Nigl v. Litscher, No. 19-1618 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Dr. Johnston, a prison psychologist, provided psychological services to Nigl, a Wisconsin Department of Corrections prisoner, serving a 100-year sentence. On Johnston’s last day of work, Nigl kissed her. The two began communicating by mail, email, and phone and became engaged. Johnston returned to employment with the Department and submitted a “fraternization policy exception request” but did not disclose their romantic relationship. Johnston’s supervisor never processed the request, but the two continued to have contact, in violation of Department policy. The Department learned about the relationship and terminated Johnston. Johnston later requested to visit Nigl. The request was denied under state rules because she had been a Department employee less than 12 months earlier. During investigations, staff found letters and photographs from Johnston in Nigl’s cell; some were sent under an alias. Some photographs depicted Johnston in sexually suggestive poses. Johnston had also set up a phone account under the alias and engaged in phone sex with Nigl. The Department reported the relationship to the Psychology Examining Board, which suspended Johnston’s license. Johnston submitted additional unsuccessful visitation requests. Nigl requested permission to marry Johnston and grieved the denial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting their 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The denial was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Nigl and Johnston engaged in a pattern of rule-breaking and deception in furtherance of their relationship and the Psychology Examining Board concluded that Johnston violated rules designed to protect patients. The 2017 decision is not tantamount to a permanent denial.