under the PLRA, the Court must screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief from a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint if the prisoner raises 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). In determining whether the complaint states a claim, the Court applies the same standard that applies to dismissals under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Cesal v. Moats, 851 F.3d 714, 720 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing Booker-El v. Superintendent, Ind. State Prison, 668 F.3d 896, 899 (7th Cir. 2012)). A complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must contain enough facts, accepted as true, to “state a claim for relief 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)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows a court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that someone deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States and that whoever deprived him of this right Page 2 of 14 was acting under the color of state law. D.S. v. E. Porter Cnty. Sch. Corp., 799 F.3d 793, 798 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Buchanan–Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009)). The Court construes pro se complaints liberally and holds them to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers. Cesal, 851 F.3d at 720 (citing Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 776 (7th Cir. 2015)). 2.2 Plaintiff’s Allegations Plaintiff names C.O. Lincoln, C.O. Barribeau, and John Does as defendants. ECF No. 1 at 1. Plaintiff indicates that these defendants were correctional officers on first and second shift. Id. at 2. Plaintiff references his inmate complaint and directs the Court to the attached exhibits. Id. 2.3 Analysis Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) “prohibits a ‘public entity’ from discriminating against a ‘qualified individual with a disability’ on account of that disability” and applies to state prisons. Pa. Dep’t of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 206 (1998) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132). To establish an ADA claim, “the plaintiff must prove that he is a ‘qualified individual with a disability,’ that he was denied ‘the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity’ or otherwise subjected to discrimination by such an entity, and that the denial or discrimination was ‘by reason of’ his disability.’” Love v. Westville Corr. Ctr., 103 F.3d 558, 560 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12132). Analysis under the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”), 29 U.S.C. § 794, is essentially the same except that the RA includes an additional element requiring that the entity denying access receive federal funds. See Jaros v. Ill. Dep’t of Corr., 684 F.3d 667, 671– 72 (7th Cir. 2012); Wagoner v. Lemmon, 778 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2015) (ADA and RA standards are “functionally identical”). Page 3 of 14 “[B]ecause the ADA addresses its rules to employers, places of public accommodation, and other organizations, not to the employees or managers of these organizations,” a plaintiff may not sue defendants in their individual capacities – the proper defendant is the organization, or the individual in his or her official capacity. Walker v. Snyder, 213 F.3d 344, 346 (7th Cir. 2000) (overruled on other grounds). Like the ADA, the RA has been interpreted to preclude suits against officials in their individual capacities. See Boston v. Dart, 2015 WL 4638044, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 4, 2015) (citing Stanek v. St. Charles Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. No. 303, 783 F.3d 624, 644 (7th Cir. 2015)). DOC is a proper defendant to these claims, as that is the “public entity” that administers the programs and benefits to which he seeks access and is the entity that would be responsible for providing him with a reasonable accommodation. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131(1)(B) & 12132; 29 U.S.C. § 794; Wis. Stat. § 301.04 (providing that DOC may sue and be sued). The term “qualified individual with a disability” means, an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity. 42 U.S.C. §12131. The term “disability” means “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A). Major life activities include, but are not limited to “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). Page 4 of 14 and working.” Here, Plaintiff appears to be bringing an ADA claim given the exhibits attached to his complaint. See ECF No. 1-1. However, there are no factual allegations in the complaint itself; the complaint simply references the attached inmate complaint exhibit. ECF No. 1 at 2. While the Court construes pro se complaints liberally and it understands that prisoners have limited resources, Plaintiff must nonetheless do his best to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Further, A party must “must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b). As such, the Court will provide Plaintiff the opportunity to amend his complaint on or before April 17, 2024 to cure the deficiencies identified in this Order. When writing his amended complaint, Plaintiff should provide the Court with enough facts in the complaint to answer the following questions: (1) Who violated his constitutional rights?; (2) What did each person do to violate his rights?; (3) Where did each person violate his rights?; and (4) When did each person violate his rights? Plaintiff’s amended complaint does not need to be long or contain legal language or citations to statutes or cases, but it does need to provide the Court and each Defendant with notice of what each Defendant allegedly did or did not do to violate his rights. The Court is enclosing a copy of its amended complaint form and instructions. Plaintiff must list all of the defendants in the caption of his amended complaint. He should use the spaces on pages two and three to allege the key facts that give rise to the claims he wishes to bring, and to describe which defendants he believes committed the violations that relate Page 5 of 14 to each claim. If the space is not enough, Plaintiff may use up to five additional sheets of paper. Plaintiff is advised that the amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned to this case and must be labeled “Amended Complaint.” The amended complaint supersedes the prior complaint and must be complete in itself without reference to the original complaint. See Duda v. Bd. of Educ. of Franklin Park Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1056 (7th Cir. 1998). In Duda, the appellate court emphasized that in such instances, the “prior pleading is in effect withdrawn as to all matters not restated in the amended pleading.” Id. at 1057 (citation omitted). If the amended complaint is received, it will become the operative complaint in this action, and the Court will screen it in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 3. MOTION TO APPOINT COUNSEL Finally, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel. As a civil litigant, Plaintiff has “neither a constitutional nor statutory right to a court-appointed attorney.” James v. Eli, 889 F.3d 320, 326 (7th Cir. 2018). However, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), a “court may request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel.” A court should seek counsel to represent a plaintiff if: (1) he has made reasonable attempts to secure counsel; and (2) “‘the difficulty of the case—factually and legally— exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to coherently present it.’” Navejar v. Iyiola, 718 F.3d 692, 696 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 655 (7th Cir. 2007) (en banc)). Whether to appoint counsel in a particular case is left to a court’s discretion. James, 889 F.3d at 326; McCaa v. Hamilton, 893 F.3d 1027, 1031 (7th Cir. 2018). While framed in terms of a plaintiff’s capacity to litigate, this discretion must also be informed by the realities of recruiting counsel in this Page 6 of 14 District. When a court recruits a lawyer to represent a pro se party, the lawyer takes the case pro bono. Unlike a lawyer appointed to represent a criminal defendant during her prosecution, who is paid by the government for the work, an attorney who takes a prisoner’s civil case pro bono has no promise of compensation. It is difficult to convince local lawyers to take such cases. Unlike other districts in this Circuit, see, e.g., L.R. 83.35 (N.D. Ill.), the Eastern District of Wisconsin does not employ an involuntary appointment system for lawyers admitted to practice in the District. Instead, the District relies on the willingness of lawyers to sign up for the Pro Bono Attorney Panel and, once there, accept appointments as needed. See Pro Bono Program, available at: The District is grateful to the lawyers who participate in the Pro Bono Program, but there are never enough volunteers, and those who do volunteer rarely take more than one or two cases a year. This is understandable, as many are already busy attending to fee-paying clients. Although the Pro Bono Program does provide for payment of certain litigation expenses, it does not directly compensate a lawyer for his or her time. Participants may seek attorney’s fees when permitted by statute, such as in successful § 1983 cases, but they will otherwise go unpaid. The small pool of attorneys available to this District for pro bono appointments stands in stark contrast to that of the Court of Appeals, which regularly recruits counsel from across the nation to represent pro se plaintiffs on appeal. See, e.g., James, 889 F.3d at 323 (appointing counsel from Washington, D.C. to represent the pro se appellant); McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1029 (same). Additionally, it must be remembered that, when a court determines that counsel recruitment is appropriate, it can take months to locate a Page 7 of 14 willing lawyer. This delay works to the detriment of all parties and contravenes Congress’s instruction in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1 that district courts must endeavor to secure the “just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. Thus, looming large over each request for counsel are a court’s ever-more-limited time and resources. With these considerations in mind, the Court returns to the question presented: whether counsel can and should be recruited to represent Plaintiff at this stage in this case. First, a court asks whether the litigant has made “reasonable” efforts to obtain her own representation. Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655; Jackson v. County of McLean, 953 F.2d 1070, 1073 (7th Cir. 1992). It is a question not often litigated; many district court judges either overlook arguably unreasonable efforts at obtaining counsel, or they impose eminently practical requirements such as the submission of evidence demonstrating that the prisoner has tried and failed to secure representation from several lawyers. See, e.g., Kyle v. Feather, No. 09-cv-90bbc, 2009 WL 2474627, at *1 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 11, 2009). The first element of Pruitt is fairly easy to satisfy, but it is not toothless, and it is not a mere technical condition of submitting a certain number of rejection letters. If it was, then a Wisconsin prisoner litigating a § 1983 action could submit rejection letters from ten randomly selected criminal defense lawyers from Nevada and call his work complete. This cannot be. The purpose of the reasonable-efforts requirement is to ensure that if a court and private lawyers must expend scarce resources to provide counsel for a prisoner, he has at least made a good-faith effort to avoid those costs by getting a lawyer himself. To fulfill this duty, a pro se prisoner should reach out to lawyers whose areas of practice suggest that they might consider taking his case. If he learns that some of the lawyers he has Page 8 of 14 contacted do not, he should reach out to others before he concludes that no one will help him. Plaintiff states that he contacted attorneys to represent him in this matter. ECF No. 11. Plaintiff does not, however, provide any evidence that he did contact the listed attorneys. Id. Even if, however, the Court found these minimal efforts sufficient to satisfy the first Pruitt prong, Plaintiff’s request would still fail on the second prong. Plaintiff’s request must also succeed on the second Pruitt question: whether the difficulty of the case exceeds his capacity to coherently present it. This assessment must be made in light of the particular capabilities and circumstances presented by each pro se litigant. James, 889 F.3d at 326–27. The Court of Appeals explains: The second step is itself grounded in a two-fold inquiry into both the difficulty of the plaintiff’s claims and the plaintiff’s competence to litigate those claims himself. The inquiries are necessarily intertwined; the difficulty of the case is considered against the plaintiff’s litigation capabilities, and those capabilities are examined in light of the challenges specific to the case at hand. Ultimately, the question is not whether a lawyer would present the case more effectively than the pro se plaintiff; if that were the test, district judges would be required to request counsel for every indigent litigant. Rather, the question is whether the difficulty of the case—factually and legally—exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to coherently present it to the judge or jury himself. Notably, this inquiry extends beyond the trial stage of the proceedings. The relevant concern is whether the plaintiff appears competent to litigate his own claims, given their degree of difficulty. This includes all of the tasks that normally attend litigation: evidence gathering, preparing and responding to motions and other court filings, and trial. Id. (citations and quotations omitted). While a court need not address every concern raised in a motion for appointment of counsel, it must address Page 9 of 14 “those that bear directly” on the individual’s capacity to litigate his case. McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1032. The balancing contemplated in the second Pruitt step must be done against the backdrop that district courts cannot be expected to appoint counsel in circumstances which are common to all or many prisoners. See Bracey v. Grondin, 712 F.3d 1012, 1017–18 (7th Cir. 2013); Pruitt, 503 F.3d 647, 656 (observing that the Seventh Circuit has “resisted laying down categorical rules regarding recruitment of counsel in particular types of cases”); Harper v. Bolton, 57 F. Supp. 3d 889, 893 (N.D. Ill. 2014). Doing so would place untenable burdens on court resources. It would also turn the discretion of § 1915(e)(2) on its head, making appointment of counsel the rule rather than the exception. Several pronouncements from the Court of Appeals appear to be in tension with this principle. First, the Seventh Circuit notes that “complexity increases and competence decreases as a case proceeds to the advanced phases of litigation.” James, 889 F.3d at 327. It deems the “[a]dvanced phases” to include those from discovery onward. Id.; McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1032. But nearly every prisoner case proceeds to discovery, as the district court applies exceedingly lenient review during initial screening. Second, the Seventh Circuit instructs that district courts should evaluate a prisoner’s competency irrespective of the involvement of a “jailhouse lawyer.” McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1033; Walker v. Price, No. 17-1345, 2018 WL 3967298, at *5 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2018). How courts should do this is not clear. A court rarely knows whether a filing was prepared by the plaintiff or someone helping him. And if a court does know that the plaintiff is receiving help, how can it assess his ability to litigate without knowing which portions of the filings are his work, and which come from the Page 10 of 14 jailhouse lawyer? In Walker, the court determined that the inmate’s work product decreased in quality after his jailhouse lawyer was transferred to another prison. 2018 WL 3967298, at *6. Yet a savvy prisoner, looking to secure counsel for himself, could do this on purpose, crafting his filings to downplay his own litigation capabilities. A court would have no way to assess whether the inmate is sandbagging it. Finally, the Court of Appeals indicates that claims involving the state of mind of the defendant, such as those involving deliberate indifference, are particularly complex. James, 889 F.3d at 327–28; McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1032. Yet a government official’s culpable mental state is the foundation for most constitutional claims. Indeed, it is often the defining characteristic that sets § 1983 claims apart from their state-law tort analogues. Deliberate indifference is essential to nearly all claims of cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, mistreatment of medical needs, and First Amendment and due process violations. See Kingsley v. Henderson, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015); County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 849 (1998); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Hambright v. Kemper, 705 F. App’x 461, 462 (7th Cir. 2017); Milton v. Slota, 697 F. App’x 462, 464 (7th Cir. 2017) (“[N]egligently inflicted harm does not amount to a constitutional violation.”) (emphasis in original). Taken together, these claims comprise the vast majority of prisoner litigation in this District. If state-of-mind issues are generally beyond the ability of most pro se litigants to prove, then a court likely would need to appoint counsel in nearly every prisoner case. This is plainly impossible. The guiding rule has always been that appointment of counsel is the exception rather than the rule in pro se prisoner litigation. Yet a confluence of all-too-common circumstances—discovery, jailhouse lawyers, and Page 11 of 14 claims concerning state of mind—militate in favor of the appointment of counsel. As the list of reasons to appoint counsel grows, the reasons not to do so shrink. This District’s resources have not kept pace. Against this backdrop, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence and argument showing that he cannot litigate or try this matter competently on his own. In his motion, Plaintiff does not indicate any specific reason why he needs representation. ECF No. 11. It is true, as Plaintiff intuits, that a lawyer would be helpful in navigating the legal system; trained attorneys are of course better positioned to successfully litigate cases. But Plaintiff’s lack of legal training brings him in line with practically every other prisoner or former prisoner litigating in this Court. Further, the Court will assist Plaintiff in this regard (as it does with all prisoner litigants) by providing copies of the most pertinent federal and local procedural rules along with its scheduling order. Thus, ignorance of the law or court procedure is generally not a qualifying reason for appointment of counsel. Plaintiff has not demonstrated that his case is exceptional to require counsel. The Court will therefore deny Plaintiff’s motion, without prejudice, and if the case proceeds past screening, the Court will reconsider any renewed motion for counsel at a later time. 4. CONCLUSION Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee, ECF No. 2, be and the same is hereby GRANTED; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel, ECF No. 11, be and the same is hereby DENIED without prejudice; Page 12 of 14 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the complaint fails to state a claim; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff may file an amended complaint that complies with the instructions in this Order on or before April 17, 2024. If Plaintiff files an amended complaint by the deadline, the Court will screen the amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. If Plaintiff does not file an amended complaint by the deadline, the Court will dismiss this case based on his failure to state a claim in his original complaint and will issue him a “strike” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g); IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk’s Office mail Plaintiff a blank prisoner amended complaint form and a copy of the guides entitled “Answers to Prisoner Litigants’ Common Questions” and “Answers to Pro Se Litigants’ Common Questions,” along with this Order; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the agency having custody of Plaintiff shall collect from his institution trust account the $349.71 balance of the filing fee by collecting monthly payments from Plaintiff’s prison trust account in an amount equal to 20% of the preceding month’s income credited to Plaintiff’s trust account and forwarding payments to the Clerk of Court each time the amount in the account exceeds $10 in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The payments shall be clearly identified by the case name and number assigned to this case. If Plaintiff is transferred to another county, state, or federal institution, the transferring institution shall forward a copy of this Order along with his remaining balance to the receiving institution; and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a copy of this Order be sent to the officer in charge of the agency where Plaintiff is confined. Page 13 of 14 Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this 27th day of March, 2024. BY THE COURT: ____________________________________ J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge Plaintiffs who are inmates at Prisoner E-Filing Program institutions shall submit all correspondence and case filings to institution staff, who will scan and e-mail documents to the Court. Prisoner E-Filing is mandatory for all inmates at Columbia Correctional Institution, Dodge Correctional Institution, Green Bay Correctional Institution, Oshkosh Correctional Institution, Waupun Correctional Institution, and Wisconsin Secure Program Facility. Plaintiffs who are inmates at all other prison facilities, or who have been released from custody, will be required to submit all correspondence and legal material to: Office of the Clerk United States District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin 362 United States Courthouse 517 E. Wisconsin Avenue Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202 DO NOT MAIL ANYTHING DIRECTLY TO THE COURT’S CHAMBERS. If mail is received directly to the Court’s chambers, IT WILL BE RETURNED TO SENDER AND WILL NOT BE FILED IN THE CASE. Plaintiff is further advised that failure to timely file any brief, motion, response, or reply may result in the dismissal of this action for failure to prosecute. In addition, the parties must notify the Clerk of Court of any change of address. IF PLAINTIFF FAILS TO PROVIDE AN UPDATED ADDRESS TO THE COURT AND MAIL IS RETURNED TO THE COURT AS UNDELIVERABLE, THE COURT WILL DISMISS THIS ACTION WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Page 14 of 14

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