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Dai Nguyen v. Sacramento County


August 30, 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 May 31, 2005 second amended complaint against defendants Sacramento County, Lou Blanas, and Sacramento Health Department ("defendants"). See Dckt. Nos. 8, 9. Defendants move for summary judgment. Dckt. Nos. 39, 40. Plaintiff filed an opposition; defendants filed a reply.*fn1 Dckt. Nos. 41, 42. As explained below, the court finds that defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, and therefore recommends that their motion be granted.

I. Summary Judgment Procedure

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 asks "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.

The principal purpose of Rule 56 is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Cop. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thus, the rule functions 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). Procedurally, under summary judgment practice, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). If the moving party meets its burden with a properly supported motion, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to present specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Auvil v. CBS "60 Minutes", 67 F.3d 816, 819 (9th Cir. 1995).

A clear focus on where the burden of proof lies as to the factual issue in question is crucial to summary judgment procedures. Depending on which party bears that burden, the party seeking summary judgment does not necessarily need to submit any evidence of its own. When the opposing party would have the burden of proof on a dispositive issue at trial, the moving party need not produce evidence which negates the opponent's claim. See e.g., Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 885 (1990). Rather, the moving party need only point to matters which demonstrate the absence of a genuine material factual issue. See Celotex v. Cattret, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). ("[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. at 324. 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. In such a circumstance, summary judgment must 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.

To defeat summary judgment the opposing party must establish a genuine dispute as to a material issue of fact. This entails two requirements. First, the dispute must be over a fact(s) that is material, i.e., one that makes a difference in the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248 ("Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment."). Whether a factual dispute is material is determined by the substantive law, id., which here involves plaintiff's allegations of abuse and excessive force during his detention and questioning at the Sacramento County jail, and his claims of inadequate medical treatment at the jail. If the opposing party is unable to produce evidence sufficient to establish a required element of its claim that party fails in opposing summary judgment. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

Second, the dispute must be genuine. In determining whether a factual dispute is genuine the court must again focus on which party bears the burden of proof on the factual issue in question. Where the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial on the factual issue in dispute, that party must produce evidence sufficient to support its factual claim. Conclusory allegations, unsupported by evidence are insufficient to defeat the motion. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir.1989). Rather, the opposing party must, by affidavit or as otherwise provided by Rule 56, designate specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. More significantly, to demonstrate a genuine factual dispute the evidence relied on by the opposing party must be such that a fair-minded jury "could return a verdict for [him] on the evidence presented." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Absent any such evidence there simply is no reason for trial.

The court does not determine witness credibility. It believes the opposing party's evidence, and draws inferences most favorably for the opposing party. See Anderson,477 U.S. at 249, 255; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Inferences, however, are not drawn out of "thin air," and the proponent must adduce evidence of a factual predicate from which to draw inferences. American Int'l Group, Inc. v. American Int'l Bank, 926 F.2d 829, 836 (9th Cir.1991) (Kozinski, J., dissenting) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). If reasonable minds could differ on material facts at issue, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995). On the other hand,"[w]here 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). In that case, the court must grant summary judgment.

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). If the evidence presented and any reasonable inferences that might be drawn from it could not support a judgment in favor of the opposing party, there is no genuine issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 323. Thus, Rule 56 serves to screen cases lacking any genuine dispute over an issue that is determinative of the outcome of the case.

On August 25, 2005, the court advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc), cert. denied, 527 U.S. 1035 (1999), and Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988).

II. Plaintiff's Allegations*fn2

Plaintiff claims that his constitutional rights were violated during a period of incarceration at the Sacramento County Jail by use of improper interrogation tactics, involuntary mental health treatment, and inadequate medical care. . . . The action at bar is predicated on a series of events that plaintiff alleges occurred between December 1999 and December 2000 while plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the Sacramento County Jail. (Second Amended Complaint, filed May 31, 2005, at 6.) In the first series of allegations, plaintiff contends that beginning on January 26, 2000, sheriff's deputies used an intercom in plaintiff's cell to "threaten, intimidate, and interrogate him regarding his criminal case." (Id. at 6.) The harassment continued through August 2000. (Id. at 7.) During a February 2000 appearance in state court, the state court judge referred to illegal recording made by sheriff's deputies but took no steps to stop the illegal conduct. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff's second series of allegations involve alleged involuntary confinement in a psychiatric unit at the jail. (Id. at 8.) The third series of allegations involve alleged "misuse of force" to administer involuntary medication to plaintiff. (Id. at 9.) Fourth, plaintiff alleges inadequate medical care through improper administration of prescribed medication, leading to an overdose by plaintiff. (Id. at 10- 11.) Finally, plaintiff claims that he was denied proper medical care after the alleged overdose. (Id. at 11-12.)

Dckt. No. 18 at 1-2

III. Discussion

Plaintiff names as defendants the County of Sacramento, the Sacramento [County] Health Department, and the former Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas. Plaintiff asserts claims against these defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged constitutional violations. He purports to sue defendants in their individual and official capacities. Dckt. No. 8 at 5.*fn3

Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing (1) that the individual capacity claims against Blanas fail because there is no allegation that Blanas was personally involved in the incidents at issue; and (2) that all remaining claims fail because plaintiff has produced no evidence of any custom, policy or practice by the defendants that violated plaintiff's constitutional rights.*fn4 See Dckt. No. 39 at 11-13 (citing Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)).

Plaintiff opposes the motion for summary judgment, arguing that he "is suing the defendants as a public entity, not as a municipal," and that his complaint states a "policy, custom, or practice implemented on plaintiff." Dckt. No. 41 at 2.Plaintiff argues that during the "time of the facts of the complaint [he] was forced medicated through Judge Chang, court order, and jail officials[, which] is considered a policy, custom or practice . . . ." Id. at 3. Plaintiff also states he "filed an administrative grievance . . . making Lou Blanas, the Sheriff of Jail, liable for all actions the plaintiff suffered while incarcerated at the County Jail." Id.

In their reply, defendants argue that plaintiff's opposition contains no evidence to overcome defendants' undisputed material facts, and specifically, that plaintiff has presented no evidence to support his allegation of a custom, policy or practice by defendants. Defendants contend the undisputed material facts clearly demonstrate that plaintiff cannot establish liability under Monell as a matter of law. See Dckt. No. 42.

A. Individual Capacity Claims Against Blanas

In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) the violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right; and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). An individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the alleged rights deprivation, as there is no respondeat superior liability under section 1983. Jones, 297 F.3d at 934. That is, plaintiff may not sue any official on the theory that the official is liable for the unconstitutional conduct of his or her subordinates. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009). Because respondeat superior liability is inapplicable to § 1983 suits, "a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Id. To be held liable, "the supervisor need not be directly and personally involved in the same way as are the individual officers who are on the scene inflicting constitutional injury." Starr v. Baca, 633 F.3d 1191, 1194-95 (9th Cir. 2011) (quotations omitted). Rather, the supervisor's participation and resulting liability could be based upon the supervisor's knowledge of and acquiescence in unconstitutional conduct by others. Id. at 1196.

Plaintiff's complaint contains no allegations regarding Blanas' personal involvement in violating any of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Dckt. No. 8. Nor does the complaint allege that Blanas had knowledge of or acquiesced in any unconstitutional conduct. See id. While the complaint refers to the "actions of Lou Blanas and subordinates under his control," it does not identify with any particularity the alleged "actions" taken by Blanas. See id. at 13-14. Plaintiff suggests in his opposition that Blanas should be liable for plaintiff's alleged injuries because plaintiff filed an administrative grievance. Dckt No. 41 at 3. Plaintiff does not describe the nature of this administrative grievance or state whether Blanas was responsible for reviewing the grievance. Moreover, any arguments made in plaintiff's unsworn opposition are not supported by evidence. Plaintiff's mere assertion of filing an administrative grievance is insufficient to raise an inference that Blanas had knowledge of and acquiesced in unconstitutional conduct by others. Plaintiff also admitted in his deposition that he sued Blanas because Blanas was the head of the county jail, and that Blanas was not personally involved in violating his rights. Dckt. No. 39, Defs.' Stmt. of Undisp. Facts ("SUF") 2.*fn5 In light of this record, defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted as to this claim.

B. Claims Against Sacramento County, Sacramento Health Department and Blanas in his Official Capacity

"Municipalities and other local government units. . .[are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies." Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. However, a municipal entity, such as Sacramento County or its departments, is liable under § 1983 only if plaintiff shows that his constitutional injury was caused by employees acting pursuant to the municipality's policy or custom.*fn6 See Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival Ass'n, 541 F.3d 950, 964 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Monell 436 U.S. at 690-94). Federal claims against municipal defendants in their official capacities must also identify a government policy or practice, because an official capacity suit against a municipal defendant in his official capacity is nothing more than a suit against the county itself.

McMillian v. Monroe County, Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 785 n.2 (1997). Thus, in order for plaintiff to proceed on his claims against Sacramento County, the Sacramento Health Department, and Blanas in his official capacity, plaintiff must show that their specific policies and practices were the moving forces behind the alleged violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175, 1185-86, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 2002) .

"[T]here are three ways to show a policy or custom of a municipality: (1) by showing a longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the standard operating procedure of the local government entity; (2) by showing that the decision-making official was, as a matter of state law, a final policymaking authority whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy in the area of decision; or (3) by showing that an official with final policymaking authority either delegated that authority to, or ratified the decision of, a subordinate." Villegas, 541 F.3d at 964 (internal quotations omitted).

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that Sacramento County has an "ineffective policy" for "preventing and reporting" employee misconduct, and for appealing the decision of "force[d] medication." Dckt. No. 8 at 13. In his opposition, plaintiff refers the court to these allegations. Dckt. No. 41 at 2. However, plaintiff does not submit any evidence to support these allegations, or otherwise show that a defendant's policy or practice was the "moving force" behind the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff admitted in his deposition that he could not identify any custom, policy or practice of the defendants that violated his constitutional rights. SUF 10. Simply put, plaintiff has not produced any evidence to show that defendants are liable for his alleged injuries, and certainly has not produced evidence upon which a reasonable jury could render a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Accordingly, defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted as these claims.

IV. Conclusion

The court finds that defendants have shown there is no genuine dispute for trial. They should therefore be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), (c)(1)(B).

Accordingly, it is hereby RECOMMENDED that:

1. Defendants' October 29, 2010 motion for summary judgment be granted;

2. Judgment be entered in defendants' favor; and

3. The Clerk of the Court be directed to close this case.

These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within fourteen days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Turner v. Duncan, 158 F.3d 449, 455 (9th Cir. 1998); Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991).

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