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Morrison v. Prentice

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 6, 2014

J.M. PRENTICE et al., Defendant.


DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment brought pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by defendants Prentice and Gomez. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and defendants have filed a reply. For the reasons discussed herein, the court will recommend that defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part.

Also pending before the court is defendants' motion for the imposition of sanctions on the grounds that plaintiff has filed a declaration with the court that purportedly contains false statements made under penalty of perjury. Plaintiff has not filed an opposition or otherwise responded to this motion. For the reasons discussed herein, the court will deny defendants' motion for sanctions.


Plaintiff is proceeding on a third amended complaint in this civil rights action. Therein, plaintiff alleges that on November 27, 2007, defendant correctional officers Prentice and Gomez broke his arm in "a form of police brutality" and denied him medical attention. In terms of relief, plaintiff requests the award of damages. (Third Am. Compl. (Dkt. No. 22) at 5.)

The court as well as the parties in this case have liberally construed plaintiff's complaint to state claims against defendants for excessive use force and deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.


Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party "shows that 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).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party "initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." In re Oracle Corp. Securities Litigation , 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically store information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admission, interrogatory answers, or other materials" or by showing that such materials "do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, "the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Oracle Corp. , 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 325.). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). 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. See Celotex , 477 U.S. 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, ..., 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(c)(1); 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, 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 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 (citations omitted).

"In evaluating the evidence to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact, " the court draws "all reasonable inferences supported by the evidence in favor of the non-moving party." Walls v. Central Costa County Transit Authority , 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011). 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).


I. Civil Rights Act Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law]... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy , 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley , 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld , 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

II. The Eighth Amendment and Excessive Use of Force and Inadequate Medical Care

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the United States Constitution. Whitley v. Albers , 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). See also Ingraham v. Wright , 430 U.S. 651, 670 (1977); Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). Neither accident nor negligence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, as "[i]t is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause." Whitley , 475 U.S. at 319.

What is needed to show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain "varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation." Hudson v. McMillian , 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992) (citing Whitley , 475 U.S. at 320). To prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim the plaintiff must show that objectively he suffered a "sufficiently serious" deprivation. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). "[A] prison official's act or omission must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" Id .; Wilson v. Seiter , 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991). The plaintiff must also show that subjectively each defendant had a culpable state of mind in allowing or causing the plaintiff's deprivation to occur. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 834.

It is well established that "whenever prison officials stand accused of using excessive physical force in violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, the core judicial inquiry is that set out in Whitley, i.e., whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson , 503 U.S. at 6-7. The court should consider several factors to determine whether a use of force violates the Eighth Amendment, including the need for force, the relationship between the need for force and the amount of force used, and the extent of the threat the officers reasonably perceived the plaintiff posed. See Whitley , 475 U.S. at 321. A prisoner is not required to show a "significant injury, " see Hudson , 503 U.S. at 9-10, but "an inmate who complains of a push or shove' that causes no discernible injury almost certainly fails to state a valid excessive force claim." Wilkins v. Gaddy , 559 U.S. 34, 38 (2010).

It is also well established that when prison officials are accused of providing inadequate medical care, the prisoner must allege and prove "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle , 429 U.S. at 106. An Eighth Amendment medical care claim has two elements: "the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need." McGuckin v. Smith , 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller , 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

A medical need is serious "if the failure to treat the prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" McGuckin , 974 F.2d at 1059 (quoting Estelle , 429 U.S. at 104). Indications of a serious medical need include "the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities." Id. at 1059-60. By establishing the existence of a serious medical need, a prisoner satisfies the objective requirement for proving an Eighth Amendment violation. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 834.

If a prisoner establishes the existence of a serious medical need, he must then show that prison officials responded to the serious medical need with deliberate indifference. See Farmer , 511 U.S. at 834. In general, deliberate indifference may be shown when prison officials deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or may be shown by the way in which prison officials provide medical care. Hutchinson v. United States , 838 F.2d 390, 393-94 (9th Cir. 1988). Before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged with regard to medical care, however, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere indifference, ' negligence, ' or medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v. Cutter Laboratories , 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle , 429 U.S. at 105-06). See also Toguchi v. Soon Hwang Chung , 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Mere negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights."); McGuckin , 974 F.2d at 1059 (same). Deliberate indifference is "a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence" and "requires more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety.'" Farmer , 511 U.S. at 835.

Delays in providing medical care may manifest deliberate indifference. Estelle , 429 U.S. at 104-05. To establish a claim of deliberate indifference arising from delay in providing care, a plaintiff must show that the delay was harmful. See Hallett v. Morgan , 296 F.3d 732, 745-46 (9th Cir. 2002); Berry v. Bunnell , 39 F.3d 1056, 1057 (9th Cir. 1994); McGuckin , 974 F.2d at 1059; Wood v. Housewright , 900 F.2d 1332, 1335 (9th Cir. 1990); Hunt v. Dental Dep't , 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989); Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs , 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). In this regard, "[a] prisoner need not show his harm was substantial; however, such would provide additional support for the inmate's claim that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to his needs." Jett v. Penner , 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006).

Finally, mere differences of opinion between a prisoner and prison medical staff or between medical professionals as to the proper course of treatment for a medical condition do not give rise to a § 1983 claim. See Snow v. McDaniel , 681 F.3d 978, 988 (9th Cir. 2012); Toguchi , 391 F.3d at 1058; Jackson v. McIntosh , 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996); Sanchez v. Vild , 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin v. Oregon , 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981).

III. Qualified Immunity

Government officials enjoy qualified immunity from civil damages unless their conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. Jeffers v. Gomez , 267 F.3d 895, 910 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald , 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). When a court is presented with a qualified immunity defense, the central questions for the court are: (1) whether the facts alleged, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate that the defendant's conduct violated a statutory or constitutional right; and (2) whether the right at issue was "clearly established." Saucier v. Katz , 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001).

The United States Supreme Court has held that "while the sequence set forth there is often appropriate, it should no longer be regarded as mandatory." Pearson v. Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). In this regard, if a court decides that plaintiff's allegations do not make out a statutory or constitutional violation, "there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Saucier , 533 U.S. at 201. Likewise, if a court determines that the right at issue was not clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct, the court may end further inquiries concerning qualified immunity at that point without determining whether the allegations in fact make out a statutory or constitutional violation. Pearson , 555 U.S. at 236-242.

"A government official's conduct violate[s] clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, [t]he contours of [a] right [are] sufficiently clear' that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'" Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, ___ 131 S.Ct. 2074 , 2083 (2011) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton , 483 U.S. 635 (1987)). In this regard, "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Id . See also Clement v. Gomez , 298 F.3d 898, 906 (9th Cir. 2002) ("The proper inquiry focuses on... whether the state of the law [at the relevant time] gave fair warning' to the officials that their conduct was unconstitutional.") (quoting Saucier , 533 U.S. at 202). The inquiry must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the particular case. Saucier , 533 U.S. at 201. Because qualified immunity is an affirmative defense, the burden of proof initially lies with the official asserting the defense. See Harlow , 457 U.S. at 812.


Counsel on behalf of defendants Prentice and Gomez has moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the evidence establishes that: (1) defendants did not intend to cause plaintiff harm; (2) defendants' actions did not constitute excessive use of force under the Eighth Amendment; (3) defendants did not break plaintiff's arm; (4) defendants were not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs; and (5) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (Defs.' Mem. of P. & A. at 8-16.)

Defendants Prentice and Gomez have submitted a statement of undisputed facts supported by declarations signed under penalty of perjury by both themselves as well as Officer Ngo, Officer Wooden, Dr. Chaiken, and Dr. Dowbak. Defendants' statement of undisputed facts is also supported by citations to a transcript of plaintiff's deposition and to plaintiff's medical records. The evidence submitted by the defendants in support of their motion for summary judgment establishes the following.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner serving a sentence of seven years to life in state prison for murder. Plaintiff has been in the prison mental health delivery system for the past 20 years at the Enhanced Outpatient Program ("EOP") level of care. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has multiple levels of care to provide inmates access to mental health services. The EOP is the highest outpatient level and provides the most intensive level of outpatient medical care within the Mental Health Services Delivery System. The EOP is characterized by a separate housing unit and structured activities for mentally ill inmate-patients who, because of their illness, experience adjustment difficulties in the mainline setting. These inmates are not so impaired as to require 24-hour patient care. (Defs.' SUDF 1-3, Chaiken Decl., Pl.'s Dep.)

Mentally ill inmate-patients requiring 24-hour inpatient care are housed in the Mental Health Crisis Bed Unit ("MHCB"). When no MHCB bed is available, a mentally-ill inmate-patient requiring 24-hour inpatient care may be housed in the Outpatient Housing Unit ("OHU"). The OHU is a special needs housing unit. The cells in OHU are single-cells with a toilet and sink inside the cell, and a window on the cell door designed to permit careful observation of the inmate. The cells are virtually empty to minimize the likelihood that the inmate could modify an item and use it to kill himself or otherwise inflict serious bodily harm upon himself or others. For safety and security reasons, prison officials conduct unclothed body searches on inmates before housing them in OHU. (Defs.' SUDF 4-5, Chaiken Decl.)

A Probate Code 2602 order also known as a Keyhea order is a court-issued injunction for involuntary medication of an inmate who, due to a mental disorder, is incompetent to refuse medication. For approximately the last eight to nine years, plaintiff has been under a Keyhea order and thus has been judicially declared incompetent to refuse psychotropic medication. Plaintiff has hallucinations: voices urging him to "kill people to hurt people... to fight, " and making him do things he does not want to do. Due to the hallucinations, plaintiff has committed assaults, cell fights, and arson. Hallucinations have also caused plaintiff to assault officers. Plaintiff has been housed at Atascadero State Hospital twice and numerous times at the Department of Mental Health facility in Vacaville, California. (Defs.' SUDF 6-11, Chaiken Decl., Pl.'s Dep.)

On November 27, 2007, plaintiff was housed in the B-8 EOP Unit at California State Prison, Sacramento. At approximately 11:00 a.m., Officer Ngo ordered plaintiff to return to his cell after shower program. Plaintiff refused Officer Ngo's direct orders, walked over to a table in the dayroom, and sat down. Officer Ngo informed floor staff that plaintiff refused to return to his cell. Officers Lee and Key entered the section, and plaintiff said: "You can spray me or do what you have to do, but I am not locking up." Officers Lee and Key nonetheless persuaded plaintiff to return to his cell. While returning to his cell, plaintiff said: "Next time, you're going to need a real gun because you're going to need it." Plaintiff received a Rules Violation Report ("RVR") in connection with this incident involving Officer Ngo, and prison officials subsequently found plaintiff guilty of refusing a direct order. (Defs.' SUDF 12-16, Ngo Decl., Pl.'s Dep.)

Later that afternoon during count, plaintiff was sitting on his toilet and had spat on all the windows in front of his cell. During chow, plaintiff threw his dinner tray back out of the food slot. Then, plaintiff urinated on the tier through the food slot. During plaintiff's deposition, plaintiff testified regarding that incident and stated: "Let them clean it up. I wasn't going to clean it up. Somebody's got to clean it up, but it wasn't going to be me." Plaintiff also refused to take his anti-psychotic medication that day stating, "I am not going to take a motherfucking thing. I'm not taking nothing. You take that shit." Plaintiff then left the front of his cell, laid down on the lower bunk, and began ignoring medical staff. (Defs.' SUDF 17-22, Wooden Decl., Pl.'s Dep.)

Due to plaintiff's erratic behavior, medical staff told Unit B-8 Floor Officer Wooden that plaintiff needed to be re-housed in OHU. B-Facility Sergeant Stewart notified Lieutenant Just to report to Unit B-8 to help escort plaintiff to OHU. Plaintiff initially refused to come to the food port and "cuff up." Lieutenant Just was able to talk plaintiff into submitting to the handcuffs. Defendant Prentice was the B-Facility Search and Escorts Officer whose duties included escorting B-Facility inmates to other parts of the prison. Officers Prentice, Wooden, Just, Stewart, and Deeds helped escort plaintiff to the B-8 Rotunda while medical staff prepared his medications. (Defs.' SUDF 23-27, Wooden Decl.)

Plaintiff was very agitated and verbally combative, calling the escort officers "Dirty fucking pigs." Plaintiff also stated: "Mind your own fucking business and see what happens when you take off these cuffs!" Plaintiff became irritated with Officer Prentice and asked for someone else to escort him. Lieutenant Just had Officer Deeds take over escorting plaintiff from Officer Prentice. Plaintiff was escorted from the B-8 Rotunda to the OHU by Officer Deeds while Sergeant Stewart, Officer Prentice, and Officer Wooden followed close by. Throughout nearly the entire escort, plaintiff made threats, cussed and swore at staff, and refused to cooperate. Plaintiff was clearly not in control of his emotions or behavior. Plaintiff was a real and present danger to every officer conducting the escort. During the escort from the B-8 Rotunda to OHU, plaintiff made several threats directed at Officer Wooden. Specifically, plaintiff stated: "I'm going to kill you Wooden, " and ...

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