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Peacock v. Horowitz

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 20, 2016

HOROWITZ, Defendant.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently before the court is defendant’s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 37), which plaintiff opposes (ECF No. 39).

         I. Plaintiff’s Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from degenerative spinal issues that cause him to suffer “sever[e], debilitating pain, [r]equring daily treatment with pain medication, [p]hysical therapy, and surg[e]ry.” ECF. No. 1 at 6, ¶¶ 6-7. He maintains that after his transfer to Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) in January 2013, defendant Horowitz ignored his complaints of pain and refused to provide him with adequate treatment. Id., ¶¶ 7-8. Specifically, he alleges that, without any apparent medical basis, defendant refused to continue prescribing morphine, which had been effective at treating his pain, and would prescribe only methadone, which provided no relief. Id., ¶¶ 8-9.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Defendant’s Arguments

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on the ground that she was not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff’s serious medical needs because her decision to prescribe methadone instead of morphine was based upon her professional opinion that methadone was a more appropriate medication for plaintiff. ECF No. 37-1 at 7-8. Alternatively, she argues that she is entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 8-9.

         B. Plaintiff’s Response

         At the outset, the court notes that plaintiff has failed to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1)(A), which requires that “a party asserting that a fact . . . is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Plaintiff has also failed to file a separate document disputing defendants’ statement of undisputed facts, as required by Local Rule 260(b).

         However, it is well-established that the pleadings of pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam). Nevertheless, “[p]ro se litigants must follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.” King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987), overruled on other grounds, Lacey v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc). However, the unrepresented prisoners’ choice to proceed without counsel “is less than voluntary” and they are subject to “the handicaps . . . detention necessarily imposes upon a litigant, ” such as “limited access to legal materials” as well as “sources of proof.” Jacobsen v. Filler, 790 F.2d 1362, 1364-65 & n.4 (9th Cir. 1986). Inmate litigants, therefore, should not be held to a standard of “strict literalness” with respect to the requirements of the summary judgment rule. Id.

         The court is mindful of the Ninth Circuit’s more overarching caution in this context, as noted above, that district courts are to “construe liberally motion papers and pleadings filed by pro se inmates and should avoid applying summary judgment rules strictly.” Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, the court considers the record before it in its entirety despite plaintiff’s failure to be in strict compliance with the applicable rules. However, only those assertions in the opposition which have evidentiary support in the record will be considered.

         In his opposition, plaintiff reiterates that his prescription was changed for non-medical reasons at the direction of prison administration and argues that defendant’s facts are disputed. ECF No. 39 at 1-2.

         III. Legal Standards for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Under summary judgment practice, “[t]he moving party initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admission, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         “Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party’s case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323. In such a ...

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