Williams v. Wahner, No. 12-1886 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
In a pro se suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 a prisoner alleges that officials of an Illinois jail willfully failed to prevent other inmates from assaulting him. The district judge conducted a telephonic “merit‐review hearing” with the plaintiff shortly after the complaint was docketed and dismissed for failure to state a claim. There is no transcript of the hearing, and no explanation of why the judge thought the guards’ knowledge of the assault material. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that the “inquisitorial” procedure employed by the judge has no basis in American law other than in proceedings before some administrative agencies, and was conducted without any safeguards. The judge may dismiss a frivolous complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A(a), (b)(1), but, if the validity of a claim depends on the accuracy of the plaintiff’s factual allegations, as in this case, and their accuracy cannot be resolved without an oral hearing, those matters must be resolved in conformity with the procedures that govern trials. A judge may clarify an unclear pro se complaint by interviewing the plaintiff, but must not turn the interview into a judicial cross‐examination designed to elicit admissions.