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Sugita v. Longia

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 23, 2016

JANICE SUGITA, Plaintiff
v.
H. LONGIA, M.D., Defendants

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Doc. Nos. 54, 57

         Plaintiff Janice Sugita ("Sugita") is incarcerated and appearing pro se in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 matter. There is one remaining claim against one remaining defendant in this case. Sugita alleges a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Dr. H. Longia ("Dr. Longia"). Dr. Longia now moves for summary judgment.[1] For the reasons that follow, Dr. Longia's motion will be granted and this case will be closed.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT FRAMEWORK

         Summary judgment is proper when it is demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Fortyune v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 364 F.3d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 2004). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and of identifying the portions of the declarations (if any), pleadings, and discovery that demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); United States v. Kapp, 564 F.3d 1103, 1114 (9th Cir. 2009). A dispute is "genuine" as to a material fact if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Freecycle Sunnyvale v. Freecycle Network, 626 F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2010).

         If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir. 2000). The opposing party cannot "‘rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading' but must instead produce evidence that ‘sets forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Estate of Tucker v. Interscope Records, 515 F.3d 1019, 1030 (9th Cir. 2008). "A genuine issue of material fact does not spring into being simply because a litigant claims that one exists or promises to produce admissible evidence at trial." Del Carmen Guadalupe v. Agosto, 299 F.3d 15, 23 (1st Cir. 2002); see Bryant v. Adventist Health System/West, 289 F.3d 1162, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The opposing party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Narayan v. EGL, Inc., 616 F.3d 895, 899 (9th Cir. 2010). While a "justifiable inference" need not be the most likely or the most persuasive inference, a "justifiable inference" must still be rational or reasonable. See Narayan, 616 F.3d at 899. Inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Fitzgerald v. El Dorado Cnty., 94 F.Supp.3d 1155, 1163 (E.D. Cal. 2015); Sanders v. City of Fresno, 551 F.Supp.2d 1149, 1163 (E.D. Cal. 2008). Summary judgment may not be granted "where divergent ultimate inferences may reasonably be drawn from the undisputed facts." Fresno Motors, LLC v. Mercedes Benz USA, LLC, 771 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir. 2015). Further, a "motion for summary judgment may not be defeated . . . by evidence that is ‘merely colorable' or ‘is not significantly probative.'" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Hardage v. CBS Broad. Inc., 427 F.3d 1177, 1183 (9th Cir. 2006).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND [2]

         Dr. Longia is a licensed physician/surgeon and has been employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") since April 2008. DUMF 1. Dr. Longia has been licensed to practice medicine in California since July 2005, and his primary area of practice is internal medicine. See DUMF's 2, 3. At all relevant times, Dr. Longia's primary duty was to provide medical care and treatment to inmates at the Central California Women's Facility ("CCWF") in Chowchilla, California. See DUMF 4.

         Dr. Longia was Sugita's treating physician at CCWF from August 2012 to December 2012. See DUMF 5. In addition to personally treating Sugita, Dr. Longia reviewed Sugita's pertinent medical records. DUMF 6.

         On September 27, 2012, Dr. Longia denied Sugita's request for additional physical therapy. See Doc. No. 9 at 5:12-23.[3] Sugita explained that the specialized treatment of a therapist was needed and qualifies as a medical diagnosis and treatment. See id. Sugita filed an internal grievance ("CDC 602") against Dr. Longia that complained about the decision to discontinue physical therapy. See Doc. No. 9 at 5:12-23. This CDC 602 grievance was denied on October 28, 2012. See id. at § II(C).

         Medical records indicate that on November 21, 2012, Dr. Longia denied Sugita's request for a renewal of the prescription pain reliever Indomethacin. See Longia Dec. Ex. A. However, Sugita declares that Dr. Longia "removed [Sugita's] Indomethacin on September 27, 2012." Doc. No. 59 at 2:16-17. Sugita filed a separate CDC 602 grievance regarding Dr. Longia's decision to not refill or prescribe Indomethacin. See Doc. No. 9 at 5:24-6:4. This grievance was denied on November 28, 2012. See id. at § II(C). Indomethacin had been prescribed to Sugita by three prior physicians, and Indomethacin had proven to be the only effective pain medication. See Doc. No. 9 at 5:24-6:2; Doc. No. 59 at 2:1-5. Instead of Indomethacin, it appears that Dr. Longia prescribed naproxen. See id. at 6:12-20.

         On January 10, 2013, Sugita declares that Dr. Okereke (a physician at CCWF) told her, "Dr. Longia told me not to give you Indomethacin because you 602'd him." Doc. No. 59 at 1:18-20.

         Dr. Longia declares that he never retaliated against Sugita for filing a CDC 602 against him, and he never instructed Dr. Okereke (or any other physician or medical staff at CCWF) to deny Sugita Indomethacin or any other medication or medical care, or knowingly prescribed Sugita ineffective and endangering pain medication, because Plaintiff filed a CDC 602 against him or because of any other reason. See DUMF's 13, 14; Longia Dec. ¶¶ 9, 10. Dr. Longia declares that he denied Sugita's request for Indomethacin because it was his medical opinion that other medications would be as effective, or more effective, without the adverse side effects caused by Indomethacin (such as ulcers and kidney damage). See DUMF 7; Longia Dec. ¶ 6. Indomethacin had recently caused the death of an inmate at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, California. DUMF 8. That death caused Dr. Longia and other physicians at CCWF to prescribe medications other than Indomethacin for pain when, as in Sugita's case, other medications would be as effective or more effective for treating pain. See id. Dr. Longia declares that his medical notes confirm his opinion that Plaintiff did not need Indomethacin, and show that, rather than ignoring her need for pain medication, Dr. Longia explained to Sugita the adverse side effects of Indomethacin, explained that Indomethacin is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that should not be used long-term, and told her that if she needed long-term pain medication then Tylenol would be much safer than Indomethacin. See DUMF 10; Longia Dec. ¶ 7. As of August 1, 2013, Indomethacin was no longer on the list of permitted medications prescribed by physicians to inmates in California prisons. See DUMF 9; Doc. No. 59 at 2:17-20.

         As part of a prior motion for summary judgment, this Court adopted the conclusions and reasoning of a Findings and Recommendation by the Magistrate Judge. See Doc. Nos. 34, 36. In pertinent part, the Court held that Dr. Longia's decision to deny further physical therapy and Indomethacin did not amount to deliberate indifference and thus, did not violate the Eighth Amendment. See id.; see also DUMF 15.

         DEFENDANT'S MOTION

         Defendant's Argument

         Dr. Longia argues that summary judgment is appropriate for several reasons. First, the order on the prior summary judgment motion defeats Sugita's First Amendment claim. When the finding was made that there was not deliberate indifference to Sugita's medical needs, there could be no adverse action against Sugita. The Indomethacin was denied because another inmate had recently died due to complications with Indomethacin, and other medicines would be as effective or more effective without the same potential side effects to Sugita. That is, Sugita did not need Indomethacin. Second, the evidence shows that Sugita's First Amendment rights have been fully exercised, and her rights have not been chilled. She complained through the prison grievance system, and continued to pursue the matter to this Court. Third, there is no causation because no ...


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