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Dennis Claiborne v. Blauser

November 29, 2012



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has filed a motion for summary judgment, which is currently before the court. Dckt. No. 55. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the motion be denied.

I. Background

This action proceeds on the verified complaint filed September 10, 2010. Dckt. No. 1. The claims that remain in the action are plaintiff's claims that defendants subjected him to excessive force and were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dckt. No. 22.

Plaintiff alleges that he is mobility impaired due to a total knee replacement and requires a cane to ambulate. Dckt. No. 1 at 3.*fn1 He further alleges that on May 3, 2010, defendant Blauser informed plaintiff that she had received a call informing her that plaintiff had been "hanging out." Id. at 4. Plaintiff denied he had been hanging out. Id. Defendant Blauser then allegedly demanded that plaintiff be confined to his cell and denied yard or day-room privileges. Id. In response, plaintiff asked defendant Blauser if he could speak with the yard sergeant. Id. According to plaintiff, defendant Blauser repeated her order that plaintiff go to his cell. Id. Plaintiff again requested to see the yard sergeant. Id. Blauser then allegedly took plaintiff's cane and ordered plaintiff to "cuff up" without waist chains. Id. Plaintiff objected when defendant Blauser took his cane and handcuffed him behind his back, but defendant Blauser responded that it was California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") procedure. Id.

Plaintiff further alleges that after being handcuffed, defendants Blauser and Martin "march[ed]/drag[ged]" plaintiff across the yard, "which is riddled with potholes and grass patches." Id. at 5. Plaintiff tried to alert defendants to his difficulty walking across the yard without his cane, but they continued to jerk plaintiff's arm and pull him across the yard. Id. As a result, plaintiff stumbled. Id. Defendant Blauser then insisted that plaintiff was trying to get way from her and could not be convinced that plaintiff needed his cane or that they were dragging him too fast. Id. Plaintiff states that during the escort he stumbled over a three to five inch lift on the ground. Id. According to plaintiff, when defendant Blauser felt the weight of plaintiff coming down, she yelled "He's resisting," and took plaintiff to the ground. Id. Defendant Blauser then allegedly kneed him in the ribs, on his replacement knee, and on his head. Id. Allegedly, she also punched him in the face three to five times, until relief officers arrived. Id. at 6.

As a result of defendants' actions, plaintiff alleges that he suffered abrasions to his face and knee, his knee became "wobbly," his ribs were "re-injured," and he began to suffer headaches. Id. at 6, 10. Plaintiff alleges his injuries could have been prevented by application of waist restraints, use of his cane, and by taking appropriate care in walking plaintiff on level terrain. Id. at 7.

Lastly, plaintiff alleges that defendants were or should have been aware of plaintiff's medical condition. Id. at 7.

In support of his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff offers three "undisputed facts":

(1) that plaintiff was a participant in CDCR's Disability Placement Program as a mobility-impaired individual and has been approved to use a one-point cane to ambulate; (2) that defendants took his cane and then escorted him over rough terrain and forced him to the ground although he needs the cane and relatively level terrain; and (3) that California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3358 provides that no inmate shall be deprived of a prescribed orthopedic appliance unless certain doctors provide approval. Dckt. No. 55 at 7-8, Pl.'s Stmt. of Undisp. Facts ISO Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter "PUF"). Defendants do not, for the most part, dispute these facts. Dckt. No. 57-1, Defs.' Resp. to PUF; 57-2, Defs.' Stmt. of Undisp. Facts in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter "DUF"). (Defendants contest only plaintiff's self-description as a "handicap cripple" and his description of the terrain as rough.)

Defendants do, however, offer a version of events in contrast to that provided in the complaint. According to defendants, after confiscating the cane, they assured plaintiff they would not let him fall during the escort. DUF 9. However, plaintiff twice broke away from defendant Blauser. DUF 10. Plaintiff stated, "You ain't gonna just drag me across the yard without my cane!" DUF 11. After the first time plaintiff broke away, defendant Blauser told plaintiff not to jerk away from her. DUF 12. When plaintiff again broke away, defendant Blauser said, "He's resisting," and forced plaintiff to the ground. DUF 13, 14.

II. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Summary judgment avoids unnecessary trials in cases in which the parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issues in the case, or in which there is insufficient evidence for a jury to determine those facts in favor of the non-movant. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986); Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1994). At bottom, a summary judgment motion asks whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury.

The principal purpose of Rule 56 is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Cop. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thus, the rule functions to "'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments). Procedurally, under summary judgment practice, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). If the moving party meets its burden with a properly supported motion, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to present specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson., 477 U.S. at 248; Auvil v. CBS "60 Minutes", 67 F.3d 816, 819 (9th Cir. 1995).

A clear focus on where the burden of proof lies as to the factual issue in question is crucial to summary judgment procedures. Depending on which party bears that burden, the party seeking summary judgment does not necessarily need to submit any evidence of its own. When the opposing party would have the burden of proof on a dispositive issue at trial, the moving party need not produce evidence which negates the opponent's claim. See e.g., Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 885 (1990). Rather, the moving party need only point to matters which demonstrate the absence of a genuine material factual issue. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24 (1986). ("[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'"). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which ...

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