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William Sutherland v. James A. Yates

September 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



William Sutherland ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed the Complaint commencing this action on December 11, 2009. (Doc. 1.) This case now proceeds on the First Amended Complaint, filed on December 6, 2010, against defendants Correctional Officer ("C/O") A. Fernando and C/O

M. Jericoff for use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment; against Warden James A. Yates ("Defendants") for failure to protect Plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and on Plaintiff's related state tort claims. (Doc. 15.)

On September 8, 2011, the Court issued a Scheduling Order establishing a deadline of May 8, 2012, for the parties to complete discovery, including the filing of motions to compel.*fn1 (Doc. 27.)

On February 23, 2012, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel production of documents. (Doc. 33.) On May 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed an amended motion to compel production of documents. (Doc. 41.) On May 21, 2012, Defendants filed an opposition to the amended motion. (Doc. 44.) On June 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed a reply. (Doc. 45.) Plaintiff's amended motion to compel is now before the Court.


Allegations in the First Amended Complaint The events at issue in the First Amended Complaint allegedly occurred at Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP") in Coalinga, California, where Plaintiff is presently incarcerated. Plaintiff names as defendants Correctional Officer ("C/O") A Fernando, C/O M. Jericoff, James Yates (Warden, PVSP), and Lieutenant R. Lantz.*fn2

Plaintiff alleges as follows. On May 26, 2009, Plaintiff stood in the afternoon pill call line for about fifteen minutes, when defendant C/O A. Fernando split the line, causing Plaintiff to be placed near the end of the line. It was a hot day and Plaintiff was not feeling well, due to chronic back pain and heat sensitivity, so Plaintiff sat down at a nearby table to await his turn. C/O Fernando approached Plaintiff, and Plaintiff told C/O Fernando he (Plaintiff) was not feeling well. C/O Fernando instructed Plaintiff to get back in the line. Plaintiff then tried to explain about his back pain and heat sensitivity, but C/O Fernando again told Plaintiff to get back in the line. Plaintiff again tried to explain, and C/O Fernando told Plaintiff to stand with his hands behind his back. Plaintiff complied, and C/O Fernando placed handcuffs on Plaintiff and became extremely aggressive, shoving Plaintiff's arms up and pulling Plaintiff's water bottle out of his pocket and smashing it on the ground. C/O Fernando yelled to approaching defendant C/O M. Jericoff, "We have a piece of shit here," and Plaintiff responded, "You are not allowed to talk about inmates like that." C/O Fernando told Plaintiff to shut up and pushed Plaintiff's arms up so high that Plaintiff feared they would break. Plaintiff told C/O Fernando that he (Plaintiff) had a bad shoulder, but C/O Fernando continued to lift Plaintiff's arms, and Plaintiff was forced to lock his arms to prevent his shoulder from being dislocated. Plaintiff cooperated with both of the officers and did not resist.

Plaintiff asked to speak to Internal Affairs, but C/O Fernando and C/O Jericoff became extremely violent and continued pushing Plaintiff's arms up. On the way to the Program Office, the officers continued to shove Plaintiff's arms up. At the Program Office, the officers slammed Plaintiff's face into the wall and swept Plaintiff's legs out from under him, causing him to hit the concrete chin-first. Plaintiff kept crying out that he wasn't resisting and that he wanted to see Internal Affairs. While Plaintiff was on the ground, C/O Fernando twisted Plaintiff's left leg until Plaintiff cried out in pain. Plaintiff was pulled up by his wrists, and C/O Jericoff stomped on Plaintiff's right kidney and said in a threatening manner, "Do you still want to see Internal Affairs?" Plaintiff responded, "No, please, I am not resisting you, please!" Finally, Plaintiff was yanked up and placed into a cage with his right handcuff so tight that it cut into his wrist, causing it to bleed. All of the officers in the Program Office refused to loosen the handcuffs for a long time. When a medical employee came to make a report, an officer told Plaintiff he should just say he had a bad day. Plaintiff was sent to his cell and confined for three days.

Plaintiff was found guilty of a 115 rules violation, even though the video of the incident clearly showed the officers' reports to be false. The officer who oversaw the hearing, Lt. R. Lantz, viewed the video and ignored what it showed and refused to allow Plaintiff to call all of his witnesses. Lt. Lantz allowed Plaintiff to submit only three questions, yet wrote that "subject nor SHO had no further questions for witness. Witness was excused."

Warden James Yates knew that C/O Jericoff was a violent predator who was being investigated by Internal Affairs for a long pattern of abuses involving excessive use of force, and Warden Yates failed to prevent C/O Jericoff from having contact with inmates, resulting in Plaintiff's injury. The Warden also failed to properly train and supervise C/O Jericoff.

Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff now proceeds on claims for excessive force and failure to protect Plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and related state claims.

Eighth Amendment Excessive Force Claim

"What is necessary to show sufficient harm for purposes of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause [of the Eighth Amendment] depends upon the claim at issue . . . ." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992). "The objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim is . . . contextual and responsive to contemporary standards of decency." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The malicious and sadistic use of force to cause harm always violates contemporary standards of decency, regardless of whether or not significant injury is evident. Id. at 9; see also Oliver v. Keller, 289 F.3d 623, 628 (9th Cir. 2002) (Eighth Amendment excessive force standard examines de minimis uses of force, not de minimis injuries)). However, not "every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action." Id. at 9. "The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort 'repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Id. at 9-10 (internal quotations marks and citations omitted).

"[W]henever prison officials stand accused of using excessive physical force in violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, the core judicial inquiry is . . . whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Id. at 7. "In determining whether the use of force was wanton and unnecessary, it may also be proper to evaluate the need for application of force, the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, the threat reasonably perceived by the responsible officials, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful ...

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