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Williams v. Musha

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 27, 2019




         Plaintiff Roosevelt M. Williams is proceeding on Eighth Amendment and state law claims that prison officials at Oshkosh Correctional Institution allowed him to eat a meal from a food tray that was damaged, resulting in him ingesting plastic from the tray and becoming seriously ill. He is also proceeding on a state-law products liability claim against defendant Design Specialties, Inc.

         Before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the state-employee defendants, Dkt. 104, and two motions for summary judgment filed by Design Specialties, Dkt. 55 and Dkt. 101. Also before the court are Williams's renewed motions for assistance in recruiting counsel, Dkt. 164 and Dkt. 170, and a motion for issuance of a subpoena, Dkt. 181. For the reasons below, I am granting defendants' motions for summary judgment and am denying all of Williams's motions.


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

         At all times relevant to this case, Williams was confined at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. All the individual defendants worked at Oshkosh during the relevant time period: Sandy Habeck was a food service administrator; Christopher Musha and Eric Schroeder were correctional sergeants; James Zanon was a captain; and Russell Potratz and Keith Pond were correctional officers. Williams has also named Design Specialties, Inc., the vendor that sold food trays to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in 2012 and 2013.

         In late October 2013, Habeck became aware that the coating was peeling from many the trays used to serve meals to inmates in segregation. Habeck reported the problem to Oshkosh's business office. Because the trays were only one year old, Habeck believed it was possible there was a defect in the manufacturing of the trays. She directed food services staff to count how many of the trays needed to be replaced. Zanon also became aware of the problem and inspected some of the peeling trays. Zanon did not think the plastic was a choking hazard because the plastic coating was peeling off in small, thin pieces and had to be pulled or scraped to be detached from the tray. On November 12, 2013, Colleen Janikowski, the financial program supervisor, contacted Design Specialties about the peeling trays. On November 13, Design Specialties agreed to replace 140 trays. Design Specialties shipped out the replacement trays within a week.

         Meanwhile, also on November 12, 2013, Williams swallowed plastic peelings from the food tray on which his meal had been served to him in his segregation cell. Williams says that he began having difficulty breathing immediately. He pushed his emergency call button and security staff approached his cell. Shortly thereafter, staff reported to Captain Zanon that Williams appeared to be having a seizure and was not responding to staff.

         Defendants Zanon, Potratz, Pond, Musha, and Correctional Officer Aaron Karn approached Williams's cell. Williams was lying on the floor of his cell on a pillow, was breathing somewhat rapidly and rhythmically, as if panting, and appeared to be shaking slightly. Zanon saw a small amount of spittle under Williams's head. Zanon approached Williams and began patting his shoulder and back, telling him that there were staff members in the room and that no one was going to hurt him. Zanon was concerned that if Williams was having a seizure, he could be disoriented and combative as he regained consciousness. Williams opened his eyes and pointed to his throat but did not say anything. Zanon asked Williams if he was choking, and Williams pantomimed back blows with his right hand. Zanon and Musha slapped Williams's back, and Williams coughed and spit some liquid out of his mouth. Zanon again asked Williams whether he was choking. Williams nodded that he was, but Zanon could see that he was breathing.

         Two nurses, Carey Halverson and Kimberly Haase, arrived at the cell. By this time, Williams appeared to be alert and was able to speak. Williams told Halverson that he had “tray” in his throat. Staff members did not see anything in Williams's mouth, but he had plastic in his hands that appeared to be a piece of his tray. After checking Williams' vital signs, staff took Williams to the health services unit by wheelchair. Williams made sounds as though he was clearing his throat and then stated, “I swallowed it.” Nursing staff assessed Williams and told him that if he had swallowed plastic, it would pass and would be in his feces. Williams was then transported back to his cell.

         Later that same day, Williams reported that he was having severe abdominal pain. He was seen by a nurse in the health services unit, who noted that there were no objective findings that would explain Williams's pain. On November 14, Williams was again seen in the health services unit with complaints of diarrhea that he believed was caused by the plastic he had ingested. A nurse assessed Williams, noted that he was not in any distress, and directed him to drink water. Williams continued to complain of severe abdominal pain and, on November 17, he was sent to Mercy Medical Center Emergency Room and a CT scan was performed. The scan did not show any obstruction or bowel perforation. Williams was diagnosed with a viral syndrome. (The record does not contain any evidence regarding complaints Williams made or health care he received for abdominal pain or diarrhea from November 17, 2013 to January 12, 2014.)

         On January 12, 2014, Williams submitted a health service request complaining about abdominal pain and diarrhea. A prison physician prescribed anti-diarrhea medicine and ordered several tests. The test results were normal. Williams has not complained to health services staff about diarrhea or abdominal pain since July 2014. In December 2014, Williams had a colonoscopy at UW Hospital. Two polyps were found and removed, but the results were otherwise normal. The prison physician prescribed probiotics to Williams.

         Defendants are not aware of any other inmate reporting that he ingested plastic or ...

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