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Delbert Christopher v. Deputy Vang

March 6, 2013

DELBERT CHRISTOPHER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPUTY VANG, DEFENDANT.



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

ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Delbert Christopher is a state prisoner incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, in Corcoran, California. Plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis and with appointed counsel in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action proceeds on plaintiff's original complaint (Dkt. No. 1), filed on December 28, 2009, against one defendant, Vong Vang, a Correctional Deputy with the Butte County Sheriff's Office. Plaintiff contends that, on April 2, 2008, defendant used excessive force against plaintiff, resulting in physical and emotional injuries.

Presently pending is defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 54.) Plaintiff filed an opposition (Dkt. No. 55), and defendant filed a reply (Dkt. No. 56). For the reasons that follow, the court denies defendant's motion for summary judgment.

II. Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment, in whole or in part (summary adjudication of issues), is appropriate when it is demonstrated that the standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) is met. "The judgment sought should be rendered if . . . there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), quoting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). "[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.'" Id. 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 that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 323. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that a dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the disputed fact is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631.

In the endeavor to establish the existence of such a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e), Advisory Committee's note on 1963 amendments).

In resolving a summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference reasonably may be drawn. Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (citation omitted).

B. Excessive Force

Plaintiff's status as a pretrial detainee during the events underlying this action require that his excessive force claim be analyzed pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. A pretrial detainee is not protected by the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment because he has not been convicted of a crime. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671-72 n.40 (1977); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 686 (9th Cir. 2001). Nevertheless, the Due Process Clause protects pretrial detainees from the use of excessive force. Bell, 441 U.S. at 535-36; see Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1440 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n.10 (1989)). Moreover, the protections of the Due Process Clause are at least as great as those of the Eighth Amendment. See City of Revere v. Massachusetts General Hospital, 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983); Gary H. v. Hegstrom, 831 F.2d 1430, 1432 (9th Cir. 1987).

To determine whether the alleged use of force was excessive, this court must assess the following factors: "(1) the need for the application of force, (2) the relationship between the need and amount of force that was used, (3) the extent of the injury inflicted, and (4) whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline." White v. Roper, 901 F.2d 1501, 1507 (9th Cir. 1990). In the context of a facility disturbance, "the question of whether the measure taken inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering ultimately turns on 'whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.'" Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992) (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986).)

III. Undisputed Facts

1. Plaintiff was born on September 2, 1962, and is presently 50 years of age.

2. At age 17, plaintiff was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in injuries to his brain and right foot. Plaintiff has residual brain damage, and uses a walker and/or wheelchair.

3. On March 8, 2008, plaintiff was arrested at Oroville Hospital, taken into custody and detained at the Butte County Jail.

4. On April 2, 2008, while plaintiff was still detained in the Butte County Jail, an incident occurred between plaintiff and defendant Vang. While the parties agree that the incident took place at approximately 11:50 p.m., pursuant to Vang's response to a disruption in the "M Pod" of the Butte County Jail, the parties dispute the other facts regarding this incident.

5. Between April 4, 2008, and September 30, 2008, plaintiff was seen several times by medical, forensic and social worker staff.

IV. The April 2, 2008 Incident

A. Plaintiff's Allegations

As set forth in his complaint, plaintiff alleges that the April 2, 2008 incident began when "another inmate [was] doing unauthorized butt naked donkey kicks" in the "M-Pod" of the Butte County Jail, where plaintiff was housed; that a disruption ensued, in which plaintiff was not involved; that several officers, including defendant Vang, entered M-Pod and "instructed all inmates to get on their beds and stay there until officers contained the situation at hand;" that "[d]uring this time, ADA, wheelchair bound [plaintiff] was making his bed in an attempt to go to sleep for the night;" that another officer ordered plaintiff to "have a seat on his bed until the situation at hand was taken care of;" that, ...


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