On February 13, 2003, a prisoner in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the DOC. The plaintiff, pro se at the time of the filing, asked the court for injunctive relief and damages, alleging that the employees of the DOC violated his constitutional rights. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the employees of the DOC violated his rights, under the Due Process Clause and the 8th Amendment, by subjecting him to unreasonable strip searches, depriving him of food, exposing him to extreme temperatures, and placing him on paper restrictions.
By order dated February 13, 2003, the District Court (Judge Barbara B. Crabb) ruled that Plaintiff could proceed with his claim that defendants violated his 8th Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when they denied him food, subjected him to extreme cell temperatures, conducted unreasonable strip searches and subjected him to sensory deprivation and social isolation. Judge Crabb dismissed, as legally frivolous, the plaintiff's claim that the DOC violated his Due Process rights by placing him on paper restriction.
On June 3, 2003, Judge Crabb dismissed the plaintiff's claim against the DOC regarding unreasonable strip searches, stating that the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his claim. The court also dismissed plaintiff's claim that the defendants deprived him of social interaction because the defendants had qualified immunity against liability for damages. The court further stated that injunctive relief was unnecessary in regards to the lack of social interaction because a previous class action suit against the DOC and the prison, of which the Plaintiff was a class member, resulted in a settlement agreement that addressed the issue.
Defendants moved for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's two remaining claims. On December 17, 2003, the court denied summary judgment on Plaintiff's food deprivation claim, but granted summary judgment on his claim that he was subject to extreme temperatures, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove his claim to the jury.
On June 6, 2004, Plaintiff was assigned private counsel. On July 30, 2004, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint, alleging that the DOC's practice of depriving Plaintiff of food for multiple days in a row when he refused to comply with prison policy constituted cruel and unusual punishment and exposed his health to serious harm. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees.
The case proceeded to trial and, on December 21, 2004, a permanent injunction was granted enjoining the defendants from withholding meals from Plaintiff in response to any rule violation that does not constitute an imminent security risk. The jury also found the defendants liable for violating the plaintiff's constitutional rights and awarded plaintiff $50,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages against each of the individually named defendants.
On March 21, 2005, the 7th Circuit ruled that prisoners who miss meals because of rule violations were never subject to punishment, but rather were punishing themselves and therefore could not sustain cruel and unusual punishment claims. Rodriguez v. Briley, 403 F.3d 952 (7th Cir. 2005). In response to the 7th Circuit ruling, Judge Crabb vacated the judgment and instructed the clerk of the court to enter judgment in favor of all defendants on all claims.
Plaintiff's petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was denied. Ashley Grolig - 11/13/2014