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Amason v. Wedell

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 1, 2014

JOE AMASON, Plaintiff,
J. WEDELL, et al., Defendants.


KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Plaintiff consented to proceed before the undersigned for all purposes. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated to make monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

II. Screening Standards

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous when it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona , 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute as stated in Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) ("a judge may dismiss [in forma pauperis] claims which are based on indisputably meritless legal theories or whose factual contentions are clearly baseless."); Murphy , 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic , 550 U.S. at 555. However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic , 550 U.S. at 555, citations and internal quotations marks omitted). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson , 551 U.S. at 93, and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds, Davis v. Scherer , 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

III. Rule 18(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Plaintiff's complaint is 24 pages long, names thirteen defendants, and is accompanied by 72 pages of exhibits. (ECF No. 1.) The screening of plaintiff's complaint was made difficult because plaintiff raised myriad unrelated factual allegations against numerous defendants and claimed various constitutional violations.

Plaintiff is advised that he may join multiple claims only if they are all against a single defendant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a). Unrelated claims against different defendants must be pursued in multiple lawsuits.

The controlling principle appears in Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a): A party asserting a claim... may join, [] as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims... as the party has against an opposing party.' Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s], but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees-for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

George v. Smith , 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2) (joinder of defendants not permitted unless both commonality and same transaction requirements are satisfied).

While it appears that plaintiff may be able to state at least one cognizable claim, as explained more fully below, he violated Rule 18(a) by including multiple unrelated claims in this single filing. Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to file an amended complaint under this case number, wherein he is directed to plead/allege only related claims. All unrelated claims should be brought in separate suits. In addition, Eastern District Local Rule 110 provides for the imposition of any and all sanctions authorized by statute or Rule or within the inherent power of the court if a party fails to comply with the court's Local Rules or any order of the court. Moreover, Eastern District Local Rule 183(a) provides, in part:

Any individual representing himself or herself without an attorney is bound by the Federal Rules of Civil or Criminal Procedure, these Rules, and all other applicable law. All obligations placed on "counsel" by these Rules apply to individuals appearing in propria persona. Failure to comply therewith may be ground for dismissal... or any other sanction appropriate under these Rules.

See also King v. Atiyeh , 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987) ("Pro se litigants must follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants."), overruled on other grounds, Lacey v. Maricopa County , 693 F.3d 896 (9th Cir. Aug. 29, 2012). Case law is in accord that a district court may impose sanctions, including involuntary dismissal of a plaintiff's case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), where that plaintiff fails to prosecute his or her case or fails to comply with the court's orders. See Chambers v. NASCO, Inc. , 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991) (recognizing that a court "may act sua sponte to dismiss a suit for failure to prosecute"); Hells Canyon Preservation Council v. U.S. Forest Serv. , 403 F.3d 683, 689 (9th Cir. 2005) (stating that courts may dismiss an action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) sua sponte for a plaintiff's failure to prosecute or comply with the rules of civil procedure or the court's orders); Ferdik v. Bonzelet , 963 F.2d 1258, 1260 (9th Cir. 1992) ("Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), the district court may dismiss an action for failure to comply with any order of the court."), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 915 (1992); Thompson v. Housing Auth. of City of L.A. , 782 F.2d 829, 831 (9th Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (stating that district courts have inherent power to control their dockets and may impose sanctions including dismissal), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 829 (1986).

Thus, plaintiff's continued violation of Rule 18(a) may result in the dismissal of some of plaintiff's claims, or the dismissal of this action based on plaintiff's failure to comply with court orders.

IV. Substantive Screening

Plaintiff alleges numerous constitutional violations based on events that occurred while plaintiff was incarcerated at California State Prison-Sacramento, from 2009 through April 28, 2010. However, the bulk of plaintiff's complaint pertains to his Eighth Amendment claims, including allegations that numerous defendants were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs. Plaintiff allegedly suffers from cellulitis, neuropathy, leg, foot, and ankle swelling and pain, a deteriorated disc problem in his back, and lower back pain, and claims his back often gives out, causing plaintiff to fall. Plaintiff has been transferred since this action was filed, and is now incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. The court addresses plaintiff's claims by the date the alleged violation occurred.

A. September 20-21 and October 23, 2009

Plaintiff's allegations concerning the events of September 20 and 21, 2009, and October 23, 2009, are analyzed together because some of plaintiff's factual allegations were pled in connection with more than one time frame.

i. September 20-21, 2009

On September 20, 2009, plaintiff claims he was in "so much pain" from swelling in his legs and feet, and from his back, that he couldn't walk. (ECF No. 1 at 9.) Plaintiff alleges that he was examined by a nurse who attempted to have defendant Dr. Ma see plaintiff on an emergency basis, but Dr. Ma allegedly refused. (Id.) The nurse put plaintiff on the doctor's list for September 21, 2009. Although plaintiff was placed on the September 21, 2009 doctor's line, plaintiff claims he was unable to walk to medical clinic because he had a fever, diarrhea, and was blacking out. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Dr. Ma would not send a wheelchair, so the nurse came to plaintiff's cell, and after examining plaintiff, informed Dr. Ma that plaintiff needed a doctor. Plaintiff alleges that building officer Johnson told Dr. Ma that "he's tired of his shit, " got a gurney, put plaintiff on the gurney, and saw to it that plaintiff was out of the prison and en route to U.C. Davis Medical Center. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Dr. Ma subjected plaintiff to unnecessary pain and suffering and reckless endangerment of his life in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (ECF No. 1 at 10.)

Plaintiff provided medical records reflecting that on September 20, 2009, plaintiff was seen by a medical professional at 1850 (6:50 p.m.). (ECF No. 1 at 58.) Plaintiff was complaining that his left foot was swollen, red and painful" and that swelling began today in both feet. (Id.) Plaintiff had bilateral foot pain and it was difficult to bear weight on his left foot. Plaintiff had been lying with his feet elevated. Upon examination, bilateral pedal and pre-tibial edema was greater in the left than the right; edema was non-pitting; left foot had swelling to dorsal aspect of foot, including ankle area. Plaintiff's skin was slightly flushed, but not warm to touch. The medical professional assessed "sudden onset feet swelling etiology unknown. Doubt cellulitis but will place on MO line[1] in a.m." (ECF No. 1 at 58.) Plaintiff was advised to keep his legs elevated and present to MO line on September 21, 2009. (Id.)

Plaintiff provided Dr. Ma's medical note indicating that plaintiff was examined by Dr. Ma at 9:00 a.m. on September 21, 2009, noting "bilateral leg swelling, unclear etiology, rule out bilateral DVT" (Deep Vein Thrombosis), and noting Code I/state vehicle for STAT ultrasound Dopler exam. (ECF No. 1 at 62.) This progress note is handwritten and signed by Dr. Ma. (Id.) In addition, on September 21, 2009, Dr. Ma completed a request for authorization of temporary removal for medical treatment for plaintiff to be transported to U.C. Davis, and a physician's order for a state vehicle to outside facility for STAT Dopler ultrasound (rule out bilateral DVT [Deep Vein Thrombosis]), and to return in three days for follow-up. (ECF No. 1 at 60.) The physician's order is marked "OT" and "noted A. Harvell 9/21/09 @ 0930." (Id.)

ii. October 21-23, 2009

Plaintiff alleges that he did not get better after being returned to prison; in fact, he was getting worse. (ECF No. 1 at 10.) On October 21, 2009, plaintiff claims he was unable to walk over to pick up his medications because his legs and feet were swollen. After plaintiff's cellmate was unable to pick up plaintiff's medications, a nurse checked on him. Plaintiff alleges that the nurse and building officer Garcia told Dr. Ma that plaintiff needed to be seen. "Again defendant stated, no wheelchair." (ECF No. 1 at 10.) Plaintiff claims that on October 23, 2009, defendant Dr. Ma stated that if plaintiff "can't walk over here, then too bad, " citing Exhibit F. (ECF No. 1 at 10:10-11; 27-28.)

Exhibit F is a medical record from Dr. Ma dated October 23, 2009. The record states that plaintiff was scheduled to be seen in the "MO line, but refused to come because feet pain unable to walk.'" (ECF No. 1 at 64.) Dr. Ma noted that he evaluated plaintiff on September 30, 2009, when he found plaintiff had "bilateral ankle leg/feet pain with mild conjunctivitis and diarrhea." (Id.) Dr. Ma recounted the five lab tests he ordered on September 30, 2009, and then reviewed the lab results from those tests. Dr. Ma also noted that there was no report from plaintiff's x-ray at Mercy Folsom had been received, and he called Mercy Folsom. (ECF No. 1 at 64.) Dr. Ma set forth the following plan: lab results showed no acute and drastic medical condition; unclear why plaintiff still has such pain in feet. Plaintiff is still on Tylenol #3, and will reschedule plaintiff to be seen next week. (ECF No. 1 at 64.)

iii. Standards for Eighth Amendment Claims

The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Whitley v. Albers , 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986); Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). In order to prevail on a claim of cruel and unusual punishment, a prisoner must allege and prove that objectively he suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that subjectively prison officials acted with ...

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