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Ledford v. Sullivan

January 27, 1997






Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 94 C 675 John C. Shabaz, Chief Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, BAUER, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

BAUER, Circuit Judge.



William Ledford ("Ledford") filed suit under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 against seven Wisconsin state prison officials, alleging that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when prison personnel confiscated his prescription medication. While confined at the Green Bay Correctional Institution ("GBCI"), Ledford was prescribed Zoloft, an anti-depressant drug. On January 4, 1994, Ledford was transferred to Dodge Correctional Institution ("DCI"), where he currently is serving the remainder of an eight-year sentence. Upon Ledford's arrival at DCI, his medication was confiscated pursuant to a state prison policy which provides: "[D]rugs brought in by newly admitted inmates from the community are not to be administered to the inmate until the following functions are performed: (1) Policy or protocol is consulted as to the appropriateness of maintaining inmate on the medication OR (2) A physician's order has been written or received, and the label instructions are confirmed or changed."

Defendant-Appellee Nurse Elizabeth Feldmann, supervisor of the intake process, testified that in Ledford's case, the staff followed DCI's routine for intake of a new prisoner with a prescription for psychotropic drugs. First, the intake nurse contacts the prison where the inmate was last incarcerated to determine if the prescription is current. The nurse also checks whether the prescribed medication is on DCI's list of medications that should not be discontinued pending psychiatric review *fn1. Finally, the nurse relays the inmate's file to Clinical Services so that a staff psychiatrist can examine the inmate to determine whether the inmate should resume taking the previously-prescribed medication.

Defendant-Appellee Dr. J. R. Musunuru examined Ledford nine days after Feldmann delivered Ledford's file to Clinical Services. Although he apparently had some misgivings as to whether Ledford's continued use of Zoloft was necessary, Dr. Musunuru renewed Ledford's prescription. Two days later, Ledford received a new prescription for Zoloft *fn2. Ledford alleged that in the eleven days between his intake and his receipt of a new prescription, he experienced nausea, vomiting, dizziness, a "crawling of the skin" sensation, unspecified emotional and mental regression, and depression.

In his pro se complaint, Ledford alleged that when prison officials deprived him of his medication, they violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. The district court granted Ledford's motion to proceed pro se and in forma pauperis. The district court dismissed sua sponte Ledford's due process claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), reasoning that the State provided Ledford adequate post-deprivation remedies. The court subsequently denied Ledford's two motions for appointment of an expert witness, finding that expert testimony was unnecessary and that no funds were available to compensate the expert.

Ledford proceeded to trial on his Eighth Amendment claim. At trial, Dr. J. R. Musunuru, a named defendant, and Dr. George Arndt, a privately-retained expert, testified for the prison officials that the discontinued use of Zoloft produced minimal, if any, side effects. A jury returned a verdict for the prison officials.

On appeal, Ledford contends that he had a protected property interest in his medication and that the trial judge should have appointed an expert witness to testify as to the prison officials' deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. We find that Ledford had no property interest in his medication and that court appointment of an expert witness was unnecessary. Therefore, we affirm.


A. Fourteenth Amendment Claim

We review de novo a district court's 12(b)(6) dismissal. Porter v. DiBlasio, 93 F.3d 301, 305 (7th Cir. 1996). Sua sponte 12(b)(6) dismissals are permitted, provided that a sufficient basis for the court's action is evident from the plaintiff's pleading. Apostol v. Landau, 957 F.2d 339, 343 (7th Cir. 1992). We accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences from them in the plaintiff's favor. Id. (citations omitted). We will affirm the dismissal of a complaint if "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).

Title 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 creates a federal cause of action for "the deprivation, under color of [state] law, of a citizen's rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132 (1994). Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; instead it is a means for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979). The initial step in any sec. 1983 analysis is to identify the specific constitutional right which was allegedly violated. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989); Kernats v. O'Sullivan, 35 F.3d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1994). Thus, we must decide whether Ledford pleaded any set of facts which could be proven consistent with his allegation that the prison officials violated his constitutional right to procedural due process.

Procedural due process claims require a two-step analysis. At the outset, we determine whether the plaintiff was deprived of a constitutionally-protected interest in life, liberty, or property. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 428 (1982). If so, we then consider what process was due. Id. In his complaint, Ledford alleged that, pursuant to Wisconsin state policy, the named prison officials summarily deprived him of his medication and therefore violated his right to procedural due process. On appeal, Ledford maintains that whether he had a property interest in his medication is not in doubt because the district court assumed that he did *fn3. Ledford argues that the only issue before us is what process was due. We disagree. ...

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