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Jeffrey Thunander v. Butte County

November 8, 2012


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


Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 302.

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action.

28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's prison trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated to make monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.

Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous when it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) ("a judge may dismiss [in forma pauperis] claims which are based on indisputably meritless legal theories or whose factual contentions are clearly baseless."); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). 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." Id. 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 v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555) (citations and internal quotations marks omitted). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, id., and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

Pursuant to his complaint, plaintiff alleges deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs during his detention at the Butte County Jail, from February to September 2007. Plaintiff identifies the following defendants: Butte County, Butte County Sheriff Jerry W. Smith, 15 "Doe" employees of the Butte County Jail, Oroville Hospital, and 5 "Doe" employees of Oroville Hospital. For the following reasons, plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed; however, plaintiff will be granted leave to file an amended complaint subject to the following considerations.

Plaintiff names Butte County based on its allegedly unconstitutional policy of denying medical care to pretrial detainees with serious medical needs, allegedly due to county financial restraints and the assumption that most detainees will obtain necessary medical care when transferred to state prison. Plaintiff asserts that this alleged policy is routinely implemented by the Butte County Sheriff and his employees, as well as by contracted medical providers, in this case Oroville Hospital and its employees. The complaint alleges that application of this policy to plaintiff reflected an assessment that plaintiff's several medical conditions were too expensive to properly treat and, therefore, that defendants conspired to "let plaintiff die." As framed by plaintiff (Dkt. No. 1 at 5):

At the time he was admitted into the jail Mr. Thunander had gout, a heart condition and was on 18 pills to keep him healthy. Upon discovering how expensive it was going to be to care for Mr. Thunander's medical needs there was a general conspiracy amongst the Sheriff and his staff at the Butte County Jail to bring about the death of Mr. Thunander. The popular consensus was that it would be cheaper to bury Mr. Thunander than to care for his medical needs as the County of Butte had neglected its fiscal obligation to properly fund the County Jail.

Pursuant to the complaint, application of this alleged policy to plaintiff resulted in a significant reduction in plaintiff's prescribed medications, denial of a wheelchair, and denial of treatment by a cardiologist, with emergency treatment provided only by a "nurse/veterinarian." As a result, plaintiff alleges, he had a heart attack and suffered permanent damage to his heart, requiring that a permanent defibrillator be implanted in plaintiff when he was transferred to High Desert State Prison; in addition, plaintiff alleges that he sustained permanent damage to his kidneys and digestive system. The complaint also alleges that, due to plaintiff's gout and arthritis, the denial of proper medication and a wheelchair caused plaintiff significant pain and permanent joint damage.

The court initially notes that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment/deliberate indifference to serious medical needs does not directly apply to pretrial detainees, but only "after conviction and sentence." See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 392 n.6 (1989), and related text. However, the Supreme Court has held that "[p]retrial detainees, who have not been convicted of any crimes, retain at least those constitutional rights that we have held are enjoyed by convicted prisoners." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545 (1979). "Thus, while the eighth amendment proscribes cruel and unusual punishment for convicted inmates, the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment proscribes any punishment of pretrial detainees." Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1441 n.7 (9th Cir.1991) (en banc). "In light of the Supreme Court's rulings that conditions of confinement violate pretrial detainees' Fourteenth Amendment rights if the conditions amount to punishment, and that failure to prevent harm amounts to punishment where detention officials are deliberately indifferent, we have concluded that the 'deliberate indifference' standard applies to claims that correction facility officials failed to address the medical needs of pretrial detainees." Clouthier v. County of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1242-43 (9th Cir. 2010), ...

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