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Washington v. Brown

July 10, 2010



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment brought on behalf of defendants Brewer, Kissinger, and Mohamed. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and defendants have filed a reply.


Plaintiff is proceeding on a second amended complaint against defendants Brown, Madrigal, Brewer, Kissinger, and Mohamed. Therein, he alleges as follows. Prior to the start of Ramadan on October 15, 2004, plaintiff and several other inmates petitioned defendants Brewer and Kissinger to provide them with the sign-up sheet for Ramadan and asked these defendants to notify the prison kitchen staff that they intended to participate in the Ramadan fast. (Sec. Am. Compl. (SAC) at 10-11.) In addition, plaintiff sent several inmate requests to defendant Mohamed, the assigned Muslim Imam Representative for the prison, informing him that plaintiff and several other Muslim inmates intended to fast for Ramadan. (Id. at 11.) However, according to plaintiff, defendants Brewer, Kissinger, and Mohamed intentionally failed to ensure that plaintiff and his fellow Muslim inmates were placed on the Ramadan fast list and allowed to participate in the religious observance. (Id. at 12-13.) Moreover, plaintiff alleges that defendants Brewer and Mohamed denied him and other Muslim inmates the opportunity to make-up the seventeen days of Ramadan fasting that they had missed. (Id. at 13-14.)

Plaintiff also alleges that on December 19, 2004, defendants Brown and Madrigal were distributing breakfast food trays in administrative segregation. (Id. at 3.) They told plaintiff that they had spit in his food. (Id. at 3B.) When defendants Brown and Madrigal reappeared thirty minutes later to retrieve the food trays and to issue sack lunches, plaintiff asked to see the unit officer in charge. (Id.) The defendants ignored plaintiff's request and defendant Brown snatched the food tray away from the food port. (Id. at 4.) Defendants Brown and Madrigal then slammed plaintiff's right hand in the food port, causing him severe pain through his right hand, arm, and back. (Id.) After freeing his hand, plaintiff felt sharp pains in his lower back and asked the defendants to summon emergency medical staff to examine his hand. (Id. at 4-5.) The defendants, however, ignored plaintiff's request. (Id. at 5.)

Later, when defendants Brown and Madrigal returned to serve the evening meals, they insinuated that they had contaminated plaintiff's food again. (Id. at 7.) In response, plaintiff asked to see the officer in charge to complain about the alleged contamination of his food and to seek emergency medical treatment for his hand. (Id.) Defendants Brown and Madrigal ignored plaintiff's requests once again and instead attempted to provoke plaintiff into refusing to return his meal tray. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff contends that this was done so that the defendants could use pepper spray to extract him from his cell for disobeying a direct order. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that the contamination of his food by prison officials was not an isolated event. According to plaintiff, just two months earlier on October 3, 2004, defendant Kissinger also tampered with plaintiff's food. (Id. at 11.) In response to that incident, plaintiff initiated a five-day hunger strike to protest his treatment. (Id.)

Based on the above allegations, plaintiff claims that defendants Brewer, Kissinger, and Mohamed violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by intentionally denying him the opportunity to participate in the Ramadan fast and by refusing to provide him with obligatory make-up Ramadan food trays. (Id. at 15-16.) In addition, plaintiff claims that defendants Brown and Madrigal violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force when the two defendants slammed his hand in the food port. (Id. at 15.) Lastly, plaintiff claims that defendant Kissinger violated his Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care when he contaminated plaintiff's food tray, thereby interfering with plaintiff's prescribed medical treatment of taking Ibuprofen with food.*fn1 (See id. at 5, 16.)

In terms of relief, plaintiff requests compensatory damages, punitive damages, declaratory relief, and any other relief the court deems appropriate. (Id. at 3.)


On September 5, 2006, plaintiff filed his complaint and commenced this civil rights action. In due course, the court reviewed plaintiff's complaint, found that it appeared to state cognizable claims against the defendants, and ordered service. Discovery ensued, and on June 27, 2008, defendants Brown, Madrigal, Brewer, and Kissinger filed a motion for summary judgment. On January 21, 2009, the court issued findings and recommendations, recommending that: (1) defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's excessive force claim against defendants Brown and Madrigal be denied; (2) defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's inadequate medical care claim against defendants Brown and Madrigal be granted; (3) defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's retaliation claim against defendants Brown, Madrigal, and Kissinger be granted; (4) defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's free exercise claim against defendants Brewer and Kissinger be denied; and (5) defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to their affirmative defense of qualified immunity be denied.

On the same day, the court also granted plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint. Specifically, the court found that plaintiff's proposed second amended complaint appeared to state cognizable claims under the First Amendment and RLUIPA against Chaplain Mohamed, previously referred to as "John Doe" in plaintiff's original complaint. Furthermore, the court found that plaintiff's second amended complaint appeared to state cognizable RLUIPA claims against defendants Brewer and Kissinger.

On March 3, 2009, the assigned District Judge adopted the findings and recommendations in full. The undersigned then re-opened discovery for the limited purpose of plaintiff's new claims against defendant Mohamed under the First Amendment and RLUIPA, as well as plaintiff's claims against defendants Brewer and Kissinger under RLUIPA. The undersigned also granted the parties leave to file additional dispositive motions.

On September 16, 2009, defendants Brewer, Kissinger, and Mohamed filed the pending motion for summary judgment. Therein, defendants Brewer, Kissinger and Mohamed argue that the undisputed evidence in the case demonstrate that: (1) defendant Kissinger was not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's medical needs; (2) defendants Brewer and Kissinger did not violate plaintiff's rights under the First Amendment or RLUIPA; (3) defendants Brewer and Kissinger are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to plaintiff's claims under the Eighth Amendment, First Amendment, and RLUIPA; and (4) defendant Mohamed is entitled to partial summary judgment in his favor with respect to plaintiff's claim for damages based upon the alleged First Amendment and RLUIPA violations.


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).


I. Civil Rights Act Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows: Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

II. The Eighth Amendment and Inadequate Medical Care

The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 670 (1977); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). In order to prevail on a claim of cruel and unusual punishment, a prisoner must allege and prove that objectively he suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that subjectively prison officials acted with deliberate indifference in allowing or causing the deprivation to occur. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991).

Where a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claims arise in the context of medical care, the prisoner must allege and prove "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. An Eighth Amendment medical claim has two elements: "the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

A medical need is serious "if the failure to treat the prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059 (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104). Indications of a serious medical need include "the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities." Id. at 1059-60. By establishing the existence of a serious medical need, a prisoner satisfies the objective requirement for proving an Eighth Amendment violation. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).

If a prisoner establishes the existence of a serious medical need, he must then show that prison officials responded to the serious medical need with deliberate indifference. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In general, deliberate indifference may be shown when prison officials deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or may be shown by the way in which prison officials provide medical care. Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 393-94 (9th Cir. 1988). Before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged with regard to medical care, however, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere 'indifference,' 'negligence,' or 'medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v. Cutter Laboratories, 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06). See also Toguchi v. Soon Hwang Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Mere negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights."); McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059 (same). Deliberate indifference is "a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence" and "requires 'more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835 (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319).

Delays in providing medical care may manifest deliberate indifference. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05. To establish a claim of deliberate indifference arising from delay in providing care, a plaintiff must show that the delay was harmful. See Berry v. Bunnell, 39 F.3d 1056, 1057 (9th Cir. 1994); McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059; Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1335 (9th Cir. 1990); Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989); Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). In this regard, "[a] prisoner need not show his harm was substantial; however, such would provide additional support for the inmate's claim that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to his needs." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006). See also McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060. Finally, mere differences of opinion between a prisoner and prison medical staff or between medical professionals as to the proper course of treatment for a medical condition do not give rise to a § 1983 claim. Toguchi, 391 F.3d at 1058; Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996); Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981).

III. First Amendment Free Exercise

"[C]onvicted prisoners do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545 (1979). However, a prisoner's First Amendment rights are "necessarily limited by the fact of incarceration, and may be curtailed in order to achieve legitimate correctional goals or to maintain prison security." McElyea v. Babbitt, 833 F.2d 196, 197 (9th Cir. 1987). In particular, a prisoner's constitutional right to free exercise of religion must be balanced against the state's right to limit First Amendment freedoms in order to attain valid penological objectives such as rehabilitation of prisoners, deterrence of crime, and preservation of institutional security. See O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987); Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822-23 (1974). These competing interests are balanced by applying a "reasonableness test." ...

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