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Green v. Laurent

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 12, 2016

DAMIEN GREEN, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Plaintiff Damien Green, a prisoner at the Waupun Correctional Institution, brings claims against various supervisory officials at the Columbia Correctional Institution, alleging that he was allowed to stockpile medication while he was placed in observation at CCI, enabling him to twice attempt suicide by overdosing. He also brings claims against Daniel Norge, a CCI psychologist, for failing to properly respond to both overdoses. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, which I will grant in part and deny in part regarding plaintiff's claims about his first overdose. I will direct the parties to provide supplemental briefing regarding the second overdose. I will also address various non-dispositive motions filed by the parties.


         The following facts are drawn from the parties' proposed findings of fact and supporting materials, and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Plaintiff Damien Green is currently an inmate at the Waupun Correctional Institution, but during the events in question, he was incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution. Defendants all worked at CCI: Karen Anderson was supervisor of the Health Services Unit (HSU), Michael Meisner was the warden, Lucas Weber was the security director, David Melby was a corrections unit supervisor, Michael Morrison was a lieutenant, Raymond Wood was the Psychological Services Unit supervisor, Sandra Hautamaki was the deputy warden, and Daniel Norge was a psychological associate.[2]

         At CCI, medications for inmates in general population housing units are either “controlled” or “non-controlled.” Non-controlled medications include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, and may also include blood pressure medication and asthma inhalers. For all inmates, controlled medications are maintained under staff control until medication pass. During medication pass, an individual dose of the controlled medication is provided to the inmate.[3]

         Access to medication is restricted further in segregation units. The Disciplinary Separation 1 unit, known as “DS-1, ” houses inmates who have just arrived in segregation or who are having behavioral problems and placed in observation status. Inmates in segregation cells have access to limited property and the cells are searched often. A segregation cell is also searched thoroughly prior to an inmate being transferred into that cell.

         Observation status within the DS-1 unit is a restrictive status used for the purpose of preventing an inmate from inflicting harm upon himself or someone else. Inmates in observation status are given a smock without pockets, a mattress, and a thick blanket made especially for high-risk suicidal inmates. Each time an inmate leaves his observation cell for a shower, the cell is searched. Inmates in observation status are checked on by unit staff every 15 minutes throughout the day and night. Psychological staff conducts daily rounds of inmates on observation status. An inmate's placement in observation status is reviewed daily by a psychologist during the weekdays to either continue their placement or remove them from observation status; the inmate's behavior and mental health condition are evaluated to determine whether there is a risk to the inmate's safety or the safety of others, and the inmate's property can also be reviewed during these contacts to determine if property should be added or removed.

         Inmates housed in segregation, including those in observation status, are not allowed to keep medication in their cells. All medication in segregation is controlled by staff, and distributed to the inmates at the frequency and dosage as prescribed. In segregation, staff is required to bring an inmate's medication to the cell and ask the inmate if he wants the medication. If the inmate requests his medication, the staff member delivers the dosage as prescribed into a cup or hand in view of the inmate. In order to receive the medication, the inmate extends his arm through the trap on the cell door and the staff member pours the cup or places the medication into the inmate's hand.

         Once the inmate receives the medication in his hand, the inmate must immediately swallow the medication. The inmate opens his mouth to show the staff member that he has swallowed, and in doing so, the inmate must lift his tongue. The inmate may also need to spread his fingers so staff can make sure that the inmate did not hide the medication.

         Plaintiff says that the correctional officers distributing medication at DS-1 do not always check to see whether inmates swallow their medication. Defendants state that “[t]here have been circumstances where inmates have partially swallowed medication enough for the officer dispensing the medication to not see the pill inside the inmate's mouth, and that “[a]fter the officer walks away, inmates regurgitate the pills back into their hand.” Dkt. 162, at 12-13, ¶ 40.

         Plaintiff presents testimony of two fellow inmates, Randy McCaa and Chris Goodvine, about the efficacy of the CCI medication policies. McCaa states that he overdosed in the DS-1 unit both before and after CCI procedures were changed to have officers hand out individual doses of medication. The final overdose he mentions was in October 2012. McCaa says that he was able to obtain pills from other prisoners. Goodvine provides a declaration saying he and “many” other inmates overdosed at some unidentified time, and that it was easy to stockpile medication because correctional officers would not watch to ensure that prisoners ingested their medication.

         Plaintiff was housed in the DS-1 unit on observation status from December 26, 2013, to March 7, 2014. Defendant Norge was plaintiff's assigned psychologist during that time period. Plaintiff was originally placed in observation status at least in part due to threats of self-harm.

         Plaintiff was evaluated daily by psychologists to determine whether he should continue to be placed in observation status. During those psychological contacts, plaintiff repeatedly presented thoughts of self-harm, anger and agitation, and did not deny feelings of depression.

         Sometime in mid-January 2014, inmate Goodvine, who was also in observation status, wrote to the warden's office and spoke to defendant Morrison about plaintiff “preparing” to overdose on medications.

         On January 21, 2014, at 9:50 a.m., Norge arrived at plaintiff's cell to review his placement in observation status. Norge had received a Psychological Services Request that morning from plaintiff indicating that he was feeling depressed. Plaintiff states that he had frequently previously told Norge that he was feeling depressed and was going to kill himself by overdosing on pills, but Norge did not place him in “one on one” observation status, where prisoners were watched even closer. Nor did Norge contact HSU staff to have his medication crushed, to make it even harder to stockpile. The parties dispute whether Norge was aware of a 2011 suicide attempt by plaintiff at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, in which he overdosed by stockpiling medication.

         When Norge arrived at plaintiff's cell, plaintiff was sitting on his toilet, but not using it, and had his head down. Plaintiff told Norge that he could not take it anymore, that he was depressed, and that he felt like he wanted to give up and die. Plaintiff then opened his right palm and showed Norge a handful of pills. Plaintiff said that there were approximately 60 pills in his hand. He had a cup of water in his left hand. He put the pills in his mouth and swallowed them. Plaintiff told Norge that he swallowed “all” of the medication he was prescribed, including allergy, blood pressure, heart, and psychiatric medication.

         Norge had no authority or ability to open plaintiff's door. As a psychological associate, he is not properly trained nor equipped to enter an inmate's cell to maintain safety and security, so he had to leave plaintiff's cell to notify security staff of the incident. It is undisputed that Norge did not carry a radio.

         There is a dispute about Norge's response to these events. Defendants state that Norge immediately left plaintiff's cell and told the unit sergeant that plaintiff had ingested an unknown number of pills. Plaintiff says that Norge stayed at his cell for 30 minutes talking to him, and that Norge only left to get help after inmate Goodvine told Norge to get help. Defendants say that after Norge reported the incident, he returned to observe plaintiff and question him about precisely which medications he took.

         When an inmate overdoses, standard protocol is for security staff to go to the inmate's cell, attempt to get the inmate to comply with restraining procedures, and escort the inmate away from the cell to receive proper medical attention. Security staff arrived at plaintiff's cell at 10:02 a.m. to remove him from his cell and to escort him to the Health Services Unit for medical attention. Plaintiff was taken out of his cell at about 10:05. The parties dispute whether plaintiff was argumentative about needing shoes before leaving.

         Plaintiff was escorted to the HSU for a medical evaluation and it was determined that he needed to be hospitalized for emergency medical care. Plaintiff says that on his way to the hospital, “[his] body began to twitch and jerk severely and wouldn't stop” and that he lost consciousness. Dkt. 158, at 6. At the hospital, plaintiff continued to twitch so severely that staff had to hold him down on the bed.

         Plaintiff returned from the hospital two days later. He was placed back into observation status since he had recently ingested a large amount of medication, and upon returning ...

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