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Anthony R. Turner v. California Forensic Medical Group

March 18, 2013

ANTHONY R. TURNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALIFORNIA FORENSIC MEDICAL GROUP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action proceeds on plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 18). Pending before the court is defendants' unopposed motion for summary judgment.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

The court has summarized plaintiff's claims as follows: Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that following an unlawful stop and arrest, wherein he alleges he was subjected to unlawful excessive force by the arresting police officer, plaintiff was delivered to the Yolo County Jail. Upon deliverance at the jail, plaintiff alleges he was denied medical treatment, suffered additional use of excessive force, and was denied due process related to his placement in administrative segregation. He claims the basis for his mistreatment was retaliation for filing a complaint related to his mistreatment.

Relating to the moving defendants, plaintiff alleges the nurses, identified in the complaint*fn2 as Tammy, Genine, Carolyn, and Lisa, failed to follow the doctors' orders and provide plaintiff with necessary medical care. In addition, he alleges Dr. Zil failed to obtain his mental health records, properly evaluate him, and provide necessary treatment. Finally, he alleges Dr. Douglas failed to provide necessary treatment including proper pain medication.

Specifically, plaintiff alleges that on September 22, 2009, he was seen by Dr. Douglas in the jail clinic for his injuries and pain, but that Dr. Douglas refused to provide a proper assessment and ordered Vicodin which plaintiff was allergic to. He further alleges that between September 23, 2009 and October 9, 2009, the nursing staff failed to administer the treatment Dr. Douglas did order. The nursing staff failed to change the dressing on his injuries, failed to provide anti-bacterial cream, and failed to fill the prescription ordered. (See Am. Compl., Doc. 18, at 15-19). Further, plaintiff alleges Dr. Zil refused to obtain his mental health records, and from September 18, 2009 until November 5, 2009, he refused to evaluate and treat plaintiff's bi-polar disorder. (See Am. Compl., Doc. 18, at 20-21).

II. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a 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 Fed. R. Civ. P. 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. 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 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. 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. at 323.

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 does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this 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 the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, 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, Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of 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 631. 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 the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See 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. See 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 may be drawn. See 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 587 (citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants' unopposed motion for summary judgment is based on res judicata and the absence of any genuine issue of fact. Defendants argue plaintiff litigated the same claims in another action before this court, wherein judgment was entered against him. Thus, he is cannot re-litigate them here under the doctrine of res judicata. In addition, defendants argue the treatment provided plaintiff while in the jail was adequate, and there is no evidence of the defendants' deliberate indifference.

Res Judicata

Two related doctrines of preclusion are grouped under the term "res judicata." See Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 128 S. Ct. 2161, 2171 (2008). One of these doctrines -- claim preclusion -- forecloses "successive litigation of the very same claim, whether or not relitigation of the claim raises the same issues as the earlier suit." Id. Stated another way, "[c]laim preclusion. . . bars any subsequent suit on claims that were raised or could have been raised in a prior action." Cell Therapeutics, Inc. v. Lash Group, Inc., 586 F.3d 1204, 1212 (9th Cir. 2009). "Newly articulated claims based on the same nucleus of facts are also subject to a res judicata finding if the claims could have been brought in the earlier action." Stewart v. U.S. Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 2002). Thus, claim preclusion prevents a plaintiff from later presenting any legal theories arising from the "same transactional nucleus of facts." Hells Canyon Preservation Council v. U.S. Forest Service, 403 F.3d 683, 686 n.2 (9th Cir. 2005).

The party seeking to apply claim preclusion bears the burden of establishing the following: (1) an identity of claims; (2) the existence of a final judgment on the merits; and (3) identity or privity of the parties. See Cell Therapeutics, 586 F.3d at 1212; see also Headwaters, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Service, 399 F.3d 1047, 1052 (9th Cir. 2005). Determining whether there is an identity of claims involves consideration of four factors: (1) whether the two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts; (2) whether rights or interests established in the prior judgment would be destroyed or impaired by prosecution of the second action; (3) whether the two suits involve infringement of the same right; and (4) whether substantially the same evidence is presented in the two actions. See ProShipLine, Inc. v. Aspen Infrastructure Ltd., 609 F.3d 960, 968 (9th Cir. 2010). Reliance on the first factor is especially appropriate because the factor is "outcome determinative." Id. (quoting Mpoyo v. Litton Electro-Optical Sys., 430 F.3d 985, 987 (9th Cir. 2005)). As to privity of the parties, "privity . . . [arises] from a limited number of legal relationships in which two parties have identical or transferred rights with respect to a particular legal interest." Headwaters, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 399 F.3d 1047, 1053 (9th Cir. 2005).

The defendants move for summary judgment on the basis that the claims against them have been previously adjudicated, and plaintiff is now precluded from proceeding on those claims. Specifically, Dr. Douglas and the nursing staff defendants argue that the claims against them were adjudicated in action 2:09cv3445-GEB-KJN. In that other action, the nursing staff defendants were dismissed by Judge Newman upon screening, for plaintiff's failure to state a claim. The claims Judge Newman read in the complaint plaintiff filed in that case related to the inmate grievance system, and the nurses' obstruction of his ability file a grievance. Plaintiff was provided an opportunity to amend his complaint, which he failed to do. Therefore, the nursing defendants were dismissed from that action. In this action, upon screening, the undersigned found plaintiff stated a claim against the nursing staff defendants relating to the denial of medical treatment, not any claim relating to the inmate grievance system. Therefore, the undersigned does not agree with the defendants' argument that the claims raised in this action against the nursing staff have already been adjudicated.

However, the claims against Dr. Douglas in this action do appear to be duplicative of those raised and adjudicated in plaintiff's other case, 2:09cv3445-GEB-KJN. In both cases, plaintiff alleges Dr. Douglas failed to provide him with proper medical care, including failing to prescribe proper pain medication and refusing to change the dressings on his injuries, all in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. These claims arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts, involve infringement of the same right, the evidence presented in both actions are substantially the same, and the rights established in the prior judgment would be destroyed by a judgment in this action. Thus, there is an identity of the claims in the two separate actions. In addition, final judgment on the merits of the claims against Dr. Douglas exists in the other case, which was entered prior to the filing of the current motion. Thus, the undersigned finds the claims against Dr. Douglas in this action are barred by res judicata.

Eighth Amendment Claims

The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which the prisoner is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Eighth Amendment ". . . embodies broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). Conditions of confinement may, however, be harsh and restrictive. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Nonetheless, prison officials must provide prisoners with "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety." Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the official's act or omission must be so serious such that it results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities; and (2) subjectively, the prison official must have acted unnecessarily and wantonly for the purpose of inflicting harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Thus, to violate the Eighth Amendment, a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable mind." See id.

Deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury, or risks of serious injury or illness, gives rise to a claim under the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105; see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. This applies to physical as well as dental and mental health needs. See Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1253 (9th Cir. 1982). An injury or illness is sufficiently serious if the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the ". . . unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Doty v. County of Lassen, 37 F.3d 540, 546 (9th Cir. 1994). Factors indicating seriousness are: (1) whether a reasonable doctor would think that the condition is worthy of comment; (2) whether the ...


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