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Davis v. Peters

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 24, 2019



          J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff, a prisoner incarcerated at Green Bay Correctional Institution (“GBCI”), was allowed to proceed on claims of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, against nurse Susan Peters (“Peters”) and health services manager Jean Lutsey (“Lutsey”), both employed at GBCI. (Docket #7). Defendants filed motions for summary judgment on April 22, 2019. (Docket #30) (Lutsey's motion); (Docket #38) (Peters' motion). Along with their motions, Defendants filed supporting statements of fact. (Docket #32) (Lutsey's statement); (Docket #41) (Peters' statement).

         According to those statements, the material facts are as follows. Plaintiff has complained of back pain for some years. In May 2017, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Fox Lake Correctional Institution (“Fox Lake”), a Dr. Mann determined that Plaintiff did not need back surgery, but recommended that he see a physiatrist (something like a doctor of physical therapy). A physiatry appointment was scheduled, but then cancelled because of Plaintiff's transfer to GBCI.

         Plaintiff was transferred to GBCI in June 2017, and that is when his contact with Defendants began. Peters became Plaintiff's primary care provider at GBCI. This included managing his medications and other avenues to relieve his back pain. This was quite a laborious task with Plaintiff, as he constantly wanted to start and stop different medications and increase or decrease their dosages. Plaintiff also repeatedly requested narcotic pain medication, but this was refused. Still, Peters engaged with Plaintiff extensively, adjusting his care when appropriate and referring him to a pain specialist.

         As part of her role to develop a treatment plan for Plaintiff's back pain, Peters reviewed Dr. Mann's recommendation for a physiatry consult. Because Plaintiff's medical tests were somewhat aged at this point, Peters also ordered new testing. In late October 2017, Dr. Chyatte, the neurosurgeon who reviewed the tests, agreed that Plaintiff did not need surgery, but suggested “[c]onsider referral to Pain and Spine.” (Docket #34-1 at 34). Dr. Chyatte never specifically recommended that Plaintiff see a physiatrist. Peters also considered that Plaintiff had undergone physical therapy less than a year before, and he had told Peters that the therapy did not work.

         Peters determined that a conservative treatment plan was appropriate in light of the doctors' recommendations and Plaintiff's history of noncompliance with treatment. Plaintiff was upset by this and complained vociferously of pain, the need for surgery, and a physiatry appointment. He filed many health services requests to this effect.

         As the health services manager, Lutsey only manages the provision of healthcare at GBCI. She does not prescribe medicine or make referrals, and only rarely provides direct care to inmates. She never treated Plaintiff directly. Her only interaction with Plaintiff was to respond to one of his health services requests and to approve one of his requests for additional pillows, as part of one of her separate committee assignments.

         On these facts, neither Defendant violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Prisoners are entitled to a minimal level of healthcare while in custody. Petties v. Carter, 836 F.3d 722, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2016). The Eighth Amendment is violated when the prisoner shows that they “suffered from an objectively serious medical condition, ” and that “the individual defendant was deliberately indifferent to that condition.” Id. at 728. The Gayton case neatly summarizes a deliberate indifference claim:

[T]he plaintiff must show that: (1) [he] had an objectively serious medical condition; (2) the defendants knew of the condition and were deliberately indifferent to treating h[im]; and (3) this indifference caused h[im] some injury. An objectively serious medical condition is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would perceive the need for a doctor's attention. A medical condition need not be life-threatening to be serious; rather, it could be a condition that would result in further significant injury or unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain if not treated.
With regard to the deliberate indifference prong, the plaintiff must show that the official acted with the requisite culpable state of mind. This inquiry has two components. The official must have subjective knowledge of the risk to the inmate's health, and the official also must disregard that risk. Evidence that the official acted negligently is insufficient to prove deliberate indifference. Rather, deliberate indifference is simply a synonym for intentional or reckless conduct, and that reckless describes conduct so dangerous that the deliberate nature of the defendant's actions can be inferred. Simply put, an official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. Even if a defendant recognizes the substantial risk, he is free from liability if he responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted.

Gayton v. McCoy, 593 F.3d 610, 620 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations and quotations omitted). In sum, “deliberate indifference means actual, personal knowledge of a serious risk, coupled with the lack of any reasonable response to it.” Ayoubi v. Dart, 724 Fed.Appx. 470, 474 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Assuming arguendo that Plaintiff's pain qualified as a serious medical condition, Peters comes nowhere close to displaying deliberate indifference to his treatment needs. Deliberate indifference claims against medical personnel cannot be sustained on “negligence or even malpractice.” Pyles v. Fahim, 771 F.3d 403, 409 (7th Cir. 2014). Rather, “[t]he federal courts will not interfere with a [provider's] decision to pursue a particular course of treatment unless that decision represents so significant a departure from accepted professional standards or practices that it calls into question whether the [provider] actually was exercising [her] professional judgment.” Peters clearly exercised her professional judgment again and again when dealing with Plaintiff. She engaged in a constant, varied, and determined campaign of treatment in an attempt to address his pain, though she would not prescribe the narcotics he desired.

         As to Lutsey, she lacks the required personal involvement to even implicate Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights. Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 593-94 (7th Cir. 2009) (“Section 1983 does not establish a system of vicarious responsibility. Liability depends on each defendant's knowledge and actions, not on the knowledge or actions of persons they supervise.”) (citation omitted). She did not treat Plaintiff directly and, as relevant to this case, merely responded to one of his written complaints about his healthcare.

         Plaintiff responded to each of Defendants' motions separately. Both sets of responsive materials include a brief, a collection of exhibits, and a set of “findings of fact.” These “findings of fact” are affirmative statements of fact, comprising either citations to Plaintiff's deposition in this case, or a listing of exhibits with some explanatory parentheticals. Se ...

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