United States District Court, N.D. California
CAREY K. SMITH, Plaintiff,
ELENA TOOTELL, M.D., et al., Defendants.
ORDER OF SERVICE
TIGAR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an inmate at San Quentin State Prison (“SQSP”),
filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 alleging that she has been denied necessary transgender
health care. This case is now before the Court for
initial review of the pleadings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915A. Plaintiff is granted leave to proceed in forma
pauperis by separate order.
Standard of Review
courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in
which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or
officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(a). The court must identify cognizable claims or
dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if
the complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or
“seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune
from such relief.” Id. § 1915A(b). Pro se
pleadings must be liberally construed, however.
Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d
696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.” “Specific facts are not
necessary; the statement need only “‘give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v.
Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (citations omitted).
Although in order to state a claim a complaint “does
not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his
‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (citations
omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to
state a claim for relief that is plausible on its
face.” Id. at 1974.
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated,
and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person
acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
indifference to serious medical needs violates the Eighth
Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual
punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104
(1976). A “serious medical need” exists if the
failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in
further significant injury or the “unnecessary and
wanton infliction of pain.” McGuckin v. Smith,
974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Estelle,
429 U.S. at 104), overruled in part on other grounds by
WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136
(9th Cir. 1997) (en banc). A prison official is
“deliberately indifferent” if he knows that a
prisoner faces a substantial risk of serious harm and
disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable steps to
abate it. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837
negligence nor gross negligence warrant liability under the
Eighth Amendment. Id. at 835-36 & n4. An
“official's failure to alleviate a significant risk
that he should have perceived but did not, . . . cannot under
our cases be condemned as the infliction of
punishment.” Id. at 838. Instead, “the
official's conduct must have been ‘wanton, '
which turns not upon its effect on the prisoner, but rather,
upon the constraints facing the official.” Frost v.
Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1128 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing
Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302-03 (1991)).
Prison officials violate their constitutional obligation only
by “intentionally denying or delaying access to medical
care.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05.
to the complaint, plaintiff is a transgender inmate. In or
around November 2015, plaintiff's primary care physician,
defendant Dr. Denise Reyes began accessing plaintiff's
mental health records and using the records to deny plaintiff
transgender health care, including medication recommended by
a specialist. Dr. Reyes removed mental health records from
plaintiff's file and replaced them with false progress
notes, including notes labeling plaintiff as a “drug
seeker” and “sexual deviant who is [at] high risk
for HIV.” In August 2016, defendant SQSP chief medical
officer Dr. Tootell joined plaintiff's mental health
treatment team. Plaintiff informed Dr. Tootell of Dr.
Reyes' conduct, and Dr. Tootell refused to intervene.
These allegations, liberally construed, state a claim of
deliberate indifference as against Dr. Reyes and Dr. Tootell.
See Kosilek v. Spencer, 774 F.3d 63, 86 (1st Cir.
2014) (en banc) (untreated symptoms of gender dysphoria can
constitute a serious medical need).
foregoing reasons, 1. Plaintiff's complaint states a
cognizable Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference
to serious medical needs as against Dr. Reyes and Dr.
Clerk shall issue summons and the United States Marshal shall
serve, without prepayment of fees, a copy of the complaint
and a copy of this order upon the following defendants at