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Baker v. Palmer

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

August 9, 2017

BRUCE R. BAKER, Plaintiff,




         This case is before me on defendants' motion (Doc. No. 30) for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed a resistance (Doc. No. 33) and defendants have filed a reply (Doc. No. 34). The motion is fully submitted and ready for decision.


         Plaintiff Bruce R. Baker filed a motion (Doc. No. 1) for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and a proposed pro se complaint (Doc. No. 1-1) on May 12, 2015. Baker alleged a number of violations of his constitutional rights. The Honorable Donald E. O'Brien, Senior United States District Judge, conducted an initial review (Doc. No. 7) and allowed Baker's pro se complaint (Doc. No. 8) to proceed. The Honorable Mark W. Bennett, United States District Judge, later appointed counsel for Baker and directed appointed counsel to file an amended complaint. Doc. No. 16. Baker, through counsel, filed his amended complaint (Doc. No. 23) on December 3, 2015. The amended complaint alleges two constitutional violations: (1) defendant Morgan violated Baker's constitutional rights by failing to protect him from a substantial risk of harm; and (2) defendants Palmer and Wittrock violated Baker's constitutional rights by failing to implement proper procedures and training which could have prevented the harm. On December 7, 2015, defendants filed an answer (Doc. No. 24) denying Baker's claims.


         Bruce Baker is a patient at the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders (CCUSO).[1] Charles Palmer is employed as the head of the Department of Human Services for the State of Iowa - the agency responsible for CCUSO. Doc. No. 23 at 2. Brad Wittrock is employed as Acting Director of CCUSO. Id. at 2. James Morgan is a staff member at CCUSO. Id. at 2.

         It is undisputed that Baker was assaulted by another patient, Jeff Goodwin, at the CCUSO facility on March 15, 2015. Prior to March 10, 2015, Baker and Goodwin were roommates at CCUSO. Despite some minor arguments between them, there were no reports of any serious problems.[2] See Doc. No. 30-1 at 1.

         On March 10, 2015, Goodwin met with Treatment Program Supervisor Steve McQueen and therapist Steve Tjaden. Doc. No. 30-3 at 1. Goodwin informed them that he “felt unsafe” and was going to assault Baker. Id. In response, McQueen and Tjaden talked with Goodwin and determined that the patients needed to be separated. Id. at 2. CCUSO's “room assignment team” then moved Baker to a room on another ward, and McQueen “alerted all staff on March 10, 2015, of the reason for Baker's move.” Id. (emphasis added). The room assignment team believed that separating the two would “reduce the bickering and arguments throughout the day, and that would resolve the conflict.” Id.

         Also on March 10, 2015, Baker met with therapist Dr. Jane Daniel and Psychiatric Security Specialist Greg Daubenberger to speak about the situation with Goodwin. Id. at 4. When Baker was informed that he would be moved to a room on another ward, he expressed his opinion that being moved was not fair since he did not do anything to warrant Goodwin's reaction. See Id. Baker clarified that Goodwin was “manufacturing reasons not to get along with Pt. Baker in order to increase his chances to be moved off the unit.” Id. Goodwin was eventually moved from a two-man to a four-man room. Doc. No. 30-1 at 3. Between March 10, 2015 and March 15, 2015, there were no further indications of problems between Goodwin and Baker. Doc. No. 30-1 at 3.

         On March 15, 2015, Goodwin assaulted Baker during recreational (“rec”) time. Doc. No. 30-2 at 2. Rec time is held in a separate ward that is opened at specified times and includes a library, pool tables and other recreational items. Id. Baker was assaulted from behind while he was returning a movie that he had borrowed from the library. Id. No staff were present in the library at that time and it appeared that Goodwin had waited until staff were preoccupied with other matters. Doc. No. 30-1 at 3. Baker had no warning of the assault, as Goodwin did not say anything to him. Id.

         After the assault, staff ran into the room to assist Baker. Id. at 4. Four CCUSO staff members attended to Baker. Id. Baker was taken by ambulance to the Cherokee Regional Hospital, where he received an x-ray and was released with a possible concussion. Id. He suffered no broken bones or otherwise-serious injuries. Id.

         On March 20, 2015, Baker was again taken to the hospital due to complaints of a headache. He was diagnosed with a concussion and left maxillary sinusitis. Doc. 30-3 at 53. In December 2015, Baker suffered a seizure that he attributes to the assault. Doc. 30-1 at 4. He was taken to the hospital for follow-up appointments related to the seizure on February 16, 2016. The actual cause of the seizure is unknown. See Doc. No 30-3 at 39-48, 54-64.

         On July 2, 2015, Goodwin pleaded guilty to willful injury under Iowa Code § 708.4 stemming from his attack on Baker on March 15, ...

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