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Vargas v. Mann

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

August 1, 2018


          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         Plaintiff Conrad Lee Vargas, a state of Wisconsin inmate currently confined at the Columbia Correctional Institution, brings this lawsuit about the severe injury he suffered while working in the metal shop at the Jackson Correctional Institution. Vargas cut his hand with an angle grinder after the grinder kicked back from the metal conduit he was cutting. It turned out that the vise Vargas used to secure the conduit was badly damaged, contributing to the accident.

         Vargas brings Eighth Amendment and Wisconsin-law negligence claims against prison officials who he says knew that the vise was damaged. He also brings Eighth Amendment claims against prison grievance examiners who denied his grievance about inadequate pain treatment following his injury. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Vargas's claims. Dkt. 24.

         I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on Vargas's claims against the grievance examiners because he fails to show that any of them were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. But I will give Vargas a chance to supplement his summary judgment materials regarding his claims about the dangerous conditions in the metal shop.


         The following facts are drawn from the parties' summary judgment materials and are undisputed unless noted otherwise.

         Plaintiff Conrad Lee Vargas is a state of Wisconsin inmate. This lawsuit concerns events occurring while he was incarcerated at the Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI). Most of the defendants worked at JCI: Jay Minshall was a correctional sergeant; Barry Clark was a facilities maintenance specialist; Robert Mann was the buildings and grounds supervisor; Larry Bonner was the buildings and grounds superintendent; Jodi Dougherty was the institution complaint examiner; and Christopher Buesgen was the deputy warden. Defendants Charles Facktor and Cindy O'Donnell worked at the DOC central office: Facktor was a corrections complaint examiner, and O'Donnell acted as the secretary's designee on inmate grievance appeals.

         Vargas worked in the metal shop in the maintenance facility at JCI. Clark was his supervisor. Minshall was a correctional sergeant who supervised inmates working in the maintenance facilities.

         Defendants say that when an inmate is assigned to a job in the maintenance facilities, the inmate receives initial training by his supervisor concerning safe work methods, including demonstrations of safety features related to the particular work assignment. Inmates are also told to report any deficiencies to staff. Vargas disputes this, saying that he only “sign[ed] papers” before starting work. See Dkt. 33, at 1.

         Vargas was assigned to dismantle and separate scrap metal. On September 9, 2014, Vargas had been working on this assignment for about two and one-half months. That day, he was cutting flexible metal conduit using an angle grinder. Vargas was injured when the grinder “kicked back” and hit his hand. Vargas sustained a one-and-one-half to two-inch cut. A staff member alerted Minshall to the injury. Minshall told Vargas to sit down while they waited for an escort to the Health Services Unit. Vargas later went to the hospital.

         An investigation showed that the bench vise Vargas used to secure the conduit was broken; there was a large crack in the base, and a significant portion of the base was missing. Defendants say that they did not know that the vise was broken, and that the crack was not plainly visible. Defendants say that the crack could not be seen unless you were looking up at the vise from the floor, but that is not supported by the photos of the vise. The crack in the base is plainly visible in the photos, and defendants do not explain how the mounting of the vise would conceal the crack. Vargas states that even before he started working in the metal shop, an inmate named Morrison had told defendants about the broken vise. The vise was replaced after the accident.

         A couple of weeks after the incident, Vargas filed an inmate grievance, stating that he was injured because of faulty equipment, and that defendants Minshall, Mann, and Clarke knew that the vise he was using was broken. Defendant Dougherty recommended dismissing the grievance in part because Vargas did not report to staff until after the incident that the vise was broken. Vargas appealed this decision through the DOC system. Defendants Buesgen, Facktor, and O'Donnell each ruled against Vargas.

         In December 2014, Vargas filed a grievance about Health Services Unit staff failing to provide him with adequate pain medication. Defendant Dougherty contacted HSU staff and reviewed Vargas's medical records, including those showing that a week before the complaint, a nurse practitioner had discontinued the ibuprofen about which Vargas complained, and had prescribed meloxicam. Dougherty recommended that the complaint be dismissed because Vargas's medical care was a matter of professional medical judgment and he continued to ...

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