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Cranford v. Nickels

October 8, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Archie Cranford ("Plaintiff") is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff currently resides at Coalinga State Hospital in Coalinga, California.*fn1 Plaintiff is suing under section 1983 for the violation of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also alleges a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff names Christina Nickels as defendant. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff is ordered to notify the Court of his willingness to proceed only on the claims found cognizable in this order, or to file an amended complaint that cures the deficiencies in his non-cognizable claims.

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff is proceeding in this action in forma pauperis--without prepayment of fees. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must conduct an initial review of the Complaint for sufficiency to state a claim. The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it determines that the action is legally "frivolous or malicious," fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). If the court determines that the Complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment.

In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same pleading standard used under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under 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)(2). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "[A] complaint [that] pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability... 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Further, although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, a court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

II. Background

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Chrstina Nickels denied Plaintiff's request for heart medication and Plaintiff was soon after hospitalized for a severe heart attack. On November 23, 2007, Plaintiff approached the medication window to receive his prescribed heart medication. Plaintiff informed Nickels that he was experiencing massive chest pains and needed his medication. Nickels responded by stating that Plaintiff was white and only Mexicans could receive medication. Nickels also stated that "all s.v.p[.]*fn2 white men could die and I would care less." (Compl. 5.) Later that night, Plaintiff's chest pain increased and he passed out. Plaintiff was later revived in the urgent care room. After a doctor read Plaintiff's EKG*fn3, the doctor ordered Plaintiff to be taken to "twin citys hospital" because Plaintiff had suffered a severe heart attack. (Compl. 5.) After a number of tests were done, Plaintiff was told that he had an obstruction in his main artery and needed a stent. Plaintiff alleges that the damage was the result of being denied his medication.

III. Discussion

A. Eighth/Fourteenth Amendment Claim - Denial of Medical Treatment

Plaintiff claims that Defendant Nickels violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by refusing to give him his heart medication. Plaintiff has not provided any allegations in his complaint that explain his incarceration status. It is unclear if Plaintiff is a convicted criminal held at Coalinga State Hospital for punitive reasons or if Plaintiff is involuntarily committed as a civil detainee due to his status as a sexually violent predator. The distinction is relevant because the Eighth Amendment does not apply to civil detainees because they are not committed for punitive reasons. However, the distinction is one of semantics. Plaintiff has alleged facts that demonstrate Nickels' conduct constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment if Plaintiff is an incarcerated prisoner. If Plaintiff is not an incarcerated prisoner, Nickels' conduct would be a Fourteenth Amendment violation because conduct that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment is a deprivation of a substantive liberty interest if applied to a civil detainee. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 315 (1982).

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.

"[D]eliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury states a cause of action under § 1983." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105. In order to state an Eighth Amendment claim based on deficient medical treatment, a plaintiff must show: (1) a serious medical need; and (2) a deliberately indifferent response by the defendant. Conn v. City of Reno, 572 F.3d 1047, 1055 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006)). A serious medical need is shown by alleging that the failure to treat the plaintiff's condition could result in further significant injury, or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Id. A deliberately indifferent response by the defendant is shown by a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need and harm caused by the indifference. Id. In order to constitute deliberate indifference, there must be an objective risk of harm and the defendant must have subjective awareness of that harm. Id.

Plaintiff has alleged that Nickels was aware of Plaintiff's need for his heart medication. The medication was prescribed to Plaintiff and on this particular day Plaintiff informed Nickels that he especially needed his medication because he was suffering from massive chest pains. Instead of providing Plaintiff with his heart medication, Nickels allegedly refused to give Plaintiff his medication because he was white. As a result, Plaintiff suffered from a heart attack later that night. Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that Nickels was deliberately indifferent toward ...

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