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Lanell Martin v. Dr. Phillip H. Beck

September 18, 2012

LANELL MARTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. PHILLIP H. BECK,
DEFENDANT.



ORDER AND FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is defendant Dr. Phillip Beck's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff opposes the motion. On review of the motion and the documents filed in support and opposition, and good cause appearing therefor, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:

RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This action arises from events that occurred at Doctor's Hospital of Manteca ("DHM"). Defendant Dr. Phillip Beck is a private doctor at DHM who contracts with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. On February 24, 2010, Dr. Beck performed a laser oblation surgery on plaintiff to correct a double-stream urinary flow condition caused by an enlarged prostate gland. Plaintiff suffered complications following the surgery, including an inability to urinate without a catheter and a permanent condition called retrograde ejaculation, a common side-effect of the surgery whereby semen is ejaculated into the bladder and urinated out, rendering plaintiff permanently sterile. Plaintiff also alleges that his initial double-stream urinary flow problem remains an issue.

Plaintiff initiated this action on February 17, 2012 claiming that Dr. Beck did not inform plaintiff of the potential side-effects of the laser oblation surgery and that, had plaintiff been informed of the potential side-effects, he would not have agreed to the surgery. Plaintiff seeks damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.

STANDARDS FOR A MOTION TO DISMISS

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures 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 Fed. R. Civ. P. 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. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). 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). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S. Ct. at 2200 (quoting Bell Atlantic at 554, in turn quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

DISCUSSION

A. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

1. Eighth Amendment

Defendant seeks dismissal of plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim. He asserts that plaintiff's claim sounds in negligence and/or medical malpractice, and that this is insufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference.

Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendmen"s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006). "In the Ninth Circuit, the test for deliberate indifference consists of two parts." Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. 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. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096; McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled in part on other grounds by WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc). "Second, the plaintiff must show the defendant's response to the need was deliberately indifferent." Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. A prison official is "deliberately indifferent" if he or she knows that a prisoner faces a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable steps to abate it. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). In other words, the second prong is satisfied by the plaintiff 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." Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096.

Prison officials demonstrate "deliberate indifference" when they are aware of the patient's condition but "deny, delay or intentionally interfere with medical treatment." Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. "Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard." Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004). Under this standard, the prison official must not only "be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists," but that person 'must also draw the inference.'" Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; Toguchi, 390 at 1057. "'If a prison official should have been aware of the risk, but was not, then the official has not violated the Eighth Amendment, no matter how severe the risk.'" Toguchi, 390 at 1057 (quoting Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nevada, 290 F.3d 1175, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002)). "[A]n Eighth Amendment claimant need not show that a prison official acted or failed to act believing that harm actually would befall an inmate; it is enough that the official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842.

In applying the deliberate indifference standard, the Ninth Circuit has held that before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere 'indifference,' 'negligence,' or 'medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v.. Cutter Laboratories, 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06). "[A] complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 106; see also Anderson v. County of Kern, 45 F.3d 1310, 1316 (9th Cir. 1995); McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1050. Even gross negligence is insufficient to establish deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. See Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990). A prisoner's mere disagreement with diagnosis or treatment does not support a claim of deliberate indifference. Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989).

Here, at most, plaintiff alleges facts tending to indicate that defendant failed to secure plaintiff's informed consent before performing a surgery to correct a split-stream urinary problem. Because mere negligence does not rise to the level of a "cruel and unusual punishment" under the ...


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