Jeffrey D. Leiser, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Karen Kloth, Correctional Sergeant, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
September 5, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Wisconsin. No. 3:15-cv-00768-slc - Stephen L.
Crocker, Magistrate Judge.
Easterbrook, Hamilton, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.
HAMILTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Leiser was an inmate at the Wisconsin Stanley Correctional
Institution where Sergeant Karen Kloth was employed. Leiser,
who was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
while at Stanley, alleged that beginning in 2013 he
self-reported his disorder to Kloth and "informed"
her not to stand directly behind him because doing so
triggered his mental health symptoms. He claims Kloth did not
comply with his request but instead increased the amount of
time she stood behind him while patrolling common areas.
Leiser filed this suit against Kloth, her supervisor, and the
warden, claiming that Kloth's behavior violated the
Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishment. The district court denied the defendants'
motion for summary judgment after determining they were not
entitled to qualified immunity because Leiser had a
well-established right to be free from intentionally
inflicted psychological harm. The defendants filed this
interlocutory appeal, asking us to resolve the legal question
of whether they were, in fact, entitled to qualified
immunity. We reverse. Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity. At the relevant times, it did not violate clearly
established constitutional law for non-medical correctional
staff to refuse to provide a prisoner with what amounts to a
medical accommodation that had not been ordered by medical
staff and the need for which was not obvious to a layperson.
construe the evidence in the light most favorable to Leiser
as the non-moving party. See Lovett v. Herbert, 907
F.3d 986, 990 (7th Cir. 2018). At all times relevant, Jeffrey
Leiser was an inmate in the custody of the Wisconsin
Department of Corrections, housed at the Stanley Correctional
Institution. Sergeant Karen Kloth was a correctional officer
who worked in Leiser's unit. Kloth reported to Unit
Manager Paula Stoudt and in turn to Warden Reed Richardson.
was housed in Stanley's mental health unit. He struggled
with numerous mental health issues, including at times
suicidal tendencies. Especially relevant to this case, the
psychological services staff eventually diagnosed Leiser with
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") stemming
from a sexual attack he suffered as a child. Leiser alleges
that because of this attack, when someone stands directly
behind him, he experiences flashbacks and may become angry,
knock his head against a wall, break out in a sweat, yell,
scream, and want to hurt whoever triggered the episode.
Leiser told staff in the Psychological Services Unit he was
experiencing PTSD symptoms as early as October 2014, but he
was not diagnosed with the disorder until some time in the
spring of 2015.
at Stanley, Leiser met regularly with staff from the
Psychological Services Unit. On March 30, 2015, he told his
treating clinician that he could not tolerate people standing
directly behind him and that his anxiety spiked when he was
waiting in line for medications in the Health Services Unit.
His psychiatrist then arranged for him to receive his
medications directly from nursing staff, rather than after
waiting in line, to avoid this discomfort. Leiser did not
receive any other accommodation for his PTSD from the
psychological staff. Stanley's Psychological Services
Unit does not inform correctional officers of an inmate's
clinical diagnosis if no accommodation is required.
point in 2013, well before his diagnosis, Leiser noticed that
Sergeant Karen Kloth began standing behind him in common
areas, close enough, he says, to trigger his PTSD. Leiser
told Kloth that he suffered from PTSD and that he could not
tolerate anyone standing so close behind him. Kloth responded
by telling Leiser he would just have to "deal with
it" because she could stand where she wanted.
this exchange, Leiser claims, Kloth increased the amount of
time she stood directly behind him. Leiser submitted
declarations from three other inmates who testified that
Kloth stood directly behind Leiser "every time" she
worked and that she would stand behind him until he started
shaking and sweating. Another inmate, Lor en Leiser
(Leiser's brother) told Kloth that she should not stand
behind Leiser because of his PTSD, explained his symptoms,
and that it would be her fault if he "snapped on
her." Leiser's witnesses testified that after Kloth
stood behind Leiser, he would dump his tray and retreat to
his cell where he would shake, sweat, and talk to himself.
Leiser indicated he began skipping meals when Kloth was on
duty to avoid the risk of experiencing his PTSD symptoms.
from treating clinicians say that Leiser was having problems
with unit staff standing behind him, but they do not indicate
he ever identified it was Kloth. Leiser eventually complained
in writing about Kloth's behavior to her supervisors,
Stoudt and Richardson. Though the written complaints to
Stoudt did not indicate Kloth was engaging in conduct which
triggered his PTSD, the letter he wrote to Warden Richardson
specifically requested that Kloth be prohibited from standing
behind him for that reason. Neither Stoudt nor Richardson
acted on these complaints.
sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 30, 2015. Among
other claims, Leiser alleged that Kloth was intentionally
causing him psychological harm by repeatedly attempting to
trigger his PTSD, which he said violated the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual
punishments. He also sued Stoudt and Richardson for failing
to protect him from Kloth's behavior.
a mandatory screening of the in forma pauperis complaint
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the district court permitted
Leiser to proceed on the Eighth Amendment claim against Kloth
and failure-to-protect claims against Stoudt and Richardson.
The defendants later moved for summary judgment. They argued
that Kloth's behavior did not rise to the level of cruel
and unusual punishment, and even if it did, the evidence did
not establish that the defendants knew that Leiser's PTSD
was triggered when Kloth stood behind him. Regardless, they
argued, defendants were entitled to ...