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Estate of Clark v. County of Green Lake

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 12, 2016




         The Estate of Ryan Clark filed this lawsuit after Ryan Clark committed suicide while incarcerated in the Green Lake County Jail (“Jail”). Defendants Green Lake County, Bruce Walker, Liz Pflum, and Stephen Schonscheck (“Green Lake defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Then, plaintiff moved to amend the complaint for the purpose of adding a Monell claim against County of Green Lake and removing Pflum as a defendant.[1] (Doc. 48.) The court granted the motion to amend but denied the Green Lake defendants' motion to dismiss after concluding that disposition of the motion required consideration of the depositions and declarations on file. Months later, the corporate health care providers, Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. (“CHC”), and Health Professionals Ltd. (“HPL”), and their employee, Tina Kuehn, filed their motion for summary judgment. Consequently, the court must now decide whether Walker and Schonscheck have met their burden of establishing as a matter of law that they were not deliberately indifferent to Clark's medical needs and that Clark had no clearly established right to different treatment. Additionally, the court must decide whether the defense of qualified immunity extends to Kuehn, a nurse who was employed by a corporate health provider, and whether the plaintiff may proceed on a respondeat superior claim or a Monell claim against CHC and HPL. For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted as to Schonscheck, CHC, and HPL, but genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment for Walker and Kuehn.

         Motions for summary judgment should be granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). “Material” means that the factual dispute must be outcome-determinative under law. Contreras v. City of Chicago, 119 F.3d 1286, 1291 (7th Cir.1997). A “genuine” issue must have specific and sufficient evidence that, were a jury to believe it, would support a verdict in the non-moving party's favor. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The moving party has the burden of showing there are no facts to support the non-moving party's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. In determining whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, the court should consider the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. When the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational jury to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue and no reason to go to trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Further, once qualified immunity is raised by a defendant, it becomes the plaintiff's burden to defeat it. See Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 639 (7th Cir. 2008).


         For purposes of summary judgment, the court has reviewed all proposed findings to make sure they are in compliance with the Federal and Local Rules and are supported by citations to the record. Also, it has disregarded proposed findings that were not set forth in short numbered paragraphs, or that were otherwise not supported by an affidavit or declaration made with personal knowledge. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4); Civil L.R. 56(b)(1)(C)(i)-(iii). Moreover, the court notes that defendants' Daubert objections were not supported by a motion or argument and, therefore, should not be considered at this time.

         This court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because the plaintiff, the Estate of Ryan Clark, has alleged a violation of Clark's constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1.) The Eastern District of Wisconsin is the proper venue for this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) as the events omissions giving rise to the claim occurred in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. (Doc. 1.) The Estate of Ryan L. Clark, represents the decedent, Ryan L. Clark ("Clark"). The Waushara County Circuit Court appointed Vickie Clark as administrator of Clark's estate. Waushara County Circuit Court Case No. 2012-PR-60.

         Defendant Green Lake County is a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of Wisconsin. In May of 2012, Bruce Walker worked at the Green Lake County Jail (“the Jail”) as a corrections officer, Stephen Schonscheck was a part-time corrections officer, and Liz Pflum was a corrections sergeant. (Doc. 46, Simatic Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. A.)

         Green Lake County contracted with HPL to provide healthcare for inmates at the Jail. The term of the contract at issue was July 1, 2011, through December 31, 2012. (Doc. 8, ¶ 10.) However, CHC did not contract to provide mental health services at the Green Lake County Jail:

1.11 MENTAL HEALTH - NOT COVERED. HPL shall not be responsible for the provision or cost of any mental health services. The COUNTY shall be responsible for the provision or cost of mental health services for the JAIL POPULATION.

         (Elmer Aff. ¶ 5, 4.) HPL was taken over by CHC (Lueptow Dep. 40.), and, for purposes of this suit, it is undisputed that HPL and CHC had common corporate ownership, officers and directors. (Doc. 102, ¶ 4.)

         Between December 2011, and October 1, 2012, CHC employed Kuehn as a registered nurse at the Green Lake County Correctional Facility in Green Lake, Wisconsin. (Doc. 8, ¶ 12; Kuehn Dep. Exs. 1 and 3.) Kuehn has been a licensed registered nurse since 2010.[2] Kuehn's position entailed providing a full range of nursing services to inmates including assessing, nursing diagnosis, planning, implementing, and evaluating the medical condition of inmate patients. (Olson Decl. ¶ 5, Kuehn Dep. Ex. 2.) Kuehn testified in her deposition that “officers would let [me] know if there was anything they found to be-as far as like a red flag as mental history. As far as current suicidal ideation or wanting to harm themselves, they would-he or she would let [me] know that they found that on their assessment.” (Kuehn Dep. 43.)

         On August 15, 2007, Clark was sentenced to eighteen months in state prison followed by three years on extended supervision for his fifth offense of operating under the influence contrary to Wis.Stat. § 346.63(1). (Doc. 46, Simatic Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. D.) Clark finished his term of confinement on February 24, 2009, and was released to extended supervision. (Id.) Thereafter, Clark was admitted to the Jail approximately eight times during the next two years as a result of alleged infractions of the rules of his extended supervision. (Id.) Each time he was placed on a “hold” by his extended supervision officer as a result of an alleged infraction of the rules of extended supervision that included being under the influence of alcohol. (Doc. 1, ¶ 405.) On June 4, 2009, Clark was perceived by the Jail staff to be suicidal and was placed on Special Watch Observation. (Ward Decl. ¶ 5.) Walker was one of the correctional officers who observed and interacted with Clark while Clark was on Special Watch Observation in 2009. (Doc. 1, ¶ 408.)

         In early August of 2011, Clark was perceived to be suicidal during his confinement at the Winnebago County Jail (where he attempted to cut his wrists on the edge of the sink or toilet in his cell) resulting in his being placed on Special Watch there. He was transferred to Green Lake County Jail later that month, and the account of his suicidal conduct was included in his transfer documents. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶ 6.) Further, during his several admissions to the Jail between February 2009, and August of 2011, Clark was frequently given medications for depression. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶ 7.) For example, in May and June of 2009, he was prescribed Fluoxetine for his treatment of depression. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶ 8.) He told the Intake Officer that when he does not take the medication he gets anxiety attacks. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶ 9.) During his stay at the Jail in August of 2010 and in Mach of 2011, Clark was prescribed Sertraline, an antidepressant. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶¶ 10, 11.)

         After Clark's extended supervision was revoked in September of 2011, he returned to prison. (Doc. 46, Simatic Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. D.) On November 29, 2011, Clark was released and began a period of extended supervision. (Doc. 46, Simatic Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. E.) However, on January 12, 2012, he was admitted to the Jail and was required to serve a 60-day sanction for violating provisions of his extended supervision. (Doc. 46, Simatic Decl. ¶ 8, Ex. F.) At that time, Pflum assessed Clark as a maximum suicide risk. (Doc 1, ¶ 418.) On January 27, 2012, Kuehn administered a Health Assessment and determined that Clark was suffering from depression and alcoholism. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶ 14.) While incarcerated from January to March 23, 2012, Clark was prescribed Trazadone and had seven sessions with the mental health worker as noted in his jail records. (Doc. 59, Ward Decl. ¶¶ 15, 16.)

         On May 23, 2012, Clark was again admitted to the Jail for violating the terms of his extended supervision. (Doc. 57, ¶ 16.) A preliminary breath test revealed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.27, more than three times the legal limit. (Doc. 57, ¶ 17.)

         At that time, Green Lake County Sheriff's Office Policy No. 406.2.1 addressed suicide prevention in the Jail (the "Suicide Prevention Policy"). (Doc. 46-8; Doc. 57, ¶ 18.) The Suicide Prevention Policy directs Jail staff to take precautions "to ensure that inmates are properly screened and identified as being a suicide risk." (Id.) Intake officers are directed to complete a Spillman Initial Inmate Assessment on each inmate taken into custody to “try to determine if the inmate is, or may be, a suicide risk.” (Id.) This assessment requires that the intake officer should (1) observe the inmate for any visual indicators associated with possible suicide risk; (2) review any information provided by the arresting officer; (3) review any information from a transferring agency, if applicable; (4) ask the inmate basic questions regarding history of suicide attempts, his or her current state of mind, his or her medical condition; and (5) document any observations, along with the inmate responses to the Spillman Initial Inmate Assessment. (Id.)

         Additionally, the Suicide Prevention Policy states that "i[f] basic intake indicates that a new inmate may be a suicide risk, an in-depth suicide screening shall be completed to obtain more detailed information about the inmate's situation and to better assess his/her degree of risk." (Id.) "[B]ased on the results of the Initial Inmate Assessment, as well as other information about the inmate obtained either formally or informally, an assessment will be made as to the degree of an inmate's suicide risk." (Id.) According to the Suicide Prevention Policy, "[a]n inmate's risk assessment shall be considered when determining the inmate's classification and housing placement." (Id.) If the inmate is assessed as a suicide risk, then he "shall be placed on "Special Watch" status [in] a Special Needs Cell." (Id.) "Special Watch" is defined as a "closer level of observation because of exceptional circumstances" such as a suicidal inmate, and the inmate "shall be observed at staggered intervals, with no more than fifteen (15) minutes between checks." (Id.) Hence, the policy and procedure required that when an inmate is perceived to be a potential suicide risk, that inmate be properly housed, monitored, and referred for evaluation by mental health staff. (Doc. 83, Lueptow Dep. 97.)

         Walker acted as the Intake Officer on May 23, 2012. (Doc. 46-9.) As part of the intake process, Walker performed a security risk assessment, medical assessment and an initial suicide risk assessment on Clark, consistent with the Suicide Prevention Policy. (Doc. 46-10.) The medical assessment noted that Clark's behavior did not suggest a risk of suicide, showed no signs of alcohol withdrawal, and no signs of inappropriate or unusual behavior or mental illness. (Doc. 58, Olson Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 2, Part Two.) Walker asked Clark whether he was taking any prescribed medications and Clark responded yes, for depression, but could not remember the medication's name. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 33.) Walker made note of that in the jail record. (Id.) Clark also told Walker that he was not under a doctor's care and that there were no other medical problems that the Jail needed to know about. (Doc. 58, Olson Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 2, Part Two.) Although an intake officer checks previous records to determine whether the inmate has a prior suicidal history while in the Jail (Lueptow Dep. 99:17-25.), Walker did not check Clark's records at the Jail for a suicidal history in that facility. (Doc. 64, ¶ 31.)

         The suicide risk assessment required that Walker enter answers to questions into the Spillman Initial Inmate Assessment, which produces a computerized assessment of suicide risk. (Doc. 45, Walker Decl. ¶ 5; Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 15-16.) Walker noted: (1) Clark understood his questions; (2) Clark was under the influence of alcohol; (3) Clark had received psychiatric care or been hospitalized in a mental health institution 8-9 years before the date of his incarceration in May 2012; (4) Clark had contemplated or attempted suicide by cutting his arm in 2005 - seven years before his incarceration in May 2012; and (5) Clark's cousin had attempted or committed suicide on an unspecified date. (Doc. 46-10.) However, Clark told Walker that he was not currently contemplating suicide. (Doc. 58-2; Doc.. 58-5, 104.) Walker concluded that Clark was a maximum risk for suicide, and testified that he believed any inmate who had been drinking would be rated a maximum suicide risk. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 22-23, 24.)

         Pflum testified that the intake procedure was to not use the risk class rating and the final Spillman Suicide Assessment score, but to base the decision as to suicide risk on responses to individual questions. (Doc. 46-12, Pflum Dep. 15, 18, 19, 42.) If an inmate said he was not currently thinking of committing suicide, the inmate would generally not be placed on suicide watch. Id. Pflum, as an intake officer, could make a determination contrary to the result of the official suicide assessment, despite having no training in psychology other than some classes and having no additional training in suicide or counseling suicidal people. (Doc. 46-12, Pflum Dep. 36-37.) Jail Administrator De Anne Lueptow said that officers have discretion as to when to put an inmate on suicide precautions, and that the most important factor is if the inmate is stating a present desire and intent to commit suicide, despite the result of the assessment. (Doc. 83, Lueptow Dep. 102-104.)

         In any event, the Jail Suicide Prevention policy requires that “Inmates identified as suicide risks will be housed properly, monitored, and evaluated by mental health staff.” (Doc. 83, Lueptow Dep. 97.) After performing the security risk assessment, medical assessment, and a suicide risk assessment on Clark, Walker placed Clark in a holding or intake cell in the booking area pending Kuehn's assessment. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 22-26.) The paperwork, including the Spillman Suicide Risk Assessment, was left for Kuehn. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 17.)

         Clark's holding/observation cell was visible to all officers in the booking room. (Doc. 45, Walker Decl. ¶ 8.) The officer stations in the booking area face the holding cells and the distance between the officers and the cells is approximately fifteen feet. (Id.) Ordinarily, the medical staff would determine whether the inmate should be placed in general population, a special needs cell, or referred to an outside facility for treatment. (Doc. 46-2, Kuehn Dep. 16-17.) Walker knew that Jail medical staff would visit Clark in the holding cell and conduct a follow-up evaluation and possible determination of preventative actions. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep., 25.) At no time during Clark's incarceration in the Jail from May 23, 2012, to May 28, 2012, did Jail staff place him in a general population cell. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 59.)

         Jail policy required that inmates with a suicide risk be placed on “Special Watch” status in a special needs cell, if one was available. (Doc. 57, ¶ 22.) There are three special needs cells in the Jail - two are for medical special needs and one is a suicide prevention cell. (Doc. 83, Lueptow Dep. 51.) Walker did not order Clark to be housed in a special needs suicide prevention cell or that he be placed on suicide watch. (Doc. 46-11, Walker Dep. 25; Doc. 45, Walker Decl. ¶ 6.) The suicide prevention cell (Special Needs Cell #2) differs from the other two observation cells in that the inmate can be observed more easily along the entire wall facing the Bubble is glass, and there is no privacy wall between the front of the cell and the toilet/shower area. (Doc. 46-11, Schonscheck Dep. 30, 31, 34, 58, 59.) The suicide prevention cell also has no protrusions on the interior from which an inmate can hang himself. (Doc. 46-11, Schonscheck Dep. 34, 58, 59.)

         The Master Control Aide sits facing the bank of security camera monitors, with his back to the special needs cells. (Doc. 46-11, Schonscheck Dep. 30.) To observe an inmate in a special needs cell directly (rather than on camera), the Master Control Aide must get up from his chair, turn around, and walk a few steps and look over the railing into the cell. (Doc. 46-11, Schonscheck Dep. 30.) Had Clark been placed on suicide watch, the Master Control Aide would have personally observed Clark by leaving his chair at the video monitor and looking into the cell every 15 minutes and Clark would ...

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