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Taylor v. Clair

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


December 4, 2009

AMETHEUS TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. J. ST. CLAIR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

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

ORDER DISMISSING ACTION, WITH PREJUDICE, FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM UNDER SECTION 1983

(Doc. 15)

Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Ametheus Taylor, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 1, 2008. On February 6, 2009, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint, with leave to amend, for failure to state any claims. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on May 14, 2009.

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).

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). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusion are not. Id. at 1949.

II. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Summary of Amended Complaint

Plaintiff is currently housed at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California. This is an action for money damages against the State of California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, and Doctors St. Clair, Smith, Lovett, Howard, and Thomatos for the violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

On September 9, 2007, Plaintiff was working the Lick Fire in Gilroy, California, cutting a fire line around residential homes. Plaintiff and other inmates were required to keep working even after the sun went down and it was dark outside. The only available light was coming from the light on Plaintiff's helmet when he stepped on a stob,*fn1 causing his knee to pop loudly. Plaintiff stumbled and then slipped down the mountain, injuring his knee. Plaintiff was subsequently told by Captain Fisher that they would not be able to get him to a doctor until the next morning.

On September 10, 2007, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Howard, who prescribed "minimal" pain medication in order to "minimize" Plaintiff's injuries and justify the "deliberate indifference" to his needs. (Doc. 15, Amend. Comp., court record p. 6.) Plaintiff was also given crutches. Plaintiff complained of increased pain, but was told by Dr. Howard that his pain would decrease if he moved his knee more. Moving his knee produced more pain, and Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Howard chose the course of treatment in conscious disregard of his pain. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Howard did not have an MRI done until a week later.

On September 15, 2007, Plaintiff received an MRI, which showed a fracture, and torn tendons and ligaments.

Plaintiff was seen by Dr. St. Clair on September 26, 2007. Plaintiff alleges Dr. St. Clair refused to prescribe the "right" amount of pain medication, told Plaintiff his knee was just swollen despite the MRI results, and passed Plaintiff on to one doctor after another. (Id., p. 7.)

On October 17, 2009, Dr. St. Clair took Plaintiff off of his medication despite Plaintiff's complaints of pain. Another MRI was done on October 25, 2007, showing fractures and tears. Plaintiff was again placed on pain medication, but "sparingly." (Id.)

Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Lovett on January 2, 2008, but Dr. Lovett failed to order surgery and refused to prescribe pain medication even though Plaintiff was in extreme pain. Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Smith and Dr. St. Clair on January 10, 2008, but they refused to order surgery and continued Plaintiff on "useless" medication. On February 11, 2008, Plaintiff saw Dr. Lovett again, who opined that he did not know why Plaintiff was still in pain and ordered an outside consultation with UC Davis.

On April 21, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Lewis, an outside doctor who ordered surgery on July 16, 2008.

B. Claim Against State, CDCR, and Secretary Cate

Plaintiff alleges a claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendants State of California, CDCR, and CDCR Secretary Cate for failing to ensure that there was a physician in the vicinity of the inmates in their custody. Plaintiff alleges it was unacceptable that he had to suffer all night long without medical treatment.

Plaintiff may not seek to impose liability on the State, CDCR, and Secretary Cate in this action. The Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's claims against these defendants. Aholelei v. Dept. of Public Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007).

C. Claim Against Prison Doctors

Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive adequate medical care for his knee injury, and the prison doctors named in this suit acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

"[T]o maintain an Eighth Amendment claim based on prison medical treatment, an inmate must show 'deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.'" Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 295 (1976)). The two part test for deliberate indifference requires the plaintiff to show (1) "'a serious medical need' by demonstrating that 'failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,'" and (2) "the defendant's response to the need was deliberately indifferent." Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096 (quoting McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds, WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc) (internal quotations omitted)). Deliberate indifference 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. (citing McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060). Where a prisoner is alleging a delay in receiving medical treatment, the delay must have led to further harm in order for the prisoner to make a claim of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. McGuckin at 1060 (citing Shapely v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985)).

Plaintiff has adequately alleged the existence of a serious medical need. However, his amended complaint suffers from the same deficiencies that plagued his original complaint. "Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard," Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004), and Plaintiff's disagreement with the treatment he was provided is not sufficient to support an Eighth Amendment claim, Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981) (internal citation omitted). Describing the pain medication he was prescribed as minimal, insufficient in dosage, or sparing suggests a disagreement with the medical treatment prescribed. It does not support a claim that the defendants "[knew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to [Plaintiff's] health or safety." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994) (emphasis added). Plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief, with the mere possibility of misconduct falling short of meeting that standard. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

Further, although Plaintiff alleges a delay between his injury and the surgery, Plaintiff's allegations do not support a claim "that the course of treatment the doctors chose was medically unacceptable under the circumstances . . . and . . . that they chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to [P]laintiff's health." Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1986) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff attempts to cure this deficiency by stating that doctors chose the course of treatment in conscious disregard to a risk to his health. However, the use of "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do[es] not suffice" to state a claim. Iqbal at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

Again, the disagreement with the course of treatment prescribed is not sufficient to support a claim, and there is no constitutional entitlement to aggressive or priority medical treatment. The Constitution prohibits prison medical staff from acting with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. However, treatment that is merely conservative in nature does not run afoul of the Constitution. Here, there are no specific factual allegations supporting Plaintiff's contention that the course of treatment chosen was medically unacceptable and chosen in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to Plaintiff. Jackson, 90 F.3d at 332. Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not stated a claim against Defendants St. Clair, Smith, Lovett, Howard, and Thomatos for violation of the Eighth Amendment.

III. Conclusion and Order

Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state a claim under section1983. Plaintiff was previously granted leave to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies in his claim, but was unable to do so. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987).

Accordingly, this action is HEREBY DISMISSED, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim under section 1983.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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