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Washington v. Brown

January 20, 2009

JESSE WASHINGTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
J. BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure brought on behalf of defendants Brown, Brewer, Kissinger, and Madrigal. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and defendants have filed a reply.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is proceeding on his original complaint. Therein, he alleges as follows. Prior to the start of Ramadan on October 15, 2004, plaintiff and several of his fellow inmates petitioned defendants Brewer and Kissinger to notify the kitchen staff that they intended to participate in the Ramadan fast. However, leading up to the fast, defendant Kissinger forced plaintiff to initiate a hunger protest for five consecutive days by repeatedly contaminating plaintiff's food trays. Defendants Brewer and Kissinger intentionally failed to ensure that plaintiff and his fellow inmates were placed on the Ramdan fast list and allowed to participate in the Muslim religious observance. (Compl. at 9-10.)

On December 19, 2004, defendants Brown and Madrigal were distributing breakfast food trays in administrative segregation and told plaintiff that they spit in his food. When the defendants reappeared in administrative segregation to retrieve the food trays and to issue inmates sack lunches, plaintiff asked to see the unit officer in charge. However, the defendants ignored his request and defendant Brown snatched his food tray from the food port. Defendants Brown and Madrigal then slammed plaintiff's right hand in the food port, causing him severe pain through his right hand, arm, and back. After freeing his hand, plaintiff felt sharp pains in his lower back and asked the defendants to summon emergency medical staff to examine his hand, but they ignored his request. Defendants Brown and Madrigal then denied plaintiff a sack lunch and when they returned to administrative segregation to serve evening meal trays, defendant Brown told plaintiff that he contaminated his food again. When the defendants reappeared in administrative segregation to retrieve the evening food trays, they tried to provoke plaintiff into refusing to return his food tray so that they could use pepper spray to extract him from his cell for disobeying a direct order. (Compl. at 3-8.)

Plaintiff claims that defendants Kissinger and Brewer violated his First Amendment right to free exercise by intentionally denying him the opportunity to participate in the Muslim Ramadan fast and refusing to provide him with obligatory make-up Ramadan food trays. Plaintiff further claims that defendant Kissinger violated his Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care when he contaminated his food trays thereby interfering with his prescribed medical treatment of taking Ibuprofen for his pre-existing lower back, hip, and knee pain. Finally, plaintiff claims that defendant Kissinger violated his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation when he contaminated plaintiff's food trays because plaintiff had previously filed administrative grievances against Kissinger. (Compl. at 10 & 12-13.)

Plaintiff also claims that defendants Brown and Madrigal violated his Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care when they refused to summon emergency medical personnel to treat his hand injury and when they served him contaminated meals and denied him a sack lunch thereby interfering with his prescribed medical treatment of taking Ibuprofen. Plaintiff further claims that defendants Brown and Madrigal violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from excessive force when they slammed his hand in the food port. Finally, plaintiff claims that defendants Brown and Madrigal violated his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation when they used excessive force against him and denied him adequate medical care because plaintiff previously filed administrative grievances against them. (Compl. at 6, 8 & 12.)

Plaintiff requests relief in the form of compensatory damages, punitive damages, declaratory relief, and any other relief the court deems appropriate. (Compl. at 3.)

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS UNDER RULE 56

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Id. Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. at 323.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

On October 31, 2006, the court advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc); Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988). OTHER APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Civil Rights Act Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows: Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

II. Eighth Amendment and Excessive Force

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. It is well established that the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the United States Constitution. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). See also Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 670 (1977); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). Neither accident nor negligence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, as "[i]t is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause." Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319.

What is needed to show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain "varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992) (citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320). The plaintiff must show that objectively he suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that subjectively each defendant had a culpable state of mind in allowing or causing the plaintiff's deprivation to occur. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991).

"The objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim is . . . contextual and responsive to 'contemporary standards of decency.'" Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8 (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103). The objective prong of the test requires the court to consider whether the alleged wrongdoing was harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8; Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298. In the context of an excessive use of force claim, however, the objective prong does not require a prisoner to show a "significant injury" in order to establish that he suffered a sufficiently serious constitutional deprivation. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10.

The subjective prong of the two-part test is also contextual. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 299. A prison official acts with the requisite "culpable mind" with respect to an excessive use of force claim if he acts maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing harm. Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21. "[W]henever prison officials stand accused of using excessive physical force in violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, the core judicial inquiry is that set out in Whitley, i.e., whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 6-7.

III. Eighth Amendment and Inadequate Medical Care

Where a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claims arise in the context of medical care, the prisoner must allege and prove "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. An Eighth Amendment medical claim has two elements: "the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

A medical need is serious "if the failure to treat the prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059 (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104). Indications of a serious medical need include "the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities." Id. at 1059-60. By establishing the existence of a serious medical need, a prisoner satisfies the objective requirement for proving an Eighth Amendment violation. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).

If a prisoner establishes the existence of a serious medical need, he must then show that prison officials responded to the serious medical need with deliberate indifference. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In general, deliberate indifference may be shown when prison officials deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or may be shown by the way in which prison officials provide medical care. Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 393-94 (9th Cir. 1988). Before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged with regard to medical care, however, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere 'indifference,' 'negligence,' or 'medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v. Cutter Laboratories, 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06). See also Toguchi v. Soon Hwang Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Mere negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights."); McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059 (same). Deliberate indifference is "a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence" and "requires 'more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835 (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319).

Delays in providing medical care may manifest deliberate indifference. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05. To establish a claim of deliberate indifference arising from delay in providing care, a plaintiff must show that the delay was harmful. See Berry v. Bunnell, 39 F.3d 1056, 1057 (9th Cir. 1994); McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059; Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1335 (9th Cir. 1990); Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989); Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). In this regard, "[a] prisoner need not show his harm was substantial; however, such would provide additional support for the inmate's claim that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to his needs." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006). See also McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060.

Finally, mere differences of opinion between a prisoner and prison medical staff as to the proper course of treatment for a medical condition do not give rise to a § 1983 claim. Toguchi, 391 F.3d at 1058; Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996); Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin v. Or., 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981).

IV. First Amendment and Retaliation

Both the initiation of litigation before the court and the filing of administrative grievances are protected activities, and prison officials may not retaliate against prisoners for engaging in these activities. See Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 568 (9th Cir. 2005). As the Ninth Circuit has explained:

Within the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.

Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 567-68. See also Huskey v. City of San Jose, 204 F.3d 893, 899 (9th Cir. 2000) (retaliation claim cannot rest on the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, literally, "after this, therefore because of this.").

V. First Amendment and Free Exercise

"[C]onvicted prisoners do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545 (1979). However, a prisoner's First Amendment rights are "necessarily limited by the fact of incarceration, and may be curtailed in order to achieve legitimate correctional goals or to maintain prison security." McElyea v. Babbitt, 833 F.2d 196, 197 (9th Cir. 1987). In particular, a prisoner's constitutional right to free exercise of religion must be balanced against the state's right to limit First Amendment freedoms in order to attain valid penological objectives such as rehabilitation of prisoners, deterrence of crime, and preservation of institutional security. See O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987); Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822-23 (1974).

These competing interests are balanced by applying a "reasonableness test." McElyea, 833 F.2d at 197. "When a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987)).

Several factors are relevant to a reasonableness determination: (1) whether the regulation has a valid, rational connection to legitimate governmental interests invoked to justify it; (2) whether there are alternative means of exercising the asserted constitutional right; (3) what impact accommodation of the asserted right will have on correctional staff and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources in general; and (4) whether there are ready alternatives to the regulation or policy in question, the absence of which is evidence of the reasonableness of the prison regulation. Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-91.

Courts must, of course, accord deference to the decisions of prison administrators. Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 126 (1977). "Nevertheless, deference does not mean abdication." Walker v. Sumner, 917 F.2d 382, 385 (9th Cir. 1990). Prison officials are not entitled to summary judgment if they fail to provide evidence that the interests they have asserted are the actual bases for the regulation or policy under attack. Id. at 386. Prison officials cannot rely on conclusory assertions to support their policies but must first identify the specific penological interests involved and then make an evidentiary showing that those specific interests are the actual bases for their policies and that the policies are reasonably related to the furtherance of the identified interests. Id.

DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts ...


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