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Berlan Lynell Dicey v. W. R. Harrison

December 8, 2011

BERLAN LYNELL DICEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
W. R. HARRISON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action is proceeding on plaintiff's amended complaint, filed April 9, 2009. Plaintiff claims that his rights under the Eighth Amendment were violated by defendant Harrison's use of excessive force in pepper spraying plaintiff, and by the deliberate indifference of both defendants Harrison and Pfadt to plaintiff's medical need for adequate and timely decontamination after being pepper sprayed. This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS UNDER RULE 56 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).

On May 28, 2009, 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).

ANALYSIS

I. Facts

It is undisputed that at all times relevant to this action plaintiff was an inmate confined at High Desert State Prison (High Desert), and that defendants Harrison and Pfadt were employees of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) working at High Desert. On March 29, 2007, an inmate named Holcomb (Holcomb) approached plaintiff near the pill line window at High Desert's Facility B medical clinic.

Most of the other material facts relevant to plaintiff's claims are in dispute.*fn1

Defendants present evidence which suggests the following version of events. Holcomb and plaintiff exchanged words, after which Holcomb swung at plaintiff's face with a closed fist. Ex. A to Declaration of Dmitri Hanlon in Support of Harrison and Pfadt's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed March 11, 2011 (Hanlon Declaration). Thereafter Holcomb and plaintiff began to punch each other. Id. Two correctional officers, neither of whom are parties in this action, ordered both inmates to stop and get down but neither complied with the order. Another officer used the public address system to order all inmates on the yard down; all complied except Holcomb and plaintiff. Instead, Holcomb grabbed plaintiff around the torso and forced him to the ground. Declaration of W. Harrison in Support of His and Pfadt's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed March 11, 2011 (Harrison Declaration), at ¶ 2. Holcomb landed on top of plaintiff and began punching with both fists toward plaintiff's head. Id. at ¶ 3. Both Holcomb and plaintiff ignored orders to stop fighting, at which point the two non-party correctional officers sprayed them both with pepper spray while they continued to fight. Id. Defendant Harrison also pepper sprayed both inmates in the face area in an effort to stop the fighting. Id. The fighting continued, stopping only after three correctional officers, including the two defendants in this action, struck Holcomb with batons. Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. After Holcomb finally complied with defendant Pfadt's orders to lay down, both inmates laid down on their stomachs, were placed in handcuffs, and escorted to the program office. Id. at ¶ 5. Plaintiff was escorted by non-party correctional officers Mason and Williams. Exs. D and E to Hanlon Declaration.

Inmate Holcomb arrived at the program office first and was decontaminated from the pepper spray with cold water. See Ex. E to Hanlon Declaration. Plaintiff arrived at the office while Holcomb was still being decontaminated and was therefore placed in a holding cell to wait to be decontaminated. Id. Plaintiff was allowed to decontaminate himself once Holcomb finished. See id. Plaintiff was examined by medical staff twenty minutes after the fight on the yard. Exs. A-F to Hanlon Declaration. Medical notes reflect an abrasion on plaintiff's right hand and exposure to pepper ...


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