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Williams v. Schmidt

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 5, 2019




         This case is before the court on the third round of summary judgment. The only claims remaining in the case are plaintiff Derek Williams's claims that (1) defendant Todd Hamilton, a psychologist, placed him in unconstitutionally harsh conditions of confinement while he was on “observation” status at Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), and (2) defendants Steven Schmidt, Martha Breen, and Katie Olbinski, also psychologists, acted with deliberate indifference to Williams's mental health needs by refusing to assign him to a male psychologist and persisting with treatment that they knew was ineffective. In a June 14, 2017 decision, I directed the parties to supplement their briefing with facts and arguments addressing the conditions-of-confinement claim and defendants' entitlement to qualified immunity. Dkt. 89. Having now reviewed the parties' supplemental briefs, Williams's supplemental proposed findings of fact, and defendants' responses, I conclude that Williams has failed to show that Hamilton was deliberately indifferent to his conditions of confinement, but that there are disputed issues of material fact relating to Williams's mental health treatment claim. Therefore, I will grant defendants' motion as to the conditions-of-confinement claim but will deny the motion as to the mental health claim. This case will be set for a telephonic status conference so that a new trial schedule can be set.


         A. Conditions of confinement

         Williams contends that Hamilton violated the Eighth Amendment by depriving him of “humane conditions of confinement.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). See also Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 493 (7th Cir. 2006). An Eighth Amendment “conditions-of-confinement” claim has two parts. First, the inmate must show that the alleged deprivation was objectively, “sufficiently serious, ” such that an official's act or omission results in the “denial the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Townsend v. Fuchs, 522 F.3d 765, 773 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). This means that to defeat summary judgment, Williams must show that a factfinder reasonably could conclude that the conditions of his confinement “exceeded mere discomfort and were constitutionally unacceptable.” Estate of Simpson v. Gorbett, 863 F.3d 740, 745 (7th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). Second, the inmate must show that the prison official acted with a subjectively culpable state of mind, known as “deliberate indifference.” Deliberate indifference means that the official knew about the risk of harm, had the ability to prevent the harm, and failed to do so. Mays v. Springborn, 575 F.3d 643, 648 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Williams's conditions-of-confinement claims concern two periods he spent in observation status at GBCI in 2011: January 31 to February 10, and March 21 to May 11 or 16. In previous summary judgment filings, Hamilton had argued that he was entitled to summary judgment on Williams's conditions-of-confinement claim on preclusion grounds and on the merits. I concluded that preclusion principles did not bar Williams's claim. As for the merits, I ordered additional briefing because the parties had provided few findings about the actual conditions faced by Williams and Hamilton's knowledge of them.

         In his supplemental proposed findings of fact, Williams provides significant detail regarding the conditions he endured in the observation cells. In particular, he alleges that for a total of 66 days, 56 of which were consecutive, his experienced the following conditions in his observation cells:

• Extreme isolation. Williams was confined to his small cell 24 hours a day and did not have access to recreation.
• Extremely cold temperatures. Williams estimates that the cell temperature was between 35 and 45 degrees because ice formed on the interior glass of his cell, he could see his own breath, and he would shake so violently from the cold temperatures that sometimes he had difficulty eating.
• Inadequate clothing. Williams's only item of clothing was a sleeveless smock made from quilted material about one-half inch thick that reached his knees. He also had one blanket and a rubber mat that was approximately two inches thick. (There is some dispute about whether Williams had two blankets and no smock during some of the time he was on observation, but the dispute is immaterial.)
• Constant noise and sleep interruption. Correctional officers performed checks on Williams every 15 minutes while he was on observation. If Williams was asleep, the officers would kick or knock on Williams's cell door until he woke up and moved. Additionally, other inmates in nearby cells would scream, yell, and kick the steel cell doors or the aluminum sinks in their cells, making nearly constant noise that prevented Williams from sleeping.
• Constant illumination. Williams's cell was illuminated 24 hours a day by a bright overhead florescent light. The brightness of the light was enhanced by a reflector on the light fixture and the eggshell white color of cell walls. The light could be dimmed to a “night light” setting by staff, but staff never dimmed Williams's light.
• A filthy cell. Williams's cell was not cleaned adequately before he was placed in it. The walls were smeared with feces and urine and he was not permitted to clean the cell during his confinement.
• Lack of eyeglasses. Williams was not allowed to wear his prescription eyeglasses while in observation, so he was forced to squint excessively. He ...

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