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Pennewell v. Parish

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 3, 2019

James V. Pennewell, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
James Parish, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 10, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:17-cv-00213-LA - Lynn Adelman, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Manion, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          BAUER, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         James Pennewell is a Wisconsin state prisoner who became legally blind while incarcerated. He filed a pro se complaint alleging numerous defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court held that based on his adequate pleadings he was competent to litigate the case alone during the advanced pre-trial stages of the litigation. Because this determination was an abuse of discretion and the district court failed to give Pennewell's motion particularized consideration, we reverse and remand with instructions to recruit counsel.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         When Pennewell's incarceration began at Dodge Correctional Institution on February 3, 2015, he was blind in his left eye. Shortly thereafter, Pennewell complained to an eye technician of pain and vision abnormalities in his right eye. On February 11, 2015, Pennewell received an eye examination from optometrist James Richter. Pennewell informed Richter the vision in his right eye was declining and that he was seeing spots and flashes of light, which were symptoms consistent with those he experienced when he lost the vision in his left eye due to retinal detachment. He also told Richter his right eye had a cataract that had been present for some time. Richter ordered him new glasses and referred him to the University of Wisconsin Eye Clinic, but failed to follow up.

         On March 17, 2015, Pennewell was transferred to John Burke Correctional Center. During his transfer screening Pennewell informed a nurse he was blind in his left eye and experiencing foggy vision and seeing spots in his right eye. Pennewell expressed concern to several nurses over losing the sight that remained in his right eye. On March 30, Pennewell submitted a health services unit request stating:

I am scheduled for an eye appointment in Madison. My right eye is painful the Tylenol is not working for pain. It feels like there is a tear in my eye. I am very red it drains then dries up. I have to put warm water on a washcloth to get it open.

         A nurse saw Pennewell later that day and she told Pennewell to wash his hands regularly and not touch his eyes. On April 6, 2015, Pennewell submitted another request which stated: "The pain in my left eye is getting bad and the vision in my right eye is deteriorating, it's as if there is a retinal detachment. The vision in my right eye has a shadow in the lower right limiting my vision, some flashes of light[.]" The next morning Pennewell saw a nurse and informed her that half of his vision was gone and that he thought he was going to lose vision in his right eye due to retinal detachment. Pennewell was transferred to the Waupun Memorial Hospital Emergency Room that morning. Upon arriving he was immediately transported to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison where he was diagnosed with a retinal detachment that required emergency surgery. Dr. Michael Altaweel performed the surgery later that day.

         After surgery Pennewell continued to experience vision problems and filed a medical request on June 29, 2015, that stated his vision was declining. He informed the medical staff that he was experiencing fogginess, double vision, and seeing halos around objects. Pennewell was diagnosed with a macular tear that required surgery. Pennewell requested a second opinion, but was informed by a nurse that the department of corrections did not allow second opinions. On July 16, 2015, Dr. Altaweel performed surgery that resulted in Pennewell being blind for several weeks. During this time Pennewell was not assisted by prison staff in using the restroom or showering, and had to get his own meals.

         Pennewell continued to experience serious problems with his right eye over the next year and filed several complaints seeking medical attention. He was transferred again on March 22, 2016, this time to Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center. There he filed administrative complaints on March 22, 2016, and November 9, 2016, alleging denial of medical attention. Just two days after filing his second administrative complaint, he received notice that his follow-up appointment with the University of Wisconsin Eye Clinic was cancelled due to a staffing shortage. Pennewell again reported eye pain and requested the appointment be rescheduled. He was unable to see a doctor, however, until December 7, 2016, at which time the doctor simply removed loose stitches that had been causing his pain. Pennewell never recovered the vision in his right eye and as a result is legally blind.

         B. ...


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