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Shatner v. Page

January 17, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge


I. Introduction and Procedural Background

Now before the Court is Plaintiff's oral request to pursue punitive damages and motion to add Defendant Gilbert pursuant to Rule 60(a) (Doc. 118). Defendants object to both of Plaintiff's requests. Based on the following, the Court grants Plaintiff's request to pursue punitive damages and Plaintiff's motion to add Defendant Gilbert.

On April 3, 2000, Darrin Shatner, an inmate formerly housed in the condemned unit at the Menard Correctional Center, pro se, filed suit against Donald Snyder, Warden Thomas Page, Warden Roger Cowan, Warden Ian Oliver, Warden McAclory, Supt. Frenzel, Supt. Terry, Capt. Young, Capt. Pierce, Lt. Westerman, Lt. Gilbert, Lt. Taylor, Capt. Harvey, C/O Dobbs, C/O Dixon, Lt. Gales, C/O Benefield, C/O Stewart, Deputy Director Clark and "two John Does" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). On November 13, 2002, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court conducted a threshold review of Shatner's Amended Complaint and designated it into 7 separate counts (Doc. 10). The Court dismissed Counts 1, 3, 4 and 7 for failure to state a claim and Defendants Captain Young, Lt. Gilbert, Lt. Taylor, Capt. Harvey, "two John Does", Supt. Terry, C/O Dixon and Warden McAclory. Counts 2, 5 and 6 survived threshold review. In Counts 2, 5 and 6, Shatner maintains that Defendants Page, Oliver, Cowan, Frentzel, Pierce, Westerman, Dobbs, Clark, Stewart, Snyder, Benefield and Gales have violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, Shatner claims that Defendants Page, Oliver, Frenzel, Pierce, Westerman, Dobbs, Gales, Cowan and Benefield have impermissibly limited his First Amendment ability to freely worship by refusing to allow him to possess Tarot Cards, a penticle ring and a medallion and by confiscating his religious books (Count 2); that Defendants Pierce, Frenzel, Clark and Snyder were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs (Count 5); and that Defendants Pierce, Frenzel, Clark and Cowan tampered with his legal mail by opening it outside his presence (Count 6).

On December 2, 2004, the Court entered an Order sustaining Shatner's objections to a Report and Recommendation ("the Report") submitted by then Magistrate Judge Gerald B. Cohn, rejected in part the Report and denied Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Counts 2, 5 and 6 of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 69). Subsequently, Magistrate Judge Donald G. Wilkerson appointed Shatner a lawyer for the limited purposes of the final pretrial conference and trial proceedings (Doc. 73). On July 20, 2006, Magistrate Judge Wilkerson granted Shatner's motion to reopen discovery and reset the Final Pretrial Conference (Doc. 88). On May 1, 2006, Magistrate Judge Wilkerson held the final pretrial conference (Doc. 110). During the conference, Plaintiff moved for a claim of punitive damages to which Defendants objected and Magistrate Judge Wilkerson allowed the parties to brief the issue of punitive damages. Magistrate Judge Wilkerson entered the Final Pretrial Order on May 12, 2006 (Doc. 112). Thereafter on July 14, 2006, Plaintiff filed a motion to add Defendant Gilbert pursuant to Rule 60(a)(Doc. 118). On October 3, 2006, the Court set the case bench trial on July 9, 2007 (Doc. 123).

II. Analysis

As to Plaintiff's oral motion to pursue punitive damages, Plaintiff argues that Defendants have known since March 30, 2001 that Plaintiff was requesting in his Amended Complaint to "be compensated for the mental and emotional tortures having been endured from the harassment and prejudices being leveled against me for practicing religious beliefs unfamiliar to some and the trauma caused from not properly being able to communicate with immediate family members during the best of trying times." (Doc. 9, p. 8). Plaintiff argues that this language alerted Defendants that he was not seeking just compensatory damages, but also punitive damages. Plaintiff also contends that Defendants were again alerted of his intent to pursue punitive damages when he gave Defendants a proposed pretrial order on November 9, 2004 that stated: "Plaintiff is further entitled to Punitive Damages from Each Defendant in the sum of $10,000 for their total disregard of plaintiffs rights, and to prevent these same defendants in the future from engaging in such egregious conduct and/or of a sum sufficiently determined by a jury." Defendants object to the request to pursue punitive damages arguing that Plaintiff never moved to amend his complaint to include punitive damages and that Plaintiff was put on notice in November 2004 that they objected to including punitive damages in the pretrial order. Further, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has been represented by counsel since May 2005 and still did not move to amend the complaint to add punitive damages. Lastly, Defendants argue that they have been prejudiced by proceeding through discovery with the assumption that Plaintiff was not seeking punitive damages.

As to the issue of not having the claim for punitive damages in the Amended Complaint, the Seventh Circuit held the following:

Finally, the Attorney General argues that, even if nominal and punitive damages are not barred by § 1997e(e), Calhoun does not expressly request nominal damages in his amended complaint, and therefore that prayer for relief was never before the district court. But pleadings filed by pro se litigants are to be construed liberally. See Alvarado v. Litscher, 267 F.3d 648, 651 (7th Cir.2001). Although Calhoun does not specifically request nominal damages-as he did compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive and declaratory relief-his amended complaint contains a prayer for "such other relief as it may appear plaintiff is entitled." Moreover, Calhoun's brief on appeal makes clear that he is seeking nominal damages. Under these circumstances, Calhoun's prayer for "such other relief" can be reasonably viewed as a request for nominal damages. See Kyle, 196 F.3d at 697 (liberally construing pro se prayer for $1 million in "monetary relief" as a request for punitive damages).

Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936, 943 (7th Cir. 2003). Prior to Calhoun, the Seventh Circuit held in Kyle v. Patternson, 196 F.3d 695, 697 -698 (7th Cir. 1999):

The defendants argue that Kyle waived the opportunity to argue for punitive damages because he did not raise the issue in the district court. This defense claim, however, can't get far because it is well-settled law in this circuit that pro se complaints are not held to the stringent standards expected of pleadings drafted by lawyers. Rather, pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Wilson v. Civil Town of Clayton, Ind., 839 F.2d 375, 378 (7th Cir.1988). In his complaint Kyle sought $1 million in "monetary relief." Kyle's prayer for "monetary relief" can reasonably be viewed as covering punitive damages to which he might be entitled. Nonetheless, "[p]unitive damages are never awarded as a matter of right; the finder of fact, after reviewing the entire record, is called upon to make a 'moral judgment' that the unlawful conduct warrants such an award to punish the wrongdoer and deter others." Merriweather v. Family Dollar Stores of Indiana, 103 F.3d 576, 582 (7th Cir.1996). Punitive damages are available in § 1983 cases only upon a showing of "evil motive or intent, or ··· reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others." Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983). See also Sahagian v. Dickey, 827 F.2d 90, 100 (7th Cir.1987) (punitive damages are available even without actual loss upon a showing of aggravating circumstances, malicious intent, or conduct involving reckless or callous indifference to a plaintiff's rights). While evaluations of motive and intent are generally inappropriate on a motion for summary judgment, see Bartman v. Allis-Chalmers Corp., 799 F.2d 311, 312 (7th Cir.1986), we have recognized an exception to this rule where a plaintiff fails to produce evidence raising a material question of fact regarding aggravating circumstances or the reckless or callous nature of the defendant's actions. See Sahagian, 827 F.2d at 100 n. 8

Based on the case law and the circumstances in this case, the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to pursue his claim for punitive damages. Plaintiff's request for relief is broad enough to encompass a claim for punitive damages and is sufficient to put Defendants on notice that he is seeking punitive damages.

Next, Plaintiff contends that the Lt. Gilbert should have been included in Count 2 of the November 13, 2002 screening Order. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains that Lt. Gilbert should have been included in the screening Order because the Amended Complaint contains the following allegations against Lt. Gilbert "On ...

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