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Eddie Hernandez Morales v. Indio Jail Medical Staff

March 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. section 1983 ("Complaint") against the Indio Jail Medical Staff and one named employee (collectively "Defendants"). For the reasons stated below, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.*fn1

Congress mandated that district courts perform an initial screening of complaints in civil actions where a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portions thereof, before service of process if it concludes that the complaint (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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).


Plaintiff sues the following defendants: 1) Indio Jail Medical Staff ("the Medical Staff") and 2) Officer Valdez ("Valdez"), an Indio Jail employee. (Complaint at 3). Defendants are all sued in their*fn2 individual and official capacities. (Id.). Plaintiff asserts that the Medical Staff deprived him of his required epileptic medication, Dilantin, from May 27, 2011 to June 24, 2011, for a total of twenty-six days. (Id. at 3-4). Additionally, he asserts that the Medical Staff failed to provide him medical attention during a seizure on June 19, 2011, despite another inmate's attempts to notify jail staff. (Id. at 5). Further, Plaintiff states that Officer Valdez denied him the right to a grievance procedure following his seizure. (Id. at 3). Plaintiff seeks $10,000.00 in compensatory damages, $40,000.00 in punitive damages, and an injunction ordering a "change of policy in the Riverside County Jails System so inmate[s] won't be deprived of their medication." (Id. at 6).


Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint due to defects in pleading. Pro se litigants in civil rights cases, however, must be given leave to amend their complaints unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1127-29. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend, as indicated below.

A. Plaintiff Fails To State A Claim For Deliberate Indifference

Plaintiff alleges that the medical staff violated his constitutional rights when they deprived him of his seizure medication, knowing that he was an epileptic inmate. (Complaint at 3-4). He also alleges that they failed to provide medical treatment during his seizure on June 19, 2011. (Id. at 4).

Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners violates the Eighth Amendment. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49, 108 S. Ct. 2250, 101 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1988). A prisoner must show that he was confined under conditions posing a risk of "objectively, sufficiently serious" harm and that the officials had a sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying the proper medical care. Morgan v. Morgensen, 465 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2006). There must also be a purposeful act or failure to act on the part of the official resulting in harm to Plaintiff. See Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006). Moreover, deliberate indifference "'entails something more than mere negligence.'" Hearns v. Terhune, 413 F.3d 1036, 1040 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835, 114 S. Ct. 1970, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1994)); see also Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir.2004) ("A showing of medical malpractice or negligence is insufficient to establish a constitutional deprivation under the Eighth Amendment.").

Here, Plaintiff generally alleges that the Indio Jail medical staff knowingly deprived him of his seizure medication and failed to provide any medical attention during a seizure. (Complaint at 3, 5). However, Plaintiff specifically alleges only that he told an unnamed nurse upon processing that he required Dilantin and asked her the following day "if she had any seizure medication available for [him], and she stated, that she did not have such prescribed medication for [his] seizure disorder. This went on for (26) days . . . ." (Id. at 5). While the intentional withholding of medication knowing that a patient requires it may state a claim for deliberate indifference, it is unclear from the Complaint whether the Medical Staff actually diagnosed Plaintiff with a seizure disorder or otherwise acknowledged his condition; whether Plaintiff continued to request seizure medication beyond this single request, and to whom; what, specifically, Plaintiff meant by the phrase "this went on"; and whether the lack of a prescription for Dilantin the morning after Plaintiff was processed into the Indio Jail was due to the Medical Staff's deliberate indifference, negligence, or some other reason.

Furthermore, with respect to the failure to provide medical attention during his seizure, Plaintiff states that a fellow inmate "tried notifying jail staff but to no avail. . . . There was no medical attention during this incident of mine nor jail staff available at that particular time." (Id. at 6). Plaintiff therefore fails to allege that an individual on the Medical Staff was aware he was experiencing a seizure, or that any individual deliberately withheld treatment during the seizure. Plaintiff must allege specific facts involving specific individuals, if he can, showing that a particular individual had actual knowledge of his serious medical need and purposely decided not to provide medical care. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. Absent such a showing, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for deliberate indifference. Accordingly, the Complaint must be dismissed with leave to amend.

B. Plaintiff Fails To Clearly Identify Individual Medical Staff Defendants And Show Their Personal Participation

Plaintiff asserts that the Indio Jail "medical staff" violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to provide him with seizure medication and by failing to provide medical care when he experienced a seizure. (Complaint at 3-5). Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any "person" who, under color of state law, deprives an individual of federal constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The term "person" includes county officials sued in their individual capacity. Vance v. County of Santa Clara, 928 F. Supp. 993, 995-996 (N.D. Cal. 1996). A plaintiff must show either direct, personal participation by the defendant or ...

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