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Bell v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 6, 2015

CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS & REHABILITATION; in entity defendant; DR. M. GLYNN, in his capacity as Chief Medical Officer (CMO); DR. KYLE SEELEY, in his capacity as Doctor and Chief Medical Executive (CME); DR. ROBERT WALKER, in his capacity as Doctor and Chief Surgeon; DR. K. THOMPSON, in his capacity as Primary Care Physician; NURSE PAMELA VELARDI, in her capacity as a Nurse Practitioner; NURSE BERSAMIN, in her capacity as a Registered Nurse; JOHN DOES 1-through-10, in their respective capacities as medical staff and personnel, Inclusive, Defendants.


PETER C. LEWIS, Magistrate Judge.


David Robert Bell ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner incarcerated in Corcoran, California, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. (See Docs. 1, 10.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983, et seq., and he seeks monetary relief jointly and severally against each defendant. (See Doc. 1.)

Presently before the Court is defendant California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (the "CDCR") motion to dismiss itself from the suit pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 29.) The CDCR asserts immunity from suit in federal court pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. (Id.)

For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS defendant CDCR's Motion to Dismiss.


Plaintiff was formerly incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility and the RJDCF-Medical Facility-D. (Doc. 1 at 6.) While incarcerated, Plaintiff made numerous complaints related to spinal and shoulder pain. (See Doc. 1, passim.)

Plaintiff's first request for medical care was dated May 4, 2012. (Id. at 6.) He was examined by Nurses Bersamin and Velardi three days later, on May 7, 2012, and the nurses made no diagnosis regarding his condition. (Id. at 6.) Similar requests were made on May 15, July 2, and July 3, 2012. (Id.)

Eventually Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Martinez on July 17, 2012, and an MRI was scheduled. (Id. at 12-13.) The MRI took place on August 4, 2012. (Id. at 12.) Following the MRI, Plaintiff was transported to Tri-City Medical Center for care. (Id. at 13.) After a second MRI at Tri-City Medical Center, Dr. Kevin Yoo (a Tri-City doctor) told Plaintiff that his, "condition could have been treated with antibiotics for para-spinal abscess, " and that Plaintiff "had not been receiving proper medical treatment at the prison' and not in a timely manner'." (Id.) Dr. Yoo concluded that "surgery was inevitable because plaintiff was too far along' and his abscess was congruently attached to a nerve root'." (Id.)

Shortly after the surgery Plaintiff continued to complain that his lower back and legs were in pain. (Id. at 14.) He contacted Dr. Yoo at Tri-City Medical Center, who examined Plaintiff via "Telemedicine, " and prescribed 30mg morphine, twice daily, and ordered another MRI with higher contrast of the lumbosacral spine. (Id.) On the same day, Dr. Thompson, a doctor at Avenal State Prison, examined Plaintiff and asserted that Dr. Yoo was merely a consultant, while Dr. Thompson was the attending physician. (Id.) Dr. Thompson disagreed with Dr. Yoo's prescription of morphine, but agreed to schedule another MRI. (Id.)

Plaintiff underwent a third MRI on December 22, 2012. (Id. at 15.) Following the MRI, he underwent surgery to remove a "mass" from his lower lumbar spine, and had a titanium rod implanted in his back. (Id. at 15-16.)


Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a cognizable legal theory or for failure to state sufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir.2001). When reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the court must assume the truth of all factual allegations and construe them in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Thompson v. Davis, 295 F.3d 890, 895 (9th Cir.2002).


Defendant CDCR, an agency of the state of California, seeks to be dismissed from the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the basis that it is immune to this suit pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. (Doc. 29-1, at 2-3.)

In general, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits private individuals from bringing suits for money damages against the state. U.S. Const. amend. XI. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 72-76 (1996); see also Taylor v. Westly, 402 F.3d 924, 929 (9th Cir.2005). A state may waive immunity to such suits, but "In the absence of a waiver by the state or a valid congressional override, under the Eleventh Amendment, agencies of the state are immune from private damage actions or suits for injunctive relief brought in federal court." Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025-26 (9th Cir.1999); Pittman v. Oregon, Employment Dept., 509 F.3d 1065, 1071 (9th Cir. 2007). Federal courts recognize that States' Eleventh Amendment immunity were not abrogated when it enacted 42 U.S.C. section 1983 or other provisions within that act, see Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979); indeed, "[the Eleventh Amendment] jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the name of relief sought." Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984).

Regarding prisoner lawsuits against the CDCR, the Ninth Circuit has held that the CDCR is an arm of the state and therefore immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Brown v. California Dept of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 752 (9th Cir.2009) ("district court correctly held that the California Department of Corrections and the California Board of Prison Terms were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.")

Here, Plaintiff's prayer for relief seeks compensatory damages in excess of $1, 000, 000 and punitive damages in excess of $350, 000 from the defendants. (Doc. 1 at 35.) Because Plaintiff is seeking only monetary damages he is precluded from bringing suit against state agencies, such as the CDCR, without a waiver of immunity or Congressional abrogation thereof. Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025-26 (9th Cir.1999); Pittman v. Oregon, Employment Dept., 509 F.3d 1065, 1071 (9th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff does not allege that such a waiver has been tendered by the CDCR, nor does he allege that Congress has overridden the protection afforded the State of California by the Eleventh Amendment. (See Doc. 1.)Further, the CDCR has asserted rather than waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. (See Doc. 29.)

Therefore, because the Plaintiff is seeking only monetary damages against a state agency, his claims against the CDCR should be dismissed.


For the reasons set forth above, defendant CDCR's Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 29, is GRANTED.


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