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Martinez v. Tilton

June 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


(Doc. 1)

Plaintiff Carlos Martinez ("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 was incarcerated at Avenal State Prison in Avenal, California ("ASP") at the time the events in his complaint took place. Plaintiff is suing under section 1983 for the violation of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff names James Tilton (secretary of corrections), Maria Loya (staff services analyst, medical appeals), I. Mathos (medical provider), and E. Greenman, M.D. (chief medical officer) as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed for failure to state any cognizable claims, with leave to file an amended complaint within 30 days.

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

Plaintiff has been complaining about a cataract in his right eye since 2006. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Mathos, who ordered treatment and an operation. (Compl. ¶ 2.) After several months of waiting, Plaintiff filed an administrative grievance complaining about the pain in his eye. (Compl. ¶ 3.) The grievance was partially granted, but Plaintiff never received the scheduled appointment with ophthalmology. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff has not received sufficient medical care for his eye, and the condition has worsened since he was seen by Defendant Mathos. (Compl. ¶ 4.) The prescribed eye drops were not effective and the cream colored growth in his eye has grown larger and spread to his left eye. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff was transferred out of the state a few days before he was scheduled for the ophthalmology appointment.*fn1 (Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff contacted medical personnel at his current location, but was given the same drops that he was using while at ASP and was told to wait until the condition worsened. (Compl. ¶ 6.)

III. Discussion

A. Eighth Amendment Claim

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under 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.

The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to provide prisoners with "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety." Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). With respect to medical care, "deliberate 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 sufficient facts to show that he had a serious medical need and did not receive sufficient medical treatment. However, Plaintiff fails to provide details that demonstrate what each Defendant did, or failed to do, that caused Plaintiff to receive constitutionally deficient medical treatment. Plaintiff offers only bare conclusions that Defendants collectively denied Plaintiff proper medical treatment without providing details as to each individual Defendant's participation in the alleged constitutional violation. Defendant Mathos ordered treatment and an operation for Plaintiff. Without additional facts, it is not clear how Defendant Mathos' actions were constitutionally deficient. Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Mathos acted to delay Plaintiff's treatment, or caused Plaintiff to miss his scheduled ophthalmology appointment. Plaintiff complains that he was not taken to his scheduled ophthalmology appointment because he was transferred to another institution. Plaintiff does not allege which Defendant caused him to miss his ophthalmology appointment. Further, it is not clear how Defendants, employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, are liable because prison officials in the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi did not reschedule an ophthalmology appointment, or otherwise provide adequate treatment. Plaintiff must provide sufficient factual allegations to show that each Defendant acted with deliberate indifference: that they were each aware of an excessive risk to Plaintiff's health if he did not receive medical treatment, and acted in some way to prevent Plaintiff from receiving medical treatment. Although the Court is obligated to accept Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the Court is not obligated to accept Plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, such as Plaintiff's legal conclusion that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, No. 07-1015, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 3472, 2009 WL 1361536, *29-30 (U.S. May 18, 2009). Plaintiff must provide sufficient factual allegations to support a plausible claim that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference.

Finally, Plaintiff names James Tilton, "secretary of corrections" in Sacramento California, as a defendant. Plaintiff also names chief medical officer E. Greenman as a defendant. Plaintiff is cautioned that supervisory personnel are generally not liable under section 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisory 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), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 941 (1979). To state a claim for relief under section 1983 based on a theory of supervisory liability, plaintiff must allege some facts that would support a claim that supervisory defendants either: personally participated in the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights; knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them; or promulgated or "implemented a policy so deficient that the policy 'itself is a repudiation of constitutional rights' and is 'the moving force of the constitutional violation.'" Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th ...

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