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Connelly v. Branch

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 7, 2017

JOHN CONNELLY, Plaintiff,
v.
R. BRANCH, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          JAMES DONATO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner, has filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants removed this case from state court and paid the filing fee. Defendants have also requested that the Court screen the complaint.

         DISCUSSION

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal 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). 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. Id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         Federal 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.” Although 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, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. The United States Supreme Court has explained the “plausible on its face” standard of Twombly: “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

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

         LEGAL CLAIMS

         Plaintiff alleges that he was denied medical treatment and a doctor verbally harassed him. Deliberate 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); McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds, WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc). A determination of “deliberate indifference” involves an examination of two elements: the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need. Id. at 1059.

         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.” Id. The existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment, the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities, or the existence of chronic and substantial pain are examples of indications that a prisoner has a serious need for medical treatment. Id. at 1059-60.

         A prison official is deliberately indifferent if he or she 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 (1994). The prison official must not only “be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, ” but also “must also draw the inference.” Id. If a prison official should have been aware of the risk, but did not actually know, the official has not violated the Eighth Amendment, no matter how severe the risk. Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002). “A difference of opinion between a prisoner-patient and prison medical authorities regarding treatment does not give rise to a § 1983 claim.” Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981). In addition “mere delay of surgery, without more, is insufficient to state a claim of deliberate medical indifference.... [Prisoner] would have no claim for deliberate medical indifference unless the denial was harmful.” Shapely v. Nevada Bd. Of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985).

         Allegations of verbal harassment and abuse fail to state a claim cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 738 (9th Cir. 1997) overruled in part on other grounds by Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2008); see, e.g., Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1092 (9th Cir. 1996), amended 135 F.3d 1318 (9th Cir. 1998) (disrespectful and assaultive comments by prison guard not enough to implicate 8th Amendment).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant Branch was verbally hostile to him and later told him to continue treatment when plaintiff complained of adverse effects of certain medication. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Mindoro denied a sleep apnea treatment device, but the device was later provided in July 2015. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants Posson, Lewis and Tarrar[1] denied a TENS unit for pain treatment and a referral for pain management. Though, the TENS unit was later provided in May 2016. Plaintiff also states that defendants denied his inmate appeals related to these issues. Plaintiff is informed that there is no constitutional right to a prison administrative appeal or grievance system. See Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003); Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The complaint is dismissed with leave to amend to provide more information in light of the legal standards set forth above. The allegations of verbal harassment and denial of inmate appeals fail to state a claim, but plaintiff will be allowed to present more allegations related to these claims. With respect to the claims of denial of medical care, plaintiff must present more information how defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. He should also address how the claims may proceed in that mere delay in providing the TENS unit and sleep apnea device, ...


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