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Isiah Lucas, Jr v. Gary Swarthout

November 14, 2011

ISIAH LUCAS, JR.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY SWARTHOUT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1).

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a ". . . short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.

I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff's complaint alleges deliberate indifference to his serious mental health by prison officials by failing to provide him a single cell based on medical advice. From his statements and the attachments to his complaint, it appears that plaintiff was issued a chrono for a single cell in 2006. However, a new chrono was issued in 2007, indicating single cell status was no longer necessary. In 2010, plaintiff was transferred to California State Prison - Solano (CSP-Solano), and went before the classification committee to determine appropriate housing at that institution. The committee determined, based on the 2007 chrono, that plaintiff was not entitled to single cell status, and was therefore required to take a cellmate. Plaintiff apparently appealed that decision, using the inmate grievance system. Through that appeal, plaintiff was sent for a reevaluation, and it was again determined that he should be placed in a single cell based on his mental health issues. The new single cell chrono was issued October 29, 2010. Plaintiff was then transferred again in December 2010, and is no longer housed at CSP-Solano.

The defendants named in this suit include the warden and associate warden from CSP-Solano, two correctional officers, and two inmate appeal coordinators. It is unclear whether any of the named defendants were on the committee that denied plaintiff a single cell.

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's complaint suffers from several defects. First, from the allegations in the complaint and the attachments thereto, it appears that plaintiff's claim of medical indifference would be against the committee members who determined, in July 2010, that plaintiff did not qualify for a single cell. However, that decision was based on the 2007 chrono that plaintiff did not meet the single cell criteria. If that was the current medical determination before the committee, there is no basis for deliberate indifference, as the committee's determination was based on medical opinion and was not arbitrary and capricious.

The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which the prisoner is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Eighth Amendment "embodies broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). Conditions of confinement may, however, be harsh and restrictive. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Nonetheless, prison officials must provide prisoners with "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety." Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the official's act or omission must be so serious such that it results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities; and (2) subjectively, the prison official must have acted unnecessarily and wantonly for the purpose of inflicting harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Thus, to violate the Eighth Amendment, a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable mind." See id.

Deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury, or risks of serious injury or illness, gives rise to a claim under the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105; see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. This applies to physical as well as dental and mental health needs. See Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1253 (9th Cir. 1982). An injury or illness is sufficiently serious if the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Doty v. County of Lassen, 37 F.3d 540, 546 (9th Cir. 1994). Factors indicating seriousness are: (1) whether a reasonable doctor would think that the condition is worthy of comment; (2) whether the condition significantly impacts the prisoner's daily activities; and (3) whether the condition is chronic and accompanied by substantial pain. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1131-32 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

The requirement of deliberate indifference is less stringent in medical needs cases than in other Eighth Amendment contexts because the responsibility to provide inmates with medical care does not generally conflict with competing penological concerns. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060. Thus, deference need not be given to the judgment of prison officials as to decisions concerning medical needs. See Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989). The complete denial of medical attention may constitute deliberate indifference. See Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1111 (9th Cir. 1986). Delay in providing medical treatment, or interference with medical treatment, may also constitute deliberate indifference. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1131. Where delay is alleged, however, the prisoner must also demonstrate that the delay led to further injury. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060.

Negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not, however, give rise to a claim under the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. Moreover, a difference of opinion between the prisoner and medical providers concerning the appropriate course of treatment does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment claim. See Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996).

Nothing in plaintiff's complaint can be construed as a claim for deliberate indifference against any of plaintiff's medical providers for failure to properly evaluate his medical needs. Rather, he is challenging the housing determination, which he claims is based on his mental health status, and the recommendation from his providers that he be placed in a single cell. However, that recommendation was issued after the classification committee hearing.

Second, assuming plaintiff could state a claim for deliberate indifference to his medical needs, he fails to identify who is personally responsible for that constitutional violation. It does not appear that any of the named defendants are directly responsible for the decision not to place plaintiff on single cell status. The defendants ...


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