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Williams v. Schmidt

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 14, 2017

DEREK M. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. SCHMIDT, DR. BREEN, DR. HAMILTON, and DR. OLBINSKI, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON, District Judge

         Plaintiff Derek Williams, an inmate at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, brings claims that psychological staff at the prison failed to properly treat his mental illness and that defendant Todd Hamilton placed him in unconstitutionally harsh conditions of confinement during two stints in “observation” status. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Williams's claims. After considering the parties' summary judgment materials, I will dismiss only a subset of Williams's medical care claims: his claims against defendant Hamilton and his claims against defendant Steven Schmidt for the second half of the time period at issue here. Because the parties have not fully briefed issues regarding Williams's conditions of confinement and qualified immunity, I will defer a ruling on his conditions-of-confinement claims and the remainder of his medical care claims, pending supplemental briefing by the parties.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Except where noted, the following facts are undisputed.

         A. Parties

         Plaintiff Derek Williams is an inmate in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), who has been incarcerated at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) since 2006. Defendants Steven Schmidt, Martha Breen, Todd Hamilton, and Katie Olbinski were employed as psychologists at GBCI. Schmidt was the psychology supervisor.

         B. Observation cells

         Williams's medical care claims concern his mental health treatment from 2010 to 2014. Williams spent most of the first two years in the segregation unit.[1] He spent parts of the first two years in general population and then almost all of the last three years in general population. Williams's conditions-of-confinement claims concern two periods he spent in observation status in 2011: January 31 to February 10, and March 21 to May 16.

         When prison officials decide that they need to take immediate steps to prevent an inmate from harming himself, they may place the inmate in observation status in cells in the segregation unit area. Observation status is a “very restrictive status” under which psychological staff ensures that an inmate does not have any property with which he could harm himself or others. Psychological staff also controls the privileges afforded a prisoner in observation status. Staff visually checks on the inmate at least every 15 minutes.

         The segregation unit consists of four wings and a central control station (the bubble) that looks down each wing. Each wing consists of a hallway with cells on either side facing each other. There are cells at the “front” of the wings, closest to the bubble, used for inmates on observation status. Unlike the segregation cells, the cells used for observation do not have a mattress, pillow, or interior light switch used to switch from the normal cell lights to the dimmer “safety light.”

         C. Psychological procedures

         Psychological Services Unit (PSU) staff conduct routine rounds in the segregation unit, in which they go to the cell front and talk to the inmates. Rounds are generally conducted every week, but psychological staff may see an inmate more frequently if staff or the inmate requests to be seen.

         If an inmate requires non-emergency psychological attention, he must submit a Psychological Services Request. Inmates are informed that, if they need to see psychological staff immediately, they need to alert unit staff of their problem or concern. If the request is urgent or emergent in nature, arrangements will be made for a same-day or immediate evaluation as determined by PSU staff.

         Psychologists meet with inmates for clinical contacts that focus on diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical contacts last approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour. Unless the inmate requests to see a clinician for a specific issue, the clinician will ask the inmate what he wants to talk about, and what is currently impacting his mental health. After discussion, the clinician will make a plan to address the issues stated. Psychiatrists, not psychologists, prescribe and manage psychotropic medications.

         GBCI psychologists have the discretion to refer any patient to the Wisconsin Resource Center (WRC), which is a mental health facility operated by the Department of Health Services. The fact that a patient is referred to WRC does not mean that WRC will accept the patient. WRC has the discretion to determine which patients it will accept, and GBCI psychological services staff have no power to compel them to accept a particular patient.

         There are also several part-time psychiatrists who are responsible for the assessment and diagnosis of GBCI inmates' psychiatric conditions, and the prescription and management of psychotropic medications to inmates.

         D. Williams's background and treatment

         Williams has been diagnosed with a host of different mental illnesses during his incarceration, but Williams's expert, Kenneth I. Robbins (a psychiatrist) has diagnosed Williams with Borderline Personality Disorder and Unspecified Anxiety Disorder.[2] Defendants do not dispute this diagnosis. Williams also says that he has “struggled with depression.” Defendants respond that he did not have a depression diagnosis, but it is clear from the record that defendants have treated him for “depressive symptoms.” Before his DOC incarceration, Williams attempted to kill himself in September 1997 while he was confined at the Milwaukee County Jail.

         In 2003, while Williams was incarcerated at the Waupun Correctional Institution, one of his psychologists, Alice Acor, initiated a sexual relationship with him, even though she was ethically obligated not to have sexual contact with her patients. Williams was afraid to say no to Acor's advances. Williams was worried that if the relationship were discovered he would be accused of sexually assaulting Acor because she was a female staff member and he was a male inmate.[3] After several months, the DOC discovered the relationship. Acor was suspended, and she later committed suicide.

         After Williams learned of Acor's suicide, he withdrew from others and felt very depressed. He was transferred to the Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) in March 2004. While at CCI, Williams struggled to process Acor's death. Williams had difficulty sleeping, lost his appetite, had difficulty concentrating, and began to see and hear hallucinations or “flashbacks” of Acor. Williams continues to hear and see Acor and has repeatedly reported this to the psychologists he has seen, including defendants. All of the defendants are aware of the events involving Williams and Acor.

         Because of the events involving Acor, Williams no longer trusts female psychologists and is concerned that they would perceive him negatively because of his past with Acor. He believes that Breen and Olbinski are “biased” against him because of those events. Schmidt wrote an email stating, “I have, in fact, heard clinicians here talk about Williams in quite negative terms and basically saying they don't think they can take him at face value. To me, that did reflect some lack of objectivity on their part. I think some of the female clinicians here did view him more negatively because of the events at WCI.” Dkt. 67, at 24. While at GBCI, Williams made repeated requests to defendant Schmidt to be assigned to a male psychologist, but Schmidt did not believe it was clinically necessary for Williams to be seen only by male clinicians or that he should be transferred to another institution to be treated by other, male staff. He was confident that his staff would act professionally.

         While incarcerated at GBCI, Williams attempted suicide on four separate occasions:

• January 31, 2011: Williams cut his arm and neck with a razor blade
• February 1, 2011: Williams cut his arm with a razor blade
• February 7, 2011: Williams made numerous cuts on both arms and wrists with a razor blade
• December 31, 2011: Williams attempted to cut his throat with a razor blade

         Williams spent nine stints in observation status during the events relevant to this case, all between January 2011 and January 2012, totaling about 90 days. For each of those observation periods, PSU staff interacted with Williams on a daily basis. Williams states that these “cellside” contacts were only about five minutes long, were limited to a discussion of whether he was suicidal, and were not private. He was also seen by the DOC's director of psychological services, Gary Ankarlo, during his longest period on observation status (about two months from March to May 2011).

         During the times Williams was in the segregation unit, not counting his observation time, he was seen by psychologists 26 times out of his cell. Sixteen of these contacts were solo, private meetings with female psychologists, defendants Breen and Olbinski. Four were group sessions with Breen. Six were solo, private meetings with defendant Hamilton. PSU staff also conducted weekly rounds. He also had 12 “cellside” meetings with Breen, Olbinski, or Hamilton.

         Williams was housed in general population for the rest of the times relevant to this case. During those times, he was seen by psychologists in solo, private meetings 35 times. Thirteen of those meetings were with Breen or Olbinski. The final private meeting Williams had with a female psychologist was June 5, 2012, with Olbinski. After that, all of Williams's private meetings were with Schmidt. He also had five “cellside” contacts with Breen or Olbinski, all occurring in 2011.

         Defendants memorialized their meetings with Williams on “Psychological Services Clinical Contact” forms, which generally included sections for the psychologist to explain reasons for the contact, relevant history, observations of the prisoner, diagnoses, and the treatment plan or follow up. According to Hamilton, his meetings with Williams “generally focused on Williams's current mental status and talking through issues.” Olbinski says that her therapy focused on “having him learn coping strategies, distress tolerance skills, and other various therapeutic techniques to help him with his depression.” Olbinski says that Williams periodically would “either refuse to participate or change the subject and deviate from the topic” which she believed meant that Williams “[was] not taking the information internally and wanting to work for change.” Schmidt says that during his sessions with Williams, they “discussed his current mental state, coping strategies and perceived barriers to treatment progress.” Williams says that any time he met with defendants Olbinski and Breen in their office without any other persons present, he became very anxious and was unable to focus. However, Olbinski and Breen at times noted that he did not appear to be in any distress.

         During the times relevant to this case, Williams had about 40 sessions with psychiatrists. The parties do not dispute that the psychiatric medications prescribed to Williams were appropriate ...


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