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Blanck v. Baenen

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 20, 2018


          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Walter Blanck is a prisoner incarcerated at the Green Bay Correctional Institution. In this consolidated lawsuit, [2] he brings claims that prison officials failed to properly treat his spine curvature and arthritis that required medication and hot baths, at least in part because they meant to retaliate against him for his long history of filing inmate grievances. He also alleges that a correctional officer intentionally allowed a violent inmate to attack him. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment.

         I will deny summary judgment on Blanck's claim that defendant Sumnicht denied him hot baths to ease his arthritis pain. But I will grant the rest of defendants' summary judgment motion. Blanck fails to provide facts that could lead a reasonable jury to infer that any of the other defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights with regard to his medical care, or that any of the defendants retaliated against him for his grievance history. I also conclude that Blanck's failure-to-protect claim against the officer who allegedly allowed Blanck to be attacked must be dismissed because it is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.


         Plaintiff Walter Blanck is an inmate at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI). Defendants all worked at GBCI for at least part of the time during the events discussed in this case. Defendant Paul Sumnicht is a physician. Defendant Kathy Lemens is a registered nurse. Defendants Wayne Laufenberg and Valerie Beverly were sergeants. Defendants Daniel McDonald and Joseph Verdegan were “Correctional Officers II.” Michael Baenen was the warden.

         Blanck suffers from a variety of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart beat, elevated cholesterol, and back and joint pain caused by abnormal curvature of the back and arthritis.

         On July 5, 2005, Blanck was assaulted by an inmate nicknamed “Psycho” Coleman. Blanck sustained injuries, including facial bruises and cuts and a fractured nose requiring surgery. Blanck alleges that defendant Verdegan knew that Coleman was a violent inmate, that Blanck was known in the prison as an informant, and that Verdegan provoked Coleman to attack Blanck, allowed Coleman access to Blanck, and allowed Coleman to attack Blanck.

         Between May 2009 and November 2015, Blanck filed 202 inmate grievances on a wide range of issues. Grievances are kept confidential to a certain extent, but because complaint examiners often consult with prison officials about the disputes that are the subject of the grievances, prison officials often gain knowledge about grievances. Blanck was known by officials to complain often about his conditions of confinement and treatment in prison.

         At some point during his time at GBCI, Blanck was allowed to take hot baths to ease his arthritis pain from his curved spine. Blanck filed two grievances in January 2010 about defendant Verdegan denying him a pass to use the baths, but both grievances were dismissed after it was discovered that Blanck's name was not on the “pass list” at that time.

         The parties dispute whether the baths were merely a substitute for showers that he could not reach without using stairs, or a necessary medical treatment for his pain. A doctor at GBCI discontinued the baths in June 2010. When defendant Dr. Sumnicht arrived at GBCI in 2012, he treated Blanck for his various medical conditions, including arthritis. Sumnicht did not re-order the baths for Blanck, instead focusing on treatment with medication, including methadone. Sumnicht believes that Blanck could function without the baths, Blanck did not need to avoid climbing stairs, and he thought that Blanck might be malingering. Blanck's expert, Dr. Paul A. Searles, DO, states that the lack of hot baths likely made Blanck's arthritis pain worse, and that the baths are “reasonable and necessary for his problems.” Dkt. 135-2, at 3.


         To succeed on their motion for summary judgment, defendants must show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the merits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Brummet v. Sinclair Broad. Grp., Inc., 414 F.3d 686, 692 (7th Cir. 2005). All reasonable inferences supported from the facts in the summary judgment record must be drawn in Blanck's favor as the nonmoving party. Baron v. City of Highland Park, 195 F.3d 333, 338 (7th Cir. 1999). If Blanck fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which he will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment for defendants is proper. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         A. Medical care

         Blanck brings claims that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to give him appropriate treatments for his various maladies. More specifically, he organizes his claims as follows:

• Defendant Dr. Sumnicht refused to provide “these treatments, ” claiming that Blanck did not meet ...

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