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James L. Brooks v. Edward S. Alameida

August 23, 2011



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action proceeds on plaintiff's October 23, 2006 second amended complaint against defendants Roche, Alameida, Runnels, and Hubbard ("defendants") on plaintiff's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims. Plaintiff alleges (1) Roche, Runnels, and Alameida failed to develop and implement policies that would have entitled him to a ground floor cell and prevented him from falling down the stairs; (2) Roche denied his request for physical therapy or a transfer to an institution that offered physical therapy; and (3) Roche, Runnels, Hubbard, and Alameida interfered with his recovery by failing to allow him to exercise outside of his cell during a lockdown. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, it is recommended that their motion be granted.

I. Undisputed Facts

From February 1998 through October 2006, plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of the the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") at High Desert State Prison ("HDSP") in Susanville, California. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' MSJ"), Stmt. of Undisputed Facts in Supp. Thereof ("SUF") 1. At all times relevant, defendants Roche, Runnels, Hubbard, and Alameida were employed by CDCR. SUF 2-7. Runnels was Warden at HDSP and Alameida was Director of CDCR. SUF 4-5. Roche was the Chief Physician and Surgeon at HDSP between 2002 and 2003, and Chief Medical Officer of HDSP from 2003 through 2007. SUF 2; Defs.' MSJ, Decl. of Roche ¶ 3. Hubbard was an Assistant Deputy Director at CDCR from 2003 to 2005, and was the Acting Associate Director of CDCR in 2005. SUF 6-7.

On December 6, 2002, plaintiff had surgery to correct a condition called hammer toe. SUF 9. The procedure involved removing tissue from plaintiff's second toe on his right foot, and inserting a metal rod into the toe to correct the condition. SUF 10.

On December 7, 2002, plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Watson, a physician at HDSP. SUF 11. After examining plaintiff, Dr. Watson ordered that plaintiff have crutches and a lower bunk, and cleared plaintiff to the yard. SUF 12; Defs.' MSJ, Ex. 4. Dr. Watson did not issue instructions that plaintiff be housed in a ground floor cell; nor did plaintiff request a ground floor cell from any medical staff. SUF 13-14. Plaintiff did not need a ground floor cell while recovering from the surgery. SUF 45-47.

As Chief Physician and Surgeon, Roche did not participate in deciding whether an inmate's medical condition required an accommodation chrono. SUF 51-53. Further, Alameida and Runnels always deferred to the treating physician's professional judgment regarding whether an inmates's medical condition necessitated a ground floor cell. SUF 49-50.

CDCR and HDSP did not implement a policy that prescribed lower tier cells for inmates based on specific medical conditions because it would be impractical, as one cannot anticipate every medical condition or need and prescribe a particular, static, housing accommodation without evaluating the patient on an individual basis. SUF 36. The policy was, therefore, to rely on primary care physicians to evaluate each patient on a case-by-case basis, and prescribe the appropriate treatment based within the ordinary standards of medical care in the community. SUF 37. Primary care providers were expected to exercise their professional skill and judgment to determine whether and what accommodation is medically indicated for any given patient. SUF 38. Treating physicians could prescribe a lower tier cell housing for an inmate if the inmate's condition required it. SUF 39. Temporary lower tier chronos were always prescribed on a case-by-case basis. SUF 39. And a primary care provider could not issue an accommodation chrono for a lower tier cell unless such treatment was medically indicated for an inmate. SUF 41.

From December 7 to December 19, 2002, plaintiff resided in administrative segregation in an upper tier cell, where he did not complain about his cell assignment to correctional or medical staff. SUF 16-17, 20. On December 19, 2002, plaintiff was transferred to an upper tier cell in general population. SUF 17-18.

Between December 19 and December 23, 2002, plaintiff did not fall when negotiating the stairs to and from his cell. SUF 21. Plaintiff did not request assistance from correctional staff when using the stairs. SUF 19.

On December 23, 2002, plaintiff fell down a flight of stairs. SUF 22. Plaintiff had not been denied any requested medical care between his hammer toe surgery and his fall. SUF 15. The fall left plaintiff unconscious and briefly paralyzed. SUF 22, 24. Plaintiff was transported to Lassen Community Hospital in Susanville, and then airlifted to Redding Medical Center. SUF 22-25.

Physicians at Redding Medical Center discovered that plaintiff suffered no broken bones. SUF 26. Plaintiff's paralysis dissipated after 18 hours, after which he was able to walk on his own. SUF 26. Plaintiff was kept in Redding for observation and administered pain medication. SUF 27.

Once plaintiff returned to HDSP, Dr. Rohlfing cleared plaintiff for housing on the yard after prescribing pain medication and issuing a chrono for a ground floor cell, a lower bunk, and a wheelchair.*fn1 SUF 28. On December 27, 2002, Dr. Rohlfing examined plaintiff. SUF 29. The examination revealed that plaintiff had a spasm of the cervical spine and some weakness in his left quadriceps that Dr. Rohlfing determined was temporary. SUF 30. Dr. Rohlfing concluded that plaintiff suffered from a residual muscle spasm of the cervical spine and weakness in his left leg. SUF 32.

Following the examination, Dr. Rohlfing recommended that plaintiff walk as much as possible to gain strength in his back, neck, legs, and arms, and advised plaintiff to use warm towel compresses to relax the muscles in his neck and back. SUF 33. In addition, Dr. Rohlfing recommended an exercise program for plaintiff to follow. SUF 33.

According to Dr. Rohlfing's medical opinion, plaintiff's injuries did not require physical therapy or a transfer to an institution that offered physical therapy. SUF 34.

HDSP was on lockdown from June 2003 to June 2005 because of violence between black and white inmates. SUF 55. In January 2005, plaintiff filed an inmate grievance, requesting access outside his cell to walk. SUF 57. Dr. Rohlfing and Dr. Roche responded to plaintiff's appeal at the first and second levels. SUF 58. Despite the lockdown, plaintiff was able to walk in place, jog in place, and perform calisthenics and muscle strengthening exercises. SUF 60. Plaintiff eventually received physical therapy during the lockdown. SUF 59. Plaintiff gradually improved his strength by performing Dr. Rohlfing's prescribed exercises in his cell. SUF 61.

Defendants Alameida, Hubbard, and Runnels were not aware that plaintiff required exercise as part of a medically prescribed treatment plan. SUF 62. They were never aware of whether the lockdown prevented plaintiff from performing medically-prescribed exercises. SUF 63. And they never received any complaints from plaintiff regarding a lockdown or its impact on plaintiff's health or safety. SUF 64.

II. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [ ] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Summary judgment avoids unnecessary trials in cases in which the parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issues in the case, or in which there is insufficient evidence for a jury to determine those facts in favor of the non-movant. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986); Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1994). At bottom, a summary judgment motion ...

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