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Walker v. Cox

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 6, 2017

LA'MONT WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
BURTON COX, SONYA ANDERSON, JOLINDA WATERMAN, CARRIE SUTTER, JONI SHANNON-SHARPE, and JERRY SWEENEY, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se plaintiff La'Mont Walker, an inmate at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF), brings Eighth Amendment claims against Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) employees for their alleged failure to provide him an extra mattress and other accommodations for his chronic back pain. The parties have filed dueling motions for summary judgment, and Walker has filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief.[1] I will deny Walker's summary judgment motion and grant defendants' summary judgment motion regarding most of Walker's claims. But I will stay a decision on portions of Walker's claim against defendant Burton Cox and have the parties present supplemental briefing on how Cox responded to Walker's back problem for certain periods of Walker's incarceration. Also, I will deny Walker's motion for preliminary injunctive relief.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The following facts are drawn from the parties' summary judgment materials, and are undisputed unless noted otherwise.

         A. Parties

         Pro se plaintiff La'Mont Walker has been confined by the DOC at WSPF from December 2010 to the present. Defendant Burton Cox is a DOC physician who worked at WSPF from January 2003 until July 2015. The remaining defendants are employees at WSPF and were members of at least one of the “Special Needs Committees” that reviewed Walker's requests for an extra mattress. Defendant Sonya Anderson is a nurse, defendant Jolinda Waterman is the nursing supervisor, defendant Carrie Sutter is the financial program supervisor, defendant Joni Shannon-Sharpe is a lieutenant, and defendant Jerry Sweeney is the security director.

         B. Walker's interactions with defendant Cox

         Walker suffers from chronic back pain.[2] In 2011 and 2012 he complained verbally to defendant Cox that the segregation mattresses were giving him back pain and requested an extra mattress.

         On July 31, 2013, Walker submitted a health service request (HSR) form, complaining of lower back pain “for quite some time” due to the mattresses. Cox responded that the Special Needs Committee decides extra mattress requests. There is no indication that Cox referred Walker's request to the Special Needs Committee. I discuss the Special Needs Committee's policies and its decisions regarding Walker's requests below.

         On May 8, 2014, Cox saw Walker for complaints of spine pain. Cox assessed Walker with “chronic pain at the junction of the thoracic and lumbar spine due to musculoskeletal causes.” Cox ordered an x-ray, referred Walker to physical therapy, and noted that he did not prescribe NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) because they upset Walker's stomach. From July 8, 2014 to August 19, 2014, Walker had five sessions of physical therapy. After the fifth session, the therapist noted that Walker was rehabilitated to his maximum potential and that no further progress was expected from physical therapy.

         On August 27, 2014, Walker submitted an HSR form, complaining of back pain. Cox responded that his back issue was not a surgical problem, leaving physical therapy as the treatment option. Cox also noted that medications were not of much use and that Walker could not have a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit while in segregation, because the units have batteries that can generate an electrical charge.

         On October 20, 2014, Cox saw Walker for a follow up regarding his back pain. Cox noted that Walker's x-rays were unremarkable, that Walker had five physical therapy visits with no benefit, and that Walker could have a TENS unit when he was back in general population. Cox did not order further physical therapy for Walker.

         On November 23, 2014, Walker submitted an HSR form, complaining of back pain and requesting an extra mattress. Cox referred Walker's request to the Special Needs Committee. The Special Needs Committee denied Walker's request on January 22, 2015.

         While Walker's mattress request was pending before the Special Needs Committee, he had several interactions with Cox. On December 4 and 17, 2014, Walker submitted HSR forms, asking for a TENS unit and an extra mattress. Cox responded that the issue had already been addressed. On January 7, 2015, Walker submitted an HSR form, stating that he had been discharged from physical therapy and asking about additional sessions. Cox responded that inmates get six initial sessions and the physical therapist can add six more if they request it, but that this wasn't warranted in Walker's case, due to his lack of progress.

         On May 24, 2015, Walker submitted an HSR form, complaining of chronic back pain and requesting a back brace and theraband. Cox responded that he did not recommend back braces and that therabands are usually ordered through physical therapy. Walker again requested a theraband in an HSR form submitted June 1, 2015, and Cox granted this request on June 5, 2015. Cox left WSPF in July 2015.

         C. Walker's requests to the Special Needs Committee

         Prior to filing his complaint, Walker's requests for an extra mattress were referred to the Special Needs Committee (“the committee”) three times.

         Prescribing practitioners do not directly order certain “special needs” or “comfort” items for inmates at WSPF. Instead, they refer the requests to the committee, which has the authority to grant or deny the requests. Items that must be requested include extra mattresses, extra pillows, crutches, and disposable medical items, as well as beard trimmers and non-standard shoes. The committee has rotating membership but it usually consists of members such as the segregation unit manager, nurses, unit ...


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