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Stechauner v. Kemper

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 23, 2019




         Pro se plaintiff Matthew Stechauner, an inmate at Oshkosh Correctional Institution (OCI), filed this suit against officials at his previous prison, Racine Correctional Institution (RCI). One of the defendants, Kim Einwalter, failed to respond to the complaint, although a summons and complaint were properly served. Dkt. 49. The clerk's office entered default against her. Dkt. 58. The other three defendants, Paul Kemper, Lavail Jamison, and Dana Brown, responded to Stechauner's complaint and went to trial, after which the jury returned a verdict in favor of those defendants. Dkt. 117.

         Stechauner moves for default judgment against Einwalter and to hold her in contempt of court. Dkt. 56. I will grant the motion in part, and I will grant default judgment against Einwalter. But I won't hold Einwalter in contempt. To be held in contempt, a a party “must have violated an order that sets forth in specific detail an unequivocal command from the court.” United States v. Dowell, 257 F.3d 694, 698 (7th Cir. 2001). I did not issue any orders commanding Einwalter to take action in this case. An entry of default does not place a party in contempt of court.

         Stechauner also moves for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal, Dkt. 119, and for the preparation of trial transcripts at the government's expense. Dkt. 121. I will grant both motions.

         A. Motion for default judgment

         I held a default hearing on July 18, 2019. Stechauner appeared by telephone. Einwalter did not appear. I found that the court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because the case arises under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution; Einwalter was properly served; and Einwalter did not answer or otherwise respond to the complaint. Accordingly, I conclude that Stechauner is entitled to default judgment against Einwalter.

         Stechauner testified that on October 28, 2015, around 7:00 p.m., he told a correctional officer that he was suffering from chest pain, dizziness, and trouble breathing. He says that the officer called Einwalter (who was a nurse at the prison) and told her about Stechauner's symptoms, but that Einwalter did not examine or treat Stechauner. Stechauner continued to experience chest pain and eventually collapsed in his cell. At 1:28 a.m., he was sent to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. Stechauner says that he continues to suffer from bronchitis to this day. His testimony is corroborated by an incident report, Dkt. 91-5, hospital discharge records, Dkt. 91-6, and his earlier testimony at trial against the other defendants.

         Einwalter's default establishes that her actions violated Stechauner's rights. But I still must determine the amount of damages that Stechauner is entitled to because of her actions.

         1. Compensatory damages

         I will award Stechauner $2, 500 in compensatory damages for the physical pain and anxiety he experienced while waiting to receive treatment. I conclude that Einwalter's actions caused a six-hour delay in treatment. During that time, he suffered a physical injury in the form of untreated symptoms of his bronchitis.

         Stechauner says that because he continues to suffer from chronic bronchitis, I should also award compensatory damages for ongoing and future health problems. But Einwalter's actions on October 28 did not cause Stechauner's bronchitis. On the contrary, Stechauner was already suffering from bronchitis symptoms when Einwalter ignored him. Stechauner testified at the hearing that he believes his bronchitis was caused by continued mistreatment by members of the prison's medical staff. But I am granting default judgment only against Einwalter, and only for the delay in treatment that she caused on October 28. Stechauner is not entitled to compensation for harm caused by other individuals or harm caused by Einwalter on different dates.

         2. Punitive damages

         I will award Stechauner $2, 500 in punitive damages against Einwalter. A plaintiff may recover punitive damages if the defendant acted with “reckless or callous indifference” to his constitutional rights. Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983). Einwalter's default establishes that she acted with deliberate indifference. This means that she was both aware of Stechauner's serious chest pain and knew that it was serious enough to require immediate treatment. Serious chest pain can be a symptom of a potentially life-threatening condition, so Einwalter's decision to ignore Stechauner's complaint demonstrates a reckless disregard for Stechauner's Eighth Amendment right to receive treatment for serious medical needs. And given Stechauner's history of pulmonary problems, I find that some punishment and deterrence is warranted here.

         B. Motions regarding ...

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