James V. Pennewell, Plaintiff-Appellant,
James Parish, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
April 10, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Wisconsin. No. 2:17-cv-00213-LA - Lynn Adelman,
Bauer, Manion, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.