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Williams v. Nygren

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 26, 2016

ANTHONY H. WILLIAMS., Plaintiff,
v.
SUE NYGREN, KRISTIN VASQUEZ, MICHAEL HOWARD, PAUL KEMPER, RONALD MALONE, and NURSE JANE/JOHN DOE, Defendants.

ORDER

J.P. Stadmueller, U.S. District Judge.

Plaintiff, Anthony Williams (“Williams”) brought this action under 18 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that the defendants violated his civil rights. (Docket #1). Specifically, Williams alleges that Sue Nygren (“Nygren”) and Kristin Vasquez (“Vasquez”)[1] violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to ensure that he received proper medical care following a knee injury that Williams sustained while playing basketball. (Docket #1). Williams also claims that Paul Kemper (“Kemper), Michael Howard (“Howard”), and Ronald Malone (“Malone”) acted negligently by failing to maintain the basketball court in a safe condition. (Docket #1).

Both Williams and the defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Docket #54, #66). As described more fully herein, the Court concludes that: (1) Nygren and Vasquez are not liable for violating Williams’ Eighth Amendment rights; and (2) Kemper, Howard and Malone are entitled to governmental and recreational immunity. Thus, the defendants’ motion for summary judgment will be granted (Docket #66), and Williams’ motion for summary judgment will be denied (Docket #54).

1. BACKGROUND[2]

1.1The Parties

Racine Correctional Institution (“RCI”) is a state-owned medium security institution located in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. (Docket #68 ¶ 1). Williams is an inmate at RCI. (Docket #68 ¶ 22). The impetus of this complaint was an injury that Williams sustained on June 30, 2014, while playing basketball on the court adjacent to the prison’s Milwaukee Unit, where he lived. (Docket #68 ¶ 22).

The defendants are either current or former employees at RCI. (Docket #68 ¶¶ 3-15).

More specifically, at all times relevant, Nygren was the Health Services Unit (“HSU”) Manager and Vasquez was the HSU Assistant Manager at RCI. (Docket #68 ¶¶ 11, 14). Both of the defendants’ positions required them to work with the primary care physicians, dentists, psychiatrists, and specialists serving as consultants to the Bureau of Health Services (BHS) in a collaborative manner to provide quality health care at RCI in an efficient and effective manner. (Docket #69 ¶ 4; Docket #70 ¶ 4). In addition, each assisted in providing the overall administrative support and direction of HSU. (Docket #69 ¶ 4; Docket #70 ¶ 4). Though Williams disputes the nature of supervisory roles within the HSU, neither Nygren nor Vasquez directed Williams’ treatment or care plans for his knee injury.[3] (Docket #68 ¶ 47).

In addition, at all times relevant, Kemper was the Warden, Malone was the Deputy Warden, and Howard was the Unit Manager for the Milwaukee Unit at RCI. (Docket #29 ¶¶ 3, 5, 9). Matters involving maintenance of buildings and grounds were routinely addressed by staff members of the Building and Grounds Department. (Docket #68 ¶ 29). Kemper generally holds monthly meetings with the Buildings and Grounds Superintendent to discuss on-going maintenance issues and to prioritize and plan for future projects. (Docket #68 ¶¶ 30-31). During the relevant time period, those regularly in attendance at these meetings were Kemper, Malone, the supervisor of maintenance (Stan Potratz), and the correctional management services director. (Docket #68 ¶¶ 29-30). Since the 2013-2014 time period, the Building and Grounds Superintendent has discussed the possibility of resurfacing[4] the seven courts in the prison, subject to budget constraints. (Docket #56 ¶¶ 23-25; Docket #68 ¶¶ 32, 36). So far, only the Dane Unit courtyard has been resurfaced, because none of the courts were considered to be in such disrepair as to constitute a hazard to the inmates playing on them. (Docket #68 ¶¶ 34, 35).

1.2 The Basketball Injury

Williams injured his knee on June 30, 2014, while he was playing basketball on the court adjacent to the Milwaukee Unit. (Docket #68 ¶ 22). The defendants assert that at no time prior to Williams’ injury: (1) was Kemper, Malone or Howard informed that there was an unsafe condition on the Milwaukee Unit basketball court; (2) was Kemper or Malone aware of any issues with the condition of the Milwaukee Unit’s court; or (3) was Kemper made aware of any repeated injury-related problems attributable to the condition of the basketball courts.[5] (Docket #68 ¶¶ 23-25). Kemper, Malone and Howard regularly walked the grounds of the prison and personally observed the surfaces of the basketball areas, including the Milwaukee Unit court. (Docket #68 ¶ 40). Though Kemper and Malone “knew” that the basketball court had “cracks, ” neither Kemper, Malone nor Howard had perceived the condition of the court to constitute a safety hazard. (Docket #56 ¶¶ 16-17, 19-20; Docket #68 ¶ 40). There was no warning on the exterior of the courtyard or in the inmate handbook regarding the risks of playing in that area. (Docket #56 ¶¶ 15, 18).

Nonetheless, while engaging in a recreational game of basketball on the Milwaukee Unit court, Williams heard his knee “pop.” (Docket #68 ¶ 61). Immediately following the injury, Williams was taken to the HSU[6] (Docket #67 ¶ 61) and thereafter to the Wheaton Franciscan Hospital emergency room (Docket #68 ¶ 62). Williams had x-rays completed of his left knee and was given a knee immobilizer along with crutches and instructions. (Docket #68 ¶ 63; Docket #56 ¶ 9). The parties do not dispute that the emergency room doctor’s discharge note states that Williams should follow up with an orthopedic (“ortho”) specialist within 3-5 days.[7] (Docket #92 ¶ 63).

That same day, Williams was discharged from the emergency room and returned to RCI with discharge instructions for treatment and home care. (Docket #68 ¶ 65). A medication order for Vicodin was also approved by the on-call doctor. (Docket #68 ¶ 66).

Over the course of the next two weeks, Williams was seen three times by various nurses (Paige Mueller, Debra Nutting, Tamia Chapple) and Dr. Luy in the HSU. (See Docket #69 ¶¶ 22-25) (describing Williams’ HSU visits on July 1, July 3, and July 13, 2014). Though Williams does not describe any conversations that he had in the HSU at this time, he does allege that “HSU staff knew” about his required follow up appointment with an ortho specialist and nonetheless failed to schedule it. (Docket #56 ¶ 3). Rather, on July 14, 2014, Blasius scheduled Williams’ initial appointment at Wheaton Franciscan ortho clinic for July 28, 2014. (Docket #56 ¶ 4; Docket #69 ¶ 25). The two-week delay between scheduling and the actual appointment was allegedly due to the ortho physician’s availability. (Docket #56 ¶ 8; Docket #85, Ex. 1 at 20).

In light of the purported delay in scheduling the ortho appointment, Williams submitted multiple Health Services Requests (“HSR”).[8] (Docket #1, Ex. 3). Williams’ second HSR asked how his initial ortho appointment could have been “forgotten.” (Docket #1, Ex. 3). On July 26, 2014, Nygren responded to Williams’ second HSR by explaining that the HSU had to ensure the physician’s availability before scheduling an outside appointment. (Docket #1, Ex. 3). She also stated that Williams “had an appointment [with HSU] earlier this week.”[9] (Docket #1, Ex. 3).

Williams was indeed seen by an ortho specialist on July 28, 2014. (Docket #69 ¶ 27). Dr. Goran Jankovic (“Dr. Jankovic”), the treating physician at Wheaton Franciscan, ordered an MRI of Williams’ left knee and a follow up appointment after the completion of the MRI. (Docket #69 ¶ 28). Blasius ordered that MRI on August 1, 2014. (Docket #69 ¶ 29).

Upon returning to RCI, Williams submitted another HSR request to follow up on: (1) the delay between his emergency room visit and initial ortho appointment; and (2) the status of his MRI.[10] (Docket #69, Ex. 1 at 122). Nygren responded to this HSR on August 8, 2014. (Docket #69, Ex. 1 at 122). Nygren explained that: (1) outside orders are only recommendations for HSU staff; (2) all outside medical orders must be initiated by RCI’s medical providers; (3) Williams’ initial diagnosis was that of a knee sprain; and (4) an MRI for his left knee had been scheduled. (Docket #69, Ex. 1 at 122).

On August 4, 2014, Blasius completed a review summary for Williams’ visit to the Wheaton Franciscan ortho specialist. (Docket #69 ¶ 30). Approximately two weeks later, she noted that Williams had a patellar tendon rupture and that Williams would be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.[11] (Docket #69 ¶ 32). That same day, August 20, 2014, Vasquez received a call from Williams’ mother to check on the status of his care. (Docket #68 ¶ 70). Vasquez entered a note in Williams’ medical record detailing this call. (Docket #68 ¶ 70).

Williams was seen by Wheaton Franciscan Hospital’s radiology department on August 26, 2014. (Docket #69 ¶ 33). At this time, Dr. Jankovic completed an MRI of Williams’ left knee. (Docket #69 ¶ 34). Dr. Jankovic also ordered future labs and procedures. (Docket #69 ¶ 36).

Two days later, Williams filed an inmate complaint and continued to prepare for surgery. (Docket #69 ¶ 37; Docket #79 at 6-7). First, Williams’ inmate complaint reiterated his objection to the delay in his initial ortho appointment. (Docket #79 at 6-7). In addition, he completed a surgery consultation at Wheaton Franciscan Hospital. (Docket #79 at 6-7). Williams’ surgery was scheduled the next day for September 12, 2014. (Docket #68 ¶ 72). In light of this surgery, Vasquez ...


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