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Thompson v. Christenson

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

October 12, 2016

PAT CHRISTENSON et al., Defendants.



         This court gave pro se plaintiff Terome Thompson leave to proceed on Eighth Amendment claims against: (1) several officers at the Eau Claire County Jail, who allegedly acted with deliberate indifference by ignoring his repeated requests to transfer out of a cell block where he eventually got into a fistfight with another inmate, and then by merely observing that fight rather than breaking it up; and (2) defendant Erin Poppe, a nurse at the Eau Claire County Jail, who allegedly acted with deliberate indifference by providing inadequate treatment after that fight for his serious medical needs resulting from that fight. (Dkt. #6.) The court also allowed Thompson to proceed on First Amendment retaliation claims against some of the same, as well as additional, jail officials under several different theories. (Id.) Now before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment on all claims. (Dkt. ##75, 95.) Because the court agrees that no reasonable jury could find in plaintiff's favor on any of his claims for reasons explained below, the court will grant defendants' motions for summary judgment.[1]


         A. The parties

         At the time of the events underlying this lawsuit, plaintiff Terome Thompson was an inmate at the Eau Claire County Jail, having been temporarily transferred there from another correctional institution to attend a matter in state court. Defendants Robert Huffman, Daniel Oates, Joshua Schroeder, Megan Hendrington, Tristan Seidl, Jon Pendergast, Jacqueline Olson, Daniel Noel, Daniel Porn and Jason Higley, against whom plaintiff asserts failure to protect claims, were all correctional officers at the Eau Claire County Jail during the period relevant to this lawsuit. Plaintiff also asserts failure to protect claims against two other officer defendants at Eau Claire County Jail: Patricia Christenson, a then lieutenant and Phillip Field, a then sergeant. Plaintiff brings his First Amendment retaliation claim against defendants Field, Huffman, Higley, Seidl and Pendergast, as well as defendant Joe Lorenz, a correctional officer, and Michael Klotz, a sergeant.[3] Finally, plaintiff brings a claim for deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs against defendant Erin Poppe.

         B. Plaintiff's altercation with another inmate

         Thompson was temporarily transferred to Eau Claire County Jail on December 7, 2012, and placed in a holding cell until “booking” was completed on December 9, 2012. When an inmate is booked at the Jail, an officer “classifies” him using certain criteria, including his criminal record, medical needs and history of behavior to help determine, among other things, appropriate housing for that inmate. After a classification officer completes this task, a booking officer and a pod officer use the classification to determine the cell block in which that inmate should be placed.

         As the classification officer who booked Thompson, defendant Pendergast noted on Thompson's classification form that he had a “no-contact” with two other inmates, meaning that they should not be housed in the same cell block. (Aff. of Jon Pendergast Ex. 9 (dkt. #91-2).) Consistent with his classification, Thompson was assigned to “H Block, ” where inmate Torrie Smith, who was not on Thompson's no-contact list, was also housed. Before being escorted to H Block, Thompson avers having some conversation in the booking area with jail officials regarding his assigned housing. Christenson specifically denies speaking with Thompson about any specifics about his classification, nor where he would be housed, but claims that they both agreed he would be housed according to his classification and given a “fresh start, ” which ostensibly referred to the problems during multiple times Thompson had been incarcerated at Eau Claire County Jail in the past. Officer Higley admits that Thompson asked him where he would be housed at the booking area, but Higley claims that he was sincere in informing Thompson that he did not then know to which block he would ultimately be assigned. On the other hand, Thompson, avers that Higley did have knowledge where Thompson would be housed, since he had just given the officer escorting Thompson that information. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. (dkt. #112) at ECF 3.)

         As Thompson and the officer escorting him approached H Block, Thompson asserts, he noticed that Smith was inside. (Decl. of Terome A. Thompson (dkt. #114) ¶ 9.) Thompson avers that he then immediately alerted the officer that “[this assignment] must be a mistake because me and Torrie Smith . . . [aren't supposed] to be housed together[.]” (Id.) Specifically, Thompson asserts that Lieutenant Pendergast, and two other officers who are not named defendants, had placed a no-contact on Thompson and Smith because of a confrontation between them in August of 2012, when “Torrie Smith threatened to harm [Thompson] because of what he heard from Defendant Huffman.”[4] (Id.)

         For purposes of summary judgment, the parties also do not dispute that after being housed in H Block, Thompson made multiple requests to be transferred to another cell block because of Smith. In fact, Thompson avers, and defendants must own for purposes of their motion, that he told “every officer” who made a safety round between December 9 and 11 that his placement was a mistake because “Torrie Smith and I don't get along, could they have the [Sergeant] move me because this housing situation is a fight waiting to happen.” (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         Still, defendant Schroeder, who acknowledges that Thompson asked him for a transfer, also avers that he believed Thompson only wanted to be moved to a different cell block because of a “personality conflict” with Smith. As a result, when Schroeder informed a sergeant about Thompson's transfer request, he reports telling the sergeant not only that he had not observed any conflicts between Thompson and Smith, but that he often saw the two sitting, laughing and playing cards together. Schroeder further informed the sergeant that Thompson had a history of getting into conflicts with other inmates and staff, as well as of seeking housing transfers by fabricating conflicts with other inmates. Even so, Schroeder avers that he looked at available housing options for Thompson, only to determine there was no other cell block where Thompson could be moved based on his classification and no-contacts with other inmates.

         Defendant Hendrington also acknowledges that Thompson relayed his desire to transfer cell blocks to her. In response, Hendrington told him that: (1) jail officials were aware of his request; and (2) he could also make a written request through the “kiosk system.” Hendrington avers to having a similar belief that Thompson's transfer request stemmed from a personality conflict with Smith, because Thompson reported Smith was “trying to control the cell block and that this could cause a problem.” (Aff. of Megan Hendrington (dkt. #87) ¶ 7.)

         When the sergeant with whom Schroeder spoke advised that Thompson would not be moved to a different cell block at that time, Schroeder relayed that message to Thompson. After that, Thompson made the following written transfer request, using the kiosk system on December 9, 2012.

Can [I] please request to be moved away from Torrie Smith before there's a problem? I don't allow people to try to bully me [or] run the block with loud mouth b.s. That is a fight waiting to happen. I got trial in three days and [I'm u]nder a lot of stress.

(Aff. of Joel Brettingen Ex. 12 (dkt. #92-3).)

         Sergeant Field was informed about Thompson's kiosk message by a correctional officer not named as a defendant. At that time, the officer also told Field that he had observed Thompson and Smith interacting with no apparent conflict. Other officers gave Field the same message. Though unaware of Thompson's kiosk message, Lieutenant Christenson was similarly informed that Thompson wanted a transfer, along with the officers' beliefs that the request was based merely on a clash of personalities, and their observations that Thompson and Smith had so far gotten along without incident. Officers Huffman, Hendrington, Noel and Seidl all aver to similar observations regarding Thompson and Smith's relationship.

         Regardless, Thompson and Smith got into a physical altercation in H Block on December 11, 2012. Once he heard what sounded like a fight, Officer Noel went to H Block. He then called over the radio for backup and for the control pod to order a lockdown. Consistent with standard procedure at the Eau Claire County Jail, Noel waited outside H Block until inmates not involved in the fight had returned to their cells and other officers, including officers Porn, Oates and Huffman, had arrived to provide assistance. Once they physically entered H Block, there is no dispute that these officers separated Thompson and Smith immediately, although Thompson claims that the officers, rather than intervening to stop the fight, purposefully delayed entering H Block and laughed while watching the fight.

         C. Thompson's medical treatment

         After Thompson and Smith were separated, defendant Oates assessed Thompson's injuries before he was taken to a different cell block. Defendant Poppe then examined both Smith and Thompson for possible injuries as the nurse on duty. In Thompson's medical progress notes, Poppe notes that Thompson reported being “pushed over the rails behind the stairs [and] . . . struck in the face.” (Decl. of Ryan Wiesner Ex. A (dkt. #100-1).) She also recorded the following:

[Patient (Thompson)] has an approx. 2cm cut on his bottom R side lip [and] small 1cm x 1cm blood blister on the tip of his tongue[;] his upper R side of mouth [and] gums are cut [and] bleeding[;] he has complaints of backache, his lower back, where he states he was pushed over the bars[;] his R hand thumb side is red [and] slightly swollen[;] he ...

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