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Williams v. Leslie

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 9, 2018




         Plaintiff Travis Delaney Williams filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated. He claims that certain Wisconsin State Patrol troopers as well as correctional and medical staff at the Racine County Jail violated his constitutional rights through their deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. This matter, recently reassigned to the undersigned judge, is now before the court on the defendants' motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 82, 88, 92. For the following reasons, the defendants' motions will be granted and the case dismissed.


         Before turning to the parties' substantive arguments, the court will first address two preliminary matters. First, Williams filed what appears to be a fourth motion to appoint counsel, days after this case was reassigned to this court. Civil litigants do not have a constitutional or statutory right to appointed counsel. Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 649 (7th Cir. 2007) (en banc); Zarnes v. Rhodes, 64 F.3d 285, 288 (7th Cir. 1995). Yet, district courts have discretion to recruit attorneys to represent indigent parties in appropriate cases pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1). The court must address the following question: given the difficulty of the case, does the plaintiff appear competent to litigate it himself? Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 654-55 (citing Farmer v. Haas, 990 F.2d 319, 321-22 (7th Cir. 1993)). Under the Pruitt standard, Williams has failed to demonstrate a need for court-recruited counsel at this time.

         Williams maintains counsel is warranted because Judge Pepper directed him to review the summary judgment motion with psychological services staff. Due to the limited availability of staff members, however, he did not have the opportunity to do so. Williams also asserts that he did not have glasses until after June 22, 2017, and that he was not given his psychiatric medications. Instead, he was forced to submit a response to the defendants' motions while under many mind-altering illnesses and untreated, chronic, crippling pain. He claims these circumstances warrant court-recruited counsel and require the court to reopen briefing on the defendants' motions for summary judgment. The court notes that Judge Pepper never required Williams to confer with staff before submitting his response to the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Rather, she agreed in her February 13, 2017 order that Williams' attempts to do so and the delay in getting staff to help him warranted an extension of time to respond to the medical defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 120. Even without staff assistance, Williams was able to amply and extensively respond to all three motions for summary judgment. Judge Pepper found in her July 13, 2017 order that the motions for summary judgment were fully briefed and ready for decision. ECF No. 160.

         Williams accepted that the motions were fully briefed for over five months, until he thought he might be able to convince the court to reopen briefing. I will not do so. Williams has revealed an ability to litigate on his own behalf. His filings are neat and his arguments are clear. There is nothing in the record to suggest that Williams does not have the same competence to represent himself as the vast number of other pro se litigants who cannot afford to hire an attorney and are unable to convince one to take his case on a contingent fee basis. I conclude that the difficulty of this case-both factually and legally-did not exceed Williams' capacity to represent himself and file briefs in opposition to the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Accordingly, Williams' motion to appoint counsel will be denied.

         Second, Williams listed several defendants who were identified by their partial names or named as John Does. In a scheduling order entered April 19, 2016, Judge Pamela Pepper, the assigned judge at the time, advised Williams that he had until June 22, 2016 to identify the proper defendants and file an amended complaint naming them. To date, Williams never properly identified Nurse Tom, Nurse Practitioner Jane Doe, or Trooper John Doe. Because he has not identified these defendants in a timely manner, his claims against them will be dismissed with prejudice. Even if Williams had named these defendants, he has not demonstrated a violation of his constitutional rights by either named or unnamed defendants.


         Williams' claims begin with his arrest on May 8, 2013, and include the medical treatment he received following his arrest, at the incident site, at the hospital, and at the Racine County Jail, as well as medical care he received during his time at the Jail in 2013 and 2014.[1]

         A. Pursuit and Arrest

         On May 8, 2013, Williams led law enforcement officials on a high speed chase through Kenosha and Racine Counties. Defendant Derek Bergum, a state trooper employed by Wisconsin State Patrol and the Department of Transportation, was on duty, operating a fully-marked Wisconsin State Patrol cruiser and in full uniform, during the time of the pursuit. Bergum heard about the pursuit on his radio and observed Williams' vehicle headed toward his location on Highway 142, just west of I-94 southbound. He activated his emergency lights and joined the Kenosha County Sheriff's deputy already following Williams. Bergum subsequently became the primary officer pursuing Williams after Kenosha County terminated its pursuit. During the pursuit, Williams traveled at speeds over 100 miles per hour, drove recklessly, and endangered the safety of others. He showed disregard for human life by passing into oncoming traffic, operating left of center, cutting in front of other vehicles after passing, and going through intersections controlled by stop signs. ECF No. 90, ¶¶ 2-8. Ignoring his own blatant and unlawful refusal to comply with the various officers' commands that he pull over and stop his vehicle, Williams suggests that he was forced to engage in this erratic driving due to a renegade, rogue Wisconsin state trooper's actions, though he does not deny the characterization of his driving. ECF No. 127, ¶ 8.

         A state trooper set tire deflation devices at a roundabout Williams was quickly approaching. Williams maneuvered around the deflation devices and continued south onto Highway 45. Bergum contacted dispatch and requested authorization to use the Pursuit Intervention Technique to end the pursuit. Sergeant Rembert approved and authorized the request. A Racine County Sheriff's Deputy, traveling northbound in the southbound lane on Highway 45, forced Williams to slow down and veer around his vehicle. This gave Bergum the opportunity to perform the Pursuit Intervention Technique, bringing Williams to a stop and ending the pursuit. Williams maintains that his car had run out of gas and was coasting when Bergum ran into the side of the car. Id., ¶¶ 9-12.

         Once Williams' vehicle stopped, Bergum exited his car and ordered Williams to exit his vehicle. Bergum and several other law enforcement officers ultimately helped Williams exit the vehicle through his passenger side window. Bergum secured Williams' feet while the other officers handcuffed him and then placed him in Bergum's cruiser and under arrest. When another trooper informed Bergum that Williams complained of neck, back, and leg pain, Bergum contacted dispatch and requested an ambulance. After Williams' arrest, Bergum relinquished his custody to the Racine County Sheriff's Department. An ambulance transported Williams and a Racine County deputy to Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Hospital in Racine. Bergum did not accompany Williams in the ambulance. Instead, he remained at the scene to conduct a search of Williams' vehicle. Id., ¶¶ 13-23.

         B. Hospital

         Bergum arrived at the hospital after searching Williams' vehicle and made contact with the deputies stationed with Williams. The deputies advised Bergum that medical personnel were evaluating Williams. Two Racine County deputies remained at the hospital with Williams and transported him to the Racine County Jail after he received medical clearance.

         Williams' May 8, 2013 hospital chart notes injury to the posterior neck and C-spine, left shoulder, upper back and thoracic spine, right shin, and left shin. ECF No. 103, Ex. 1. The assessment noted that Williams was comfortable, was able to walk with no acute distress, and was able to move all extremities with adequate strength. Id. The emergency department medical doctor reviewed and approved the discharge instructions, diagnosis, and management plan. ECF No. 103, Ex. 2. These discharge instructions indicated that Williams had been evaluated for injuries received in a motor vehicle collision and that the caregiver had not found his injuries serious enough to require hospitalization. ECF No. 148 at 1. The custom instructions from the physician assistant indicated that Williams could take Tylenol or Ibuprofen as needed for pain, recommended gentle stretching and local massage for pain areas, and advised Williams that he should expect to feel more stiff and sore the following day. Id. The instructions advised Williams to return if his conditions worsened or he had any emergencies. Id. They also mentioned examples of situations in which a patient should seek immediate medical care, such as “numbness, tingling, weakness, or problem with the use of your arms or legs.” Id. at 2.

         Bergum does not recall having any contact with Williams during the medical evaluation. Instead, he went to his cruiser, at the request of his sergeant, to immediately complete a synopsis of the incident. Bergum then drove to the Racine County Jail to complete booking. Bergum's only contact with Williams at the Jail occurred after the Racine County deputies transported Williams to the Jail. Bergum approached Williams at his cell and attempted to read Williams his Miranda rights and obtain ...

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