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Thomas v. California Dep't of Corrections

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


March 16, 2009

EDWARD LEE THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Wunderlich United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER VACATING PREVIOUS SCREENING ORDER AND DISMISSING FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT, WITH LEAVE TO FILE SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT WITHIN THIRTY DAYS

(Doc. 8)

Plaintiff Edward Lee Thomas ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and currently incarcerated at Avenal State Prison in Avenal, California ("Avenal"). Plaintiff is bringing suit under section 1983 for the deprivation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff names Doctor Salazar, Doctor Kushner, Doctor Ortiz, Doctor Cain, Doctor Smith, and Registered Nurse Morris as defendants.

I. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2).

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

II. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed the original complaint in this action on November 29, 2005 in the Central District of California. The case was transferred to this court on February 1, 2006. (Doc. #1.) Plaintiff requested leave to amend his complaint on April 26, 2006. (Doc. #6.) Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint was filed on July 13, 2006. (Doc. #8.) This court issued a screening order dismissing Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim on January 12, 2009. (Doc. #12.) On February 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the court's January 12 order, expressing confusion because the screening order did not appear to address Plaintiff's first amended complaint. (Doc. #13.) On review, it appears the court erroneously based the January 12 screening order on Plaintiff's original complaint, and not on Plaintiff's first amended complaint as it should have. Therefore, the court VACATES its January 12, 2009 screening order and replaces it with this one.

B. Factual Background

On January 15, 2004, Plaintiff saw Defendant Doctor Salazar and informed him that he was experiencing pain in his hip and right leg. Defendant Salazar prescribed Motrin for Plaintiff's pain and told him to come back if he continued to feel pain. Plaintiff continued to report to Defendant Salazar that he was still in pain, but Defendant Salazar did not provide further treatment and only felt Plaintiff's leg and hip to examine it.

On September 11, 2004, Plaintiff saw Defendant Doctor Kushner and informed him that his hip and right leg was still in pain. Defendant Kushner prescribed Motrin and also told Plaintiff to come back if he continued to feel pain. Plaintiff continued to report his pain to Defendant Kushner but Defendant Kushner did not provide additional treatment and only felt Plaintiff's leg and hip to examine it.

On December 11, 2004, Plaintiff saw Defendant Doctor Ortiz and informed him that his hip and right leg was still in pain. Plaintiff requested an x-ray or MRI. Defendant Ortiz told Plaintiff that an x-ray would not be medically useful and told Plaintiff to sign up again for medical line if his problems persisted.

One May 16, 2005, Plaintiff saw Defendant Registered Nurse Morris and informed him that his right leg and right hip was in pain and that his right hand was swelling. Plaintiff stated that his condition was an emergency because Plaintiff could barely walk or use his right hand. Defendant Morris told Plaintiff to put in a request form but Plaintiff told Defendant Morris that he had already put in numerous request forms to no avail. Defendant Morris told Plaintiff that this was not an emergency and there was nothing else that he could do for Plaintiff.

On May 27, 2005, Plaintiff saw Defendant Doctor Cain and informed him that his hip and right leg was still in pain. Plaintiff requested an x-ray or MRI but Defendant Cain informed Plaintiff that an MRI would not be medically useful. Plaintiff was given an x-ray but did not see the results.

On June 3, 2005, Plaintiff saw Defendant Doctor Smith and informed him that the pain in his hip and right leg persisted, and that his right hand was swelling. Defendant Smith informed Plaintiff that an x-ray would not be medically useful.

III. Discussion

A. Eight Amendment Claim - Medical Treatment

Plaintiff alleges that defendants' actions violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments and "embodies 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir. 1968)). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the objective requirement that the deprivation is "sufficiently serious", Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991), and (2) the subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind", Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298). The objective requirement that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious" is met where the prison official's act or omission results in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities". Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" is met where the prison official acts with "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety. Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-303). A prison official acts with deliberate indifference when he/she "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety". Id. at 837. "[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants' failed to properly treat his injuries in violation of the Eighth Amendment. "[D]eliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury states a cause of action under § 1983." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976). "A 'serious' medical need exists if the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104). Delay of medical treatment can amount to deliberate indifference. See Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006); Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 905 (9th Cir. 2002); Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc); Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996); McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059; Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 394 (9th Cir. 1988).

Plaintiff alleges that defendants should have provided more extensive treatment to Plaintiff than merely prescribing Motrin and should have done more to examine Plaintiff, such as by providing an MRI. At most, Plaintiff's complaint alleges that defendants were negligent. "[A] complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). In order for defendants' conduct to rise to the level of a constitutional violation, defendants must possess a more culpable state of mind than that required for negligence -they must have been deliberately indifferent. In order to state a constitutional violation, Plaintiff must allege that defendants consciously disregarded a serious risk of harm. Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004). Plaintiff has not alleged that defendants consciously disregarded a serious risk of harm. Defendants made an effort to diagnose and treat Plaintiff, but Plaintiff continued to experience pain in his leg and hip. Although defendants' diagnosis and treatment may have been negligent, they have not exhibited a deliberately indifferent state of mind required to establish a constitutional violation. Therefore, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for denial of medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

IV. Conclusion and Order

The court's January 12, 2009 screening order erroneously screened the original complaint in this action instead of the first amended complaint. That screening order should be vacated.

The court has screened Plaintiff's first amended complaint and finds that it does not state any claims upon which relief may be granted under section 1983. The court will provide Plaintiff with the opportunity to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies identified by the court in this order. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff is cautioned that he may not add unrelated claims involving different defendants in his amended complaint. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007).

Plaintiff's amended complaint should be brief, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), but must state what each defendant did that led to the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional or other federal rights, Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 987-88 (9th Cir. 2007). Although accepted as true, the "[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level". Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (citations omitted).

Finally, Plaintiff is advised that an amended complaint supercedes the original complaint, Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987), and must be "complete in itself without reference to the prior or superceded pleading," Local Rule 15-220. Plaintiff is warned that "[a]ll causes of action alleged in an original complaint which are not alleged in an amended complaint are waived." King, 814 F.2d at 567 (citing London v. Coopers & Lybrand, 644 F.2d 811, 814 (9th Cir. 1981)); accord Forsyth, 114 F.3d at 1474. In other words, even the claims that were properly stated in the original complaint must be completely stated again in the amended complaint.

Accordingly, based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. The court's January 12, 2009 screening order is VACATED;

2. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed, with leave to amend, for failure to state a claim;

3. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a complaint form;

4. Within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint;

5. Plaintiff may not add any new, unrelated claims to this action via his amended complaint and any attempt to do so will result in an order striking the amended complaint; and

6. If Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint, the Court will recommend that this action be dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20090316

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