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Williams v. Syed

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 8, 2018

DR. SALAM SYED, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Travis D. Williams, a prisoner in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, previously filed a complaint that included at least six unrelated claims against different defendants in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. As a result, this court permitted Williams the opportunity to amend his complaint. Although Williams' amended complaint still names an undue number of defendants -- thirty -- it is focused on one of the groups of claims outlined in his original complaint: the medical care he received at one institution. Accordingly, his amended complaint meets the requirements of Rule 20 and is now ready for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For reasons explained below, Williams will be permitted to proceed against some of the named defendants on claims under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.


         I. Parties

         Williams is presently confined at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (“WSPF”), but the allegations in his amended complaint took place while he was incarcerated at Columbia Correctional Institution (“CCI”). All of the named defendants were employed at CCI during the relevant time period: Drs. Salam Syed, Vickrey, Woods, Norge, Persike, White, Stange, Hoescht and Gambaro; CCI's Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) coordinator Schmidt; Officers Bittleman, Roeker, Knapp, Rhode and Roberts; Unit Manager Fry; the warden's secretary Anderson; nurses Kathleen Whalen, Trisha Anderson, Kari Newberry, Melissa Thorne, Denise Valerius, Meredith Mashak, Chris DeYoung, Candace Warner and Jessie; and other employees Walters, Linda O'Donovan Alsom, Bittleman, Tim Ziegler and Rachel Pafford.

         Plaintiff Williams' allegations span from when he first arrived at CCI in 2015 to 2017. During this time, he alleges claims arising out of a number of mental and physical health issues that the professional care team at CCI regularly and inadequately treated, as well as claims regarding the conditions of his confinement. The following is the timeline of the care provided for his physical and mental health issues, then a separate discussion of his conditions of confinement allegations.

         II. Transfer to CCI

         On May 5, 2015, Williams was first transferred to CCI from the Dodge Correctional Institution. Because he was unable to walk up or down stairs or to walk without a cane or walker, Williams was taken to a special management unit upon arrival. His walker was also immediately confiscated, and he was given a wheelchair despite complaining that he could not use a wheelchair because he has limited use of his left arm after a muscle reattachment surgery.

         In addition, all of his medications were taken and sent to the Health Services Unit (“HSU”). By May 9, 2015, some four days later, Williams still had not received the medications he takes for high blood pressure, reflux, schizophrenia and hallucinations, constipation and a lesion. On May 9 and again on May 16, Williams requested his medications on Health Service Request (“HSR”) forms. Williams acknowledged then receiving responses from nurses Anderson, Whalen, Valerius and Mashak, and being provided both a wheelchair and a walker, but alleges that “everything else was deliberately ignored.” During this same time period, Williams also wrote to Dr. Vickrey to ask for his psychotropic medications because he was experiencing hallucinations. Vickrey responded that he would not yet prescribe the medications because they had still not met, but that the nurses could administer the medications if they had been prescribed for him.

         On May 21, 2015, now some 12 days after all medications had been stopped, Williams allegedly told Dr. Valerius that he was still not receiving his medications since his transfer to CCI, but Valerius did not see those prescriptions in his medical file. Williams received most of his medications three days later, while continuing to submit HSR's requesting the remaining medications and to see a doctor for pain in his shoulder, feet, back, neck, legs and knees. In particular, Williams continued to request but did not receive an ointment he used to treat a sore in his nose until June of 2015. When he received that ointment, Williams used it up quickly and requested a refill, but Anderson, Valerius, Whalen and Mashak were again allegedly unresponsive. Indeed, Williams alleges he had to wait until August of 2015 to get the ointment refilled, which was by then unhelpful because his sore had gotten so much worse.

         During this time Williams was further submitting HSR for shoes that properly fit his feet, explaining that he needed special sizing because his feet are two different sizes. Allegedly, Williams submitted a special needs request in July of 2015, but ultimately he was denied the requested shoes, which caused him heel spurs in both feet and a bunion. At that time, Williams was seen by Dr. Hoescht, who discussed physical therapy. Williams told Dr. Hoescht that the exercises previously prescribed for him did not work and actually made his condition worse, he also told Dr. Hoescht that his shoes did not fit and asked for use of a wheelchair, orthotics, a knee sleeve and heel pads, which he had received while at Dodge Correctional. Allegedly, Dr. Hoescht replied that he could not provide him with a wheelchair or get him any of the other items he requested.

         On August 13, 2015, Dr. Syed examined Williams, who concluded that Williams did not need his t-band, knee sleeve, arch supports and kneepads. Williams told him about the sore in his nose and that his shoes did not fit, causing a heel spur. Dr. Syed responded by giving him ibuprofen and skin cream, and ordering an ultrasound. Further, Dr. Syed told Williams that he wanted physical therapy to explain why he needed a wheelchair and walker.

         After this appointment, Williams asked for his ibuprofen and skin cream, but Nurse Whalen allegedly told him that there was no such order and that there would be no follow up appointment because Williams had threatened the doctor. According to Williams, however, Whalen actually refused his requests because Williams had previously filed inmate complaints against Nurse Anderson, Unit Manager Fry, Dr. Vickrey and her for their decisions denying his requests for medications and special shoes.[2]

         In September of 2015, Williams claims he was forced to walk to the law library, and he collapsed on the way. Drs. Gambraro and Norge saw this and asked if he needed help. At that point, staff helped him into a wheelchair and brought him to see Nurse DeYoung, who took his vitals and asked him questions about his health. Williams claims that his chest was hurting throughout their conversation, and he told DeYoung that he was too weak to go back to the unit, but that she ignored these complaints.

         On another occasion in September of 2015, Williams claims he was temporarily held in Kenosha County, where he sustained a hand injury from banging on a glass window. Upon his return to CCI, Williams was taken in a wheelchair to the HSU for treatment when Nurse DeYoung was working. Williams claims DeYoung then wheeled him out of the examination room, telling him to submit an HSR to be seen. Between September and November, Williams submitted numerous HSR's that went unanswered. Finally, Williams had an off-site x-ray in December of 2015. During that transport Williams was placed in handcuffs and required to sit in a wheelchair. Upon his return to the HSU, however, DeYoung again tried to take away his wheelchair and only gave it back to him after a guard insisted that it had been ordered by the shift commander.

         III. Decision to Transfer to General Population

         In October of 2015, Unit Manager Fry, Nurse Whalen, Dr. Vickrey and Dr. Stange were involved in a decision to remove Williams from the special management unit, a decision Williams claims was in retaliation for his inmate complaints against them. Inmates on mental health status received a number of benefits, including additional money, more counseling every week, and priority group counseling. Williams not only claims that the defendants refused to acquire his previous mental health records that would confirm that he needed to be placed in the special management unit, but that only white inmates are placed in that unit.

         More specifically, Williams alleges that while in the health care unit on a pass, he spoke directly with Dr. Stange about his placement. When Williams asked why he could not be on mental health status, Stange allegedly surveyed the room and told him to “look around.” When Williams saw only white inmates, he asked Stange if she meant that only white inmates are placed on the special management unit.[3] After this conversation, Williams wrote to Dr. Woods, and it appears that Dr. Woods agreed with Dr. Stange's statement about the unit placement. Finally, once Williams was in the general population, he asked Dr. Gambaro to be sent back to the special management unit, but Dr. Gambaro refused, allegedly believing that Williams was only trying to be sent there for the special privileges.

         IV. Treatment in General Population

         While in general population, Dr. Vickrey proposed taking Williams off some of his psychiatric medications, ostensibly because it was causing his cholesterol to rise. Williams allegedly objected that he needed his medications to stay mentally stable and that he had assaulted others in the past when not on medication. He also told Dr. Vickrey that he suffered from hallucinations and auditory impairments, suicidal and homicidal thoughts, a history of physical aggression, schizophrenia and chronic mental illness. Regardless, Dr. Vickrey took him off certain medications. Afterward, Williams wrote to Dr. Woods, who refused to place him on special management.

         While in general population, Fry and Stange also allegedly denied Williams' requests for a wheelchair and/or walker. This caused Williams to have to slide down the stairs and seek help to go up the stairs. As a result of his difficulties getting around and continued inability to receive responses to his HSRs, Williams injured his shoulder.

         In October of 2015, Williams went to the HSU complaining to Nurse Newberry about his nose sore. She told him not to scratch it and to try to pinch his nose when it started bleeding. He also complained about his shoulder, feet and testicle pain, all of which she refused to address. Williams saw Newberry at a later date about his nose again, at which point Newberry told him she would make sure he received his medication, but then gave him the wrong medication. As a result, Williams continued to suffer nose pain until February of 2016, when he was finally seen by a health care professional at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

         From October of 2015 through January of 2016, Williams further saw Dr. Syed several times for various ailments, including back, feet, testicle and nose pain. Dr. Syed ordered ultrasounds and tried different types of topical treatments for his nose sore, but did not order a CT or MRI. Instead, he prescribed “neurological testing.” In February of 2016, Williams spoke to the warden about Dr. Syed ignoring his complaints -- in particular, his complaints about his nose sore and testicle pain. The warden looked at his nose, and apparently the next day he was taken to see an otolaryngologist (“ENT”) at UW-Madison, who used a special procedure to address the infected sore on his nose and afterwards prescribed him antibiotic pills and triple antibiotic ointment. However, when Williams went back to CCI, Nurses Whalen, Anderson and Newberry allegedly denied him the antibiotic ointment that the ENT had prescribed, along with the pills, which caused the infection to come back.

         V. Meeting with HSU and Subsequent Treatment

         Williams then wrote to the warden that the HSU staff were ignoring his requests for care, prompting the warden to set up a meeting between Williams and the HSU Manager. That meeting was originally scheduled to take place in May 2016, but was pushed back until July 14, 2016. While waiting, Williams claims he was unable to get any sort of medical treatment, allegedly as a result of actions of CCI Officer Bittleman. Williams alleges Bittleman acted in retaliation for his complaints against him. In particular, in April of 2016, Bittleman was allegedly responsible for cancelling Williams' optometrist appointment, teeth cleaning, and psychologist appointment.

         During the rescheduled July 14 meeting with HSU, Williams allegedly presented Candace Warner with his “list” of approximately 40 health-related issues. Warner then told Williams that she would set up “a series of appointments” to address his concerns, and it appears that Williams went to these appointments, including with Dr. Syed. The purpose of the appointment with Dr. Syed was to examine Williams' nose, renew any necessary medications and set up a sleep study to see whether he needed a CPAP machine. Dr. Syed told Williams that his nose looked fine. Nurse DeYoung, who was in the room for this appointment allegedly gave Williams the middle finger as he was leaving. Moreover, Dr. Syed allegedly saw DeYoung do this, and he did nothing.

         After reporting this incident to the warden, Williams was then placed in segregation. While in segregation, Williams was unable to get mental health treatment, even though he wrote to Dr. Persike repeatedly for treatment. It also appears during this time that Williams met with Dr. White, the supervisor of the psychology department, who told Williams that he needed to submit his medication requests to a psychiatrist instead of him. At some point, Williams was examined by a doctor who prescribed him some psychotropic medications, then ...

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