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Towns v. Anderson

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 20, 2019

JOSHUA TOWNS, Plaintiff,


          Barbara B. Crabb, District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Joshua Towns, who is incarcerated at the Wisconsin Resource Center, is proceeding on Eighth Amendment claims that defendants Karen Anderson, Kim Campbell, Dr. Dalia Suliene, Dr. Karl Hoffman and Dr. Syed violated his constitutional rights by failing to provide adequate medical care for his left knee pain while he was incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution between 2012 and 2015. Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. #22. For the reasons stated below, I am granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and closing this case.

         Before I set forth the undisputed facts, a few preliminary matters require attention. First, in his brief in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff asks the court to “grant [Campbell] summary judgment because I lack the evidence to proceed.” Dkt. #34 at 6. His request will be granted and his Eighth Amendment claim that defendant Campbell denied him needed medical care because he could not pay a co-payment will be dismissed.

         Second, plaintiff has proposed several findings of fact about incidents or health service requests that are not related or relevant to the specific claims on which he was granted leave to proceed. For example, plaintiff proposed several findings of fact related to the denial of a low bunk restriction, the removal of his wheelchair and being out of pain medication. Dkt. #33 at ¶¶ 62-68, 75-76, 83-90. Although plaintiff included similar allegations in his complaint, dkt. #1, I did not grant him leave to proceed on an Eighth Amendment claim related to these allegations because he failed to allege that any of the named defendants knew about these matters or were personally responsible for his lack of pain medication or the denial of a low bunk restriction or wheelchair. Dkt. #10 at 3-4, 11. Moreover, in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff has failed to present any evidence that defendants knew about these alleged deprivations of medical care or were responsible for them. Accordingly, I have not considered any of plaintiff's proposed findings of fact or arguments about events that are not the subject of this lawsuit and do not relate to the claims on which plaintiff was allowed to proceed.

         Finally, in accordance with this court's summary judgment procedures attached to the pretrial conference order in this case, I have not considered any of plaintiff's proposed findings of fact that do not contain citations to admissible evidence. Summ. Judg. Proc. §§ I.B and II.D.2, dkt. #15 at 5-7.

         With these considerations in mind, I find the following facts proposed by the parties to be undisputed unless otherwise noted.


         A. The Parties and Background

         Plaintiff Joshua Towns is now incarcerated at the Wisconsin Resource Center, but all of the events at issue in this case took place while he was incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution. After transferring to Columbia in 2011, plaintiff saw various health care professionals for chronic knee pain. He is six feet tall and weighs approximately 300 pounds.

         Defendants were all employed at Columbia at some point between 2011 and 2015. Karen Anderson was the health services unit manager from December 4, 2011 to January 12, 2014; Dalia Suliene worked as a physician from 2006 to April 5, 2013; Karl Hoffman worked as a physician from February 2014 to 2015; and Syed was a physician during the entire relevant period.

         The physicians' responsibilities included: diagnosing and treating inmates' medical needs, illnesses and injuries; prescribing and managing medications; and arranging for consultations with outside providers. As the health services unit manager, defendant Anderson managed and supervised health care services, developed policies and procedures, monitored care plans, prepared required reports and acted as a liason to other disciplines, institution units and community health care providers. In addition, she monitored nursing practice documentation in Department of Corrections medical records. She did not evaluate, diagnose, determine a course of treatment for inmates or prescribe medications for them, have any direct patient care contact with inmates or have any control over the schedules of physicians or outside specialists.

         Absent a true medical emergency, the institution does not allow inmates to “skip ahead” in the line of waiting patients. An inmate seeking care for a non-emergency, and for specialist services in particular, must wait until a provider is available. For example, orthopedic specialist Dr. Ellen O'Brien visits Columbia once every month or every other month, seeing a full load of patients each time. If something disrupts Dr. O'Brien's scheduled appointments during her visit, such as an institution lockdown, all of her pending appointments must be rescheduled for the following month or months.

         B. 2012 Medical Treatment and Health Service Requests

         As of February 2012, plaintiff's “active problem list” or list of medical issues included asthma, right hip pain, left knee “giving out” and pain and obesity. Plaintiff self-reported an allergy to ibuprofen, so it is not possible to treat him with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. Therefore, plaintiff received acetaminophen on a consistent basis from at least November 24, 2009.

         On February 13, 2012, plaintiff saw Dr. Suliene because his knee was “giving out” and causing pain. At this time, plaintiff had completed six physical therapy sessions that had not improved his condition. Dr. Suliene ordered an outside orthopedic consultation with Dr. O'Brien, who evaluated plaintiff on February 17, 2012. O'Brien noted tenderness and audible and palpable crepitus (popping or cracking) that was greater in plaintiff's left knee than in his right knee. She recommended x-rays of plaintiff's knees, continued physical therapy and custom arch supports. (Although defendants say that O'Brien also recommended that plaintiff wear personal shoes as much as possible, plaintiff says that neither physician told him this.) Dr. O'Brien did not recommend the use of any medications to treat plaintiff. X-rays taken on February 21, 2012 showed “narrowing of the joint space due to mild degenerative changes, ” reflecting “mild osteoarthritis” in both of plaintiff's knees.

         Plaintiff did not submit any health service request forms in 2012 until May 6, 2012, when he wrote that “I am having very sharp pains in my stomach because [of] all the aspirin I have been given and I am still having knee and back pains.” Plaintiff had never been prescribed aspirin but it is available for purchase in the canteen. Plaintiff was actually referring to acetaminophen in his health services request form. On May 7, plaintiff was told by a staff member that he had an appointment scheduled with a physician.

         On May 15, 2012, Dr. Suliene saw plaintiff for complaints of asthma and left knee pain, but plaintiff did not bring up stomach pain at that visit. Dr. Suliene prescribed sulfasalazine, an anti-inflammatory, for his knee pain and renewed his prescription for acetaminophen. According to Dr. Suliene, for chronic knee pain and weakness like plaintiff's, physical therapy and weight loss are the most effective treatments. On May 18, 2012, Dr. Suliene discontinued the sulfasalazine and prescribed salsalate (Disalcid), another anti-inflammatory drug, which is similar to ibuprofen.

         Plaintiff submitted a health service request form on June 18, 2012, complaining about knee pain and other conditions. On June 26, 2012, plaintiff saw a nurse for back pain and darkened urine and reported that his medications were ineffective for both his back and knee pain. The nurse recommended that he alternate heat and ice applications and increase his fluid intake. On June 29, 2012, Dr. Suliene saw plaintiff for back spasms and bilateral foot and knee pain. She noted that plaintiff's body mass index was 43 and that much of his pain was the result of the stress on his body caused by obesity. Dr. Suliene prescribed cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant, for his back spasms, and recommended that he work on losing weight. (Plaintiff says that Dr. Suliene gave him only ice and acetaminophen but he has not presented any evidence to support this contention.)

         Throughout July and August 2012, plaintiff saw a physical therapist who noted that plaintiff was showing slow but steady progress in strengthening his knee and reducing his pain. On July 16, 2012, plaintiff submitted a health service request form in which he reported that after physical therapy the day before, he was having a lot of swelling in his left knee. He also complained of continued lower back pain. On July 17, health services staff told plaintiff that he was scheduled to see a physician. (Plaintiff says that he submitted another health service request at some point between May 6 and July 16, ...

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