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Williams v. Buhr

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 22, 2017

NICHOLAS BUHR, Defendants.


          WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge

         This court granted pro se plaintiff Quentrell Williams leave to proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on his claims that defendants Nicholas Buhr, Gary Maier, Michael Meisner and Candace Warner acted with deliberate indifference to Williams' serious medical and mental health needs despite his having already engaged in multiple acts of self-harm. Pending before the court are defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (dkt. #21), defendants' Motion to Dismiss for failure to prosecute (dkt. #36), and Williams' motion to voluntarily dismiss this lawsuit without prejudice (dkt. #39). Each motion to dismiss will be denied, but the court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment, given that the undisputed facts do not support a finding that any of the named defendants acted with deliberate indifference. Accordingly, judgment will be entered in defendants' favor.[1]

         At the outset, the court briefly will address the two dismissal motions. As to defendants' motion to dismiss, Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) permits the court to dismiss an action for failure to prosecute, but this “is an extraordinarily harsh sanction, to which courts should resort only in extreme situations, where there is a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct, or whether other less drastic sanctions have proven unavailable.” Dunphy v. McKee, 134 F.3d 1297, 1299 (7th Cir. 1998). The court agrees that Williams' has not been diligent in his efforts to litigate this matter, but beyond Williams' failure to oppose their motion for summary judgment, defendants have not submitted any facts that would suggest that Williams has abandoned this lawsuit or taken steps that appear to be deliberate attempts to delay it. Accordingly, while the court is ultimately closing this matter in defendants' favor, it will do so on the merits and not failure to prosecute grounds.

         For his part, on May 19, 2017, Williams filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss without prejudice all of his actions before this court. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) provides in relevant part: “Except as provided in Rule 41(a)(1) an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” The court has discretion to either grant or deny a motion to voluntarily dismiss action without prejudice. Tolle v. Carroll Touch, Inc., 23 F.3d 174, 177 (7th Cir.1994) (citing FDIC v. Knostman, 966 F.2d 1133, 1142 (7th Cir.1992)). At this stage, dismissal without prejudice would be improper.

         Williams states that he is temporarily in custody at the Dane County Jail, away from all of his legal materials that are currently located in Osceola, Iowa. He explains that he has to serve an 84-day probation sanction in jail and does not want his lawsuits to be dismissed due to his failure to prosecute them. Yet Williams does not explain why the court should not address the merits of defendants' motion for summary judgment, nor does he indicate that he had any plan to respond further to the merits of that motion. Given that defendants have already established that they are entitled to summary judgment, which has now been pending for several months and for which Williams has been given numerous earlier opportunities to respond, dismissal of this lawsuit now, without prejudice, would serve only to unnecessarily delay this dispute to the obvious prejudice to defendants. Accordingly, Williams' motion to dismiss also will be denied, and the court turns to defendants' motion for summary judgment.


         I. Parties

         From October 16, 2013, to January 21, 2014, Williams was an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution (“CCI”). He was released from Wisconsin Department of Correction's (“DOC”) custody on March 1, 2016.

         Defendants are all DOC employees. Michael Meisner was CCI's warden from April 2011 to March 2014. Dr. Gary Maier worked as CCI's psychiatrist from June 2009 to March 2016. Dr. Nicholas Buhr was a licensed psychologist at CCI when Williams was housed there. Candace Warner is a registered nurse who works as the Health Service Manager at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution (“New Lisbon”). For a brief period in early 2014, she also acted as CCI's “Assistant Interim Health Services Manager, ” although she was never stationed there. Finally, Jane Doe is an unnamed CCI nurse.

         II. Psychiatric Evaluations at CCI

         Before arriving at CCI, Williams had been housed at DOC's Secure Program Facility (“WSPF”), where he had been in and out of clinical observation. He had also been evaluated at length by psychiatric staff outside WSPF, including the DOC's Psychiatric Director and one of its consulting psychologists. The consensus of WSPF's psychological services unit (“PSU”) staff, as well as outside staff, was that Williams was a malingerer motivated to engage in behavior that he believed would convince staff that he suffers from a serious psychosis “so that he can be transferred to a different institution and/or . . . allege deliberate indifference.”

         Shortly after arriving at CCI in October of 2013, Williams received a psychological evaluation, including visits by psychological staff on October 23, 28 and 30. The records from those visits also note that his behavior was consistent with “malingered, or exaggerated, psychiatric illness” and that he had previously been diagnosed as malingering. (PSU Record, dkt. #23-1, at 2-3.) At that time, however, CCI's staff did not go so far as to diagnose him formally as a malingerer.[3] (Id.)

         On November 18, 2013, Williams submitted a PSU service request. When Dr. Norge, a Psychological Associate, visited Williams at that time, he told Norge that he needed to go to observation and was hearing voices telling him to harm himself. He also told him that he had a history of cutting, overdosing and eating glass. Williams then began pacing his cell. Dr. Norge tried discussing coping skills with Williams, who kept walking away from the cell door. At that point, Dr. Norge decided to put Williams in clinical observation status and ordered staff observation every 15 minutes.[4]

         As one of CCI's psychologists, Dr. Buhr visited Williams at approximately 8:30 a.m. on November 19, 2013. Before his visit, Dr. Buhr reviewed Williams' file, noting that he had previously made self-harm threats and had suicidal thoughts, but that he had been able to remain safe. Dr. Buhr also noted that when Williams reported hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations, his reports were not consistent with the typical presentations of such symptoms: Williams did not have difficulty dealing with current events; he did not appear to be responding to the hallucinations; and his reports about the hallucinations were inconsistent. Finally, Buhr noted the malingering comments and previous diagnosis, which concluded that there was a reasonable probability that he was feigning psychological illness.

         When Dr. Buhr arrived at his cell, Williams was sleeping, and when awoken, Williams stated that he did not want to talk. Dr. Buhr told him that if they did not talk, he could not assess his safety. Williams replied, “Fine with me.”

         After that interaction, Dr. Buhr ordered that Williams' current status continue with observation every 15 minutes. At approximately 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. that day, November 19, Williams again requested to be seen, which Dr. Buhr did. During those visits, Williams reported hearing voices and stated that similar symptoms had led to his committing acts of self-harm in the past. Although Dr. Buhr attempted to discuss past treatment and coping strategies, Williams repeatedly stated that he did not feel he was receiving treatment. He specifically stated that he had done his part, and it was now PSU's responsibility to help him, which, according to Dr. Buhr, is a common indicator of someone who is not motivated for treatment. Additionally, after discussing his hallucinations, Dr. Buhr continued to believe that Williams may be feigning those symptoms because he was not responding to the voices or reporting them consistently. Williams eventually agreed to try basic distress-tolerance skills to focus away from concerns about his mood and hearing voices. Because Williams did not indicate he could keep himself safe, he still reported hearing voices, and he only agreed to attempt coping exercises at the end of the interaction, Dr. Buhr again concluded that Williams should remain on clinical observation status with observation every 15 minutes.

         The next day. November 20, 2013, at approximately 9:40 a.m., Dr. Buhr followed up with Williams to review his observation placement. Williams reported that “nothing changed from yesterday”; he was still hearing voices and feared for his safety. As a result, Dr. Buhr continued Williams' observation status on the same 15 minute intervals.

         Dr. Buhr saw Williams the next day, November 21, 2013, at approximately 1:30 p.m. This time, Williams reported that he was doing “fine” and did not have an urge to engage in self-harm. Although he reported occasional thoughts of self-harm, Williams also stated they were low in intensity and he felt he could control them. Williams denied having any plan to engage in self-harm, and he said that his mood had improved from the previous days. Dr. Buhr and Williams also discussed treatment, and Williams agreed to see the psychiatrist. Finally, Williams agreed that if he began to have the urge to self-harm, he would inform staff as he had done previously.

         At that point, Dr. Buhr noted several signs he believed put Williams in the low risk category for self-harm: (1) denial of high intensity thoughts of self-harm; (2) denial of self-harm plan; and (3) the presence of future orientation, making future plans, discussing positive changes in mood and active participation in treatment. As a result, Dr. Buhr ordered that Williams be removed from clinical observation status and returned to a regular segregation cell. After his release from observation status, Williams met with Dr. Maier, CCI's resident psychiatrist, that same day about medication. Dr. Maier treated his first examination of Williams on November 21, 2013, as a follow-up to the psychiatric assessment by Dr. Knuppel, the psychiatrist who saw Williams at WSPF.

         Before making his assessment, Dr. Maier spoke with Dr. Buhr about Williams' initial assessment, and he reviewed Williams' records. Like Dr. Buhr, Dr. Maier noted multiple comments by other caregivers at CCI that Williams may be malingering psychosis. In particular, he reviewed Dr. Knuppel's April 23, 2013, report, in which he stated his belief that Williams was highly motivated to convince staff that he had a psychiatric condition that would: (1) disqualify him from placement at WSPF, requiring his transfer; and/or (2) permit him to bring a lawsuit alleging that prison staff were deliberately indifferent to his condition. Dr. Knuppel made a similar note on June 11, 2013, because Williams had been in and out of clinical observation status.

         When Dr. Maier met with Williams, he told Dr. Maier that he was depressed and hearing voices. When Dr. Maier gave him the choice between taking medication for his depression or the voices, Williams stated that he wanted to address the voices. In describing the voices, Williams stated that he hears three voices: a male voice named Jimmy who he converses with and a male and female voice, both of whom say negative things to him. Williams also reported taking various psychotropic medications in the past, including one that had helped, but he could not remember the name of the medication. Williams became argumentative when Maier told Williams that those types of voices are not typical of a person suffering from a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and that it was atypical for Williams not to remember a medication if it helped with voices.

         Despite suspecting that Williams was malingering psychosis, Dr. Maier decided to take Williams at his word and discussed a medication plan with him. Maier prescribed thiothixene, an antipsychotic used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. Specifically, Dr. Maier directed Williams to take a 5 milligram tablet of thiothixene by mouth at night as needed, with a follow-up in two weeks. After Williams told Dr. Maier about his ongoing lawsuit against WSPF, and Dr. Maier assured him that he was devoted to his care and would not let the lawsuit affect Williams' treatment. At that time, even though ...

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