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Brown v. Walker

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

August 13, 2019




         Pro se plaintiff Pierre Cardell Brown alleges that defendant prison officials violated his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by housing him in a cell with feces on the window screen for three months. Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment. There are disputed issues of material fact regarding whether defendants Jason Chatman, Sandra Ashton, and Matthew Blair were deliberately indifferent to the conditions Brown faced, so I will deny both sides' motions for summary judgment on those claims and those claims will proceed to trial. I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on Brown's claim against defendant Lindsay Walker because the undisputed facts show that Walker was not deliberately indifferent to the cell conditions.


         The following facts are drawn from the parties' summary judgment submissions and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Plaintiff Pierre Cardell Brown is a prisoner currently housed in the Minnesota prison system. The events at issue in this case took place while Brown was incarcerated at Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI), in Portage, Wisconsin. At all points relevant to this case, Brown was housed in the Restrictive Housing Unit.

         Defendants all worked at CCI. Lindsay Walker was the unit manager for Restrictive Housing Unit 2. Jason Chatman was a correctional sergeant. Sandra Ashton and Matthew Blair were correctional officers.

         On March 8, 2017, Brown was moved into a new cell. Brown says that he smelled feces immediately upon entering the cell. Brown says that the smell was coming from the outermost window of his cell (neither party provides a detailed description of the window or where it was located, but I can infer that the window at issue was located in the back of the cell and was exposed to the outside). Brown complained to correctional officers immediately after discovering feces smeared on the window screen. Brown says that officers brushed him off; defendants dispute that officers would ignore this type of complaint.

         Brown says he then continued to complain to defendant correctional officers Chatman, Ashton, and Blair about the conditions in his cell “everyday” over a period of three months, but they did nothing to fix the problem. Dkt. 39, at 1. Defendants say that they did respond to Brown's complaints, although they provide only a vague timeline of their efforts.

         Sergeant Chatman says that sometime in March 2017, Brown told him about the feces on his window screen, but he says that after Brown complained he had an inmate worker- referred to by the institution as a “swamper”-clean Brown's cell. Ashton says that she “vaguely recall[s]” Brown complaining to her about the feces on his window screen and that either she or Sergeant Vines, who is not a defendant in this case, investigated the complaint and saw toothpaste but no feces on the window screen. Dkt. 55, at 2. Blair says that Brown did not complain to him about feces on his window, and that if Brown had complained either he or a sergeant would have investigated the complaint. Defendants also say that Brown had access to cleaning supplies every Friday.

         Brown says that the standard cleaning supplies-towels with “cleaning spray” on them-could not remove the “sunbaked” feces. Brown wrote defendant Unit Manager Walker an interview request complaining about the feces on his window screen. Walker says that after receiving the interview request, she contacted staff about the issue, and staff told her that they believed it was toothpaste on the window screen and that Brown refused cleaning supplies when staff offered them. (Statements made by unnamed staff members to Walker are hearsay and therefore inadmissible if introduced to demonstrate that staff actually examined the window screen or offered Brown cleaning supplies. But Walker can introduce these statements for the purposes of explaining why she did not think it was necessary to investigate the claim further.)

         After Brown wrote Walker, but sometime before April 20, 2017, Brown saw Walker on his way to a doctor's appointment. At this point, Walker told Brown that she would have his cell cleaned. Brown says that nothing was done after this meeting. But Walker says that she directed staff to have Brown and his cellmate removed so that the window could be cleaned. She also told Brown that “the stuff he was complaining about was stuck in the screens of the window and there were attempts to clean it before but it could not be cleaned and there was no evidence that it was feces.” Dkt. 35-3, at 1. When staff went to remove Brown from his cell, he refused to leave, saying that the attempt at cleaning the window would be futile.

         In late April 2017, Brown's cellmate, Ivan Johnson, submitted an inmate grievance complaining about feeling sick because of the feces on the window screen and about staff's failure to clean it properly.

         On April 28, 2017, Brown wrote a Health Service request complaining that the feces was making him sick: it was hard to breathe, it exacerbated his asthma, and he broke out in a rash. Brown was scheduled for an appointment with the Health Services Unit for May 2, 2017.

         On April 29, 2017, Brown placed a blanket over the window. Officer Hitz, who is not a defendant in this case, ordered Brown to take the blanket down. Brown says that he refused to take the blanket down because the blanket blocked the smell from the feces. Hitz offered Brown cleaning supplies but Brown refused them. Dkt. 35-4, at 1. Brown says he refused the cleaning supplies because they would not be effective in removing the feces. Hitz's conduct report states that Brown told Hitz “you come clean it” when Hitz offered him cleaning supplies. Id. Hitz gave Brown a conduct report for disobeying orders and disrespect. Id.

         Brown wrote Walker the next day, telling her that he received a conduct report for covering the window. Walker responded saying that she was not aware of the conduct report, but that maintenance would check Brown's window screen on May 2-the day that the windows were scheduled to be unlocked for the summer-and they would order a new screen if necessary. See Dkt. 40-1, at 3. This use was resolved alongside Johnson's grievance, which was dismissed after prison officials reported that maintenance staff determined that the material on the screen was not feces, but rather “corrosion of the screen, ” and staff ordered a new screen for the ...

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