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Ammerman v. Singleton

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 7, 2019

PAUL D. AMMERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
KALEB SINGLETON, ET AL. Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se plaintiff Paul Ammerman brought this claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that six current and former employees of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections violated his First and Eighth Amendment rights during his incarceration at New Lisbon Correctional Institution (“NLCI”). Now before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. # 65.) For the reasons that follow, that motion will be granted.[1]

         UNDISPUTED FACTS[2]

         A. Overview of the Parties

         Plaintiff Paul Ammerman was incarcerated at NLCI from February 2016 until July 2016, after which he was transferred to Columbia Correctional Institution (“CCI”). Plaintiff named six defendants, all of whom were employed during all relevant times by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections at NLCI. Three of the defendants were employed as security staff: Larry Fuchs was Security Director; Tim Crapser was a captain; and Shane Hinton was a lieutenant. The remaining three defendants were employed as psychological staff: Denise Romanow was a psychologist; and Kaleb Singleton and Samuel Murphy were psychological associates. For ease, the court will refer to these two groups of defendants as the “security staff defendants” and the “psychological staff defendants, ” respectively.

         B. Facts Relating to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Claim

         Prior to his incarceration at NLCI, Ammerman had been treated for mental health issues and had been diagnosed with dysthymic disorder in 2012.[3] During his six-month stay at NLCI, Ammerman was seen multiple times by psychological staff, which was more frequent than other inmates with similar clinical psychological needs during that period.

         According to defendants, psychological staff cannot prescribe medication; only Health Services Unit (“HSU”) psychiatrists can do so. (Reply to Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' PFOF (dkt. #81) ¶ 27.)[4] Even so, the evidence cited by plaintiff suggests that HSU staff may sometimes review PSU notes in deciding whether to prescribe medicine. (Id.) And defendants admit that PSU staff may refer patients to see an HSU psychiatrist. (Id.) Therefore, the court considers it undisputed that PSU staff cannot formally prescribe medication, but that they may refer a patient to HSU for a possible medical prescription.

         On April 12, 2016, Ammerman was seen by Psych. Assoc. Samuel Murphy. This was Murphy's first contact with Ammerman. During the appointment, Ammerman reported having anger issues and requested medication. Murphy discussed “non-medicated techniques” with Ammerman and provided him with handouts on the topics of anxiety, depression, sleep and relaxation. However, Murphy neither prescribed medication nor reached a diagnosis.

         About four weeks later, on April 29, 2016, Ammerman had an appointment with Psychologist Denise Romanow. Not Ammerman's regular clinician, this was the only direct contact Romanow had with Ammerman, who apparently brought along to that appointment a psychological report that he had received from another doctor before his incarceration at NLCI. In response to Ammerman's request that she review his previous psychological records, Romanow declined to consider the specific report he had with him, but she did give him a release form so that all his records could be obtained. During that appointment, Ammerman also reported that he was taking Gabapentin and was experiencing “blurred vision” and “moodiness, ” prompting Romanow to follow up with an HSU nurse regarding Ammerman's complaints. In response, Romanow was apparently told that Ammerman had an HSU appointment regarding the symptoms scheduled in June. Finally, Romanow encouraged Ammerman to review the materials he had previously received from PSU and to contact PSU if necessary in the future.

         Ammerman was again treated by Murphy on June 3, 2016, and reported having “anger issues and depression.” (Murphy Decl. (dkt. # 71) ¶ 18.) At that appointment, Murphy again declined to prescribe medication or reach a diagnosis, but he did schedule a follow up appointment for June 20, 2016, to be seen by Psych. Assoc. Kaleb Singleton, who was Ammerman's primary mental health care provider at the time. Singleton diagnosed Ammerman with antisocial personality disorder and discussed coping skills with him. Although Ammerman also believed himself to be depressed, Singleton did not diagnose him with depression.

         Just a few days later, on June 24, 2016, Ammerman sent a complaint to Security Director Larry Fuchs, which Fuchs received on June 27, 2016. In that letter, Ammerman complained about the treatment he was receiving from PSU. The day after Fuchs received the complaint, he responded by instructing Ammerman to continue to work with the clinical staff.

         On June 26, 2016, Ammerman also submitted a Psychological Services Request for depression medication, to which Singleton responded by directing Ammerman to submit a Health Services Request form. Ammerman apparently did so, but the psychiatrist on duty declined to prescribe any medication, again instructing Ammerman to work on non-medical ways of dealing with his mood and anxiety.

         C. Facts Relating to Plaintiff's First Amendment Retaliation Claim

         During Ammerman's June 20 appointment with Singleton, he also made specific threats to stab two correctional officers. Singleton not only reported those threats, but also authored a conduct report against Ammerman on June 22, 2016. After admitting his guilt, Ammerman was disciplined. This was actually the second conduct report Ammerman received at NLCI, having been written up and disciplined for threatening to assault an inmate in March 2016.

         On June 29, 2016, Singleton authored yet another conduct report against Ammerman for conduct that allegedly occurred on June 28, 2016. (Singleton Decl., Ex. 1004 - 000021 (dkt #68-3).) That report was ultimately reviewed by Lieutenant Shane Hinton, who determined that it should be processed as a minor conduct report. There appears to be a genuine dispute as to the factual events underlying this third conduct report at NLCI. Defendants allege that Ammerman said, “Fuck you Singleton. Fuck your bitch ass. I'll get you when I get out of here!” (Singleton Decl. (dkt. #69) ¶ 26.) Plaintiff disputes this, citing to a declaration by Philip Novak, another inmate, which states, “I heard that Mr. Ammerman received a conduct report for threatening Dr. Singleton. I am here to bear witness that Mr. Ammerman did no such thing.” (Novak Decl. (dkt. #76).) However, this dispute need not be resolved, since it is not material to the motion before the court for reasons explained below.

         Also on June 29, 2016, the Institution Complaint Examiner (“ICE”) received a complaint from Ammerman against Singleton, Murhpy and “Jane Doe” (likely Romanow) regarding his medical treatment. In investigating that complaint, the examiner interviewed Singleton and reviewed the two conduct reports he authored against Ammerman.

         At some point after the three conduct reports were filed, Fuchs approved a “Special Placement Needs” (“SPN”) for Ammerman. The SPN was removed, however, after Warden Strahota had reviewed it and determined that it did not meet the SPN policy requirements. (Fuchs Decl. (dkt. # 72) ¶ 18.) Even so, the SPN triggered an early review of Ammerman's custody level by the Program Review Committee (“PRC”).[5] (Singleton Decl., Ex. 1006 - 000008 (dkt. #69-5) 8.) The members of the PRC (none of whom are defendants in this case) unanimously ...


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