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Joseph Marpel v. Saukhla

January 17, 2012

JOSEPH MARPEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SAUKHLA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER and FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I. Introduction

Plaintiff is a state prisoner, in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"), who is incarcerated at the California Medical Facility ("CMF"). Plaintiff proceeds without counsel, and in forma pauperis, in this action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On February 22, 2011, the court found that plaintiff's complaint appeared to state potentially cognizable claims against defendant physicians Dr. Saukhla and Dr. Bick. Dr. Saukhla served as plaintiff's primary care physician at CMF; Dr. Bick is the Chief Medical Officer ("CMO") at CMF. On June 24, 2011, the court denied plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint,*fn1 and directed defendants to file a responsive pleading. On July 25, 2011, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, on the ground that it fails to state a cognizable claim against either defendant. (Dkt. No. 24.) Plaintiff timely filed an opposition (Dkt. No. 28)*fn2 , and defendants filed a reply (Dkt. No. 29). Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion to submit additional medical records (Dkt. No. 33), which the court hereby grants.*fn3 Discovery has been stayed in this action pending resolution of defendants' motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 31.) For the reasons that follow, this court recommends that defendants' motion be granted.

II. Legal Standards

A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings set forth in the complaint. Vega v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 654 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1109 (E.D. Cal. 2009). Under the "notice pleading" standard of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff's complaint must provide a "short and plain statement" of plaintiff's claims showing entitlement to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see also Paulsen v. CNF, Inc., 559 F.3d 1061, 1071 (9th Cir. 2009). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554 (2007). "A complaint may survive a motion to dismiss if, taking all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, it contains 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Coto Settlement v. Eisenberg, 593 F.3d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). "'A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Caviness v. Horizon Cmty. Learning Ctr., Inc., 590 F.3d 806, 812 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949). The court accepts "all facts alleged as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." County of Santa Clara v. Astra USA, Inc., 588 F.3d 1237, 1241 n.1 (9th Cir. 2009). The court is "not, however, required to accept as true conclusory allegations that are contradicted by documents referred to in the complaint, and [the court does] not necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Paulsen, 559 F.3d at 1071 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

In ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court "may generally consider only allegations contained in the pleadings, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters properly subject to judicial notice." Outdoor Media Group, Inc. v. City of Beaumont, 506 F.3d 895, 899 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). However, under the "incorporation by reference" doctrine, a court may also review documents "whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the [plaintiff's] pleading." Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted and modification in original). The incorporation by reference doctrine also applies "to situations in which the plaintiff's claim depends on the contents of a document, the defendant attaches the document to its motion to dismiss, and the parties do not dispute the authenticity of the document, even though the plaintiff does not explicitly allege the contents of that document in the complaint." Id.

B. Eighth Amendment Claim

Inadequate medical care does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment cognizable under § 1983, unless the mistreatment rose to the level of "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). "In the Ninth Circuit, the test for deliberate indifference consists of two parts." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). These parts are:

First, the plaintiff must show a serious medical need by demonstrating that failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Second, the plaintiff must show the defendant's response to the need was deliberately indifferent. This second prong -- defendant's response to the need was deliberately indifferent -- is satisfied by showing (a) a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need and (b) harm caused by the indifference. Indifference may appear when prison officials deny, delay or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or it may be shown by the way in which prison physicians provide medical care.

Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

To establish deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show that defendants knew of, and disregarded, an excessive risk to his health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). A prison official must "both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id. The nature of a defendant's responses must be such that the defendant purposefully ignores or fails to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need in order for deliberate indifference to be established. McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1060 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled in part on other grounds, WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997). Deliberate indifference may occur when prison officials deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or may be demonstrated by the way in which prison officials provide medical care. Id. at 1059--60.

A showing of merely inadvertent or even negligent medical care is not enough to establish a constitutional violation. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105--06; Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1130 (9th Cir. 1998). A mere difference of opinion concerning the appropriate treatment cannot be the basis for an Eighth Amendment violation. Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996); Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981). Rather, an inmate must allege facts sufficient to indicate a culpable state of mind on the part of prison officials. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297--99 (1991). Accordingly, a difference of opinion about the proper course of treatment is not deliberate indifference nor does a dispute between a prisoner and prison officials over the necessity for or extent of medical treatment amount to a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1058 (9th Cir. 2004); Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989).

III. Discussion

A. The ...


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