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Harris v. Mason

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 28, 2019




         Pro se plaintiff Brandon Harris, a Wisconsin prisoner incarcerated at Stanley Correctional Institution, brings Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims against correctional officers at his previous prison, Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI). Harris has sickle-cell disease and, while at WCI, he suffered from “a sickle-cell crisis, ” an acute episode of pain caused by the disease. He alleges that defendants Joshua Mason, Jimmy Mutchie, and James Weddig waited an hour and a half before seeking medical treatment for him, and that this delay unnecessarily prolonged his pain.

         Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment. Dkt. 22 and Dkt. 28. I will deny Harris's motion, and I will grant defendants' motion in part. I will grant summary judgment for defendants on Harris's claims against Mutchie and Weddig. Because Harris has not produced any evidence showing that these defendants were aware of the seriousness of his condition, no reasonable jury could conclude that their delay in providing treatment was the result of deliberate indifference. But Harris's claim against Mason survives summary judgment: there is a genuine dispute regarding whether Mason purposely ignored Harris's medical needs, or whether he believed that Mutchie and Weddig were attending to them. So Harris's claim against Mason will need to be resolved at trial.

         Also before me are Harris's motion for assistance in recruiting counsel, Dkt. 19, and defendants' motion to stay, Dkt. 45. I will deny both motions. I am not persuaded that Harris will be unable to try the case himself. And as for defendants' motion to stay, defendants contend that I should strike the trial date because a trial will be unnecessary if I grant summary judgment. Because I am granting defendants' motion for summary judgment only in part, trial will proceed as scheduled on April 8.


         The following facts are undisputed except where noted.

         At all times relevant to this suit, Harris was housed in the restricted housing unit at WCI. Every cell in that unit has an intercom that can be used to contact the officer on duty in the unit's control center. The intercom is supposed to be used for emergency calls only. The officer in the control center cannot leave his post, but he can answer inmate calls and notify other staff to respond if there is an emergency.

         Harris suffers from sickle-cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that causes him to have abnormal hemoglobin and misshapen red-blood cells.[2] These misshapen blood cells can get stuck and block blood flow, decreasing oxygen delivery and triggering a “sickle-cell crisis.” A sickle-cell crisis causes intense pain for the sufferer. It can occur without warning, almost anywhere in the body.

         On the morning of April 18, 2017, Harris had a sickle-cell crisis and used his intercom to call defendant Joshua Mason in the control center. The parties dispute the details of the call. Harris says that he called before 11:15 a.m., Dkt. 25, at ¶¶ 20-24, and told Mason that he was suffering from dizzy spells, fatigue, and pain in his lower back, legs, abdomen, and chest. Dkt. 1, at 2-3. Defendants say that Harris called at 11:25 a.m., Dkt. 14, ¶ 14, and told Mason that he was having a medical emergency but never elaborated. Dkt. 36-2, ¶ 4. In either case, it is undisputed that when Mason answered Harris's call, he could see via a hall camera that defendant officers Jimmy Mutchie and James Weddig were standing outside of Harris's cell. As Harris began speaking into the intercom, Mason told him to speak with Mutchie and Weddig instead.

         Mutchie and Weddig were passing out medication when Harris called for help. They had a brief conversation with Harris through his cell door. The parties dispute whether Harris specifically said he was “having a medical emergency, ” Dkt. 37, ¶¶ 35, 38, but they agree that Harris told them that he was in “pain due to a medical condition.” Dkt. 43, ¶ 19. Harris did not tell them that he had sickle-cell disease, or that he was suffering from a sickle-cell crisis. Mutchie and Weddig are trained to recognize certain life-threatening medical conditions, including signs of a heart attack, stroke, or difficulty breathing. When they talked to Harris, Harris did not exhibit any of these signs.[3]

         Mutchie told Harris that he and Weddig would notify the health services unit (HSU) after they finished distributing medication.[4] Mutchie and Weddig left, finished passing out medication, and contacted HSU. Neither party says how long it took Mutchie and Weddig to distribute medication, or what time they contacted HSU.

         After Mutchie and Weddig left, Harris tried to call Mason again, but Mason stopped answering the intercom. Neither party says how many times Harris tried to call Mason, and Mason does not remember. Dkt. 36-2, ¶ 3. Although Mason was required to keep a log of intercom calls, he did not record entries for any of Harris's calls.[5] Dkt. 40-1.

         Harris says that he also asked other inmates to call Mason on his behalf. Dkt. 43, ¶ 14 and Dkt. 1-2, at 2-3. In particular, Devon Love, an inmate housed in a nearby cell, used his intercom to call Mason at 12:05 and tell Mason that Harris needed medical attention. Harris alleges that Mason told Love, “I don't give a fuck and have a nice day.” Id.

         At 12:45, a nurse arrived at the restricted housing unit and examined Harris. She gave him ibuprofen and water, and she contacted a prison doctor. The doctor ordered additional treatment, including blood tests. At 2:10 p.m., Harris was sent to the emergency room at Waupun Memorial Hospital.

         At the hospital, Harris was diagnosed with a sickle-cell crisis. The doctor who conducted Harris's intake determined that Harris “would need at least 2-3 days of intravenous (IV) pain medication given the severity of his symptoms.” Dkt. 1-3. Harris remained ...

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