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Stevenson v. San Francisco County Jail Medical Services

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 6, 2017

CHARLES L. STEVENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN FRANCISCO COUNTY JAIL MEDICAL SERVICES, Defendant.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITH LEAVE TO AMEND RE: DKT. NO. 1

          SUSAN ILLSTON United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Charles Stevenson, an inmate at the San Francisco County Jail, California, filed a pro se civil rights complaint seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint is now before the Court for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         BACKGROUND

         Stevenson alleges the following in his complaint: Since his arrival at the San Francisco County Jail on September 19, 2014, he has gained over 80 pounds. Stevenson now has serious mobility issues, chronic back pain, and experiences pain most of every night. He suffered two compression fractures on his spine in 2011. He has “been denied medication without cause or reason, ” denied checkups, and denied chronos for unspecified medical supplies. Docket No. 1 at 3. His inmate appeals are “absent of due process.” Id.

         DISCUSSION

         A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Id. at § 1915A(b). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         A. Inmate Medical Care Claims

         Stevenson does not allege whether he was a pretrial detainee or had been convicted when the events and omissions giving rise to the complaint occurred. His status affects the analysis of his claims because a convicted prisoner's medical care claim arises under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whereas a pretrial detainee's medical care claim arises under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Until recently, the standards were considered roughly the same under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, see generally Carnell v. Grimm, 74 F.3d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1996), but more recently, the two standards have diverged with respect to the mental state requirement for a defendant. Due to the differences in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, an inmate-plaintiff's status at the time of the relevant events must be known because some conduct that violates the Fourteenth Amendment won't violate the Eighth Amendment. If a plaintiff has transitioned from being a pretrial detainee to a convict (or vice-versa), both standards may need to be applied -- with one standard being applied to the events that occurred when the person was a pretrial detainee and a different standard being applied to the events that occurred after he was convicted.

         Deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004). A defendant violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the deprivation alleged is, objectively, sufficiently serious, and (2) the official is, subjectively, deliberately indifferent to the inmate's health or safety. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). In the medical care context, the prisoner first must identify an objectively serious medical need. See Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1122 (9th Cir. 2012) (serious medical need exists if “failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.”) Second, the prisoner must allege that the defendant acted with the requisite mental state of deliberate indifference to a risk to the prisoner's health. Under the Eighth Amendment standard applicable to prisoner claims, a defendant 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, 511 U.S. at 837. The defendant must not only “be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, ” but he “must also draw the inference.” Id.

         When a pretrial detainee challenges conditions of his confinement, the proper inquiry is whether the conditions amount to punishment in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979). An inmate claiming that jail officials have responded inadequately to his medical needs while he was a pretrial detainee must establish two elements to state a claim under § 1983. First, he must identify an objectively serious medical need. See Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1122. Second, he must allege that a defendant acted with the requisite mental state of deliberate indifference to the risk to the inmate's health. It appears that a pretrial detainee must allege facts to show that a defendant “did not take reasonable measures to abate that risk, even though a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have appreciated the high degree or risk involved--making the consequences of the defendant's conduct obvious.” Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1071 (9th Cir. 2016 (en banc), cert. denied 2017 WL 276190 (U.S. Jan. 23, 2017).[1]

         A claim of medical malpractice or mere negligence is insufficient to make out a violation of the Eighth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment. See Toguchi, 391 F.3d at 1060-61; Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002); Castro, 833 F.3d at 1071.

         B. Stevenson& ...


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