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Miller v. Butte County

September 17, 2008

JEAN MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BUTTE COUNTY, BUTTE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, PERRY RENIFF, SHAROL STRICKLAND, CALIFORNIA FORENSIC MEDICAL GROUP, INC., AND DOES 1 THROUGH 20, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Plaintiff Jean Miller ("Miller") brought this action against defendants Butte County ("County"), Butte County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department"), Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff ("Sheriff Reniff"), Sharol Strickland ("Strickland") (collectively "Defendants") and California Forensic Medical Group, Inc. ("CFMG") alleging civil rights violations against Defendants and CFMG pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a state law medical malpractice claim against CFMG. Defendants now move for summary judgment or, in the alternative, summary adjudication pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Miller opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.*fn1

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 14, 1999, Miller was involved in a confrontation with several Butte County police officers while they attempted to tow her vehicle. According to Miller, two of the officers, without warning, threw her to the ground, handcuffed her, and stunned her with a stun gun at least seven times. The officers, on the other hand, claim that Miller physical attacked them. Following this incident, the Butte County District Attorney filed a three count misdemeanor complaint against Miller charging her with resisting arrest, delaying and obstructing a police officer, and two counts of battery against a police officer. On August 11, 2000, Miller filed a civil rights action in this Court against Butte County, Butte County Sheriff Scott Mackenzie, and the officers involved in the April 14, 1999 incident.*fn2 On May 2, 2003, Miller was convicted on all three counts following a jury trial. She was sentenced to sixty days in jail and placed on formal probation.

On October 23, 2003, following a jury trial, Miller was convicted of trespass, resisting, and assault and battery, arising out of an incident in which Miller assaulted employees of the Butte County Mental Health Offices. Miller then filed a motion for new trial. On February 20, 2004, Judge William P. Lamb ("Lamb") of the Butte County Superior Court found that Miller had violated the terms of her formal probation (imposed following her May 2003 conviction) by failing to follow the instructions of her probation officer and report to probation as directed. Judge Lamb remanded her to the custody of the Butte County Sheriff's Department and authorized her participation in "[a]lternative programs . . . within the discretion of the jail," which included the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program ("SWAP"). Miller was then taken to the Butte County Jail and booked. After Miller promised to appear at the SWAP office on March 9, 2004, she was released.

SWAP is designed to relieve overcrowding in the jail. A court may state whether a work release program is authorized, but the Sheriff has the ultimate power to decide who may or may not participate in SWAP. The program allows individuals that have been sentenced to jail to serve their time working in the community. Inmates convicted of certain crimes involving violence or sexual acts that the Sheriff's Office considers to be serious offenses will not be placed in SWAP without the prior approval of the Programs Sergeant. In addition, SWAP eligibility is determined by public safety. A correctional technician at the Sheriff's Department normally decides whether or not an individual is allowed to participate in SWAP. An individual is not considered to be admitted into SWAP until they attend orientation and pass an eligibility interview, are given a work placement, and promise to appear at the designated work assignment.

On February 25, 2004, after Miller agreed to waive her motion for new trial, Judge Lamb suspended the imposition of her sentence and placed her on informal probation, to be served concurrently with the modified probation that had been ordered on February 20, 2004. Judge Lamb specifically stated that Miller was "to serve 60 days in the county jail to run concurrent with the 60 days imposed in the companion case of weekends and SWAP are authorized." Judge Lamb noted that if Miller successfully completed the 60 days of SWAP in the companion case, it would be deemed completion of the 60 days in that case.

On March 9, 2004, Miller reported to the Butte County Jail to begin the SWAP program, but was informed by a Sheriff's Department employee that she would be taken to jail instead.

Miller protested claiming that she had a copy of the sentencing document, which indicated that she had been sentenced to the SWAP program. The employee, however, told her that it "didn't matter" and that he had instructions from Sheriff Reniff to take her to jail. After Miller completed a medical pre-screening revealing that she was taking multiple medications, including Lithobid for anxiety and other mental conditions, she was placed in jail. On or about the second evening of her incarceration, Miller suffered from a "seizure-like" episode. CFMG, which contracts with the Butte County Jail to administer medical services, rendered medical care to Miller. It was later determined that Miller had toxic levels of Lithium in her blood stream requiring her intake of Lithobid to be reduced to normalize the levels. Although Miller concedes that she voluntarily refused to take some of her medications during her incarceration, she maintains that her condition deteriorated over the course of her 35-day incarceration because of a complete lack of medical care, including the failure of jail medical staff to provide her with medication. Accordingly to Miller's treating physician, however, a lack of medication would not have caused the seizure-like symptoms experienced by Miller. Miller has not suffered a seizure or experienced seizure-like symptoms following her incarceration at Butte County Jail. Nor did she ever suffer a seizure or experience seizure-like symptoms prior to her incarceration at Butte County Jail.

On March 9, 2006, Miller filed the instant action alleging civil rights violations against Defendants and CFMG and a state law claim against CFMG. Specifically, Miller alleges that Defendants violated her constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by: (1) jailing her without a valid order; (2) denying her adequate medical care; (3) denying her bodily privacy; and (4) jailing her in retaliation for a lawsuit filed against Butte County and its employees. In addition, Miller alleges that CFMG violated her constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying her adequate medical care. Miller also alleges a state law medical malpractice claim against CFMG. On July 18, 2008, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, summary adjudication. On August 6, 2008, Miller filed an opposition.*fn3

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the nonmoving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the movant's burden may be discharged by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325. "Summary judgment for a defendant is appropriate when the plaintiff fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [his] case, and on which [he] will bear the burden of proof at trial." Miller v. Glenn Miller Productions, Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 987 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).

If the moving party sustains its burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by his or her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. "If the nonmoving party fails to produce enough evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact, the moving party wins the motion for summary judgment." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is appropriate if, viewing the evidence and the inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ...


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