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Schmidt v. Bowens

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 2, 2018

Harry G. Schmidt, JR. Plaintiff,
Nancy Bowens and Christine Fowler, Defendants.


          STEPHEN L. CROCKER Magistrate Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Harry Schmidt, who is incarcerated at Oshkosh Correctional Institution (“OCI”), is proceeding on an Eighth Amendment claim that defendants Nancy Bowens and Christine Fowler were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Specifically, Schmidt alleges that Bowens denied him access to a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for his breathing problems and that Bowens and Fowler failed to provide him with adequate treatment for his back pain. Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 81. I am granting the motion and entering summary judgment in favor of defendants because Schmidt has failed to produce evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that either Bowens or Fowler was deliberately indifferent to Schmidt's breathing problems or back problems.

         I find that the following facts are material and not subject to genuine dispute, unless otherwise indicated:


         Harry Schmidt is an inmate at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. When Schmidt was transferred to OCI from another institution in January 2015, he was 24 years old and had been diagnosed with several psychiatric disorders, chronic headaches and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Schmidt did not have sleep apnea or chronic back pain at that time.

         Defendant Nancy Bowens has been employed by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections as a Licensed Nurse Practitioner in OCI's Health Services Unit since 2001. She has been Schmidt's primary healthcare provider since January 2015.

         Defendant Christine Fowler was employed at OCI as a “Limited Term Employee Nurse Clinician 2 - Weekend” from October 7, 2013 to August 8, 2015.

         On April 30, 2015, Schmidt was evaluated by nursing staff at OCI. His main complaint was GERD, but Schmidt also complained of difficulties sleeping and reported that he needed a fan blowing on him and needed a “bed wedge” to help him sleep. (A bed wedge is a device that helps with snoring and GERD symptoms.) Schmidt was referred to an advanced care provider and was told that an appointment would be scheduled in two weeks.

         On May 19, 2015, Schmidt submitted a health service request, stating that he had back pain from falling out of bed twice the night before. He was seen and evaluated by Nurse Fowler, who noted that Schmidt had no apparent abnormalities, was alert and oriented, was not visibly injured, had a strong and steady gait, had full range of motion and was able to bend over with his fingers six inches from the ground. Fowler treated Schmidt's back pain with a muscle rub and acetaminophen. Although Schmidt asked for an x-ray and to see a doctor, Fowler did not believe that any additional treatment was necessary and did not refer Schmidt to an advanced care provider. Fowler advised Schmidt to submit a health services request if his symptoms did not improve, but she is not aware of Schmidt submitting any such request. Bowens was not involved in this initial treatment of Schmidt's back pain.

         On June 6, 2015, Schmidt submitted a health services request asking when he was going to be seen about a bed wedge and a CPAP machine. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder involving the repeated stopping and starting of an individual's breathing, and a common treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP therapy, by which a ventilation device-a CPAP machine-is used to keep the individual's airway continuously open through the application of air pressure.

         On June 24, 2015, Bowens saw Schmidt and ordered a bed wedge for him. Bowens also adjusted Schmidt's headache medication and told Schmidt to let health services staff know whether these interventions relieved his symptoms. The clinical note for this appointment does not state that Schmidt talked about a CPAP machine. Schmidt did not follow-up with health services staff about the effectiveness of the bed wedge.

         Bowens next saw Schmidt on July 15, 2015 for headaches. At this appointment Schmidt expressed his interest in a CPAP machine and reported that he had undergone a sleep study at Mercy Medical Center in 2011. Bowens wrote an order for staff to obtain the study results. On July 23, 2015, Bowens directed staff to notify Schmidt that his 2011 sleep apnea results were “normal, ” meaning that they were negative for sleep apnea. Bowens believes that the “Problem List” in Schmidt's medical chart was updated around this time to indicate that he had undergone a sleep study in 2011 that was negative for sleep apnea. Although the study results state that plaintiff had difficulty falling and staying asleep during the testing, they also make clear that “[t]he patient does not have sleep apnea.” Dkt. 84, exh. 1 at 12. There are no notations in Schmidt's medical chart showing that he complained to Bowens about waking up gasping for breath or being short of breath-the symptoms that prompted the sleep study in 2011-or about any other symptoms of sleep apnea.


         I. Summary ...

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