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Brooks v. Alameida

February 9, 2009



Plaintiff is a prisoner without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is: (1) plaintiff's March 10, 2008 motion to compel further discovery responses from defendant Rohlfing, and (2) defendant Rohlfing's May 5, 2008 motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the court denies plaintiff's motion to compel and recommends that defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted.

I. Alleged Facts*fn1

On December 23, 2002, plaintiff, an inmate confined at High Desert State Prison (HDSP), fell down a flight of stairs and sustained injuries to his neck and back. Second Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 2, 13. Plaintiff was unconscious for a short period of time and almost his entire body was temporarily paralyzed. Id. at ¶ 13. He was airlifted to Redding Medical Center, where he remained until December 25, 2002. Id. Plaintiff regained movement in all of his limbs and it was determined that plaintiff did not have any broken bones. Id. However, the doctors found that plaintiff suffered from swelling of the vertebra column, causing spasm. Id. As a result of his fall, plaintiff has a chronic condition and is constantly in pain. Id. When he attempts or performs strenuous exercises, he suffers spasm, spinal rigidity and a dramatic increase in severe pain along his vertebra column. Id.

On December 27, 2002, plaintiff was evaluated by defendant, a board certified orthopedist at HDSP, who, plaintiff alleges, failed to adequately care for his condition. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 15. Defendant prescribed plaintiff Chlorzoxazone and Ibuprofen, a wheelchair, and a walker. Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff claims that defendant should have also provided plaintiff with physical therapy for his spinal/vertebra column, a back brace, and an extra cushion, mattress, or pillow. Id. According to plaintiff, however, defendant advised him that these items could not be prescribed because of California's budget crisis. Id. Plaintiff alleges that since physical therapy was not available at plaintiff's institution, defendant should have recommended that plaintiff be transferred to an institution where plaintiff could receive physical therapy. Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiff further alleges that his prescriptions would expire every few weeks and defendant failed to evaluate plaintiff before the expiration dates, resulting in plaintiff suffering without his pain management medications for weeks and/or days at a time. Id. at ¶ 15.

Defendant advised plaintiff to walk as much as possible in order to strengthen his spinal column and ligaments, which plaintiff obeyed zealously. Id. at ¶ 17. On June 17, 2003, however, inmates were involved in a riot, which resulted in a "state of emergency" lockdown for an extended duration of two years. Id. This lockdown impeded plaintiff's progress toward physical rehabilitation. Id. Plaintiff requested that he be allowed to walk on either the "dayroom floor or concrete yard." Id. According to plaintiff, defendant disregarded this request, which contributed to his physical and mental decline. Id. Plaintiff acknowledges that defendant was not responsible for the lockdown, but states that he deliberately ignored a critical necessity of plaintiff's, that is, walking on a daily basis, simply because of "financial stringency and/or his unwilling[ness] to oppose custodian officials['] authority . . . ." Id. at ¶ 19.

II. Motion to Compel

Plaintiff's motion to compel seeks further responses to interrogatories 7-12 and requests for production of documents. He does not, however, indicate in what way defendant's responses are deficient. Plaintiff also seeks unspecified sanctions.

Plaintiff attaches to his motion defendant's responses to numbers 7-12. Contrary to plaintiff's argument, they show that defendant properly responded to these interrogatories. In interrogatory number 7, plaintiff asks defendant whether he evaluated plaintiff's medical condition on December 23, 2002. Defendant responds that he did not. The remaining interrogatories at issue assume that defendant evaluated plaintiff on December 23, 2002. As stated by defendant in response to interrogatory number 7, however, defendant did not evaluate plaintiff on that date. Thus, defendant's responses of "not applicable" to interrogatory numbers 8-12, are sufficient.

Plaintiff also seeks to compel responses to his request for production of documents. However, plaintiff does not identify which requests he seeks to compel responses to or on what grounds he brings his motion. In his opposition brief, defendant attaches plaintiff's request for production of documents and defendant's responses. Plaintiff's request includes eight separate requests for production of documents. Defendant's responses indicated that as to some requests, no such responsive documents could be located despite a diligent search, and as to others the documents are not in defendant's possession, or have already been provided to plaintiff. Without knowing which responses plaintiff seeks to compel or on what grounds, the court cannot grant plaintiff's motion. Additionally, the party seeking production bears the burden of showing that the opposing party has control of the sought-after documents. United States v. International Union of Petroleum and Indus. Workers, 870 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff has not met this burden. For these reasons, plaintiff's motion to compel and request for sanctions is denied.

III. Motion for Summary Judgment

Plaintiff alleges that defendant was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs when, following his December 23, 2002 fall down a flight of stairs, defendant failed to recommend physical therapy, or a transfer to an institution that provided physical therapy, failed to prescribe plaintiff a back brace, or an extra cushion, pillow or mattress, allowed plaintiff's prescriptions for his pain medications to expire, and denied plaintiff's inmate appeal requesting that he be allowed to walk outside his cell during a period of extended lockdown. Defendant moves for summary judgment on the ground that the undisputed facts reveal no triable issues of fact exist to support plaintiff's claim against him.

A. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant 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, ...

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