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Thomas v. Wolfe

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 2, 2016

DOCTOR WILLIAM H. WOLFE, et al., Defendants.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff Leonard Thomas, an inmate at the Westville Correctional Facility, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on events which occurred at the Pendleton Correctional Facility (“Pendleton”) from April 2010 through April 2012. Mr. Thomas's primary complaint is that he was denied adequate medication (Dilantin) and accommodations (bottom range pass) for his seizures in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. As a result, Mr. Thomas allegedly had seizures and was injured. The Defendants, Dr. William Wolfe, Nurse Practitioner Vanessa Suffoletta, Nurse Deborah Wallen, Nurse Mary Blomquist, Nurse Linda Ashby and Yvonne Goodson (collectively the “Medical Defendants”) filed a motion for summary judgment on September 25, 2015. That same day, defendants Andrew Cole and Danny Fountain (collectively the “State Defendants”) filed their motion for summary judgment. Mr. Thomas has opposed both motions in a single brief. Dkt. 126.[1]

         For the reasons explained below, the Medical Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part [dkt. 113] and the State Defendants' motion for summary judgment [dkt. 116] is denied.

         As a preliminary matter, Mr. Thomas's motion for expert witness [dkt. 149] is denied. This motion is untimely because it was filed after the close of discovery and after the motions for summary judgment were fully briefed. Given the current record, no court-appointed expert witness pursuant to Rule 706 is appropriate because there is no evident need for an expert, to “assist the trier-of-fact to understand the evidence or decide a fact in issue.” Ledford v. Sullivan, 105 F.3d 354, 358 -359 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 702). For these reasons, the motion for appointment of an expert witness [124] is denied.

         I. Background

         This action was screened as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and the following claims were identified [dkt. 38]:[2]

         1. Eighth Amendment; Denial of Dilantin and Bottom Range Pass. Doctor William H.

         Wolfe and Nurse Practitioner Vanessa G. Suffoletta allegedly denied Mr. Thomas the medication Dilantin and a bottom range pass. As a result, Mr. Thomas had a seizure and injured himself on the stairs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         2. Eighth Amendment; Denial of or Interference with Medical Treatment. Nurse Mary Blomquist, Nurse Wallen, Nurse Lindy Ashby and Medical Records Clerk Yvonne Goodson allegedly falsified records, the effect of which was that Mr. Thomas was denied medical care for his seizures.

         3. First Amendment; Retaliation. Yvonne Goodson allegedly retaliated against Mr. Thomas for submitting health care request forms and seeking copies of his medical records by issuing him a conduct report in violation of the First Amendment.

         4. Eighth Amendment; Conditions of Confinement. Andrew Cole and Counselor Fountain allegedly had the authority to move Mr. Thomas to a bottom or low range but refused to do so even after Mr. Thomas informed them that such a move was necessary to prevent injury.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment asks that the Court find that a trial based on the uncontroverted and admissible evidence is unnecessary because, as a matter of law, it would conclude in the moving party's favor. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. To survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must set forth specific, admissible evidence showing that there is a material issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially the grant of summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e).

         The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 898 (7th Cir. 2003). Furthermore, reliance on the pleadings or conclusory statements backed by inadmissible evidence is insufficient to create an issue of material fact on summary judgment. Id. at 901.

         Mr. Thomas responded to the defendants' motions with a 41-page response.[3] See dkt. 126. The State defendants then filed a motion to strike some of Mr. Thomas's exhibits. Specifically, the State Defendants request that the Court strike 42 specifically identified documents. The State defendants argue that these documents are irrelevant, needlessly cumulative, not properly authenticated or are otherwise inadmissible. The motion to strike [dkt. 137] is denied because Local Rule 56-1 states that any dispute over the admissibility or effect of evidence must be raised through an objection within a party's brief. Similarly, the Medical Defendants' objection to the plaintiff's designation of evidence is overruled as presented. The Medical Defendant's objection should have been (but was not) included in their reply brief.[4] That said, this Court shall apply Local Rule 56-1 such that only evidence which would be admissible at trial will be considered in ruling on the defendants' motions for summary judgment. See L.R. 56-1(e).

         The key inquiry then, is whether admissible evidence exists to support a plaintiff's claims, not the weight or credibility of that evidence, both of which are assessments reserved to the trier of fact. See Schacht v. Wis. Dep't of Corrections, 175 F.3d 497, 504 (7th Cir. 1999). When evaluating this inquiry, the Court must give the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence submitted and resolve “any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial ... against the moving party.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330.

         III. Undisputed Facts

         Consistent with the foregoing, the following statement of facts was evaluated pursuant to the standards set forth above. That is, this statement of facts is not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light reasonably most favorable to Mr. Thomas as the non-moving party with respect to the motion for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         A. The Parties

         During the time period relevant to his complaint, Mr. Thomas was a 52-year-old inmate incarcerated at Pendleton. Mr. Thomas was diagnosed with epilepsy and schizophrenia and enrolled in the Chronic Care Clinic. As an offender enrolled in the Chronic Care Clinic, Mr. Thomas was seen by a medical provider every 90-days for his chronic condition and received regular lab work, including monitoring of his Dilantin levels and seizure activity.

         Defendant Dr. William Wolfe is a physician licensed to practice medicine in the State of Indiana. Dr. Wolfe was one of several physicians at Pendleton who would see and treat inmates as they were placed on his schedule by nursing staff. He did not set or arrange the patient schedule.

         Defendant Vanessa Suffoletta is a nurse practitioner licensed in the State of Indiana. She was a nurse practitioner at Pendleton. Nurse Practitioner Suffoletta had regular patients assigned to her for treatment. All other patients were assigned to the other physicians at Pendleton. Mr. Thomas was not one of Nurse Practitioner Suffoletta's regular patients. She had very limited involvement with Mr. Thomas's care.[5]

         Defendants Deborah Wallen and Mary Blomquist are registered nurses working at Pendleton. Nurse Wallen and Nurse Blomquist are unable to diagnose medical conditions or order medical treatment for offenders or any other patients. As registered nurses, they triage offenders and communicate their medical needs to the provider and then follow the provider's orders. They cannot prescribe medications.

         Defendant Linda Ashby is a registered nurse who worked at Pendleton. Her duties and responsibilities included distributing prescribed medication to inmates and monitoring the inmates as they took the medications. Nurse Ashby was not permitted to diagnose medical conditions or to order medical treatment for offenders or any other patients.

         Defendant Yvonne Goodson is currently, and was at all times relevant to Mr. Thomas's Complaint, the medical records clerk at Pendleton. As the medical records clerk, Goodson works under the Health Care Administrator and maintains the paper and electronic health records in the regular course of business, oversees requests for health records, and facilitates in-person offender reviews and copying of health records. Goodson is not involved in generating health records for offenders or documenting their medical care. Goodson is not involved in the disciplinary process at Pendleton and does not make decisions on whether to discipline an inmate.

         From September 2011 to August 2012, Andrew Cole was the Classification Supervisor or Acting Classification Supervisor at Pendleton.

         Danny Fountain was the Caseworker/Counselor in J Cell House at Pendleton in 2011.

         B. The Indiana Department of Correction's Request for Healthcare System

         The Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) follows a policy and procedure wherein offenders may initiate medical services through a Request for Healthcare Form (“HCF”). These forms are kept in all housing areas and are made available upon request from an offender. Drop boxes for HCFs are available. Health care staff retrieves these forms from each drop box and reviews and responds to the requests daily. Depending upon the number of staff available and the time and circumstances of the form review, a two-step process occurs whereby one health care staff, typically a nurse, reviews the information, and schedules the offender to be evaluated by another nurse in the clinic area, if necessary. Nursing staff do not schedule practitioner appointments in the absence of an appropriate clinical assessment.

         C. Bottom Range Pass

         An offender who has a bottom range pass is to be housed on the first tier of a cell block. A bottom bunk pass requires that if the inmate is housed in a cell with bunked beds, the inmate is to sleep on the bottom bunk. A bottom bunk pass is different from a bottom range pass.

         If Fountain is approached by an inmate seeking a bottom range pass due to a medical issue, Fountain tells the inmate to submit a HCF so that medical personnel can determine if the inmate's medical condition requires him to be on the bottom range. Fountain instructs the inmate to let him know if medical personnel determine that the inmate should be housed on the bottom range so that Fountain can start the process of getting him a bottom range pass. Fountain does not place a request into the Classification Department for an individual to be housed on the bottom range unless the inmate produces a medical order indicating that he should be placed on the bottom range. If medical verifies the order, Fountain will then put in a request to the Classification Department indicating that the inmate should be moved to a bottom range cell.

         When a bottom range assignment is necessary due to a medical matter, the Classification Department relies on medical personnel to make the recommendation. The medical recommendation will be accommodated if at all possible. Usually, the Classification Department evaluates requests for a bottom range pass when the Unit Team or Counselor indicates that one should be issued. If the offender contacts the Classification Department directly about a bottom range pass, the Classification Department will usually tell the inmate to take it up with his counselor.

         If an order verifying the need for a bottom range pass has been issued by medical personnel, the Classification Department places a note in the Location History section in the Offender Information System Database. Mr. Thomas's Location History section does not show any notes stating that medical personnel restricted him to the bottom range while he was housed at Pendleton.

         The Classification Department at Pendleton places an inmate in the most appropriate setting possible and has final approval of where an inmate is placed. Just because an offender desires to live in a specific housing unit for whatever reason, there may be multiple factors (including availability, conduct record, victim/aggressor flags, potential for violence, etc.) that would cause the Classification Department to place him elsewhere.

         Mr. Thomas requested a bottom range pass from Dr. Wolfe on several occasions, but was denied. Mr. Thomas wrote a letter to Andrew Cole, the Classification Supervisor dated February 8, 2011. The letter states that Mr. Thomas has done everything in his power to secure a bottom range permit due to his epilepsy, but his requests have been denied. See dkt. 126-3 at p. 4. Mr. Thomas was never given a bottom range pass while at Pendleton.

         D. Housing Placement

         Mr. Thomas arrived at Pendleton on October 30, 2009. From October 30, 2009 to November 13, 2009, Mr. Thomas was housed in a cell on the second tier in J Cell House.

         From November 13, 2009, to February 25, 2011, Mr. Thomas was housed in H Cell House in a first tier cell.

         From February 25, 2011, to May 11, 2011, [6] Mr. Thomas was housed in various cells in J Cell House and G Cell House on the second tier.

         From May 11, 2011 to October 31, 2011, Mr. Thomas was housed on the third tier in J Cell House.

         On both October 15th and October 29th, 2011, Mr. Thomas suffered a seizure in which he fell down the stairs. Medical personnel were called to respond to these events.

         Mr. Thomas states that both before and after his seizures in October 2011, he personally spoke to his counselor, defendant Fountain, and asked to be moved to a first floor range. Dkt. 126 at p. 37, ¶ 65. Specifically, On October 17, 2011, Mr. Thomas filed an informal complaint with several medical administrative officials and custody officials and personally handed Fountain his copy while speaking to him in his office. Within the informal complaint Mr. Thomas requested a bottom range permit, medical idle cell and medical idle state pay. Dkt. 126 at p. 38 ¶¶ 69-70. Mr. Fountain responded stating “don't see a need for bottom range and you already get idle pay. Medical will have to give your MID status then I'll change your pay.” Dkt. 126 at p. 39, no. 74.

         Mr. Thomas states that after the October 29, 2011 seizure he personally spoke to Mr. Fountain about his cell placement. Mr. Fountain responded that just because Mr. Thomas is epileptic does not mean he is eligible for a bottom range cell location. Dkt. 126 at p. 37, no. 66.

         Mr. Thomas states that both before and after the seizure incidents he told Mr. Cole on several occasions that he needed to be moved off the third floor and that Mr. Cole did not tell him to raise the issue with his counselor. Dkt. 126 at p. 35, no. 60 and p. 34, no. 57.

         Mr. Thomas admits that Mr. Cole and Mr. Fountain knew that Mr. Thomas was being seen regularly by medical personnel for treatment of his epilepsy.

         From October 31, 2011, to Mr. Thomas's transfer to Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in April of 2012, Mr. Thomas was housed on a first tier cell. Mr. Thomas was moved to the bottom range as a “courtesy.” He was not issued a bottom range pass.

         E. Mr. Thomas's Medical Treatment ...

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