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Oubichon v. Carey

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 16, 2017

THOMAS CAREY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He asserts an Eighth Amendment conditions-of confinement claim and a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim. He alleges that defendants violated his federal rights by exposing him to a clogged, overflowing toilet that caused him to slip, fall, and break his wrist. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants purposefully discriminated against him when, in the wake of a riot, they confined him and other Black inmates to a chow hall with a nonworking toilet.

         Defendants move for summary judgment. ECF No. 66. Generally, they argue that plaintiff's claims fail because (1) his conditions-of-confinement claim is a disguised negligence claim and (2) he failed to show discriminatory purpose. As discussed below, defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         This section is based on evidence in the summary judgment record. Unless otherwise noted, the facts recited herein are not reasonably in dispute.

         Plaintiff is a state inmate who was incarcerated at California State Prison, Solano (“SOL”) when the events underlying his third amended complaint took place. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 1. At all relevant times, defendant Harmer worked at SOL as a registered nurse (“RN”). ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 2. The remaining defendants worked at SOL as correctional officers of various ranks. See, e.g., ECF No. 66-6 ¶ 2; ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 2.

         On March 9, 2005, at around 2:30 p.m., a large-scale fight erupted between groups of Black and Northern Hispanic inmates on SOL's main yard. ECF No. 66-4 ¶ 3; ECF No. 66-5 ¶ 3; ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 3; ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 3. Approximately 102 inmates participated in the riot. ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 3; ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 4. Although plaintiff was on the yard when the riot broke out, there is no evidence that he participated in it. ECF No. 69-1 ¶¶ 36, 38; ECF No. 69-2 ¶ 5.

         The riot created an emergency situation at SOL. ECF No. 66-5 ¶ 7; ECF No. 66-6 ¶ 8; ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 6. In response, SOL staff separated inmates suspected of participating in the riot by race. ECF No. 66-4 ¶ 5; ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 13. Black inmates, including plaintiff, were taken to Chow Hall 3. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 14. Northern Hispanic inmates were taken to Chow Hall 4. ECF No. 66-4 ¶ 5. Defendant Parks, who worked at SOL as a correctional lieutenant, ECF No. 66-4 ¶ 2, made the decision to separate the Black and Northern Hispanic inmates, id. ¶ 5. See also ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 4; ECF No. 66-5 ¶ 4; ECF No. 66-6 ¶ 4.

         Plaintiff declares that the toilet in Chow Hall 3 was out of order. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 16. Plaintiff further declares that he informed defendants Orrick and Parks that the toilet was out of order. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. According to plaintiff, Orrick said that she could not do anything about the problem, id. ¶ 16, and Parks said that the Black inmates had “nothing coming” because they participated “in a riot, ” id. ¶ 17.

         Additionally, plaintiff declares that the Black inmates started urinating and defecating in the malfunctioning toilet. Id. ¶ 18. As a result, according to plaintiff, the toilet overflowed onto the floor in Chow Hall 3. Id. Plaintiff adds that, on his way to use the toilet, he “slipped and fell” on water and excrement, which seriously injured his wrist and hurt his back. Id. ¶ 19.

         Plaintiff declares that he told defendant Maloney about his need for medical attention. Id. ¶ 21. According to plaintiff, Maloney told him that “there was nothing he could do at that time because there was an institutional count being conducted.” Id. ¶ 22.

         Around 5:00 p.m., shortly after plaintiff fell, another fight broke out between Black and Northern Hispanic inmates. Id. ¶ 23; see also ECF No. 66-5 ¶ 7; ECF No. 66-6 ¶ 8. This fight involved approximately 34 inmates. ECF No. 66-5 ¶ 7; ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 6. SOL staff, including defendants, were busy responding to the emergency situation created by the fights, which included conducting investigations, writing reports, and treating injuries. ECF No. 66-5 ¶ 7; ECF No. 66-8 ¶ 7; ECF No. 66-6 ¶ 9.

         Plaintiff declares that, in the wake of the second riot, more Black and Northern Hispanic inmates were brought to, respectively, Chow Halls 3 and 4. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 24. Plaintiff further declares that, as this measure was carried out, he informed defendants Maloney, Orrick, Jessup, and Parks that he needed medical attention and that the toilet was overflowing. Id. ¶ 25.

         According to plaintiff, he was escorted to the clinic after two hours. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 26. Defendant Harmer examined him. ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 3. In her declaration, Harmer states that she did not suspect a serious injury or fracture because she “did not see any obvious deformities or signs of trauma consistent with a fracture.” Id. Plaintiff concedes that, because Harmer is not a doctor, she “could not have known that [he] had a broken wrist other than the fact that [he] told her his wrist was broken.” ECF No. 69-2 ¶ 18; see also ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 3. Harmer states, and plaintiff concedes, that she gave plaintiff a sling. Id.; see also ECF No. 69-2 ¶ 17. Further, Harmer states that she offered plaintiff “over-the-counter pain relief pills, ” but that he refused them. ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 3. Plaintiff seems to dispute this assertion. ECF No. 69-2 ¶ 17. Additionally, Harmer declares that, as an RN, she lacks “authority or ability to prescribe prescription medication.” ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 3. Harmer adds that she released plaintiff back into custody with instructions to return to the clinic the next morning if the pain persisted. Id. ¶ 4.

         Plaintiff declares that he returned to Chow Hall 3, where the toilet was still out of order. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 28. He adds that he had to sleep on top of tables without bedding, and that he was in “extreme pain.” Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Plaintiff also declares that he constantly asked defendants Maloney, Orrick, Jessup, and Parks to have the toilet repaired so that Black inmates could have a working toilet like Northern Hispanics in Chow Hall 4. Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff claims that these defendants told him that “they had nothing coming.” Id.

         The next day, plaintiff was escorted back to the clinic. ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 30; ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 5. His wrist was X-rayed and he was diagnosed with a fractured wrist. ECF No. 66-7 ¶ 5; ECF No. 69-1 ¶ 30. Plaintiff declares that a doctor “recommended immediate surgery which required that [he] be transported to an outside hospital.” Id. ¶ 31.

         Plaintiff declares that defendant Parks subsequently put him in administrative segregation based on his suspected participation in the first riot. Id. ¶ 32. Accordingly to plaintiff, “[o]n March 11, 2005, almost (2) days after [he] had broken his wrist, he was finally taken to an outside hospital, where surgery was performed to fix his broken wrist.” Id. ¶ 33.

         B. Procedural Background

         The operative pleading in this case is the third amended complaint. ECF No. 41. Therein, plaintiff asserts an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference, as well as equal protection and due process claims. Id. at 11-12. He bases his claim of deliberate indifference on the following events: (1) the toilet's inoperability and his slip and fall; (2) the two-hour delay in taking him to see Harmer; (3) the allegedly inadequate medical care Harmer gave him; and (4) the two-day delay in taking him to the hospital for surgery. Id. at 7-10. He bases his equal protection and due process claims on the alleged fact that, unlike Northern Hispanics in Chow Hall 4, Blacks in Chow Hall 4 lacked a working toilet.[1] Id.

         Defendants generally argue that plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim fails because the inadequate sanitation, treatment delays, and misdiagnosis of which he complains sound in negligence, which is insufficient to constitute deliberate indifference under the Eight Amendment. See ECF No. 66-1 at 3-9. Further, defendants argue that plaintiff's equal protection claim fails because he failed to submit sufficient evidence of discriminatory intent. Id. at 9-10.

         II. ...

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