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Seventh Circuit Denies Wisconsin Prisoner’s Claims Against Medical Staff

by Derek Gilna

In an August 23, 2018 ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied the deliberate indifference and state law negligence claims raised by Oshkosh Correctional Institution prisoner Donald C. Wilson, who filed a federal civil rights suit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in 2009 over medical care for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, pulmonary distress, and throat and neck pain.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s summary judgment order in favor of the defendants, essentially holding that Wilson had failed to provide expert testimony required to support his claims.

According to the appellate decision, “[D]eliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain’ proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” 

However, the Seventh Circuit held no reasonable jury could be expected to rule in Wilson’s favor because he failed to prove he had a serious medical condition. In fact, the Court of Appeals said, prison medical staff had conducted extensive examinations and found only that Wilson suffered from a mental health condition, not Alzheimer’s or other maladies. One of the defendant doctors, the Court wrote, “worked with endocrinologists, an otolaryngologist, a speech pathologist, a pulmonologist, a neurosurgeon, and a dentist. He repeatedly coordinated with these specialists to schedule follow-up appointments, procedures, and tests.”

The appellate court explained that “Expert testimony was necessary in this case, because ordinary laymen would not know what medical treatment was necessary based on the symptoms Wilson presented. In fact, the evidence presented indicates that a team of well-qualified specialists struggled to identify the cause of Wilson’s pain or to diagnose any cognitive functioning problem.... Without expert testimony, Wilson could not prove his claim.”

Accordingly, the district court’s summary judgment order was affirmed. See: Wilson v. Adams, 901 F.3d 816 (7th Cir. 2018). 

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Related legal case

Wilson v. Adams