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Jones v. Scotland

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 20, 2017

A Z SCOTLAND, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging correctional officers were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, retaliated against him for filing a grievance, used excessive force against him, and violated his due process rights. Before the court are defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 48), defendants' evidentiary objections and motion to strike plaintiff's opposition (ECF No. 59), defendants' motion to strike plaintiff's unauthorized surreply (ECF No. 61), and plaintiff's motion for clarification (ECF No. 62).[1]

         I. Background

         A. Procedural

         Plaintiff is currently proceeding on his first amended complaint (FAC). (ECF No. 9.) In the FAC, plaintiff claims that his First Amendment rights were violated when: (1) Defendant McMaster searched his bunk area on March 28, 2010; (2) Defendant Doane searched his bunk area on March 29, 2010, and submitted a rules violation report (RVR) regarding his altered mattress; (3) Defendant Chambers found him guilty of the RVR and assessed a $77.60 hold on plaintiff's trust account; and (4) Defendant Wamble recommended plaintiff's transfer to another prison. (Id. at 12-13.)

         Plaintiff claims defendants Clark, Ruiz, Ringler, and Scotland were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, when he was escorted on May 11, 2010, to the center complex, while handcuffed behind his back and without the use of a cane. (Id. at 4-5.) He further asserts these defendants were deliberately indifferent when they secured him in a holding cell, despite his purported no “prolonged standing” accommodation chrono, and when they did not permit him to use the restroom. (Id. at 5-6.)

         Plaintiff also claims that defendants Clark, Ruiz, and Ringler used excessive force by securing him in the holding cell without access to a restroom. (Id. at 7.) He further claims that defendants Ruiz and Ringler used excessive force when they escorted him handcuffed behind his back, and without his cane, from the center complex to Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg). (Id. at 7-8.)

         Plaintiff then claims defendants Clark, Chambers, Blackwell, and Wamble violated his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when they submitted and approved an RVR regarding plaintiff's alleged false allegations against a peace officer. (Id. at 10-11.) Plaintiff supports this claim by noting he successfully challenged the RVR, had it reversed, and had his lost credits restored. (Id. at 11.)

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 48.) Plaintiff opposes the motion. (ECF No. 55.) Defendants filed a reply memorandum. (ECF No. 58.) Plaintiff then filed an unauthorized surreply. (ECF No. 60.) Defendants filed evidentiary objections and moved to strike portions of plaintiff's opposition. (ECF No. 59.) Defendants also filed a motion to strike plaintiff's unauthorized surreply. (ECF No. 61.) Plaintiff did not respond to the evidentiary objections or the motion to strike. Instead, plaintiff filed only a document titled as a “motion for clarification, ” which simply asserts that plaintiff was acting in “good faith” to prosecute this action pro se and that he was not aware of certain rules. (ECF No. 62.)

         The summary judgment motion is now ripe for review. The court will also address the objections and motions to strike as part of this omnibus order and findings and recommendations. For the reasons outlined below, the undersigned orders that defendants' evidentiary objections and motion to strike plaintiff's opposition (ECF No. 59) is granted in part and denied in part; defendants' objections and motion to strike plaintiff's unauthorized surreply (ECF No. 61) is denied; and plaintiff's motion for clarification (ECF No. 62) is denied. For the following reasons, the undersigned respectfully recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 48) be granted.

         B. Factual

         1. Defendants' Evidentiary Objections and Motions to Strike

         Before setting forth the factual background, the court will address defendants' objections to the evidence presented by plaintiff and the manner in which the evidence is presented. (ECF No. 59.) Additionally, the court will herein address defendants' motion to strike plaintiff's unauthorized surreply. (ECF No. 60.)

         a. Global Objections and Motion to Strike Surreply

         As a preliminary matter, defendants object to plaintiff's opposition and attachments as a whole because they do not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) and Local Rule 260(b). (ECF No. 59 at 2.) Specifically, plaintiff failed to reproduce defendants' statement of undisputed facts and failed to admit or deny those facts pursuant to Local Rule 260(b). (See ECF No. 55.) Plaintiff also failed to include citations to the “particular portions of any pleading, affidavit, deposition, interrogatory answer, admission, or other document relied upon” to establish his facts. E.D. Cal. L.R. 260(b). Although plaintiff provides a statement of what he considers disputed facts, these facts are merely questions and conclusions of law that defendants violated his rights. (ECF No. 55 at 4-5.) Furthermore, plaintiff does not cite to his own evidence to support his assertion that material facts are genuinely disputed. (Id.)

         In plaintiff's unauthorized surreply, however, there is an effort to pinpoint specific disputes of facts and to cite to evidence in support of those disputes. (ECF No. 60.) Additionally, plaintiff attached a sworn declaration to his initial opposition, which provides a detailed explanation of the incidents at the heart of plaintiff's claims and acts as factual support for plaintiff's opposition to the motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 55-1.) The court will consider these documents in its analysis.

         “A district court does not have a duty to search for evidence that would create a factual dispute.” Bias v. Moynihan, 508 F.3d 1212, 1219 (9th Cir. 2007). Here, however, certain pieces of evidences are readily available on the record, even if not cited to appropriately by plaintiff. Thus, the present circumstances do not represent an “unfair” burden on the court, requiring the court to either strike or totally disregard plaintiff's opposition and all of the attachments. See Carmen v. S.F. Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001) (holding that it would be “unfair” to the district court to require it “to search the entire record” if a party fails to “disclose where in the record the evidence for [the factual claims] can be found”). While the court will not act as plaintiff's counsel or search the entire record in the case, the court will consider plaintiff's opposition, unauthorized surreply, and certain evidence, such as plaintiff's declaration, which is readily ascertainable and applicable to facts at issue in the motion for summary judgment.

         However, the court will not consider the portions of plaintiff's 377 pages of exhibits attached to his opposition that are not cited to in the opposition or surreply. A district court lacks the power to act as a party's lawyer, even for pro se litigants.

The hazards which beset a layman when he seeks to represent himself are obvious. He who proceeds pro se with full knowledge and understanding of the risks does so with no greater rights than a litigant represented by a lawyer, and the trial court is under no obligation to become an “advocate” for or to assist and guide the pro se layman through the trial thicket.

Jacobsen v. Filler, 790 F.2d 1362, 1365 n. 5 (9th Cir. 1986) (quoting United States v. Pinkey, 548 F.2d 305, 311 (10th Cir. 1977)).

         Thus, even with a pro se inmate litigant, the court is not burdened with the task of searching the entire record to discover whether there is any evidence that supports plaintiff's claims. Accordingly, the court will not address evidence submitted by plaintiff but not cited to in the opposition or the surreply. Plaintiff's sworn declaration, which was filed separately from the opposition, is a manageable 19 pages in length, and contains a plainly-worded narrative of the events from which plaintiff's claims arise, will be considered, as will portions of plaintiff's 377 pages of exhibits that he refers to in his arguments.

         Additionally, the court will consider plaintiff's unauthorized surreply in its entirety. While the surreply does not explicitly state so, it appears to represent an attempt by plaintiff to present actual evidence to support factual disputes. The Ninth Circuit has held that courts should liberally construe motion papers filed by a pro se litigant. Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). In this instance, the surreply, in at least a small way, attempts to address some of the deficiencies pointed out by defendants in their evidentiary objections and motion to strike (ECF No. 59). In fairness to plaintiff, therefore, the court denies defendants' motion to strike (ECF No. 61) the unauthorized surreply based upon plaintiff's misunderstanding of certain procedures and rules, as well as his “good faith” efforts to address those misunderstandings. (See ECF No. 62 (plaintiff's “motion for clarification” concerning defendants' objections and motion to strike).)

         Furthermore, the court also denies plaintiff's “motion for clarification” because, despite the heading, it is not actually a motion, but rather a response to defendants' objections and motions to strike. (See id.)

         b. Medical Opinions

         Defendants specifically object to plaintiff's testimony in his sworn declaration (1) that his blood pressure medication increases his need to urinate, and (2) that his right leg became severely swollen because he was forced to stand in the holding cell. (ECF No. 59 at 2-3.) Federal Rule of Evidence 701 states that lay witness testimony, in the form of an opinion, cannot be based on scientific or specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 states that only a witness who is qualified as an expert may testify in the form of an opinion. The undersigned rejects this argument.

         The testimony defendants attempt to strike is not actually opinion, but rather plaintiff's firsthand observation and experience concerning medically-related phenomena. Plaintiff's declaration states he informed defendants Ringler and Ruiz that he “had taken water pills for my high blood pressure which makes you urinate.” (ECF No. 55-1 at 2.) This is not necessarily an opinion, however, but simply a statement of fact based upon plaintiff's own observations as the one taking the medication. Furthermore, if the court were to consider this an opinion pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 701, it would still be admissible as the opinion of a lay person, which is “(a) rationally related to the witness' perception; (b) helpful to clearly understanding the witness' testimony . . .; and (c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge[.]” Fed.R.Evid. 701. Plaintiff's testimony about his medication is based solely on his perception, is helpful in understanding the effect of the medication on plaintiff, and is not based upon scientific knowledge that is outside plaintiff's expertise. Accordingly, this objection is overruled.

         Defendants also object to plaintiff's statement that he was “held over three (3) hours in which Plaintiff's leg became severely swollen from prolonged standing[.]” (ECF No. 55-1 at 15.) As with plaintiff's statement concerning his blood pressure medication, this represents a firsthand observation plaintiff's physical condition, not a medical opinion. Furthermore, even if subject to Federal Rule of Evidence 701 as a lay opinion, the statement is still admissible because it is (a) based upon plaintiff's perception, (b) helpful to understanding plaintiff's testimony about his physical condition, and (c) not based upon any specialized scientific knowledge. See Fed.R.Evid. 701. Accordingly, this objection is also overruled.

         c. Irrelevant and Inadmissible Exhibits

         Defendants also object to Exhibits B, C, D, G, and I attached to plaintiff's opposition. (ECF No. 59 at 3-6.) However, the court already determined above that it will not consider these exhibits -- which are found from pages 20 through 397 of plaintiff's opposition (ECF No. 55) --because they are never actually cited to by plaintiff in his opposition and the court cannot be burdened with the task of sorting through hundreds of pages of documentation without any guidance whatsoever as to how each piece of evidence relates to potential disputes of fact. (See supra at 3-5.) Accordingly, defendants' specific evidentiary objections concerning these exhibits are now moot and the court need not address them.

         2. Statement of Facts

         The below statement of facts is derived from the parties' statements of undisputed facts, oppositions to the statements of undisputed facts, the allegations in plaintiff's FAC, and all declarations and other records submitted on the record and referred to by the parties in their filings for the court's consideration on this summary judgment motion. (ECF Nos. 9; 48-2; 48-3; 48-4; 48-6; 48-7; 48-8; 48-9; 48-10; 48-11; 48-12; 48-13; 48-14; 48-15; 48-16; 48-17; 48-18; 55; 55-1; 58; 60.) The following facts are undisputed by the parties or, following the court's review, have been deemed undisputed for purposes of the pending motion.

         Plaintiff is a former California state prisoner. Plaintiff was housed at California State Prison, Solano (CSP-Solano) during the relevant times. Defendants were each employed by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at CSP-Solano during the relevant time. Defendant Wamble was a correctional captain; defendants Blackwell and Scotland were correctional lieutenants; defendants Clark and Chambers were correctional sergeants; and defendants McMaster, Doane, Ringler, Ruiz were correctional officers.

         a. Grievance Number CSP-S-10-00238

         Plaintiff alleges that he submitted a group grievance, log number CSP-S-10-00238, concerning the death of an inmate named Brown. (ECF No. 9 at 12.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants retaliated against him for filing this grievance. (Id.) However, grievance log number CSP-S-10-00238 was submitted by a different inmate concerning that inmate's request for restoration of credits and is wholly unrelated to the incidents in this lawsuit.

         b. Defendant McMaster's Search on March 28, 2010

         On March 28, 2010, defendant McMaster searched plaintiff's bunk area. Plaintiff was not present for the search. This search was one of the three daily searches defendant McMaster was tasked to perform as part of her regular duties.

         Defendant McMaster confiscated items plaintiff was not permitted to possess, including excess toilet paper, rocks, a large binder clip, cardboard, and black sneakers. The items defendant McMaster confiscated were contraband that inmates are not authorized to possess for institutional safety and security. Defendant McMaster documented the items confiscated during the search. She further indicated that plaintiff was to receive follow-up counseling regarding the contraband, that he did not have a current medical order for the shoes, and that he needed a current medical order to keep the shoes. Later that day, plaintiff's black shoes were returned to him. Defendant McMaster did not initiate any administrative or disciplinary actions against plaintiff in relation to the search.

         c. Defendant Doane's Search on March 29, 2010

         Defendant McMaster conducted a security check throughout plaintiff's housing building the next day, on March 29, 2010. During her rounds, she noticed an unusually thick mattress on plaintiff's bunk. She did not notice the mattress the previous day. Defendant McMaster informed her partner, defendant Doane, about the mattress. Defendant Doane discovered the mattress had been opened up, stuffed with another mattress, and re-sewn by hand. The mattress found on the inside had also been altered, as its cover had been cut across the length of it. Inmates are not permitted to alter their state-issued property, including their mattresses. Defendant Doane documented his findings on a CDCR Form 115 RVR due to his belief that plaintiff had altered his state-issued mattress, in violation of prison regulations.

         d. RVR No. S4-10-13-0181

         Defendant Doane's RVR was assigned log number S4-10-03-0181 and classified as an administrative offense. It was within defendant Chambers' duties to preside over administrative offenses. She was the hearing officer for defendant Doane's RVR. Plaintiff asserted that he had received the altered mattress as-is from another staff member. Defendant Chambers' investigation revealed that the mattress plaintiff received from that other staff member had been confiscated six months earlier because it was also torn on the side. Based on the evidence, defendant Chambers found plaintiff guilty of an administrative offense for possession of altered state-issued property and placed a hold on plaintiff's trust account for $77.60, to reimburse the costs of two mattresses.

         Plaintiff submitted grievance log number CSPS-10-00937 regarding the RVR. Plaintiff was reimbursed the $77.60. The RVR was not dismissed.

         e. Incidents Related to Non-Party Hardin

         On the morning of May 11, 2010, at around 6:50 AM, defendant Doane received a request via his institutional radio to search an inmate named Hardin because he was seen with a suspicious item in his hand. Defendant Doane conducted a clothed body search, but did not find any contraband.

         At around 7:30 AM, Hardin came to defendant Clark intending to submit a sexual harassment complaint against defendant Doane. Defendant Clark spoke with Hardin to investigate the situation. Defendant Clark informed him that CDCR takes sexual harassment investigations seriously and would require his removal from general population during the investigation. Hardin then began to retract his statements concerning defendant Doane. Defendant Clark continued to speak with Hardin, and then spoke with defendant Doane, another officer who witnessed the search, and plaintiff. Defendant Clark's investigation revealed that after defendant Doane conducted the search, Hardin then spoke to plaintiff, and plaintiff ...

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