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Johnson v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 15, 2015

L. GONZALEZ, et al., Defendants.


BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Anthony Johnson ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action proceeds on Plaintiff's claim of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendants Gonzales (sued as L. Gonzalez) and Murrieta arising out of an alleged assault following the takedown of Plaintiff by Defendant Gonzales on June 9, 2008. A jury trial is set for April 28, 2015.

I. Background

Plaintiff initiated this action on July 21, 2009. Since that time, he has litigated this case through screening, discovery, summary judgment, and a successful appeal. Recently, he has filed trial-related motions and documents, including a pretrial statement, a motion for the attendance of incarcerated witnesses, motions regarding evidence, motions in limine, proposed voir dire, and a proposed verdict form. (ECF Nos. 127, 128, 134, 141, 144, 146, 147.) Plaintiff also participated in a trial confirmation hearing, appearing in front of the Court by telephone on March 3, 2015, without the assistance of counsel or any other individuals. (ECF No. 137.) During the conference, Plaintiff actively participated, appeared to understand the nature of the proceedings, and made cogent arguments with reference to case law.

Additionally, at various points in these proceedings, Plaintiff has filed motions for the appointment of counsel. (ECF Nos. 3, 68, 112, 132.) The Court has denied each of these requests, finding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances warranting the appointment of counsel. (ECF Nos. 5, 69, 115, 136.) On March 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed a renewed motion for the appointment of counsel, which is pending, along with a motion for a change of venue to the Northern District of California in order to be referred to a pro bono project for counsel. (ECF Nos. 141, 142.)

On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for the Court to hold a competency hearing pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c). Plaintiff asserts that he lacks the mental competence to represent himself in this action because of his pain management medications, Gabapentin and Oxcarbazepine. (ECF No. 145.)

Given the approaching trial date, the Court ordered Defendants to file a response on or before April 3, 2015. The Court also directed Plaintiff to file and serve all supplemental evidence he wished the Court to consider no later than April 10, 2015. (ECF No. 148.)

Defendants filed their opposition to Plaintiff's motion for a competency hearing. (ECF No. 163.) On April 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed his supplemental evidence.[1] (ECF No. 168.) No replies have been ordered and the motion is deemed submitted. Local Rule 230(l).

II. Discussion

Plaintiff requests that the Court hold a competency hearing pursuant to Rule 17(c). Plaintiff claims that he is currently prescribed pain medications-Gabapentin and Oxcarbazepine-which cause him to suffer from short-term memory loss at times, disorientation and confusion. (ECF No. 145-1, p. 3; ECF No. 145-3, Pl's Dec. ¶ 3.) He also claims that he has been in special education and has been identified as a slow learner. (ECF No. 168, p. 3.) Plaintiff has submitted medical and other records in an effort to support his claim. (ECF No. 168, Exs. A, B, C.)

Defendants counter that Plaintiff's motion should be denied because his litigation activities undermine his claim of mental incapacity. As an example, Defendants identify Plaintiff's recent filings in preparation for trial, including Plaintiff's pretrial statement, request for witnesses, and motion regarding clothing for inmate witnesses. (ECF Nos. 128, 127, 134.) Defendants also point out that Plaintiff represented himself favorably at the trial confirmation hearing on March 3, 2015. (ECF No. 137.) Defendants also note that Plaintiff has been actively litigating another action in this court, Johnson v. Sisodia, et al., No. 1:12-cv-02044-SAB (E.D. Cal.).

Defendants further counter that Plaintiff's primary care provider has found no reason why Plaintiff would be unable to participate in the trial. (Declaration of M. Mays ("Mays Dec. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff's primary care provider, Nurse Practitioner N. Mays, indicates that impaired cognition is not a known side effect of Gabapentin and it is rare for patients taking Oxcarbazepine to experience impaired concentration or confusion, and the degree of any such impairment is inversely proportional to the length of time the patient has been using the medication. (Mays Dec. ¶ 8) Plaintiff has been taking Oxcarbazepine since 2012. (Mays Dec. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff's primary care provider also indicates that many of the side effects from Oxcarbazepine are more pronounced shortly after a dose is taken, and they tend to fade with the passage of time (60-90 minutes). (Id.)

Additionally, Plaintiff's primary care provider has met with him three times in recent months and Plaintiff has remained lucid, coherent and responsive. He also has not mentioned suffering any adverse side effects from his current medications, which are in the range of therapeutic dosages. (Mays Dec. ¶¶ 5, 6, 7.) Plaintiff's primary care provider does not believe the medications are affecting Plaintiff's cognition or memory in any way and does not believe ...

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