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Gibson v. Woodford

February 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Mikel H. Williams United States Magistrate Judge


Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 26.) Having reviewed the Motion, Plaintiff's response, and relevant portions of the record, the Court concludes that oral argument is unnecessary to resolve this matter. Accordingly, the Court enters the following Report and Recommendation.


On October 17, 2005, Plaintiff, an inmate in the California prison system, had surgery to remove lymph nodes in his neck and armpit area, and the wound was closed with surgical staples. (Docket No. 26, Exhibit E, ¶ 9.) When Plaintiff complained of post-operative pain the following day, a nurse in the medical clinic examined the wound, finding no redness or swelling. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was given a prescription for pain medication, and he was returned to a cell that he shared with an inmate named Cooper. (Id. at ¶ 12.)

On October 19, 2005, a correctional officer noticed that one of the windows in Plaintiff and Cooper's cell was obscured. (Docket No. 26, Ex. A, ¶ 4.) He notified Sergeant Padilla, who requested assistance from Officers Diaz and Rocha. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Upon arriving at the housing unit Padilla saw that the left window in the cell door was covered, but he could see Cooper looking down at him from the right window. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Padilla, Diaz, and Rocha approached the cell. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

As the door was sliding open, Padilla gave a direct order to Cooper and Plaintiff to exit the cell. (Docket No. 26, Ex. A, ¶¶ 10-11.) Neither inmate responded as directed, and Cooper took a "fighting stance," with his fists clenched and raised to his chest. (Id., Ex. B, ¶ 10.) The officers simultaneously ordered Cooper and Plaintiff to get on the floor. (Id. at ¶¶ 13.) Plaintiff shouted that his movement was limited because he had an injury, but the officers were focused on Cooper. (Docket No. 1, p. 8.) When Cooper took two aggressive steps forward, Diaz and Rocha each sprayed a non-lethal pepper spray in the direction of his face and then ordered the inmates again to get on the floor. (Id., Ex. B, ¶¶ 12-13; Docket No. 1, p. 8; Docket No. 32, p. 3.) After they complied, the officers rushed into the cell and handcuffed them, causing pain to Plaintiff because of his surgical wound. (Docket No. 1, p. 8.)

Officers Rocha and Diaz picked Plaintiff up and took him to a decontamination patio, where he was doused with water in a cool shower. (Docket No. 1, p. 9; Docket No. 26, Ex. B, ¶ 19, Ex. C, ¶ 18.) Plaintiff was still suffering a residual burning sensation from the pepper spray when he was taken to the medical clinic and placed in a holding "cage." (Docket No. 1, p. 9.) He waited there for over an hour in continued discomfort before a medical staff member, Nurse I. Ruff, arrived to perform a triage examination. (Docket No. 1, p. 9; Docket No. 26, Ex. D, ¶ 8.)

Plaintiff complained to Nurse Ruff that the pepper spray had burned his surgical wound, but she did not see any redness on his skin or other evidence of an injury to the site as a result of this incident. (Docket No. 26, Ex. D, ¶ 11.) She instead found that the area was "well approximated,"with intact staples and no symptoms of infection. (Id. at ¶ 10.) She cleaned the wound and applied a dry powder spray. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Nurse Ruff instructed Plaintiff not to scratch his skin and to return to the clinic in five days for a follow-up appointment. (Id. at ¶ 13.) He was referred to his primary care physician, and cleared to be placed in administrative segregation. (Id.)

On November 2, 2005, Plaintiff was seen for a follow-up surgical appointment. (Id., Ex. E, ¶ 23.) Plaintiff reported no pain, the site was clean with minimal swelling, and the staples were removed. (Id.) Two days later, he was seen again by a physician, who reported that nothing more needed to be done. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Plaintiff was seen twice more at the medical clinic, and it was noted that his wound healed properly with no complications. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-29.)

On December 12, 2006, Plaintiff initiated the present lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that his constitutional rights had been violated during the events set forth above. (Docket No. 1.) United States Magistrate Judge Dennis Beck reviewed the Complaint and concluded that Plaintiff appeared to have stated cognizable claims against Defendants Padilla, Diaz, and Rocha for excessive force, and against Defendants Woodford, Wan, Ruff, and Dr. Nguyen for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. (Docket No. 7.) Defendants filed an Answer, and the case was reassigned to Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who has referred the matter to the undersigned magistrate judge for all pretrial matters. (Docket Nos. 24, 25.)

Defendants have since filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with attachments. Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition, and he relies on the factual allegations in his Complaint. The Motion is now ripe, and the Court is prepared to issue its Recommendation.


Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is 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). Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The moving party bears the "initial burden of identifying for the court those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of any genuine issues of material fact." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). If the moving party points to portions of the record demonstrating that there appears to be no genuine issue of material fact as to claims or defenses at issue, the burden of production shifts to the non-moving party. To meet its burden of production, the non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations contained in his complaint, but he must set forth, by affidavits, ...

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