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Ammerman v. Singleton

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 26, 2019

PAUL D. AMMERMAN, Plaintiff,
DR. SINGLETON, et al., Defendants.



         Before the court are several filings related to plaintiff's motions for: injunctive relief requiring the DOC to supply him with gabapentin to treat an alleged seizure condition (dkt. #21); an order depriving defendants of their right to counsel due to misrepresentations that they allegedly made in this series of filings (dkt. #37); an award of sanctions (dkt. #52); assistance in recruiting counsel (dkt. #55); and an order for contempt of court (dkt. #59). For the reasons that follow, each of these motions will be denied.


         The background related to these motions is principally set forth in this court's July 6, 2018, opinion and order. (Dkt. #27.) The court has since received plaintiff's medical records (dkt. #29), a declaration by his DOC physician (dkt. #32), a response to that declaration by plaintiff (dkt. #36), and a motion for clarification (dkt. #47). Each of these documents relate to plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief, and their import is discussed in the context of deciding that motion below.


         I. Request for Preliminary Injunctive Relief

         In response to the motion for injunctive relief, the court initially required counsel for the Wisconsin DOC to provide information about plaintiff's access to gabapentin, as well as to advise whether an order was required to ensure that defendants regularly provided plaintiff with prescribed gabapentin until a preliminary injunction hearing could be held; however, given the lack of supporting evidence, the court otherwise denied plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction. (Dkt. #27.) Based on the subsequent filings by the parties, the court will not disturb its original finding that plaintiff has not made an adequate showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits with respect to any other request for injunctive relief.

         Specifically, Salam Syed, who is plaintiff's doctor at Columbia Correctional Institution, opined in his declaration that plaintiff is not at risk for seizures. (Dkt. #32 ¶ 9.) Dr. Syed explained that gabapentin in particular was prescribed for radiating pain in plaintiff's left shoulder and arm in July, 2015. (Id. ¶ 10.) Since Dr. Syed believed gabapentin was unnecessary to treat plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome, he ordered it to be tapered off in February, 2017. (Id. ¶ 11.) However, he placed plaintiff back on gabapentin in May of the same year after additional pain complaints. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Following two incidents where he fell, which plaintiff believes were seizures, he was seen by the UW Health Faint and Fall Clinic, which found that his symptoms were due to “lightheadedness, ” rather than epilepsy or a seizure disorder. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) After several pills were discovered in his cell in violation of prison policy, plaintiff's gabapentin prescription was again discontinued in June of 2018, because the pills could be sold or used to overdose. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was then prescribed Nortriptyline for his nerve pain, which Dr. Syed believes to be an appropriate substitute for gabapentin. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Plaintiff argues that Dr. Syed's declaration is misleading because it does not mention that he cancelled a neurology appointment in May, 2017. (Dkt. # 36 ¶¶ 1-2.) However, it is unclear how this omission bears on the veracity of Dr. Syed's declaration, especially as it occurred well before his UW consultation in January of 2018, which concluded that plaintiff did not suffer from seizures. While plaintiff further argues that UW's conclusion was from the perspective of a cardiologist, rather than neurologist (id. ¶ 4), the distinction would seem largely immaterial as UW's diagnosis explains plaintiff's fainting symptoms and is consistent with Dr. Syed's own diagnosis. Plaintiff also explains that his storing of gabapentin in his cell had been prompted by shortages in the prison's supply, but he neither contests that this was a violation of prison policy, nor that this was the reason his prescription was discontinued. (See dkt. #37 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff also represents that Nortriptyline was prescribed to help him sleep, in addition to nerve pain, but this does not disturb Dr. Syed's conclusion that gabapentin is unnecessary to treat plaintiff's nerve pain. (Dkt. #36 ¶ 6.)

         Plaintiff makes additional assertions about his medical care in his later motion seeking forfeiture of defendants' right to counsel that arguably bear on his request for preliminary injunctive relief. (Dkt. #37.) Plaintiff asserts in particular that Dr. Syed discontinued gabapentin because he threatened to add Syed as a defendant to a lawsuit (id. ¶ 2), but this is hardly persuasive given plaintiff's admission to storing that drug in his cell in violation of prison policy. Plaintiff further reasserts that gabapentin prevents his seizures (id.), but this is insufficient for injunctive relief when both Dr. Syed and the UW Health Faint and Fall Clinic concluded that his so-called seizures were not the cause of plaintiff's falls. Finally, plaintiff later theorizes that pain increases his blood pressure, which could be the cause of seizure episodes (id. ¶ 6), but this again assumes that seizures are the cause of his falls, which does not bear on whether Nortriptyline is sufficient for the treatment of his pain in the months leading up to trial.

         Finally, as mentioned in the court's previous ruling, injunctive relief is inappropriate in this matter because the screened case does not include Columbia Correctional Institution (or its medical providers), which is where plaintiff is currently incarcerated and being denied gabapentin. Accordingly, plaintiff is directed to make any additional filings related to his request for injunctive relief in his other case against that institution (17-cv-800-wmc), where he requested the same injunction and the unnamed Health Service Unit Supervisor of the Columbia Correctional Institution is a party.

         II. Defendants' Right to Counsel

         Plaintiff argues that defendants have forfeited their right to counsel for making dishonest statements about his medical care in their filings; he also argues that Dr. Syed and Assistant Attorney General Rakvic-Farr should be held in contempt for the same reason. (Dkt. #37 at 5.) Because plaintiff has proven no such dishonesty, this motion is denied. Regardless, there is no legal precedent for such an extraordinary remedy. Indeed, as is true in the cases cited by plaintiff, courts have sometime restricted a party's choice ...

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