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Vandera v. Foster

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 17, 2017

JUSTIN WILLIAM VANDERA, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN FOSTER, SGT. TRITT, LT. TRITT, LT. LARSON, CPT. HAYNES, SGT. KOOTZ, JONATHAN S. PAWLYK, DR. VAN BUREN, CO BIKOWSKI, DR. SCHMIT, MISS HALPER, JON E. LITSCHER, JOHN DOE, JANE DOE, and SGT. BOUZACK, [1] Defendants. JUSTIN WILLIAM VANDERA, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. BULLZACK, SGT. KOOTZ, JONATHAN S. PAWLYK, CO BEAHM, CO BROCKMAN, LT. TRITT, CO BUKOWSKI, BRIAN FOSTER, JON E. LITSCHER, RHU SUPERVISOR, RHU PROGRAMS SUPERVISOR, JOHN DOE, and JANE DOE, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         Plaintiff Justin W.VanDera, a state of Wisconsin inmate confined at the Waupun Correctional Institution, brings two separate lawsuits about prison officials' handling of his thoughts of self-harm and his placement in observation cells in December 2015 and January 2016. The court has already concluded that VanDera qualifies for in forma pauperis status and has collected an initial partial payment of the filing fee for both of these cases.

         Because VanDera's allegations in his two complaints are so related, he could have brought all of these allegations in the same lawsuit.[2] It makes little sense to force VanDera to pay two separate filing fees for these cases, so I will sua sponte combine his two complaints into case no. 17-cv-15 and dismiss case no. 17-cv-40. I will direct the clerk of court to apply his payments in case no. 17-cv-40 to case no. 17-cv-15, and inform the DOC that VanDera no longer owes the filing fee for case no. 17-cv-40.

         The next step in this case is to screen both of VanDera's complaints. In doing so, I must dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. Because VanDera is a pro se litigant, I must read his allegations generously. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam).

         After reviewing the complaints with these principles in mind, I conclude that VanDera may proceed on Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims against several defendants who were involved in placing him in an unsanitary cell and later allowing him to harm himself. I will dismiss other defendants because VanDera fails to adequately explain how they violated his rights.

         ALLEGATIONS OF FACT

         Plaintiff Justin W.VanDera is an inmate at the Waupun Correctional Institution. VanDera suffers from mental illness. On December 30, 2015, VanDera had thoughts of self-harm. He was escorted to a holding cell, where he refused to be interviewed by security staff. He was then taken to an observation cell. Several other inmates in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) had to be placed in observation cells that day, and “it was beginning to irritate” staff.

         Sgt. Bullzack decided to place VanDera in cell A-103, which he and other officers referred to as the “poop cell, ” because there was feces on the window, door, walls, and floor and in the food trap. There was also blood and dirt “infesting” the cell. For the next six days, defendants Pawlyk, Beahm, Brockman (all correctional officers), Lt. Tritt, Sgt. Bullzack, Sgt. Kootz, and John and Jane Doe checked on VanDera. VanDera would show them the feces, blood, and dirt in the cell, but despite them saying that they would talk to a supervisor, he was not moved out of his cell for six days. He also says that defendant Bukowski, “RHU Supervisor” and “RHU Programs Supervisor, ” along with some of the defendants listed above, intentionally “placed” him in those conditions. VanDera says he was unable to “maintain a[n] adequate and nutritional diet” over this time, causing him pain, dizziness, and lack of sleep. Eventually he was moved out of the cell.[3]

         On January 31, 2016, VanDera had thoughts of self-harm, so he told defendant Sgt. Tritt about his thoughts. VanDera was taken to a strip cell to talk to a supervisor, and eventually he was taken back to cell A-103. VanDera told defendant Pawlyk that he would not agree to be housed there unless it was cleaned. The cell was cleaned before he was placed back there.

         VanDera asked defendant Sgt. Tritt to be placed in full security restraints because he felt like slamming his head against the door, walls, and window. Sgt. Tritt relayed that request to defendant Lt. Larson, who passed it on to defendant Cpt. Haynes, who in turn passed it on to defendant Miss Halper, the on-call psychologist. Halper denied the request for restraints. All of these defendants knew that VanDera had a history of harming himself by slamming his head against the wall, and that restraints had been used in the past to prevent this.

         Once he was in observation, VanDera started slamming his head against the door, wall, and window, splitting his head open and causing him to bleed. Sgt. Tritt noticed this but walked away. VanDera continued to slam his head against his cell over the next three hours. Defendants Jonathan Pawlyk, Bikowski, [4] Sgt. Kootz, John Doe, and Jane Doe all saw VanDera harm himself over the three-hour period yet did nothing to help him.

         VanDera pushed his emergency call button, which went to defendant Kootz, and Kootz said that he would let his supervisor know about the request. But VanDera did not receive any medical attention until days later.

         At some point, VanDera talked to defendant Dr. Van Buren about inmates harming themselves while in observation. Van Buren told VanDera, “Inmates are allowed to harm themselves, because that is what ...


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