In Munson v. Newbold, the court (Sykes/Bauer/Rovner, with Sykes writing) affirmed summary judgment against a prison who raised an Eighth Amendment claim against the prison dentist over the delay in treatment for a dental issue. The court primarily addresses two issues: the dentist’s awareness of his dental pain through the letters he sent via the prison mail, and whether the dentist could be blamed for the delay. The court appears to acknowledge the first point—that by leaving the letters to the dentist in the bars of his cell (the only way incarcerated people in a prison like Menard can communicate to folks outside of the cell), the court is bound to assume the dentist received the letters absent dispositive evidence to the contrary. Slip Op. at 5 (citing Stewart v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 14 F.4th 757, 767 (7th Cir. 2021)). But the court found that even if the dentist was aware of the dental issue, he was not at fault for the delay because some of the delay was due to lockdowns, which the plaintiff agreed was not attributable to the dentist, and because the plaintiff had earlier declined to allow the dentist to simply remove the tooth and had left a prior dental appointment to take a legal call. The court further disposes of the plaintiff’s Monell claim because there was no evidence of systemic deficiencies in care and dismisses a claim about appointment of counsel because the district court had reasonably adhered to the governing legal standard.
The Seventh Circuit denied a motion by the plaintiff in Johnson v. Prentice to hear the case en banc on the issue of denial of exercise to the plaintiff while in solitary confinement. Our earlier discussion of the case can be found here. As discussed earlier, that opinion rejected a claim brought by an incarcerated plaintiff who challenged the conditions of his solitary confinement, finding the claim as raised on appeal (once represented by counsel) had been forfeited, and the claim as raised before the district court was appropriately rejected at summary judgment.
Judge Scudder concurred in the denial but writes separately to explain that he voted to deny en banc review because the record in the case (which was necessarily developed by the plaintiff pro se while incarcerated) was underdeveloped on points of fact and law necessary to address the important issues at play in the appeal—namely, whether courts should address conditions in solitary confinement as a whole, or based solely on the particular stretches of time imposed on the plaintiff based on each discrete act of misconduct for which the plaintiff was relegated to solitary confinement. Judge Scudder notes that “the issue is important and cries out for the full court’s consideration in a future case” but finds that this case is the wrong vehicle to address it.
Judge Wood, joined by Judges Rovner, Hamilton, St. Eve, and Jackson-Akiwumi, dissented from the denial of rehearing en banc because, in their view, the existing majority’s opinion permits prison officials to deprive prisoners of exercise—something that the Supreme Court in Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (2001) said was part of the “minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities”—regardless of the length of time that deprivation is in place. The dissenting judges believe that this claim was preserved before the district court and so is amenable to appellate review and should be reviewed en banc.