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Easterling v. Thurmer

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 5, 2018

Clarence M. Easterling, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Michael Thurmer, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted October 18, 2017 [*]

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:14-cv-01392-PP - Pamela Pepper, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Ripple, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          Per Curiam.

         Clarence Easterling, a Wisconsin inmate, brought this action against correctional officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that they violated his constitutional rights to due process of law and freedom of association by denying him visits with his daughter in 2004 and 2013. With respect to the claims based on 2004 events, the district court dismissed on the pleadings. It ruled that they were time-barred. With respect to the claims based on 2013 events, it later entered summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that other defenses blocked that claim.

         The district court correctly ruled that Mr. Easterling's claims arising out of actions taken in 2004 were barred by the statute of limitations. The remaining defendants permissibly denied him visits in 2013 because he did not use the correct procedure to request them. We also have considered Mr. Easterling's other contentions, but none has merit. The judgment of the district court is therefore affirmed.

         I

         BACKGROUND

         For the claims dismissed as untimely, we rely on facts alleged in Mr. Easterling's complaint. See Collins v. Vill. of Palatine, 875 F.3d 839, 842 (7th Cir. 2017). For the remaining claims, we view the entire record in the light most favorable to Mr. Easterling. See Murphy v. Rychlowski, 868 F.3d 561, 565 (7th Cir. 2017).

         Mr. Easterling was convicted in 1998 of sexually assaulting a minor female and sentenced to probation. In 2001, just before he was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for armed robbery, [1] his daughter, A.N., was born. He and A.N.'s mother share joint custody of her. Mr. Easterling is currently imprisoned at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility where he wants A.N. to visit him.

         In Wisconsin, a minor child can visit an inmate only when the inmate complies with a formal visitation process. Wis. Admin. Code DOC § 309.08(1)(b) (2017). According to a Division of Adult Institutions ("DAI") policy, the inmate must send a questionnaire (which solicits the visitor's consent) to the minor's legal guardian, who must complete and return it to the prison.[2] The warden then has discretion to deny visits if, among other reasons, the warden has "reasonable grounds" to believe that "the inmate's offense history indicates there may be a problem with the proposed visitation" or if "the proposed visitor may be subjected to victimization." Id. § 309.08(4)(f)-(g). Upon denial, which is effective for six months unless otherwise noted, the inmate can file a grievance challenging the decision, or the prospective visitor can write a letter to the warden. Id. § 309.08(1)(f), (6).

         In 2004, two years after Mr. Easter ling's sentencing, A.N. (through her mother) sought a visit with him at the prison where he was then housed. After receiving the completed questionnaire, Phillip Kingston, the warden of that prison, assisted by an officer who handled inmate-visitation requests at that time, denied the request. They cited a requirement that Mr. Easterling complete sex offender treatment before being allowed to visit with his daughter. Mr. Easterling filed an inmate complaint challenging the denial, which prison officials dismissed. Mr. Easterling then wrote to the warden in January 2005, asking "if he would ever be allowed to receive a visit from his daughter."[3] According to Mr. Easterling, Warden Kingston answered that visits "depended on [Easterling]" and could occur after "completion of recommended programming."[4]

         During a prison intake assessment in 2002, a psychologist had recommended that Easterling complete sex offender treatment as part of his recommended programming. When his visitation request was denied in 2005, Mr. Easterling did not ask the warden what treatment he needed or if he could receive it. He believed that he did not need sex offender treatment then because, he alleges, he is not a "sex offender" under Wisconsin law.[5] He acknowledges now, however, that he would complete such treatment if offered it. (He has been on a department-wide waiting list for the program, but only those close to their release date receive priority.)

         Nine years after he was denied visitation, Mr. Easterling was transferred to the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility. A month after his move, in May 2013, he sent information requests to defendants Tim Haines (the warden) and Debra Adams (his probation and parole agent), asking them if he could visit with his daughter. He did not use the formal visitation process. Warden Haines and Ms. Adams responded to the requests. Warden Haines told Mr. Easterling that he could file an inmate complaint. Mr. Easterling complied, but Warden Haines ...


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