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Walker v. Cox

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 25, 2019

LA'MONT WALKER, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff La'Mont Walker is proceeding in this case on claims that prison officials at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility failed to provide him with treatment for a bacterial infection and ongoing digestive problems, subjected him to unsanitary conditions that plaintiff believes caused the infection, and failed to provide him with adequate nutrition in light of his stomach problems. Before the court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. Dkt. 84 and Dkt. 97. Because no reasonable jury could conclude from the evidence in the record that any of the defendants violated Walker's Eighth Amendment rights, I am denying Walker's motion and granting defendants' motion.


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

         A. The parties

         At all times relevant to this case, Walker was confined at Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF). All defendants worked at WSPF during the relevant time period: Burton Cox was a physician; Jolinda Waterman was the health services manager; Sonya Anderson, Beth Edge, Kelsey Lund, and Angela McLean were nurses; Michael Sherman was a correctional sergeant; and Gary Boughton was the warden.

         B. Medical treatment for Walker's H. pylori infection, digestive problems, and reflux

         Sometime in 2011 after he was transferred to WSPF, Walker started experiencing severe stomach pain, vomiting, and other digestive problems. (The record does not include information about any treatment Walker sought or received for his stomach problems between 2011 and 2014. Defendant Lund saw Walker once during 2013 when she conducted an EKG test on him.)

         1. 2014 interactions with McLean, Anderson, and Cox

         In October 2014, Walker attempted to talk with defendant McLean about his stomach problems while she was conducting wellness checks on Walker's unit. McLean did not respond to Walker right away, so Walker began yelling. McLean was aware at the time that Walker had been experiencing ongoing stomach problems. Under prison policy, inmates are supposed to submit health service requests to obtain medical treatment for non-emergencies. McLean approached Walker's cell and told him to submit a health service request about his stomach pain. (Walker says that McLean was hostile and angry and told him that he did not need immediate medical attention because he was “standing [and] breathing.” McLean denies saying this to Walker.) McLean then continued performing wellness checks on other inmates. Walker submitted a health service request and was seen by a doctor a few days later.

         Approximately one week after his interaction with McLean, Walker called to defendant Anderson while she was conducting wellness checks on the unit. Walker asked Anderson why she was not checking on his medical problems. Anderson told Walker to submit a health service request. (Walker says that Anderson also said, “Don't cry to me. You're not at the Hilton Hotel.” Anderson denies saying this to Walker.)

         In December 2014, Walker saw defendant Dr. Cox with complaints of pain in the epigastric region of his stomach, which is just below the breastbone. Cox suspected that Walker may be infected with helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which is a common type of bacteria that infects the stomach. H. pylori may be passed from person to person through direct contact with saliva, vomit, or fecal matter, and may also be spread through contaminated food or water. H. pylori can be treated with antibiotics, but most people who have H. pylori in their bodies do not develop any symptoms from it. H. pylori can cause peptic ulcers and associated symptoms, including an ache or burning pain in the abdomen, nausea, loss of appetite, frequent burping, bloating, unintentional weight loss, and abdominal pain that is worse when the stomach is empty. Because Walker was experiencing some of these symptoms, Cox ordered an H. pylori blood-screen.

         Walker tested positive for H. pylori. Doctors usually treat H. pylori with two varieties of antibiotics at once to prevent the bacteria from developing a resistance to one particular antibiotic. Doctors also generally prescribe an acid-suppressing drug, to help the stomach lining heal, such as a proton pump inhibitor, histamine blocker, or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Cox prescribed two antibiotics for Walker, Clarithromycin and Amoxicillin, and a proton pump inhibitor, omeprazole. Cox also sent Walker information about the H. pylori infection and the medications he was prescribing.

         On December 23, 2014, Walker wrote to Cox that his medications were making him sick and causing abdominal pain. Cox responded that Walker's symptoms were likely side effects of the antibiotic Clarithromycin and he told Walker to take the medication with food. Cox encouraged Walker to “Stick it out - it'll get better.” On January 5, Cox directed health services staff to obtain a stool sample from Walker two weeks after he finished his omeprazole to determine whether the antibiotic treatment was successful.

         2. 2015 interactions with Cox, Sherman, and Edge

         On January 12, 2015, Cox increased Walker's prescription for omeprazole, prescribed Carafate, a medication used to treat and prevent ulcers, and ordered Pepto-Bismol for Walker's upset stomach. Cox scheduled a follow up for two weeks. According to Walker, he did not take all of the medications Cox ordered because the medications were making him feel worse.

         On January 22, Walker saw Cox for a follow-up appointment. Walker was still having epigastric pain despite having received the full treatment for peptic ulcer disease. Walker told Cox that he was occasionally regurgitating his meals. Cox thought Walker might have a stomach ulcer or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), so Cox ordered an ultrasound and an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) test to examine the lining of Walker's esophagus. Cox changed Walker's order for Pepto-Bismol tablets to Gaviscon tablets to treat possible GERD, and ordered a complete metabolic lab draw to check Walker's kidneys, liver, electrolytes, and inflammation markers.

         The lab and the ultrasound results were normal. The ultrasound showed “unremarkable sonographic evaluation of the visualized right upper quadrant” and the lab results showed no evidence of anemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, or impaired kidney, liver, or pancreas function. Walker continued to complain of occasional nausea and vomiting after meals so, on February 9, Cox discontinued the prescription for Carafate and ordered that Walker continue taking omeprazole. On February 22, Walker submitted health service request complaining about vomiting and pain in his abdominal area. Cox responded that Walker had a surgical consult scheduled.

         On February 25, Walker was seen offsite by Dr. James Yurcek, a specialist in general surgery, to determine whether an EGD was appropriate. Yurcek concluded that an EGD would be appropriate, so Cox requested that the EGD be scheduled. In the interim, Cox responded to ...

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