United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge
James Rzeplinski, a prisoner at the Jackson Correctional
Institution, brings claims that defendant Wisconsin
Department of Corrections officials failed to address his
broken dentures, leading to him suffering pain and bleeding
gums. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, in
which they contend that they did not act with deliberate
indifference toward Rzeplinski's problems.
frustration at the delay in getting his dentures fixed is
understandable. But the lack of dentures or teeth does not
itself pose a serious health problem. I will grant
defendants' motion because Rzeplinski fails to show that
he brought a serious medical need to defendants'
attention. In his briefing, Rzeplinski attempts to resurrect
previously dismissed Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect
claims regarding sexual comments made to him by other
prisoners. I conclude that even had Rzeplinski properly
brought these claims in this lawsuit, I would deny them, so
there is no reason to consider amending the complaint.
the following facts from the parties' proposed findings
of fact and supporting materials.
James Rzeplinski is a prisoner housed at the Jackson
Correctional Institution (JCI), located in Black River Falls,
Wisconsin. Defendant Lizzie Tegels is the JCI warden,
defendant Tammy Maassen is the JCI health services manager,
and defendant Jodi Dougherty is the JCI institution complaint
examiner. Dr. Tommy Onjukka is the dental supervisor for a
region that includes JCI and eight other facilities, and was
acting as the fill-in dentist at JCI during the relevant
time. The remaining defendants all worked in the DOC's
central office. Ed Wall was the secretary, Deirdre Morgan was
the deputy secretary, Charles Facktor and Welcome Rose were
corrections complaint examiners, Dr. Barbara De Lap was the
Bureau of Health Services dental director, and Jody DeRosa
was a Bureau of Health Services nursing coordinator.
DOC Division of Adult Institutions policies, dentists or
nurses triage incoming dental requests from inmates. Dental
emergencies (“dental problem[s] causing a life
threatening condition and requiring immediate care”)
and urgent conditions (“those which, if not completed
in a timely manner, could result in undue pain and
suffering”) are handled first. “Routine”
dental problems are defined as “conditions that are
asymptomatic and for which a delay in completion of up to one
year would not result in serious risk.” These requests
get lower priority and are placed on a wait list, unless a
change of condition alters the triage status. When an inmate
indicates that he is in pain, the dentist addresses it as if
it were an urgent problem, unless the dentist can determine
through record review that the matter is not urgent.
need for dentures, even full dentures, is usually considered
a “routine” dental issue, because being toothless
does not harm a patient's overall health, unless there
are signs of notable weight loss or medical complications
like pain, swelling, or infection. Weight loss may occur
because it is sometimes more difficult for a patient to eat a
normal diet without teeth. In these situations, a soft diet
may be ordered for the inmate. Dental staff does not consider
self-inflicted pain from personal diet choice
“urgent” pain because it is easily addressed by a
change of diet, without medical intervention. Because it is
“routine” procedure, it may take up to 12 months
for a prisoner to receive dentures. Rzeplinski's complete
set of dentures was finished on November 25, 2013.
March 2014 to February 2015, JCI had a vacancy at its
full-time dentist position. While JCI was without a full-time
dentist, defendant Onjukka provided direct dental care to
patients at the facility. He was not able to work full time
at JCI because he still needed to attend to his
responsibilities at the other facilities he supervised.
Although De Lap was not the final decision maker in hiring
dentists, she was responsible for carrying out the hiring
process from reviewing applications and conducting interviews
to making hiring recommendations. The process of hiring a
dentist takes several months. The process can take longer for
certain facilities, especially those, like JCI, located in
more rural areas.
submitted a health service request on April 16, 2014, in
which he reported that a piece of his upper denture was
broken off and he needed a dentist to fix it. The service
request was forwarded to Onjukka because it pertained to
dental issues. Rzeplinski made no complaints of pain,
swelling, weight loss, or any signs of infection. Two days
later, Onjukka responded, telling Rzeplinski that he was on
the denture wait list. At any given time, JCI has about 70 to
90 inmates on the denture wait list.
6, 2014, Rzeplinski submitted a health service request
stating, “My upper denture has broken completely in
half. I have no teeth to use and need to get in to see you
ASAP. Thank you! I was put on a waiting list 2 weeks ago when
they (first) crack.” Onjukka responded three days
later, telling Rzeplinski that he would be called for an
evaluation for repair of his denture.
13, 2014, Onjukka saw Rzeplinski and confirmed that the
denture was broken. He also concluded that Rzeplinski would
need a permanent “reline” of the dentures in
addition to repairing them, so that the dentures would fit
correctly as Rzeplinski's mouth changed. Because
Rzeplinski did not complain of pain, and he did not exhibit
any swelling or signs of infection, his broken dentures and
need for a permanent reline was considered a routine dental
need. As a result, he was put on the routine denture waiting
21, 2014, Rzeplinski weighed 223 pounds.
18, 2014, Rzeplinski submitted a dental service request in
which he wrote, “I again need my dentures fixed
you've seen them and said you would put me on a list.
It's been ‘2 months.'” About a week
later, Onjukka responded, telling Rzeplinski that he was
still on the list and that Dental Services could only see
emergency patients until JCI got a full-time dentist.
9, 2014, Rzeplinski weighed 211 pounds. He suffered the flu
in June 2014. At this appointment, Rzeplinski did not report
any concerns about pain in his mouth or ability to eat.
Because he was still a normal weight for his size, the weight
loss was not considered a serious medical concern.
22, 2014, defendant Warden Tegels's office received an
“Interview/Information Request” from Rzeplinski
stating, “My dentures need to be fixed and nothings
being done to get them done. It's been over 3
months.” Attached to this request was a letter, in
which Rzeplinski stated:
I have been trying to get my new dentures fixed since
4-16-14. They called me up to look at them and said they
could be fixed. Since then I have been waiting to no avail. I
then wrote a slip addressed to T. Maasen the HSU manager. She
never responded to my request and that's why I am writing
you. There's no reason my denture can't be sent out
to be fixed. They've been continually getting worse with
mold in them, etc. Please help me get these fixed. It's
embarrassing and I can't eat what I should be able to. PS
- it's now been over three months.
office assigned defendant Maassen to handle the complaint.
Maassen contacted Onjukka about the complaint. Onjukka's
memorandum to Tegels stated:
Dear Warden, Tammy Maassen asked me to follow up on the
complaint from the above referenced inmate [Rzeplinski]. It
is affirmed that he requested to have new denture fixed on
04/16/2014. He has sent additional requests for essentially
the same thing on 5/6/2014 and 6/18/2014. Each request had
been responded to in a timely manner. He was evaluated on
5/13/2014 to determine what his needs are. It was determined
that the dentures are repairable. According to his dental
record, he will need a procedure in addition to the repair to
make the denture function properly. Just sending out the
denture for the repair will not properly address his current
dental needs. I have informed him that he is on the list, and
emergencies such as infection/swelling need to be seen first.
As you are aware currently there is no dentist on staff at
JCI. We are very hopeful that our recent interview will
result in a new dentist. That being said we are very limited
in the times that we can see patients ...