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Aurelio Martin Sepulveda v. James Lee

May 6, 2013




On November 8, 2010, plaintiff Aurelio Martin Sepulveda, then an inmate at Ironwood State Prison ("Ironwood") in Blythe, California, filed this civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants James Lee, M.D., N. Williams, M.D., M. Tolentino, a supervising Registered Nurse, Nurse Tennefos, Nurse Johnson, Nurse Morales, J. Obaiza, M.D. and Nurse Combs in their individual and official capacities. Dkt. No. 3. All of these individuals are medical personnel employed by the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") at Ironwood. Plaintiff claims that defendants (1) violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by acting with deliberate indifference towards his medical needs; (2) violating his First Amendment right to submit a prison grievance by retaliating against him with respect to his medical care. Compl. ¶¶ 128--143. The suit was referred to Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh.

On February 4, 2011, defendants moved to dismiss this action; plaintiff filed an opposition to defendants' motion thereafter. On July 27, 2011, Magistrate Judge Walsh issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending dismissal of a number of defendants and the majority of plaintiff's claims. Dkt. No. 34. On October 6, 2011, the Court adopted the R&R over plaintiff's objection. Dkt. No. 40. Magistrate Judge Walsh adopted a scheduling order on November 28, 2011. Thereafter, Magistrate Judge Walsh granted plaintiff's first and second requests to amend the scheduling order. Dkt. Nos. 54, 56.

On September 25, 2012, plaintiff filed a third request to amend the scheduling order. Dkt. No. 57. Before obtaining a ruling on this request, on December 17, 2012, plaintiff filed a fourth request to amend the scheduling order along with a request for a preliminary injunction. Dkt. No. 61. Defendant opposed plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction on January 3, 2013. Dkt. No. 63. On January 8, 2013, plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and a motion for leave to amend his complaint. Dkt. No. 66. Defendants opposed both of plaintiff's motions on February 8, 2013. Dkt. Nos. 69, 70.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on January 8, 2013. Plaintiff has yet to file an opposition.


The facts underlying plaintiff's suit are set forth more fully in Judge Walsh's Report and Recommendation, filed on July 27, 2011, recommending that defendants' motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part, which the Court adopted in full. Plaintiff's remaining claim is against defendants Lee, Williams, Tolentino, and Combs for retaliation. In support of this claim, plaintiff alleges that the aforementioned defendants "changed his blood sugar regimen to require twice daily fingersticks in retaliation for plaintiff's exercise of his First Amendment right to file a prison grievance against Nurse Tennefos." R&R at 17 (citing Compl. ¶¶ 140--141). Plaintiff alleged he suffered physical and psychological harm as a result of defendants' actions, and that there was no legitimate basis for the new regimen. The Court found that "[l]iberally construed and taken as true, these allegations state a retaliation claim." Id. at 18. The Court disregarded defendants' contention that they were simply attempting to provide proper medical care, as the Court was bound to accept plaintiff's version of the events in question for purposes of a motion to dismiss. Id.

In his initial request for a preliminary injunction, plaintiff claims that defendant Lee has continued to retaliate against him and seeks an order "directing Defendant Lee to stop Retaliating against Plaintiff, and that he not be allowed by his Superiors to involve himself in any Decisions made or Appeals submitted by Plaintiff concerning the Treatment of Plaintiff's Medical Conditions. Dkt. No. 61 at 4. Plaintiff alleges that he had been seen by Dr. Rohrdanz, who issued a "chrono" accommodating plaintiff's medical needs, but when this order was forwarded to Dr. Lee, he modified the order finding that plaintiff was not prevented from "proning out" on the floor. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also claims that Dr. Lee was involved in wrongfully denying a second-level review of plaintiff's administrative complaint, and that while the record in one of plaintiff's appeals indicated that Dr. Lee had approved a steroid injection for him, no such injection was ever provided. Id. at 6.

Plaintiff then filed a detailed motion for a preliminary injunction on January 8, 2013, contending that Dr. Lee has continued to systematically retaliate against him. Dkt. No. 66. Plaintiff claims that a physician recommended him to an off-site specialist to treat his pain symptoms, but that Dr. Lee denied plaintiff access to such treatment. Id. at

7. According to plaintiff, Dr. Lee knows that the failure to refer plaintiff to off-site providers will cause him unnecessary pain and suffering, as well as restrict his ability to function, but that Dr. Lee has persisted in refusing plaintiff treatment. Id. at 8. Plaintiff further contends that Dr. Lee has wrongfully denied him opiate-based medication despite his severe pain symptoms and directed his staff to provide plaintiff with anti-psychotic medications instead. Id. at 11--13. Plaintiff submits a detailed affidavit in support of his motion.

On February 5, 2013, plaintiff was transferred to the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. Dkt. No. 72.


A preliminary injunction is an "extraordinary remedy." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). "A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest." Am. Trucking Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 559 F.3d 1046, 1052 (9th Cir. 2009); see also Cal Pharms. Ass'n v. Maxwell-Jolly, 563 F.3d 847, 849 (9th Cir. 2009). Alternatively, "'serious questions going to the merits' and a hardship balance that tips sharply toward the plaintiff can support issuance of an injunction, assuming the other two elements of the Winter test are also met." Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1132 (9th Cir. 2011). A "serious question" is one on which the movant "has a fair chance of success on the merits." Sierra On-Line, Inc. v. Phoenix Software, Inc., 739 F.2d 1415, 1421 (9th Cir. 1984).Under either formulation, demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm is "most critical." Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 434 (2009).

Further limits to the Court's power to issue a preliminary injunction are contained in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. ...

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