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Brown v. Eck

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 9, 2018

DEVIN L. BROWN, Plaintiff,
JAMES ECK, Defendant.


          J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Court

         Plaintiff Devin L. Brown (“Brown”), a prisoner, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant James Eck (“Eck”), a correctional officer at Green Bay Correctional Institution (“GBCI”). Brown alleges that Eck was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docket #22, #26). For the reasons stated below, Eck's motion will be granted, Brown's motion will be denied, and the case will be dismissed.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that the court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit” under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., 815 F.3d 356, 360 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must not weigh the evidence presented or determine credibility of witnesses; the Seventh Circuit instructs that “we leave those tasks to factfinders.” Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2010). The party opposing summary judgment “need not match the movant witness for witness, nor persuade the court that [his] case is convincing, [he] need only come forward with appropriate evidence demonstrating that there is a pending dispute of material fact.” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921 (7th Cir. 1994).

         2. RELEVANT FACTS[1]

         This case concerns an interaction between Brown and Eck in the early morning hours of September 13, 2015, while Brown was incarcerated in Dorm A at GBCI. Eck was assigned to Dorm A for the third shift, from 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 12 until 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, September 13. Medical staff were not present at the prison from midnight until around 5:30 a.m. that Sunday, although they were always available by phone.

         Eck and another officer were supervising 111 inmates on Dorm A during this shift. Dorm A is a dormitory style wing, with rows of beds occupying the center of a large open room. The inmates are not contained in individual cells. Upon entering Dorm A, there is an officer in the control center who opens and closes the doors. This officer is located on the same level as the bunks. There is also a sergeant and a second officer who sit at an elevated desk above the bunk area with a view of the bunks as well as the shower and dayroom. If an inmate wishes to communicate with staff, he can get out of his bunk and walk to the officer in the control center, or to the sergeant's station.

         During third shift on September 12, Eck was at times the officer sitting with the sergeant at the elevated desk and at other times actively patrolling the inmates' sleeping area. Around 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, Eck was seated at the sergeant's desk with another officer, Sergeant Spoerl.[2]

         Brown approached Eck and told him he was not feeling well. The parties dispute exactly what Brown said, but Brown claims that he reported having “throbbing” chest and back pain and difficulty breathing. (Docket #27 ¶ 1). Eck denies that Brown said this. In any event, Eck did not observe Brown sweating, having difficulty breathing, or showing any other behaviors that would indicate he was in pain, despite the fact that Brown was approximately five to six feet in front of Eck.

         Eck did not inquire further about Brown's condition. Instead, he told Brown that the nursing staff had left the institution as of midnight. Brown alleges that Eck then told Brown he would “have to wait.” Id. ¶ 2. Brown then walked back to his bunk, and Eck observed that he did so without apparent difficulty. Brown did not approach the sergeant's desk or the control officer's desk for the rest of the shift to report that he was not feeling well or otherwise indicate that he wanted medical attention. Eck conducted two sets of rounds during that shift after Brown had approached him. During those rounds, Brown did not repeat to Eck that he was not feeling well or indicate in any way that he wanted medical attention. Eck was also able to observe the entire sleeping area both from his position at the sergeant's desk and while he was patrolling the sleeping area, and Brown did not catch Eck's attention from Brown's bed that night in a manner suggesting that Brown was in distress (e.g., thrashing, sitting up or standing, calling out, etc.). None of the other officers on the third shift observed Brown having any health issue that night, either. See (Docket #40 ¶ 17).

         Nevertheless, Brown claims that he suffered “unbearable pain” until the morning shift change. (Docket #25 ¶ 4). He asserts that he “chose not to be disruptive after following the proper steps to seek medical attention.” (Docket #35 at 3).

         Eck's shift ended at 6:00 a.m. Around the time of the shift change, Brown spoke with the next shift's sergeant assigned to Dorm A. That sergeant called the Health Services Unit (“HSU”) of the prison, which by that time was staffed, and relayed Brown's report that he was having problems breathing. Brown alleges this occurred at around 5:30 a.m., while documents suggest it occurred at around 8:15 a.m. Brown also filled out an HSU request for care and delivered it to the nurse who was making her regular rounds at 6:45 a.m. The nurse did not deem it necessary to give Brown immediate medical attention. Instead, Brown was added to the sick call list and was seen the next morning on Monday, September 14.

         At that appointment, Brown reported pain in his back and his right side. He claimed that he did not suffer an acute injury and had been trying to stretch the affected area. He reported that it hurt to lay down. The nurse examined Brown and concluded that he displayed no acute distress, had an even and steady gait, had no visual or palpable abnormalities on his back, side, or chest, and had no redness or swelling. The nurse also assessed that Brown had no apparent abnormalities relating to his psychological condition, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, or musculoskeletal system. The nurse diagnosed “alteration in comfort, ” meaning pain, provided ibuprofen and a muscle rub, and told Brown to rest. The nurse deemed a referral to an advanced care provider unnecessary. Although a follow-up appointment with nursing staff was apparently scheduled for one week later, Brown was not seen again, and did not request to be seen again, regarding this ailment.

         3. ...

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