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Kodimer v. County of San Diego

June 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge



Now before the Court is the County of San Diego and its named employees' joint Motion for Summary Judgment. Previously, Plaintiff Henry Kodimer, by and through his mother and guardian ad litem, named several City of Escondido police defendants and County of San Diego detention center defendants in his Third Amended Complaint setting forth twelve federal and state claims for relief. On July 6, 2009, all of the City of Escondido defendants were dismissed and the related claims One through Five were dismissed. On December 22, 2009, the remaining County of San Diego defendants jointly moved for summary judgment. In response, Plaintiff has agreed to dismiss four individual County defendants (Nichols, Cruz, Torkelson and Ndugga-Kabuye),*fn2 and has abandoned his seventh and twelfth claims for relief. As a result, the remaining defendants are:

(1) the County of San Diego; (2) Ellen Tanacio, RN; (3) Deputy James West; and (4) Earl Goldstein, M.D. The remaining claims for relief are claims six and eight through eleven. As discussed below, the motion for summary judgment is denied as to defendants Tanacio, West, and the County of San Diego, and granted in favor of defendant Goldstein, M.D.


The following facts are taken from the Third Amended Complaint and are recited here for background and context.*fn3

Plaintiff was severely injured while a pretrial detainee at a San Diego County detention center. At the time of his injury, Plaintiff was a 35-year-old male who had suffered from acute paranoid schizophrenia for some time. He was being treated by a psychiatrist and he had been prescribed several psychiatric medications. Plaintiff was living with his mother. On February 16, 2007, Plaintiff was behaving erratically. Concluding that he was suffering a psychotic break, Plaintiff's mother called the police so they could transport Plaintiff to an emergency mental facility for treatment. When City of Escondido police officers arrived at the home, Plaintiff's mother informed them of Plaintiff's unusual behavior and advised them of Plaintiff's history of paranoia and schizophrenia. She gave the officers several containers of Plaintiff's daily psychiatric medications, and asked them to transport Plaintiff to a mental facility for treatment and to ensure that his medications be administered as soon as possible.

For reasons not altogether clear from this record, rather than taking him to a psychiatric facility, the police officers arrested Plaintiff for attempted rape upon his mother and transported him to the San Diego County Sheriff's detention facility in Vista, California. There, instead of treating Plaintiff or transferring him to an emergency mental health hospital, Plaintiff was placed in a large population jail space and assigned an upper bunk.

Plaintiff was first screened by County of San Diego jail employee, Defendant Ellen Tanacio, RN. Tanacio referred Plaintiff to County of San Diego jail employee, Defendant Deputy James West, for classification and a housing assignment. Deputy West assigned Plaintiff to an area with bunk beds, glass walls, and approximately fifty other inmates. The prescribed psychiatric medications were not provided to Plaintiff until at least one day later. He was never seen by a mental health professional, though a psychiatrist for the jail was on call around the clock. On February 18, 2007, Plaintiff either fell, dove, or was pushed from his top bunk. The fall caused Plaintiff to break his neck rendering him quadriplegic.


The standards to be used in evaluating a motion for summary judgment are well known and need not be repeated in detail here. The main point is this: summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. F.R.C.P. 56(c). "A material issue of fact is one that affects the outcome of the litigation and requires a trial to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth." S.E.C. v. Seaboard Corp., 677 F.2d 1301, 1306 (9th Cir. 1982). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating that summary judgment is proper. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). If the moving party can identify evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, then the burden shifts to the opposing party to produce evidence creating a genuine issue of fact. If genuine issues exist, then summary judgment is not appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

The opposing party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The party opposing summary judgment must identify facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Butler v. San Diego Dist. Attorney's Office, 370 F.3d 956, 958 (9th Cir. 2004) (stating that if defendant produces enough evidence to require plaintiff to go beyond pleadings, plaintiff must counter by producing evidence of his own).


A. Claim Six*fn4

In Claim Six, Plaintiff alleges that individual defendants Tanacio RN, Deputy West, and Goldstein M.D., violated his federal constitutional civil rights at the Vista Detention Center by failing to provide any care for his serious psychiatric needs. The defendants move for summary judgment arguing that there is no evidence that they were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's psychiatric needs.

Because Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee, his federal constitutional protections flow from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Conn v. City of Reno, 591 F.3d 1081, 1094 (9th Cir. 2010), pet'n for cert. filed, No. 09-1361, 78 USLW 3670 (May 6, 2010); Simmons v. Navajo County, __ F.3d __, 2010 WL 2509181 (9th Cir. June 23, 2010) (same). "An official's deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate -- including the deprivation of a serious medical need -- violates the Eighth Amendment, and a fortiori, the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S 825, 828 (1994)). The Ninth Circuit has "long analyzed claims that correction facility officials violate[] pretrial detainees' constitutional rights by failing to address their medical needs (including suicide prevention) under a 'deliberate indifference' standard." Simmons, 2010 WL 2509181 at *4 (quoting Clouthier v. County of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1241 (9th Cir. 2010)). Thus, the constitutional claim requires proving two elements: (1) subjective awareness of a serious medical need; and (2) deliberate indifference. "In other words, a plaintiff must show that the official was '(a) subjectively aware of the serious medical need and (b) failed adequately to respond.'" Id. (quoting Conn, 591 F.3d at 1096).

For federal constitutional purposes, a serious medical need includes a serious psychiatric need. Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1187 (9th Cir. 2002) ("The duty to provide medical care encompasses detainees' psychiatric needs."). To carry out the duty "not to engage in acts evidencing deliberate indifference to inmates' medical and psychiatric needs," a jail must provide "medical staff who are competent to deal with prisoner problems." Id.

Plaintiff has produced evidence that he had a serious medical need at the Vista Detention Center. There is no dispute that he was suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia, that he was being treated by a psychiatrist, and that he was taking several prescribed psychiatric medications to help control his illness. There is likewise no dispute that he was behaving unusually on the day of his arrest. The unusual behavior was the cause for both the summoning of the police and the resulting criminal charge and arrest. Defendants do not contend that Plaintiff was not suffering from a serious medical or psychiatric need. Their motion goes to the second element.

Defendants assert that there is no evidence of deliberate indifference. In support, they point to their own declarations as evidence that they were unaware that Plaintiff was in the throes of a psychotic break. Summary judgment, however, is unwarranted if based simply on Defendants' declarations as to their own state of mind. Conn, 591 F.3d at 1097. "Proof of 'subjective awareness' is not limited to the purported recollections of the individuals involved." Id. In this case, a genuine issue exists. Plaintiff has produced evidence from which a jury could conclude that Defendants knew of his serious psychiatric need and were deliberately indifferent from the fact that the need was obvious. E.g., Conn, 591 F.3d at 1097 ("Here, there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to create a genuine issue of fact regarding defendants' subjective awareness of [plaintiff's] serious medical need.").

1. Nurse Tanacio

There is evidence that Tanacio was on duty as the screening nurse at the detention center when Plaintiff arrived. There is evidence that she interviewed Plaintiff face-to-face. Her intake records show that Plaintiff told her he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and that Plaintiff told her the name of his treating psychiatrist. There is evidence that she took notice and recorded the four or five psychiatric medications Plaintiff had been prescribed. There is evidence that Tanacio ...

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