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Lee v. Carey

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


September 8, 2009

GEORGE LEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS CAREY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a California prisoner proceeding pro se with an action for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action is proceeding against defendant Stufflebeam (defendant) in his official capacity as an employee of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The only claim remaining is an alleged violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (ADA). Plaintiff seeks both injunctive relief and damages. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is before the court.

I. 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 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 6, 2007, 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).

II. Analysis

A. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff alleges that, in late 2005, he sought access to the law library at California State Prison Solano (CSPS) via an elevator rather than stairs, due to a disability. Defendant denied plaintiff's request, and plaintiff claims the denial of the request constitutes a violation of his rights arising under Title II of the ADA. Second Am. Compl. at 4, 6-7 & 9. In order to prevail on such an ADA claim, plaintiff must show: 1) he had a qualifying disability, 2) he was otherwise qualified to utilize a CDCR law library, 3) he was denied use of a CDCR law library, and 4) he was denied use due to his disability. McGary v. City of Portland, 386 F.3d 1259, 1265 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Thompson v. Davis, 295 F.3d 890, 895 (9th Cir. 2002).

B. Facts

The following facts are not disputed for the purposes of defendant's motion for summary judgment:

1) Sometime prior to December 13, 2005, but after November 10, 2005, plaintiff asked defendant for permission to use an elevator rather than the stairs to access the law library at CSPS.*fn1 Second Am. Compl. at 4 & Ex. B. He showed defendant a "128c chrono" issued by Dr. Daniel Thor indicating plaintiff was prohibited from climbing stairs.*fn2 Opp'n at 2:8-9, 3:22-26. Defendant denied plaintiff's request and told plaintiff that if he could not use the stairs, he could not access the law library at CSPS. Second Am. Compl. at 4. Prior to defendant's arrival at CSPS, inmates were allowed to use the elevator. Id. at 5.

2) The existence of a "chrono" issued prior to the time period during which plaintiff says he showed a "chrono" to defendant is supported by the fact that Dr. Thor noted in a "Disability Placement Program Verification" (DPPV) form on January 20, 2006 that plaintiff was issued a "chrono" on October 20, 2005 indicating plaintiff should not climb stairs. Mot., Ex. A at 11.

3) On December 13, 2005, plaintiff filed a "Reasonable Modification or Accommodation Request" to be permitted to use an elevator rather than stairs to access the law library at CSPS due to pain in his lower back and right leg. Second Am. Compl., Ex. B.

4) On December 21, 2005, plaintiff's request was denied. Id. At that time, plaintiff's DPPV form in his central file, dated May 20, 2004, indicated plaintiff was able to walk a flight of stairs without pause and assistance. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts (DSUF), Ex. A at 10 & Ex. B ¶¶ 10-14. There is nothing before the court suggesting the person who reviewed plaintiff's request was aware of the "chrono" plaintiff alleges he showed defendant.

5) Petitioner appealed the December 21st decision on January 8, 2006. Id., Ex. A at 3.

6) On January 20, 2006, as noted, Dr. Thor signed a DPPV form indicating that plaintiff should not be required to climb stairs due to a mobility impairment. Id., Ex. A at 11.

7) Warden Tom Carey answered plaintiff's January 8, 2006 appeal on February 9, 2006. Id., Ex. A at 6-7. He denied plaintiff's request to use the elevator because, according to Carey, security concerns prevented inmate access to the elevator. Id., Ex. A at 7. However, in light of the January 20, 2006 DPPV form indicating that plaintiff could not climb stairs, Warden Carey ordered that plaintiff be evaluated by classification staff for transfer to a facility where plaintiff would not have to climb stairs. Id.

8) Plaintiff was evaluated by the CSPS Unit Classification Committee on February 21, 2006 and recommended for transfer to CMF. Id., Ex. A at 13. Transfer was authorized on March 7, 2006, id. at 15, and plaintiff was transferred on June 1, 2006, id. at 16.

C. Application of Law to Facts

Defendant argues that any request for injunctive relief plaintiff might have is moot because, as of June 1, 2006, plaintiff resides at the California Medical Facility (CMF) where plaintiff can access the law library without climbing stairs. The transfer of a prisoner generally moots any claim for injunctive relief unless plaintiff demonstrates a reasonable expectation of return to the earlier, objectionable conditions. See, e.g., Johnson v. Moore, 948 F.2d 517, 519 (9th Cir. 1991). Petitioner presents nothing indicating he will return to CSPS. Therefore, his claims for injunctive relief should be denied as moot.

As defendant also notes, plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages for this ADA claim. Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181, 189, 190 (2002). As for plaintiff's claims for compensatory damages, defendant is correct that plaintiff can prevail only if he shows he was discriminated against intentionally. Duvall v. County of Kitsap, 260 F.3d 1124, 1138 (9th Cir. 2001). At a minimum, plaintiff must show "deliberate indifference" by demonstrating defendant knew rights granted plaintiff under the ADA were substantially likely to be violated, and that defendant failed to act upon that likelihood. Id. at 1139.

Defendant argues he is entitled to summary judgment because there is no evidence he was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's need for an ADA accommodation. In support of this, defendant points to the fact that when plaintiff asked defendant for permission to use the elevator at CSPS, the DPPV in plaintiff's file stated he was able to climb stairs. Mot. at 7:16-18.

Defendant fails to explain, however, the significance of the DPPV form in the decisionmaking process related to requests for accommodations made by disabled inmates such as plaintiff. Defendant has not provided his own affidavit, and so has not provided an explanation of his reasons for denying elevator access to plaintiff. Nothing before the court indicates defendant only had the authority to allow plaintiff to ride the elevator to access the CSPS law library if plaintiff's DPPV authorized it. As noted, plaintiff asserts he showed defendant a chrono from Dr. Thor indicating plaintiff is not able to climb stairs. Nothing in the record indicates defendant was free to ignore such a chrono based on plaintiff's DPPV or otherwise. Moreover, nothing confirms defendant was even aware of plaintiff's DPPV status when he denied plaintiff elevator access.

In light of the foregoing, the court will recommend this action proceed on plaintiff's compensatory damages claim arising from defendant Stufflebeam's denial of an accommodation in violation of the ADA, by failing to allow plaintiff to use an elevator at CSPS to access the inmate law library at some time between November 10, 2005 and December 13, 2005.*fn3

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that defendant Stufflebeam's motion for summary judgment (#47) be granted in part and denied as follows:

1. Granted as to plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief and punitive damages;

2. Denied with respect to plaintiff's claim that defendant Stufflebeam denied plaintiff an accommodation in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to allow plaintiff to use an elevator at California State Prison, Solano to access the inmate law library at some time between November 10, 2005 and December 13, 2005.

3. Plaintiff be ordered to file his pretrial statement within thirty days of any adoption of the foregoing findings and recommendations, and defendant be ordered to file his pretrial statement within twenty days of service of plaintiff's statement.

These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within twenty days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Any reply to the objections shall be served and filed within ten days after service of the objections. The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991).


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