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Davis v. Piller

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 30, 2019

BRIAN PILLER, Defendant.



         Plaintiff James Anthony Davis, who is represented by volunteer counsel recruited by the court, is proceeding on claims that defendant Brian Piller violated his constitutional rights by fabricating a report that Davis had overdosed on drugs. Davis contends that Piller's false report caused him to be subjected to unnecessary and painful medical procedures to treat the non-existent overdose. Before the court is Piller's motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 28. Having reviewed the parties' arguments and evidence in the record, I conclude that the motion must be granted. Although there is a genuine factual dispute regarding whether Piller falsified his report about Davis's overdose, the dispute ultimately is immaterial to Davis's constitutional claims. Even accepting Davis's version of events as true, no reasonable jury could conclude that Piller's actions violated Davis's substantive due process rights or amounted to deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. Accordingly, I will grant Piller's motion for summary judgment and dismiss this case.


         At times relevant to this case, Davis was incarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution, where Brian Piller worked as a correctional officer. According to Davis's mental health records, he has a history of anger, impulsivity, and mental health problems. He has attempted suicide on approximately 40 occasions, by cutting himself, hanging himself, and overdosing on medication. While incarcerated at Dodge Correctional, Davis spent a significant amount of time in segregation and under observation status. Correctional officers in the segregation unit are supposed to check inmates on observation status every 15 minutes to ensure that they are not harming themselves. During the times Davis was on observation status, he insulted correctional officers and many officers thought he was unpleasant.

         On April 28, 2011, two days before the incident at issue in this case, Davis met with a prison psychiatrist, Dr. Shirley Dawson. Dawson noted that Davis had stopped taking some of his medication and as a result, was decompensating and hearing voices that were telling him to kill himself. She also noted that Davis wanted to be moved to a different institution and that he threatened to kill himself if he was not transferred. He also reported that he was in danger from various murderers who lived at Dodge Correctional. Dawson's impressions were that Davis had stopped taking his antipsychotic medication and was in the middle of a paranoid episode. Dkt. 32-1 at 16. Dawson noted that “during these times Davis uses threats of harm to himself to get what he wants.” Id. At the time, Davis was housed in the segregation unit and was in observation status.

         On the morning of May 1, Piller was the correctional officer responsible for performing observation checks on Davis every 15 minutes. Throughout the morning, Davis and Piller exchanged insults and had several unpleasant interactions. At approximately 10:00 a.m., Piller approached Davis's cell to conduct a status check. Davis asked Piller when he would be taken off of observation status, and Piller responded that Davis probably would not be taken off observation until the next day at the earliest.

         The parties dispute what happened next. According to Piller, after he told Davis that he would not be taken off observation that day, Davis responded by showing Piller what appeared to be a handful of white pills and stating, “I am going to get out of here one way or another by taking these.” Davis then placed the pills in his mouth. Piller immediately shut off the water in Davis's cell to try and prevent him from drinking water that could assist him in swallowing the pills. Piller then alerted the sergeant on duty that Davis had taken a handful of pills. Piller asked Davis was he had taken, and Davis responded that he had swallowed 1200 mg of Trazodone and 6-9 mg of Risperidone. Davis told Piller that he had saved the pills by swallowing them halfway and then regurgitating them once the medication pass officer walked away from his cell. Piller later checked Davis's medication record and confirmed that Davis had been prescriptions for both Trazodone and Risperidone.

         Davis denies making any gestures or saying anything to Piller to suggest that he took pills or intended to commit suicide. According to Davis, he insulted Piller and Piller became angry. Piller then said, “Watch this, ” called his supervisor over, and falsely stated that Davis had attempted to commit suicide by overdose.

         The parties agree that once the captain on duty arrived at Davis's cell, officers searched Davis but they found no pills on Davis or in his cell. Piller and other staff members escorted Davis to the health services exam room on the segregation unit where Nurse Julie Wempner assessed Davis. Wempner decided that Davis should be sent to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. According to Wempner, it was standard procedure to send any prisoner to the hospital for treatment if a correctional officer and the prisoner reported an overdose. Wempner's notes from her meeting with Davis state that he told her that he took pills to try to kill himself and to “get out of here.” Dkt. 32-1 at 2. He also told her that he felt “higher than I've ever felt in my life.” Id. Davis denies saying anything to Wempner to suggest that he had taken pills or attempted to commit suicide by overdose, but he has not alleged that he denied taking pills, that he told Wempner that Piller was lying, or that he objected to Wempner's decision to send him to the hospital.

         At the hospital, Davis was given an EKG and a urine drug screen. Davis was handcuffed during the procedures. Because Davis did not have to urinate at the emergency room, his urine was extracted with a catheter, which Davis says was extremely painful. Davis did not refuse the EKG or catheter and did not otherwise object to treatment at the hospital. His hospital records state that he was “calm” and “cooperative” and there is nothing in his hospital records suggesting that he denied taking pills. Dkt. 32-1 at 9. The drug screen came back negative. The hospital records state that after Davis was told the results, he reported that his abdomen hurt. Id. at 3, 11. Hospital medical staff recommended that Davis follow up with a primary care provider and be seen for a psychiatric evaluation after he returned to the prison Id. at 3, 6.

         On May 5, 2011, Davis saw Dr. Dawson again. According to Dawson's notes, Davis “had an episode of claiming to have overdosed on his meds, which turns out not to be true.” Id. at 17. Dawson noted that Davis reported to her that he was not trying to overdose on May 1, but that he had saved some of his pills and had not taken them right away. Dawson also noted that they discussed the need for Davis to take all of his medications immediately when they are distributed. Id. Davis denies telling Dawson that he had saved pills or suggesting to her that he had falsely reported overdosing on medication.

         As a result of the incident, Piller wrote Davis a conduct report for violating Wisconsin Administrative Code § DOC 303.57, “Misuse of Prescription Medication.” The conduct report stated that Davis had told Piller that he was going to “get out” of observation, that Davis had placed a handful of pills in his mouth, and that Davis had told Piller that the pills were Tazodone and Risperidone that he had saved. Dkt. 31-2 at 1. Davis waived his right to a formal due process hearing on the conduct report and checked the box on the waiver form indicating, “I ADMIT I AM GUILTY.” Id. at 4. At the May 6, 2011 disciplinary hearing on the conduct report, Davis stated that he “did not swallow no pills, ” but also stated, “I know I am guilty, I am just waiting to see what I get.” Id. at 6.

         Davis was released from prison on June 19, 2011. He was reincarcerated on April 19, 2013. After he was reincarcerated, Davis learned that DOC was deducting restitution from his prison account to pay for his May 1, 2011 hospital stay. He filed this lawsuit in October 2014. Davis says that he still experiences pain ...

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