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Mario Williams v. Jason T. Huffman

February 22, 2012


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


I. Introduction

Plaintiff is a state prisoner, proceeding without counsel and in forma pauperis, with an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On December 22, 2011, defendant Huffman filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the amended complaint fails to state a cognizable claim under the Eighth Amendment, and that plaintiff's claim against defendant Huffman is frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned grants defendant Huffman's motion to dismiss, but grants plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint. ////

II. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

Plaintiff is proceeding on the amended complaint filed April 29, 2011, alleging that defendants were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs by delaying the scheduling of plaintiff's back surgery. (Dkt. No. 8.) Plaintiff first saw defendant Huffman on February 9, 2009. Plaintiff contends defendant Huffman ordered x-rays of plaintiff's lumbar spine, and reviewed plaintiff's MRI report which "showed collapse of the disc space, dehydration of the intervertebral disc at L4-5, at L3-4, and loss of disc height at L2-3." (Dkt. No. 8 at 5.) Plaintiff alleges defendant Huffman told plaintiff that he needed surgery, and that plaintiff agreed to the surgery. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff alleges he continued to complain to prison medical officials that he was in pain, and that he needed his back surgery. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges defendants were responsible to timely schedule plaintiff's back surgery, and their delay in timely scheduling the back surgery amounts to deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious medical needs. (Id.)

III. Legal Standards - Motion to Dismiss

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for motions to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969); Meek v. County of Riverside, 183 F.3d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1999). Still, to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a pro se complaint must contain more than "naked assertions," "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). In other words, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief must have facial plausibility. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Attachments to a complaint are considered to be part of the complaint for purposes of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir.1990).

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). In general, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The court has an obligation to construe such pleadings liberally. Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). However, the court's liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not pled. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

As mentioned above, a court may consider exhibits submitted with the complaint. Durning v. First Boston Corp., 815 F.2d 1265, 1267 (9th Cir. 1987). Significantly, a "court may disregard allegations in the complaint if contradicted by facts established by exhibits attached to the complaint." Sumner Peck Ranch v. Bureau of Reclamation, 823 F. Supp. 715, 720 (E.D. Cal. 1993) (citing Durning, 815 F.2d at 1267.)

IV. Civil Rights Standards

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows: Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978) ("Congress did not intend § 1983 liability to attach where . . . causation [is] absent."); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976) (no affirmative link between the incidents of police misconduct and the adoption of any plan or policy demonstrating their authorization or approval of such misconduct). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

V. Eighth Amendment Standards for Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs In order to state a claim for relief under the Eighth Amendment for inadequate prison medical care, plaintiff must allege "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). A medical need is 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) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104), overruled on other grounds, WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc). Deliberate indifference is proved by evidence that a prison official "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). Mere negligence is insufficient for Eighth Amendment liability. Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1128 (1998).

Whether a defendant had requisite knowledge of a substantial risk of harm is a question of fact and a fact finder may conclude that a defendant knew of a substantial risk based on the fact that the risk was obvious. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842. While the obviousness of the risk is not conclusive, a defendant cannot escape liability if the evidence shows that the defendant merely refused to verify underlying facts or declined to confirm inferences that he strongly suspected to be true. Id. "Prison officials are deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs when they deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment." Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Deliberate indifference may be shown by the way in which prison officials provide medical care, Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 393-94 (9th Cir. 1988), or "may be shown by circumstantial evidence when the facts are sufficient to demonstrate that a defendant actually knew of a risk of harm." Lolli v. County of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 421 (9th Cir. 2003). Deliberate indifference in the medical context may also be shown by a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. However, a mere difference of opinion between a prisoner and prison medical staff as to appropriate medical care does not give rise to a § 1983 claim. Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981).

VI. Plaintiff's Medical Records

Plaintiff provides the following medical records.*fn2 On January 22, 2009, plaintiff completed a Health Care Services Request Form stating he was having "excruciating pain" in his right leg. (Dkt. No. 1 at 23.) Plaintiff was seen by a Registered Nurse ("RN") on January 25, 2009, who noted that plaintiff was unable to ambulate due to leg and hip pain. (Id.) On January 26, 2009, plaintiff completed another Health Care Services Request Form, stating he had pain in his right leg registering 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for the past two weeks. (Dkt. No. 1 at 25.) Plaintiff reported suffering pain, cramping and spasms, and was unable to walk. Plaintiff was prescribed Toradol for the pain. (Dkt. No. 1 at 26.)

On January 27, 2009, Dr. Nguyen requested that plaintiff receive a CT of his abdomen and pelvis. (Dkt. No. 1 at 30.) The request was marked urgent. (Id.) Dr. Nguyen also ordered that plaintiff receive an outpatient MRI due to acute pain in plaintiff's lower back and right hip, radiating to his right thigh, with muscle spasms since January 20, 2009. (Dkt. No. 1 at 31.) On January 28, 2009, plaintiff received an MRI of his lumbar spine and hip. (Dkt. No. 1 at 32.)

Upon return from the MRI, plaintiff reported that he was unable to walk since January 17, 2009, due to pain in his right hip and leg. (Dkt. No. 1 at 33.) Dr. Nguyen wanted the MRI results faxed from Vacaville Imaging to CSP-Solano; staff contacted Vacaville Imaging and they agreed to send the report. On January 28, 2009, Dr. Steven Liston dictated the results of the MRI, with the following impression:

There is multilevel degenerative disc and facet arthropathy. . . . The most pronounced abnormalities are at L3-4, where there is lateral disc protrusion and disc space narrowing, along with ligamentous hypertrophy. . . .

(Dkt. No. 1 at 36.)

On January 29, 2009, Dr. Nguyen requested an urgent referral for plaintiff to see an orthopedic surgeon based on the MRI. (Dkt. No. 1 at 37.) Dr. Nguyen specifically requested: "please send MRI films with patient." (Id.) On January 29, 2009, Suzanne Silva, LVN, from CSP-Solano outside medical scheduling, faxed an urgent request for plaintiff to be seen by Dr. Huffman on February 9, 2009. (Dkt. No. 1 at 38.)

The bottom of the January 29, 2009 form indicated that plaintiff was subsequently scheduled to see Dr. Huffman on February 9, 2009, "for surgical planning after ...

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