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Stribling v. Picazo

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 13, 2017

AARON LAMONT STRIBLING, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONAL OFFICER S. PICAZO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING PLAINTIFF'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND REFERRING MATTER FOR SETTLEMENT PROCEEDINGS

          YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Aaron Lamont Stribling, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at California State Prison - Sacramento, has filed the instant pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 stemming from constitutional violations that took place at Salinas Valley State Prison (“SVSP”), where he was previously incarcerated. Dkt. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged claims of excessive force as well as deprivation of food for two days in December 2013 against the following Defendants: SVSP Sergeant R. Poodry; and SVSP Correctional Officers Brown, Giudino, Rodriguez, Aldaino, S. Picazo, V. Franco, O. Aragon, L. Baez and Valles. Id. at 2-3.[1]

         The following is taken from the Court's January 13, 2016 Order of Partial Dismissal and Service:

Plaintiff alleges that on December 23, 2013, he was subjected to excessive force by Defendants Picazo, Franco, Valles, Aragon and Poodry. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the aforementioned Defendants “came with a shield [and] signaled [Defendant] Baez to open the door to [Plaintiff's] cell.” Dkt. 1 at 3. Plaintiff alleges that “they all came in [his cell] and started punching on [him].” Id. He adds that “they didn't have a video camera or a captain present during the cell extraction.” Id.

Dkt. 4 at 2. Meanwhile, as to his claim of a denial of food on December 22 and 23, 2013, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' justification for denying him food was because he had withheld his tray after complaining about missing items at breakfast on December 22, 2013. Dkt. 1 at 3. Plaintiff claims that Defendants “could have served me food in paper bags by they didn't the next day 12-23-13.” Id.

         After liberally construing Plaintiff's aforementioned allegations regarding the use of excessive force on December 23, 2013, the Court found that Plaintiff stated a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants Picazo, Franco, Valles, Aragon, and Poodry, as well as a claim of failure to intervene against Defendant Baez. Id. The Court found that the conclusory allegations in his complaint relating to the denial of food failed to state a cognizable claim of a violation of his constitutional rights, stating:

[C]onclusory allegations of culpability do not suffice. See Keenan [v. Hall], 83 F.3d [1083, ] 1091 [(9th Cir. 1996)]. In addition, while adequate food is a basic human need protected by the Eighth Amendment, see id., the denial of food for two days in this case does not present a sufficiently serious condition to meet the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference analysis. See, e.g., Foster v. Runnels, 554 F.3d 807, 812 n.1 (9th Cir. 2009) (denial of two meals over nine-week period was not sufficiently serious to meet objective prong of Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference); cf. Id. at 812 (denial of sixteen meals over twenty-three days was “sufficiently serious deprivation because food is one of life's basic necessities”). Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff's allegations in his complaint relating to the denial of food fail to state a cognizable claim of a violation of his constitutional rights. The Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's claim relating to the denial of food against Defendants Brown, Giudino, Rodriguez and Aldaino.

Id. at 3.

         The parties are presently before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to the remaining Eighth Amendment excessive force claim stemming from the December 23, 2013 incident. Dkt. 18. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to Defendants' motion, along with a cross-motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 34. Defendants have filed a reply to the opposition, and they have indicated that they oppose Plaintiff's cross-motion. Dkt. 36.

         Also before the Court is Plaintiff's “Motion to Exclude Off the Record the 6-9-16 Deposition of Plaintiff, and the 7-19-16 Correction Letter of His 6-9-16 Deposition.” Dkt. 32. Defendants have filed an opposition to Plaintiff's aforementioned motion. Dkt. 33. Plaintiff argues that Defendants' counsel acted improperly by filing Plaintiff's errata sheet with the relevant portions of the deposition transcript. Compare Dkt. 28-1 at 1-105 (Pl.'s Dep.) with Id. at 106 (“Letter to Deposition Officer/Errata Sheet”). Instead, Plaintiff contends, his corrections should have been interlineated within the transcript. Dkt. 32 at 1. However, Plaintiff misinterprets the applicable Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 30(e)(1)(B), which requires the deposition officer to honor Plaintiff's request for an opportunity to make changes to the transcript and “attach an changes the deponent makes” to the transcript. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(e)(1)(B). Rule 30(e)(1)(B) does not require that the deposition officer interlineate Plaintiff's changes-nor does it require interlineation by Defendants' counsel. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.[2] Dkt. 32. Having read and considered the papers submitted, and being fully informed, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment, and DENIES Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. The Court refers this matter to the Pro Se Prisoner Settlement Program.

         II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         1. The Parties

         At the time of the events set forth in his complaint, Plaintiff was a state prisoner who was incarcerated in the administrative segregation unit (“ad-seg”) at SVSP. Dkt. 1 at 3; Low Decl., Ex. A (Pl.'s Dep.) 76:11-21. Also during the same time frame, Defendant Poodry was the sergeant on duty and the remaining Defendants were correctional officers at SVSP. Franco Decl. ¶ 1, Picazo Decl. ¶ 1; Aragon Decl. ¶ 1; Poodry Decl. ¶ 4.

         2. Ad-Seg

         The December 23, 2013 incident happened in and around Plaintiff's cell, which was cell 230, in C-Section of Building D2 in ad-seg. Pl.'s Dep. 76:11-21; Poodry Decl. ¶¶ 5, 8-10. Ad-seg is housing for inmates whose presence in an institution's general population setting presents an immediate threat to the safety of the inmate, others, or the institution. Poodry Decl. ¶¶ 6-7.

         In ad-seg, all meals are served and consumed within the inmate's assigned cell. Id. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Dep. 83:8-84:8. Two meals on trays (breakfast and dinner) and one sack lunch are served daily. Id. Plaintiff explains the rationale behind in-cell meal service as follows: “[Prison officials] have to maintain safety [and] security of the prison. It's dangerous inmates that are housed in [ad-seg], so they have to keep everybody separated. The only way they can do that is by leaving them in the cells or taking them out by themselves.” Pl.'s Dep. 84:25-85:5

         Cells in ad-seg are equipped with food/cuff ports that are used by staff to administer meals and also to apply and remove handcuffs. Poodry Decl. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Dep. 83:8-10; Salao Decl., Exs. C, D (photographs of the door for cell 230). Inmates who take control of food/cuff ports create serious safety concerns for staff and mandate immediate suspension of the programming of the other inmates housed in the unit. Poodry Decl. ¶¶ 13-14.

         3. Alleged Denial of Food on December 22, 2013 and December 23, 2013

         Plaintiff claims that, on December 22, 2013, a correctional officer distributed a breakfast tray that did not contain what Plaintiff believed to be a sufficient “daily caloric intake” because it was missing some food items. Dkt. 1 at 3; Pl.'s Dep. 72:18-24. Plaintiff complained and asked two different officers to contact the kitchen to have them replace the missing items, but they refused. Pl.'s Dep. 72:24-73:11. Plaintiff then withheld his food tray in protest. Id. 73:9-11.

         Accountability for food trays is also a safety concern tied to the security of the institution. Poodry Decl. ¶ 14. Staff issuing food trays to inmates in cells must account for all trays after the meal is concluded. Id. On occasion, inmates have refused to relinquish their food trays in an effort to circumvent established procedures by attempting to air grievances improperly. Id. Per policy, trays inmates refuse to relinquish to staff will not be recognized as negotiating or bargaining tools. Id. If an inmate refuses an order to return his food tray, staff will not provide another meal on a plastic tray until the held tray is returned. Id.

         Because Plaintiff refused to return his tray after breakfast on December 22, 2013, Plaintiff did not receive lunch or dinner on that day. Pl.'s Dep. 73:3-11.

         On December 23, 2013, Plaintiff claims that before breakfast, he yelled from his cell and offered to return his tray to Defendant Picazo, who was “standing in the doorway of the section.” Id. 73:12-15. Defendant Picazo “said no, we got it out for you for what you did to our officers yesterday.” Id. 73:15-16. Plaintiff did not receive breakfast that day. Id. 73:16-17. Afterwards, when Defendant Franco was collecting breakfast trays and passing out sack lunches, Plaintiff requested for two lunches “to supplement the fact [he] didn't get a breakfast tray, that it was not [his] fault.” Id. 90:5-91:5. Defendant Franco offered him one lunch, not two. Id. 91:6-11. Plaintiff declined the offer because “it was not fair.” Id. 91:12-15. Defendant Franco asked for the tray back, and Plaintiff refused to give it to him. Id. 91:20-92:8. When asked at his deposition why he refused, Plaintiff explained: “Because [Defendant Franco] was not willing to give me two sack lunches because I didn't get a breakfast tray and it was not my fault.” Id. 92:7-12.

         4. The December 23, 2013 Incident

         On December 23, 2013, Licensed Vocational Nurse C. Zavala was distributing morning medication to ad-seg inmates through the food/cuff port in their cells. Pl.'s Dep. 93:1-94:22. At around 8:38 a.m., Nurse Zavala told Defendant Franco that Plaintiff reported suicidal thoughts while morning medication was being delivered.[3] Franco Decl. ¶¶ 4, 6, Ex. A; Picazo Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. A; Poodry Decl. ¶ 15, Ex. A. Defendant Franco then approached Plaintiff's cell and ordered him to submit to an unclothed body search and to submit to handcuffs. Franco Decl. ¶ 5. Plaintiff walked away from the front of the cell to the back of the cell. Id. Defendant Franco gave the same order to Plaintiff, but Plaintiff stayed at the back of the cell and did not respond to Defendant Franco's orders. Id. Defendant Franco asked Defendant Picazo to notify the on-duty Sergeant, Defendant Poodry, while Defendant Franco continued to watch Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Plaintiff began to use loose paper to cover up his cell windows, which consisted of three thin rectangular-shaped windows-two on his door and one to the right of his door. Id. ¶ 7; Salao Decl., Exs. C, D (photographs of the door for cell 230). Defendant Franco ordered Plaintiff to stop, but to no avail. Franco Decl. ¶¶ 7, 9.

         Defendant Picazo notified Defendant Poodry that Plaintiff was suicidal and that he refused to submit to an unclothed body search. Picazo Decl. ¶ 4. At the time he was notified, Defendant Poodry knew Plaintiff had previously been admitted to the Correctional Treatment Center for suicide precautions and had been received by ad-seg after being discharged from the ...


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