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Vanidestine v. Marinette County Jail

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 12, 2019



          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff James M. Vanidestine, who is currently serving a state prison sentence at Oshkosh Correctional Institution and representing himself, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his civil rights were violated while he was an inmate in the Marinette County Jail. Vanidestine also filed a motion to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee. On November 15, 2018, the court ordered Vanidestine to pay an initial partial filing fee of $21.25 or advise the court why he was unable to do so within 21 days. The court dismissed this action without prejudice on December 21, 2018, because Vanidestine failed to pay the fee or explain why he was unable to do so.

         On January 2, 2019, Vanidestine filed a notice of appeal suggesting that a brain injury resulted in his “mistakenly neglecting to contact the court.” Dkt. No. 10. Five days later, after the Court of Appeals issued a PLRA fee notice, Vanidestine filed a motion for enlargement of time to pay fees due to his excusable neglect; the motion was ambiguous as to whether he sought more time to pay the initial partial filing fee or the appellate filing fee. Given the motion's ambiguity, this court entered an indicative ruling pursuant to Rule 62.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, notifying the Court of Appeals of this court's inclination to construe Vanidestine's motion as a Rule 60(b) motion to vacate, to grant that motion, and to allow Vanidestine more time to pay the initial partial filing fee or have it waived. The Court of Appeals remanded the case shortly thereafter and waived the appellate filing fee.

         On remand, in an order dated January 24, 2019, this court waived the initial partial filing fee and screened Vanidestine's complaint. Finding that Vanidestine's complaint contained several deficiencies, the court provided Vanidestine an opportunity to amend his complaint to cure the deficiencies within 45 days. The court advised Vanidestine that an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint and must be complete in itself. Vanidestine has timely filed an amended complaint, which the court will now screen.

         Screening of the Complaint

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Hutchinson ex rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court accepts the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them in the plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, the complaint's allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         Allegations of the Amended Complaint

         Vanidestine alleges that, on April 11, 2018, while confined in Marinette County Jail (MCJ), inmate Laron Deshay Mitchell attacked him in his cell. As a result of the attack, Vanidestine suffered multiple head injuries, which were later diagnosed as a broken eye socket, broken nose, bilateral broken jaw, and a brain bleed. Construing his complaint liberally, it appears Vanidestine alleges that Mitchell had a history of violence that should have resulted in a classification other than medium security where apparently Vanidestine was housed. Vanidestine alleges that, prior to the attack, Mitchell entered his cell twice. After the second entry, Mitchell removed his shirt and yelled at Vanidestine, and another inmate ran out of the cell-according to Vanidestine, these were “warning signs of violent behavior” that Correctional Officer (CO) Weddel, who was monitoring the jail cameras, either ignored or failed to identify. ECF No. 21 at 15. Vanidestine claims that Mitchell walked away undetected, that the assault went unidentified, and that he first received medical treatment about two hours after the attack.

         At some point after the attack, CO Weddel received a call for help, and she responded by indicating that officers would stop by the cell on their rounds. COs Haupt and Timblin stopped by Vanidestine's cell around 3:20 p.m. and noted that he had facial injuries, including blood and some abrasions. A criminal complaint related to the incident indicated that CO Timblin noticed that Vanidestine had a small amount of blood near his right ear and a red mark across his right cheek. Shortly after informing CO Timblin about the attack, Vanidestine lost consciousness. Vanidestine alleges that COs Haupt and Timblin took him to “the hole, ” placed him face down on a concrete slab, and then completed a security check. CO Haupt then talked to nurse Lisa Swanson, who determined that Vanidestine needed to be taken to Bay Area Medical Center (BAMC).

         Vandestine alleges that it took more than two hours before he was transported to the hospital for emergency care. CO Winnekins transported Vanidestine to BAMC around 5:15 p.m. Vanidestine claims that, during transport, CO Winnekins took pictures of Vanidestine's injuries on his personal cell phone. Upon arrival at BAMC, Vanidestine received an MRI, which revealed that he had a broken eye socket, broken nose, bilateral broken jaw, and brain bleed. Vanidestine was then transported to Aurora Hospital, where he received emergency surgery, which included wiring his jaw shut. After surgery, Vanidestine remained in the intensive care unit (ICU) for several days before being moved to a regular room. While still at the hospital, an unidentified CO told Vanidestine that his mother and children would be physically removed from the hospital if he “didn't do something.” Id. at 19. Vanidestine suggests that he was removed from the hospital in part because MCJ administrators determined that he was costing too much money. His doctor stated he wanted Vanidestine to walk a lap around the floor before he was discharged. A CO then started walking Vanidestine around the floor, but he made it only thirty feet before he fell. An unidentified CO took Vanidestine's release information, follow-up instructions, and medication prescriptions upon Vanidestine's release.

         After his return to MCJ, Vanidestine was placed in a holding cell in the booking area for three days. The jail physician provided by the contract medical provider came to his cell and pronounced Vanidestine “fine, ” even though he was unable to walk to the door for an exam. The doctor disregarded the follow-up instructions and prescriptions Vanidestine received from the specialists at the hospital, and instead stated that all Vanidestine needed was Tylenol. As a result, Vanidestine alleges he suffered further pain and adverse consequences. He was then transferred to segregation where his meals were put in a blender because of his broken jaw and he was given one straw which he used for over a month. Even though he continued to experience dizziness, blurred vision, extreme headaches, and other adverse effects of his injuries, jail staff refused to return him to the hospital in order to avoid paying for further treatment. Vanidestine further alleges that the jail administrator warned him not to talk to anyone outside the jail about his medical treatment or he would lose his telephone privileges.

         During his time in “Seg B” at MCJ, Vanidestine made several requests for the medication that the trauma medical specialists at Aurora Hospital prescribed as well as follow-up care for the screws in his mouth. Vanidestine alleges that he was having seizures and clenching his jaw, and one night at around 3:00 a.m., the screws in his mouth ripped out, which caused him pain and resulted in profuse bleeding. He alleges that he waited 45 minutes to receive care despite pounding on the cell door and attempting to scream. That day, he was sent to BAMC, where he was cleaned up. The next day, he saw an oral surgeon, who removed the rail and discontinued treatment. Vanidestine claims that an MCJ administrator suggested to the surgeon that Vanidestine was intentionally tampering with the screws. This termination of care, Vanidestine alleges, caused “great pain.” Id. at 24. He alleges that he received no further follow-up care until he was transported to Dodge Correctional Institution, where an optometrist noted that he had physical damage to his eye, and then Oshkosh Correctional Institution, where a neurologist diagnosed him with post-concussion syndrome.

         Vanidestine alleges that, although the defendants had “all necessary information, equipment, housing, training, policy, and procedures in effect when the attack happened, ” id. at 13, and that they failed to perform their assigned tasks to prevent the attack. He further alleges that an MCJ administrator failed to assign duties to COs to protect and provide care for inmates, that an MCJ administrator and the Marinette County Sheriff allowed overcrowding in the jail, and that an ...

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