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Scruggs v. Vance

August 27, 2009

ARTAY SCRUGGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
S. VANCE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a former state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

This action is proceeding on plaintiff's amended verified complaint, filed on August 23, 2007.*fn1 Therein, he alleges as follows. On September of 2003, plaintiff was transferred to the California State Prison - Sacramento (CSP-Sac) and housed in the enhanced outpatient program (EOP).*fn2 Plaintiff suffers from "serious mental disorders." (Am. Compl. at 3.) Inmates in the EOP are double celled and if an inmate refuses to be double celled, he is placed in an isolation cell within the administrative segregation unit.

On May 19, 2004, plaintiff and inmate Robinson, plaintiff's cellmate, spoke to defendant correctional officer Claborne about plaintiff moving to another cell because plaintiff and Robinson "were not compatible cellmates." (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff spoke to inmate Carwell, who agreed to be plaintiff's cellmate. Plaintiff, Carwell and Robinson informed defendant correctional officer Claborne about this agreement. After defendant Sergeant Nelson approved the move, defendant Claborne told plaintiff to return to his cell and pack his personal property. Plaintiff told defendant Claborne that he was "skeptical" about returning to his cell because Robinson and he had "almost got into a physical confrontation." (Id. at 6.) Defendant Claborne "tried to assure plaintiff the problem was over." (Id.) When plaintiff returned to his cell, he was stabbed by inmate Robinson, suffering lacerations to his throat, left arm, back and head. (Id.) While plaintiff was receiving stitches in the emergency room, defendant Nelson stated, "Robinson did what he said he was going to do[.] I didn't believe him now I got to go and cover my ass with paper work." (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff also names Captain Vance as a defendant.

Plaintiff claims that defendants, correctional officer Claborne, Sergeant Nelson and Captain Vance, violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from an inmate who was known to have a mental illness. (Id. at 10-11.) Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages in an amount to be proven at trial. (Id. at 11.)

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 December 18, 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 the Failure to Protect an Inmate

It is well established that a prison official's deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828-29 (1994); Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31-32 (1993); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). "It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. There are objective and subjective requirements which must be met to prevail on such an Eighth Amendment claim. First, for the objective requirement, "the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Id. Second, the prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind. See id. Here the state of mind is one of deliberate indifference. See id. A prison official who knows of and disregards an excessive risk to an inmate's health or safety demonstrates deliberate indifference. See id. at 837. Thus, "the 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 that inference." Id. However, an official who knows of a substantial risk to an inmate's health or safety but acts reasonably under the circumstances will not be held liable under the cruel and unusual punishment clause, even if the threatened harm results. See id. at 843.

DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts and Evidence*fn3

Defendants' statement of undisputed facts is supported by declarations from defendants Claborne and Nelson, as well as plaintiff's deposition testimony.

According to defendants' statement of undisputed facts, on May 19, 2004, plaintiff was housed at Facility A in the Enhanced Outpatient Program and celled with inmate Robinson. Plaintiff told defendant correctional officer Claborne that he wasn't getting along with inmate Robinson because they were incompatible. Defendant Claborne told plaintiff that the only open cell assignment was with inmate Carwell and plaintiff asked if he could be celled with Carwell. Plaintiff walked away to find Carwell. Defendant Claborne called defendant Nelson and told him that plaintiff requested to be celled with Carwell. A few minutes later, plaintiff, Robinson and Carwell approached defendant Claborne and told him that everyone had agreed to have plaintiff housed with Carwell. Defendant Claborne told them that he would have to check with defendant Nelson to obtain approval. A few minutes later, defendant Nelson called defendant Claborne and told him that upon review, plaintiff was approved to be housed with Carwell. Defendant Claborne told plaintiff that the move was approved and that he should return to his cell and pack his belongings. Plaintiff thanked defendant Claborne and asked Claborne to go back to the cell with him to help him pack his belongings because plaintiff "was skeptical about going back into the cell with Robinson because he was crazy." (Def. State. of Undisputed Facts at 3.) Plaintiff told defendant Claborne that earlier that morning he almost got into a physical confrontation with Robinson but plaintiff did not tell defendant Claborne that he would be assaulted if he returned to the cell. Defendant Sergeant Nelson was unaware of these circumstances and did not know that plaintiff was told to return to his cell without an officer escort. Defendant correctional officer Claborne did not believe that plaintiff was at risk of serious harm if he returned to his cell. Defendant Sergeant Nelson does not recall speaking to plaintiff in the infirmary and if he did refer to having to do paperwork in a conversation with plaintiff, he meant that because plaintiff had been assaulted, he would have to prepare an incident report and conduct an investigation. As to defendant Captain Vance, plaintiff is merely speculating that he was on a committee that cleared inmate Robinson to share a cell with another inmate, knowing that Robinson posed a risk of serious harm to plaintiff.

II. Defendants' Arguments

Defendant correctional officer Claborne argues that given the defense evidence it cannot be said that he failed to protect plaintiff from a known risk of serious harm. He claims that although plaintiff told him that Robinson and plaintiff were incompatible and had earlier almost had a physical confrontation, plaintiff never told him that he was at risk of serious harm if he returned to his cell. In this regard, defendant Claborne states in his declaration that plaintiff never said that he would be assaulted if he returned to his cell. (Def. State. of Undisputed Facts, Ex. B (Claborne Decl.) ¶ 13 at 2.)

Defendant Sergeant Nelson disputes having made any statement about having prior knowledge of the assault and having to do paperwork to cover himself. However, according to counsel for defendants, this allegation by plaintiff is immaterial because defendant Sergeant Nelson only approved of the bed move to rehouse plaintiff with another inmate and did not have any prior knowledge about what correctional officer Claborne was going to do or that Claborne would order plaintiff to return to the cell shared with Robinson without an officer escort. (Id., Ex. C (Nelson Decl.) ¶¶ 7-8, at 2.)

As to defendant Captain Vance, defense counsel argues that there is no evidence before the court indicating that Vance failed to protect plaintiff. Defense counsel contends that plaintiff is merely speculating that defendant Vance was a member of the classification committee and allowed Robinson to be housed with plaintiff. Counsel asserts that there is no evidence before the court indicating that Captain Vance knew of and ignored a risk of serious harm to plaintiff.

In addition, counsel for the defendants argues that all are entitled to qualified immunity because no evidence exists that any of the defendants knew that plaintiff was at risk of serious harm and therefore there is no evidence that plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated.

III. Plaintiff's Opposition

In opposing defendants' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff contends that defendants "have failed to meet their burden of proof[] in demonstrating that there is no dispute as to material facts." (Opp'n at 1.) Plaintiff also complains that defendants have failed to respond to his discovery requests and contends that his statement of material facts and evidence show that defendants did violate his constitutional rights.

As to qualified immunity, plaintiff argues that the evidence establishes that inmate Robinson had an extensive history of assaulting other inmates, that Robinson was a convicted murdered and that the defendants therefore should have understood that in the prison setting plaintiff could not overtly state his concern that Robinson would stab him "without fear of retribution and reprisal" ...


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