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Ellis v. Myers

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 4, 2019

DEMAJIO JEROME ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGEANT MYERS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE.

         While an inmate at Westville Correctional Facility, plaintiff Demajio Jerome Ellis was injured during an altercation with correctional officers on November 22, 2013, causing him a cut to his shoulder, bruising, swelling, and headache. Mr. Ellis filed this cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights related to the incident. He brings a claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs against defendant Tawnya Lukac, LPN and defendant Sergeant Myers. Mr. Ellis also alleges claims against defendants Sergeant Myers, Sergeant Sexton, and Officer Backus for confining him in a cold cell and for using excessive force. Nurse Lukac now moves for summary judgment on the claim of deliberate indifference to Mr. Ellis' medical needs, and the Officers move for partial summary judgment, seeking summary judgment only on the claims for denial of medical care and the conditions of confinement in a cold cell. For the reasons set forth in this order, the Court grants both motions.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         At the time of the relevant events, Mr. Ellis was incarcerated at the Westville Correctional Facility (Westville). Pl.'s Compl. 1, ECF No. 1; Lukac's Ex. A., Lukac Dep. ¶ 6, ECF No. 166-1. Nurse Lukac was a licensed practical nurse at Westville providing medical care to offenders. Lukac's Ex. A., Lukac Dep. ¶ 5.

         Nurse Lukac is trained in identifying and treating patients in emergency situations and has experience in assessing patients with common ailments, including injuries after an altercation. Id. ¶ 4. As part of her work at Westville, Nurse Lukac triages offenders and determines if an offender's complaints present as a serious medical condition requiring immediate physician review. Id. ¶ 5. If she determines that an offender presents with a serious medical condition, she performs a physical examination and communicates the offender's complaints and her objective findings to the onsite physician for orders and then follows those orders. Id. Nurse Lukac was familiar with Mr. Ellis' medical history of resisting officers and refusing medical treatment. Id. ¶ 6.

         On November 21, 2013, Nurse Janice West examined Mr. Ellis after he was sprayed with OC (pepper) spray by correctional officers. Lukac's Ex B. pp. 1-4, Med. Rec., ECF No. 166-2. Mr. Ellis refused medical treatment. Id. at 1. Nurse West noted that Mr. Ellis was alert and oriented, ambulated with a steady gait, and appeared calm as soon as he was handcuffed. Id. Mr. Ellis told Nurse West that he planned to hang himself with a bedsheet, which Nurse West relayed to mental health. Id. Mr. Ellis was placed on suicide observation that evening. Id. at 6.

         The next morning, November 22, 2013, mental health professional (MHP) Nicholas Wardell charted that, the day before, Mr. Ellis had gotten into a verbal altercation with correctional officers. Id. at 6. In his deposition, Mr. Ellis acknowledged that he had resisted officers in the past and refused medical care because he was angry. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 23:14-19, 59:9-60:25, ECF No. 166-5.

         While he was on suicide watch, the water in Mr. Ellis' cell was turned off. Officers' Br., Ex. A, Ellis Dep. 7:9-19, 9:1-3. On November 22, 2013, when he returned to his cell, the water was still off, and, when the staff did not respond to his requests over two hours that the water be turned on so that he could use the toilet, he threw his feces on the range two times. Id. 9:4-10:1; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 66:15-67:13, 68:4-24, ECF No. 182; see also Lukac Br., Ex. C, Report Forms, p. 3, ECF No. 166-3.

         As a result, Mr. Ellis was escorted to the intake receiving cell at approximately 12:15 p.m. while his cell was being cleaned. Officers' Br., Ex. A, 10:2-4; Ex. B, Inter. 4; Lukac Br., Ex. C, Report Forms, p. 3. While in the intake receiving cell, Mr. Ellis was stripped down to his boxer shorts and his clothes were confiscated for weapons that could be used against staff or for objects that bodily fluid could be stored in. Officers' Br., Ex. A, 12: 2; Ex. C, Myers Inter. No. 13. Mr. Ellis was in the intake receiving cell for approximately three hours. Officers' Br. Ex. A, Ellis Dep. 10:3-4, 16-18; see also Lukac Br., Ex. C, Incident Report Forms, pp. 3. During this time, Mr. Ellis' cell was being cleaned. Officers' Br., Ex. B., Sexton Inter. 4); Lukac Br., Ex. C, Report Forms, p. 3. The Incident Report indicates that Mr. Ellis would be taken back to his cell at 3:00 p.m. Lukac Br., Ex. C, Incident Report Forms, p. 3.

         Mr. Ellis testified that the intake cell was “very cold”; he was unable to give a temperature. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 10:19-25. Mr. Ellis testified that he knew it was cold because it was November and the intake cell was connected to the garage, where air flowed in under the garage door. Id. 10:25-11:14. He also explained that the air conditioner blows right above the intake cell. Id. 11:16-17. There were no officers walking by; Mr. Ellis was not able to tell officers that he was cold; and he did not try to get the officers' attention to ask for clothes or other accommodations. Officers' Br., Ex. A, Ellis Dep. 11:21-12:1; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 69:18-19.

         At approximately 3:15 p.m., Mr. Ellis was given clothing, and Sergeant Sexton and Sergeant Myers escorted Mr. Ellis from the intake receiving cell to his cell in B-Pod. Lukac's Br. Ex. C, ECF No. 166-3; Officers' Br., Ex. A, Ellis Dep. 12:16-13:16; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 87: 20-22. Sergeant Myers reported that, as he and Sergeant Sexton entered B-Pod, Mr. Ellis started physically resisting them by shoving his shoulder into Sergeant Myers and spitting on him. Lukac's Br. Ex. C, ECF No. 166-3, p. 1. However, Mr. Ellis testified that, upon arriving at his cell, the officers picked him up over their heads and threw him onto his mattress that was on the floor next to the wall. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 75:8-21, 76:24-77:4. Mr. Ellis' head hit the concrete wall. Id. 78:11-20. The officers proceeded to kick, punch, and elbow Mr. Ellis while he was on the floor. Id. at 80:22-81:9, 82:9-18.

         The report provides that the officers secured Mr. Ellis on the ground and Sergeant Sexton called in the event at 3:16 p.m. Lukac's Br. Ex. C, Incident Report Forms. First responders arrived and helped escort Mr. Ellis back to the intake receiving cell by carrying him. Id.; Officers' Br., Ex. A, Ellis Dep. 15:22-17:1. The report provides that Mr. Ellis continued to resist staff by pulling away. Lukac's Br. Ex. C, Incident Report Forms. Mr. Ellis testified that, while taking him back to the intake receiving cell, the officers forcibly made it difficult for him to walk through use of the “leash” and shackles. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 86:7-87:12. And, at the intake receiving cell, the officers slammed Mr. Ellis' head against the door before putting him inside. Id. 87:13-22.

         Once back in the intake receiving cell, Mr. Ellis was again stripped down to his boxer shorts. Lukac's Br. Ex. C, Incident Report Form, p. 1. Mr. Ellis testified that Officer Myers put his knee on Mr. Ellis' head, crushing his face into the hard floor, to hold him down while his clothes were removed. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 88:7-20.

         Mr. Ellis testified that, as a result of the incident, he experienced a three-to-four centimeter cut on his right shoulder blade, cuts and swelling on his wrist and ankles from the leg irons, bruising on his thighs and arms, a small knot on his head, and headaches. Lukac Ex. E, Pl.'s Dep. 20:10-23, 99:2-100:23. Mr. Ellis testified that, except for the headaches, the injuries resolved in four to five days. Id. at 22:21-22, 99:10-100:23. The wound on his shoulder formed a scab, healing within a few days. Id. at 100:12-23. The headaches lasted six months. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 104:9-25.

         Mr. Ellis testified that, after the intake receiving cell door was closed and the shackles were removed, he asked Officer Myers to see the nurse and Officer Myers responded that Mr. Ellis wouldn't be seeing anyone and walked away. Id. 89:14-90:3. In contrast, the Incident Report indicates that Mr. Ellis refused medical treatment. Lukac's Br. Ex. C, ECF No. 166-3. The Incident Report also states that Nurse Lukac was notified and spoke to Mr. Ellis. Id. Sergeant Myers stated in his interrogatory response, “Ellis stated to me and Sgt. Sexton that he did not want medical attention. Ellis refused to sign a refusal form for medical . . . .” Defs.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C ¶ 12, ECF No. 169-3. Sergeant Myers further states, “I notified LPN Lukac. I do recall LPN Lukac going to the receiving area door and hearing Ellis being loud and threatening. Ellis stated to me and Sgt. Sexton that he did not want medical . . . . Mental health (Mr. Wardel) was notified as well of Ellis' behavior.” Id. ¶ 10.

         Mr. Ellis testified that he did not refuse treatment. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 19:24-20:3. Mr. Ellis testified that, after the officers left him in the receiving cell in his boxer shorts, he yelled for a nurse for twenty to thirty minutes. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 19:7-23; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 92:3-5. Mr. Ellis testified that he wanted an ice pack for his swelling, alcohol for his cuts, and just wanted to be attended to. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 91:13-25.

         In her Affidavit, Nurse Lukac states that, on the afternoon of November 22, 2013, she was working in the medical unit at Westville with Nurse Ryan Moore when they received a telephone call from officers regarding Mr. Ellis. Lukac's Br. Ex. A, Lukac Aff. ¶¶ 8-9; Lukac's Br. Ex. B, Med. Recs. pp. 7-9. Nurse Lukac understood that officers told Nurse Moore that Mr. Ellis had been resisting officers and was being held in a receiving cell because he was combative. Lukac's Br. Ex. A, Lukac Aff. ¶ 9. Nurse Lukac states that Officers told Nurse Moore that Mr. Ellis refused medical care and refused to sign a refusal of treatment. Id. Nurse Moore reported this to Nurse Lukac, and both Nurse Moore and Nurse Lukac completed a refusal of treatment form. Id. Nurse Lukac states that it is not uncommon for the nurses to fill out refusal of treatment forms when offenders refuse medical care. Id. Nurse Lukac states that, once an offender refuses medical care, nursing staff is not authorized to initiate further care or force unwanted care on offenders. Id.

         Later, Nurse Lukac was walking by the intake receiving cell when Mr. Ellis began yelling out to her from the cell. Lukac's Br. Ex. A, Lukac Aff. ¶ 10. Mr. Ellis agrees that, after he had been yelling for twenty to thirty minutes, Nurse Lukac stopped at the intake receiving cell and opened the door that separates the hallway from the cell to speak with him. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 19:17-20:9; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 92:6-17. Nurse Lukac stood approximately fifteen feet away from Mr. Ellis during this interaction. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 93:9-11; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 93:9-11. Mr. Ellis testified that he told Nurse Lukac that he had “injury” and “pains” and needed to see the nurse. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 19:22-23; Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 92:11-12. However, he testified that he did not specify his injuries to Nurse Lukac. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 22:2-7. Mr. Ellis testified, “And she said she can't come back there by [herself]. I told her I need her to come here. She said I can't come back there by myself. I said go get Lieutenant Washington. She said something, then she left. She never came back.” Id. 20:4-9; see also Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep. 92:6-17, 93:12-13. Nurse Lukac describes Mr. Ellis as swearing at her and demanding that she come into his cell. Lukac's Br. Ex. A, Lukac Aff. ¶ 10. She told him that she could not enter the cell without an officer present. Id. Nurse Lukac states in her Affidavit that she could not enter the receiving cell without an officer present for safety purposes. Id.

         During this interaction, Mr. Ellis was wearing just his boxer shorts, and Mr. Ellis testified that Nurse Lukac could see most of his body. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 107:12-18. Nurse Lukac states that she visually examined Mr. Ellis and evaluated his condition. Lukac's Br. Ex. A, Lukac Aff. ¶ 11. Nurse Lukac observed that Mr. Ellis had no visible injuries, had even and unlabored respirations, and did not display any signs or symptoms of physical distress. Id. Nurse Lukac states that Mr. Ellis remained combative and verbally abusive and that she feared for her safety. Id. Nurse Lukac reported Mr. Ellis' behavior to correctional officers and completed a conduct report. Id. Mr. Ellis was returned to his cell in B-pod at approximately 7:00 p.m. Pl.'s Supp., Ellis Dep., 24:6-12.

         On November 22, 2013, Nurse A. Laska noted on the segregation rounds flow sheet that Mr. Ellis was awake and verbal with no complaints. Lukac's Br. Ex. B, Med. Recs. p. 10.

         The next day, November 23, 2019, Mr. Ellis submitted a Request for Health Care form, stating, “I got jumped by officer[s] and they refused my medical need.” Lukac's Br. Ex. B, Med. Recs., p. 11. Therein, Mr. Ellis complained of bruising on his left arm and shoulder blades, a knot under his chin, swollen wrist and ankles, and a headache. Id. At 9:00 p.m. that evening, Nurse Laska performed a segregation round check, noting that Mr. Ellis was alert, awake, and had no complaints. Id. p. 10.

         On November 25, 2013, Nurse Jocelyn Bigheart examined Mr. Ellis in nursing sick call for his complaints and did not chart any injuries. Id. at p. 12-13. Mr. Ellis testified that Nurse Bigheart visually examined his shoulder and wrists, wiped the cut on his shoulder with an alcohol pad, and advised Mr. Ellis to submit a healthcare request if he experienced additional complaints. Lukac's Br. Ex. E, Ellis Dep. 26:1-10. Mr. Ellis also spoke with MHP Wardell who reported that Mr. Ellis stated he wanted to report “getting beat-up by officers.” Lukac's Br. Ex. B, Med. Recs., p.14-15. MHP Wardell did not note any complaint of physical injuries by Mr. Ellis. Id. Also that day, Mr. Ellis met with his case manager Doug Barnes regarding the November 22, 2013 incident, reporting complaints about custody staff leading up the incident, the assault by custody staff, and mental ...


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