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Burnett v. Miranda

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 6, 2015

ESTER BURNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
R. MIRANDA, et al., Defendants.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

CAROLYN K. DELANEY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a California prisoner proceeding pro se with an action for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. He is proceeding with claims arising under the Eighth Amendment against defendants Sisson, [1] Hitt, [2] Lewis, Miranda, Lee, Lankford, Simmerson, Swingle and French (defendants); all current or former employees of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at High Desert State Prison (High Desert).[3] Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. In the motion, defendants argue: 1) plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his claims against defendants Sisson, Hitt, Lewis and Simmerson; 2) that all defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all of plaintiff's claims because of a failure of proof as to certain essential elements of plaintiff's claims; and 3) that all defendants are immune from plaintiff's claims under the "qualified immunity" doctrine.[4]

I. Plaintiff's Claims

All of plaintiff's claims are related in some way to the denial of a "single-cell, single bed" cell assignment (assignment to a cell with no cellmate and no bunk beds) while at High Desert which plaintiff asserts he needed due to back pain. Plaintiff's complaint is confusing, vague and, at times, misleading. Nevertheless, the court has, as directed by the Ninth Circuit, liberally construed plaintiff's complaint, Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010) while keeping in mind that defendants are entitled to "fair notice" of the claims against them. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984).

The court omits allegations in plaintiff's complaint which are not relevant to a viable Eighth Amendment claim for either inadequate medical care or inadequate cell conditions. Denial or delay of medical care for a prisoner's serious medical needs may constitute a violation of a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). An individual is liable for such a violation only when the individual is deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs. Id. With respect to cell conditions, the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment imposes on prison officials, among other things, a duty to "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1991) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). An inmate's Eighth Amendment rights can only be violated by a prison official if that official exposes an inmate to a "substantial risk of serious harm, " while displaying "deliberate indifference" to that risk. Id. at 834.

A. Sisson, Hitt, Lewis and Simmerson

Plaintiff asserts that on June 9, 2010, when he arrived at High Desert, he was met by Correctional Lieutenants Hitt, Lewis, Sisson and Simmerson. Eventually, those defendants escorted plaintiff to a room with a computer. The computer indicated that plaintiff needed "single-cell, single bed housing." Each defendant asked plaintiff "what the hell is that?" Plaintiff responded "that is the housing I need." Defendants Hitt, Lewis, Sisson and Simmerson all said "you got to be fucking kidding' while laughing hysterically." They then taunted plaintiff by saying "do you think we are going to give you that housing here, you [are] out of your fucking mind." "We are not going to give you that housing." "We will have medical staff say you don't need it." After that, plaintiff was placed into a holding cell. As each defendant left, they told plaintiff "good luck with trying to get that housing here because it's not going to happen."

B. French

Plaintiff alleges that he was seen by defendant French on June 11, 2010. On that day, French told plaintiff "we are not cutting out the top bunk of a cell for you..." French told plaintiff she was aware of recommendations made by an outside doctor named doctor Rahimifar, but plaintiff "would not [receive] such housing at [High Desert]." Plaintiff also alleges French did not send plaintiff to be evaluated by a specialist to determine if plaintiff needed "single-cell, single bed" housing.

C. Miranda

Plaintiff alleges that he saw defendant Miranda, a physician's assistant, on June 10 and June 14, 2010. On those occasions, plaintiff claims Miranda ignored the express orders of Dr. Rahimifar" because "correctional staff ask[ed] him to and it would be a[n] inconvenience to order correctional staff to remove the top bunk in a cell."

In the body of his complaint, plaintiff also references two medical records authored by defendant Miranda on July 16, 2010. Both appear to have been generated after plaintiff visited Miranda that day. ECF No. 2 at 41-42.[5] According to Miranda, plaintiff complained about chronic neck and back pain. Among other things, plaintiff told Miranda that he cannot sit up straight while sitting on the lower bunk in his cell without hitting his head on the upper bunk. He also indicated that he had already hit is head on the upper bunk five times. Plaintiff requested to be placed in a cell by himself without bunk beds.

Miranda denied plaintiff's request for a cell with only one bed and revoked authorization to be placed in a cell by himself based upon: 1) his own observations of plaintiff; and 2) the written opinion of neurosurgeon Dr. Calvin found in plaintiff's medical filed in which Dr. Calvin indicates that plaintiff could share a cell with another inmate and be housed in a cell that has a "chair."

D. Lankford

Plaintiff alleges defendant Lankford denied plaintiff "single-bed, single cell" housing on July 16, 2010.

E. Lee

Plaintiff alleges on March 17, 2011, defendant Dr. Lee removed plaintiff from the Disability Placement Program. Plaintiff alleges this denied plaintiff "single bed, single cell" housing.

F. Swingle

Plaintiff alleges that on July 22, 2010, he mailed a letter to defendant Dr. Swingle, the Chief Medical Officer at High Desert. In the letter (ECF No. 57-2 at 127-28) plaintiff asserts that around July 15, 2010 he was informed by a correctional officer that he would not be assigned to "single-cell, single-bed" housing as was ordered by a "doctor or neurosurgeon." Plaintiff asserts he was told somebody in "custody" was of the opinion that plaintiff's medical records indicated plaintiff simply needed somewhere to sit in his cell, and the stool provided in every cell in the rear of the cell, and attached to a desk, would meet plaintiff's needs.

Plaintiff informed defendant Swingle that the stool did not meet his needs because he could not comfortably watch television while sitting on the stool, he had to share the stool with a cellmate, and he could only face the wall while sitting on the stool, not the cell door.

Finally, plaintiff informed Swingle that he had a bed sore at that moment because he had been lying down too much. He would not have been lying down so much if he had a reasonable ...


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