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Willis v. Pollion

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 30, 2016

WAYNE WILLIS, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         This is a prisoner civil rights lawsuit arising out of events that occurred at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). In August 2013, Plaintiff Wayne Willis, an inmate at Menard, was transferred from general population to a cell in the prison's segregation unit. After the transfer, Willis discovered there was no running water in the new cell. According to Willis, due to the lack of running water, he felt sick, dizzy, dehydrated, constipated, had severe headaches, and was unable to take his medication for 26 and a half days of the 28 days he was in that segregation cell (Doc. 1, p. 16).

         Willis filed this lawsuit on May 14, 2014, and on June 12, 2014, Judge Gilbert screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Judge Gilbert held in the screening order that Willis stated a colorable Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claim against Defendants Rashida Pollion (Nurse Practitioner at the Menard Health Care Unit), Richard Harrington (Menard Warden), Thomas Mezo (Correctional Officer), and an unnamed John Doe Correctional Officer. The three named Defendants now seek summary judgment (Docs. 27 and 30).


         On August 8, 2013, Willis was transferred from general population to segregation (Doc. 28-1, p. 3).[1] The following morning, August 9, 2013, Willis was transferred to a different cell in segregation (cell 244, North 2 Cell House) where the incidents that give rise to this litigation occurred (Id.). Upon arriving at cell 244, Willis realized that the cell lacked running water (Id.). Willis's cellmate, an inmate named McCall Cleveland, told Willis that cell 244 had lacked running water for as long as he had been there (Id.). Willis was transferred out of cell 244 and back into general population on September 6, 2013 (Doc. 31-15, p. 1). There was no running water in cell 244 nearly the entire time Willis was there.[2] (Doc. 28-1, p. 4).

         While in cell 244, Willis received three meals per day (Id.). Each meal was delivered to his cell and included a carton of milk or juice (Id.). During this period, Willis was also taking five medications, each in pill form: Metformin (diabetes medication that manages blood sugar); Calan (hypertension medication); hydrochlorothiazide (also treats hypertension); fish oil; and aspirin (Doc. 28-1, p. 5). Because there was no running water in his cell, Willis asserts that he was unable to take the medication. The lack of medication caused Willis to experience dizziness, headaches, dehydration, and constipation (Doc. 28-1, p. 7). Willis was asked at his deposition whether he could have simply taken the medication with the milk or juice. Willis responded that he did not drink the milk or juice because he has diabetes (Doc. 28-1, p. 4) and because he does not like the taste[3] (Doc. 28-1, p. 12). Defense counsel asked Willis at his deposition if he consumed any fluids during his stay in cell 244 (Doc. 28-1, p. 5). Willis remarked that he was sometimes served fruit and fruit cocktail on his food tray, and that he sustained himself with the associated liquids (Id.). When questioned by defense counsel at his deposition, Willis also admitted that he was able to swallow his two blood pressure medications and aspirin simply by using the saliva in his mouth (Id.). Willis noted that his blood pressure and aspirin pills are smaller in size (Id.).

         Although Willis spent most of his time in his cell, he did visit the Menard Health Care Unit (“HCU”).[4] On August 13, 2013, Willis was escorted to the HCU chronic clinic for his diabetes and hypertension (Doc. 28-1, pp. 6-7). Inmates are typically charged a $5.00 co-pay for medical examinations, but inmates with illnesses such as asthma or diabetes take part in regularly scheduled, free examinations known as “chronic clinics” (Doc. 28-2, p. 2). At the August 13 chronic clinic, Nurse Pollion examined Willis and measured his vital signs (Doc. 28-1, p. 7). During the examination, Willis asked Nurse Pollion for a cup of water to take his medication and told her about the situation in his segregation cell (Id.). Willis also mentioned to Nurse Pollion that he had recently fallen out of the top bunk of his cell and that his back and neck were in pain (Id.). Nurse Pollion responded by telling Willis that he was only in the HCU for the chronic clinic and that she would not provide him with water or treat his injury (Id.).

         Also included in this lawsuit are Defendants Richard Harrington, Correctional Officer Thomas Mezo, and an unnamed John Doe Correctional Officer. Richard Harrington was the warden at Menard during the time period relevant to this suit (Doc. 28-1, p. 9). When an inmate files a grievance marked “emergency, ” the prison warden will personally determine whether the grievance should be handled on an expedited basis (Doc. 28-1, p. 10). Willis did not have any personal interaction with Warden Harrington during his 30 days in segregation, but he did file multiple emergency grievances addressing the situation in the cell, both during his time in segregation and shortly thereafter (Id.). Some grievances were responded to, some were not (Id.). Attached to Willis's Complaint are grievances dated September 18, 2013, and September 20, 2013, that have Warden Harrington's signature (Doc. 1, pp. 23-26). There is no record, however, of Warden Harrington reviewing any grievances while Willis was still in the segregation cell.

         Willis did personally interact with Correctional Officer Thomas Mezo (Doc. 28-1, p. 11), who worked in the segregation unit during his 30-day stay (Id.). Willis told Mezo about the lack of running water (Id.). Mezo told Willis that there was nothing he could do (Id.). Willis also spoke to an unnamed correctional officer immediately after arriving in cell 244 (Doc. 1). The correctional officer also declined to help (Id.).

         After moving out of cell 244, Willis was able to complete the IDOC administrative remedies process. On April 2, 2014, the IDOC Administrative Review Board denied his grievances that addressed the conditions in cell 244 (Doc. 1, p. 19). Willis then filed suit on May 15, 2014 (Doc. 1). Defendants now seek summary judgment.


         A. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment will be granted if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. At the summary judgment phase of the litigation, the facts and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 703 F.3d 966, 972 (7th Cir. 2012). The Court shall “neither come to a conclusion on factual disputes nor weigh conflicting evidence.” E.E.O.C. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment shall be denied “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The Eighth Amendment places a duty on prison officials to provide prisoners “humane conditions of confinement.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). This means that prison officials must “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates” and “ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care.” Id. “[P]rison officials have a responsibility to provide inmates with a minima of shelter, sanitation and utilities-basic necessities of civilized life.” Johnson v. Pelker, 891 F.2d 136, 139 (7th Cir. 1989) As such, a “prison official's deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment, ” Id. at 828, and “[p]ursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ...

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