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Jackson v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

November 1, 2017


          Sent to S.C. Reporter 12/20/17

          Timothy M. Miller Assistant Attorney General



         {¶1} Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody and control of defendant at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), brought this action alleging negligence. This action arises out of an allegation that plaintiff was forced to remain in a cell with a toilet that did not function. Plaintiff alleges that he remained in the cell for several days and that as a result, he became ill. The court previously dismissed, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, any claims premised upon the conditions of confinement. Brown v. Duvall, N.D.Illinois No. 15 CV 1672, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72474 (June 3, 2016), (an allegation that an inmate was required to remain in a cell with a toilet filled with human waste speaks to the conditions of confinement). The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of liability.

         {¶2} At trial, plaintiff testified that on July 5, 2016, he was released from segregation and assigned to the limited privilege housing unit K2 cell 11 (K2-11). According to plaintiff, however, he was escorted to cell 9 rather than cell 11. Plaintiff asserts that when he arrived at his cell, he noticed a bag covering the toilet and objected to being placed in a cell with a toilet that did not function. Plaintiff testified that a corrections officer informed him that the situation would be resolved, but that for the time being, he was required to remain in his cell. Plaintiff testified that for the remainder of the day, he continually informed corrections officers, and even the warden who made rounds, that the toilet in his cell did not function. Plaintiff also filed an informal complaint resolution (ICR), dated July 5, 2016, concerning the toilet not functioning. (Joint Exhibit A).

         {¶3} Plaintiff testified that for the next two days he repeatedly informed corrections officers that he was in a cell that did not have a functioning toilet. According to plaintiff, sergeant Chet Stambaugh and corrections officer Jeremy Oppy both reassured him that he would be moved. Plaintiff reported that overnight on July 6 to July 7, 2016, he felt nauseated, struggled eating and sleeping, and vomited several times. Plaintiff also completed a second and third ICR wherein he again notes that the toilet does not function and that he informed staff regarding the toilet. (Joint Exhibits B and C). Additionally, plaintiff completed a health service request wherein he asked to be seen by a nurse due to vomiting, which he attributed to the smell of urine and feces from the toilet. (Joint Exhibit G). In the health service request, plaintiff states that he vomited and dry heaved during the night of July 6 through 7, 2017. Plaintiff also reports in the health service request that he awoke on July 7, 2016, in a cold sweat and had a pounding headache. The health service request was received at 6:19 p.m. on July 7, 2016. Plaintiff was evaluated by a nurse on July 8, 2016 and reported what he believed to be the cause of his illness-the smell of urine and feces.

         {¶4} Plaintiff testified that for the next two days, on July 8 and 9, 2016, he continually informed corrections officers about the toilet and requested to be moved to a new cell. Plaintiff reports that he was informed that cell moves do not occur on weekends. As a result, on July 10, 2016, plaintiff sent an ICR to the warden detailing his situation. (Joint Exhibit D). Plaintiff testified that he was moved to cell K2-2 on July 11, 2016. Plaintiff completed a notification of grievance regarding this issue on July 19, 2016. (Joint Exhibit F).

         {¶5} Jeremy Oppy testified that he has been employed at SOCF for 15 years and that for the previous four years he has worked as a unit manager. Oppy explained that his duties as a unit manager include overseeing inmate living areas to ensure that they are in good working order. Oppy oversees K2 where he performs rounds, addresses inmate concerns, and visually inspects the cells. Oppy testified that he recognizes plaintiff but does not recall plaintiff complaining about a broken toilet in his cell. However, Oppy made a statement to Linnea Mahlman as a part of her investigation into plaintiffs grievance. Oppy admitted to Mahlman that plaintiff complained about his toilet and that he moved plaintiff even though Oppy claims there was nothing wrong with the toilet. (Joint Exhibit L).

         {¶6} Chet Stambaugh testified that he has been employed at SOCF for 21 years and in July 2016, he was a sergeant assigned to K2. Stambaugh explained that his job duties at that time included, among other things, making rounds, addressing inmate issues, and hearing tickets. Stambaugh testified that he has a vague recollection of plaintiff but does not recall plaintiff complaining about a problem with the toilet in his cell. Stambaugh stated that if a toilet is not working, he would contact someone from the maintenance department to look at it, and if it could not be quickly resolved, the inmate would be moved to another cell. Stambaugh further testified that as part of his duties, he completes periodic fire, safety, and sanitation inspection reports. Stambaugh explained that the purpose of the reports is to inspect for cleanliness or other major issues, such as a broken toilet that would require a repair beyond what the maintenance department could handle. Stambaugh reviewed such reports dated July 5, 2016, and July 12, 2016, and noted that neither report indicates a problem with a toilet in K2. (Joint Exhibits J and K).

         {¶7} Nicholas Gifford testified that he is employed as a corrections officer by defendant at SOCF and during July 2016, he was assigned as a regular officer in K2. Gifford did not recall any broken toilet during that time period. Gifford testified that on July 7, 2016, he signed a cell inspection report, which he asserted is simply to confirm that a cell has been inspected. (Joint Exhibit H). The report identifies plaintiff as being assigned to cell K2-9. The report also has a slash mark through a box next to the word toilet. Gifford testified that because of the way the document is completed, there is no indication that there is anything wrong with the toilet in plaintiffs cell. Additionally, Gifford added that if there was something wrong with the toilet, it would be specified on the cell inspection report.

         {¶8} Kathy Joiner testified that she has been employed as a registered nurse at SOCF for approximately 15 years. Joiner stated that as a part of her duties, she responds to "nurse sick call, " which she described as a triage process performed by a nurse following a request for medical care from an inmate. Joiner explained that the process results in either an appointment with an advanced medical provider, or the inmate is treated, if necessary, and released back to his cell. Regardless, Joiner asserted that she completes a progress note as a result of each assessment. Joiner reported that she evaluated plaintiff following complaints that he made regarding being ill. Joiner testified that there are many reasons why a person may be nauseated or have a headache and that she could not conclude as to the cause of plaintiffs complaints. Joiner added that she wrote high environmental heat as a possible source or complicating factor of plaintiffs condition. After completing a physical exam, Joiner concluded that plaintiff was physically fine and noted that she could not find any problem.

         {¶9} Linnea Mahlman testified that she has been employed as an inspector at SOCF for 11 years. Mahlman explained that her duties include answering all grievances filed by inmates at SOCF in an attempt to resolve matters. Mahlman asserted that an inmate may file a grievance only after filing an ICR. Mahlman testified that after she received plaintiffs grievance, she looked up plaintiffs cell assignments. Mahlman reported that plaintiff was assigned to K2-11 on July 5, 2016; K2-2 on July 11, 2016; and K2-9 on July 25, 2016. Mahlman testified that the top of the notification of grievance is completed by her, but that someone changed the cell assignment. According to Mahlman, she wrote K2-2, but plaintiff changed it to K2-9. After investigating, Mahlman completed a disposition of grievance and ultimately denied plaintiffs grievance. (Joint Exhibit L).

         {¶10} Joseph Kaut testified that he is employed by defendant at SOCF as a lieutenant. Kaut testified that his duties include, among other things, supervising corrections officers and making daily rounds. Kaut stated that cells K1-20 are "slammer cells" with solid front doors as opposed to cells with bars. Kaut asserted that rounds and any unusual activity are recorded in an electronic log book. (Joint Exhibit I). Kaut testified that he made rounds in plaintiffs unit on July 5 and 7, 2016, but he does not recall plaintiff complaining about his toilet not functioning. According to Kaut, inmates are not to be housed in a cell with a toilet that does not function.

         {¶11} William Cool testified that he has been employed by defendant at SOCF for 23 years and that for the previous four years he has been the deputy warden of operations. Cool stated that he received four ICRs written by plaintiff in July 2016. Cool stated that he looked at plaintiffs housing assignment and saw that it was not the assignment plaintiff listed on the ICRs, so he concluded that plaintiff had ...

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