United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; STAY AND REFERRAL TO MEDIATION Re Dkt. No. 41.
JAMES DONATO, District Judge.
Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that defendant correctional officers Baptista and Richcreek used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. The motion is denied.
I. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Factual Background
On April 21, 2011, plaintiff was incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison ("PBSP"). Motion for Summary Judgment ("MSJ") at 2. Defendants Baptista and Richcreek were correctional officers at PBSP at that time. Id. Defendants state that on April 21, 2011, they arrived at the shower area to escort plaintiff back to his cell, when plaintiff exclaimed, "fuck these pigs!" Id. Defendants took plaintiff out of the shower and began escorting him back to his cell. Id. While walking back to his cell Baptista placed his hand on plaintiff's shoulder, but plaintiff refused to cooperate and moved his upper body away from Baptista and turned toward them. Id. Baptista reminded plaintiff to face forward during escort and to refrain from turning towards staff. Id. Defendants state that while placing plaintiff in his cell, plaintiff jerked away, causing Baptista to lose his balance. Id. at 3. Plaintiff turned towards Baptista. Id. Baptista ordered plaintiff to turn around, but plaintiff lowered his head and charged Baptista. Id. Baptista grabbed plaintiff's right arm and shoulder and took him to the ground. Id. Once on the ground, Richcreek placed his hands on plaintiff's upper torso to control him, while Baptista held plaintiff's legs. Id.
Plaintiff disputes defendants' account. Plaintiff states that defendants were escorting him to his cell and, unprovoked, Baptista grabbed him and forcefully slammed him to the ground for no reason. Docket No. 54 at 2. Richcreek then held plaintiff on the ground. Id. Plaintiff states that he suffered facial injuries to his lip and mouth, and a swollen knee. Id. He states that he required a wheelchair or walker to move around. Docket No. 13 at 4. Plaintiff denies making the statement, "fuck these pigs, " and states he made no aggressive movement towards defendants. Docket No. 54 at 3.
B. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery, and affidavits show there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See id.
A court may grant summary judgment "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[, ]... since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" See id. at 324 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (amended 2010)).
For purposes of summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party; if the evidence produced by the moving party conflicts with evidence produced by the nonmoving party, the court must assume the truth of the evidence submitted by the nonmoving party. See Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1158 (9th Cir. 1999). The court's function on a summary judgment motion is not to make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence with respect to a disputed material fact. See T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. P. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).
"After incarceration, only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain... constitutes cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986) (omission in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). Whenever prison officials stand accused of using excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, the deliberate indifference standard is inappropriate. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992). Instead, the core judicial inquiry is whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm. Id. at 6-7; Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21.
In determining whether the use of force was for the purpose of maintaining or restoring discipline, or for the malicious and sadistic purpose of causing harm, a court may evaluate the need for application of force, the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, the extent of any injury inflicted, the threat reasonably perceived by the responsible officials, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7; see also Spain v. Procunier, 600 F.2d 189, 195 (9th Cir. 1979) (guards may use force only in proportion to need in each situation); see, e.g., Furnace v. Sullivan, 705 F.3d 1021, 1027 (9th Cir. 2013) (reversing district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment because plaintiff's evidence that guards emptied two pepper spray canisters at him when he put his hands on his cell's food port opening raised a disputed issue of material fact regarding whether he posed a threat that justified defendants using pepper spray); Watts v. McKinney, 394 F.3d 710, 712-13 (9th Cir. 2005) (finding that kicking the genitals of a prisoner who was on the ground and in handcuffs during an interrogation was "near the top of the list" of acts taken with cruel and sadistic purpose to harm another); Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 904 (9th Cir. 2002) (pepper spraying fighting inmates a second time after hearing coughing and gagging from prior spray was not malicious and sadistic for purpose of causing harm, where initial shot of spray had been blocked by inmates' bodies).
In this case, material facts remain in dispute regarding the incident, and it is decisive for the outcome of the case whether plaintiff's version of the facts or defendants' version is accurate. If plaintiff was slammed to the ground for no reason and then both defendants held him on the ground, a jury could find that these actions were for the malicious and sadistic purpose of causing harm and violated the Eighth Amendment. If plaintiff initiated the confrontation by jerking away and charging one of the defendants, who then took plaintiff to the ground, a jury could find there was no constitutional violation and defendants were maintaining or restoring order. Defendants also argue that plaintiff only suffered minimal injuries as a result of the incident. However, minor injuries will not defeat an excessive force claim. Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 38 (2010) (inmate who is gratuitously beaten by guards does not lose his ability to pursue an excessive force claim ...