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Ledford v. State

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 4, 2017

THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court pursuant to two separate motions to dismiss Plaintiff Scott Ledford's Complaint (ECF No. 1). The State of California, by and through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of those named as defendants in Counts 1 and 2 of the Complaint (collectively, the “Institutional Defendants”).[1](ECF No. 14.) Nagabhushana Malakkla, Chengjie Wei, and Barbara Woodward (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”) filed a separate motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 19.) The Institutional Defendants and the Individual Defendants are collectively referred to as “Defendants.” Plaintiff filed a single opposition addressing both motions to dismiss. (ECF No. 20.) Defendants filed a joint reply to Plaintiff's opposition. (ECF No. 21.) The Court has carefully considered the arguments raised by the parties. For the reasons set forth below, the Institutional Defendants' motion is GRANTED and the Individual Defendants' motion is DENIED.

         I. Factual Allegations

         This case arises out of the incarceration of a man who needs eyeglasses to see but who spent nearly eight months imprisoned without them. (See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 14, 37.) Plaintiff was convicted of state felony charges and placed in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) at Deuel Vocational Institute (“DVI”) on or about August 9, 2013. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that, according to CDCR policy, an evaluation by an optometrist is required if an inmate's visual acuity is worse than 20/70. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 18.) Plaintiff has a visual acuity of 20/200 without corrective lenses. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 2.) During an initial medical screening, Plaintiff told medical staff that he is visually impaired and cannot see at any distance without corrective lenses, which he did not have with him. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff indicates that a “corrected vision of no more than 20/200 is considered legally blind.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 2 n.1.) While at DVI, Plaintiff asserts that he filed “Accommodation Requests and Health Care Appeals, seeking treatment for his vision impairment[.]” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 15.)

         Plaintiff alleges that on or about October 16, 2013, Defendant Wei, a registered nurse, examined Plaintiff and asked him to read a Snellen Chart.[2] (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 6, 16.) Plaintiff indicated he was unable to read any portion of the Snellen Chart, and Defendant Wei terminated the examination and denied Plaintiff's request for corrective lenses. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Wei purposefully misreported his visual acuity to be 20/70 in order to deny Plaintiff an evaluation by an optometrist. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 17, 20.) Plaintiff never received an examination by an optometrist, corrective lenses, or any other treatment for his vision impairment while housed in DVI. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 21, 25.) / / / Plaintiff alleges that his lack of treatment caused him to suffer frequent headaches from squinting, and caused him to perform poorly on the Test of Adult Basic Education (“TABE”). (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 22.) His poor TABE results disqualified him from certain jobs, programs, and educational opportunities that would have otherwise been available to him. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff further alleges that he could not enjoy television, read books from the prison library, or identify visual hazards because he did not receive treatment for his vision. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 23.) Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that, without treatment, he suffered from fear and anxiety because he was unable to determine other inmates' intentions from nonverbal cues. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 23-24.)

         On or about December 2, 2013, Plaintiff was transferred from DVI to Valley State Prison (“VSP”). (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 26.) Plaintiff alleges that while there he repeatedly requested to be evaluated by an optometrist and receive corrective lenses. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 27.) Likewise, he filed “Accommodation Requests and/or Health Care Appeals while at VSP for treatment of his visual impairment.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 28.) On December 10, 2013, Plaintiff received a “vision impaired vest.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 29.) Plaintiff alleges that he was prohibited from “any assignments that require ability to read or see distances[.]” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 29.)

         Plaintiff alleges that on January 2, 2014, he fell into a small hole while walking through the facility's D-1 yard. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 30.) He suffered a Hills-Sachs fracture and a torn left rotator cuff. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 31.) Plaintiff alleges that the hole would have been visible to him if he had corrective lenses. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 30.) Plaintiff further alleges that the fall caused him to experience numbness and tingling in his left hand, a restricted range of motion in his left arm, neck spasms, and difficulty sleeping. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 32.)

         Plaintiff alleges that on January 8, 2014, he received an optometry evaluation and was prescribed glasses, which he received on March 25, 2014. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 33, 37.) The “supervising” registered nurse requested that Plaintiff contact “medical” immediately if unable to carry out his activities of daily living in a safe manner, until his glasses arrived. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 33.)

         On February 18, 2014, Plaintiff was evaluated by Carmelino Galang, M.D. at San Joaquin General Hospital. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 34.) Dr. Galang ordered an MRI to rule out a rotator cuff tear and indicated that Plaintiff would be “reevaluated after the MRI is done.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 34.) Accordingly, an MRI was scheduled for Plaintiff for March 10, 2014. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 35.) Plaintiff claims that on March 4, 2014, he was informed that Defendants Woodward and Malakkla cancelled the MRI because it was too close to his scheduled release date of April 15, 2014. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 36.)

         After Plaintiff's release on or about April 15, 2014, Plaintiff received an MRI, which confirmed Plaintiff had a torn left rotator cuff. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 40.) Plaintiff's physician promptly approved surgery after this MRI. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges that he experienced pain and suffering while awaiting surgery, which was delayed due to the cancellation of his March 10, 2014 MRI by Defendants Woodward and Malakkla. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 41.) As of the date of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he continued to experience numbness and tingling in his fingertips of his left hand, restricted range of motion in his left arm, neck spasms, and difficulty sleeping. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 42.) Additionally, as of the date of the Complaint, Plaintiff asserted that he would soon have a second surgery on his rotator cuff. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 42.)

         Plaintiff claims to have been billed $32, 614.72 in medical expenses relating to his fall. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 43.) He further asserts the State of California, CDCR, DVI, and VSP receive federal funding. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 44.)

         II. Standard of Law

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Under notice pleading in federal court, the complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim . . . is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). “This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002).

         On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). A court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the “well-pleaded” allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege “‘specific facts' beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         Nevertheless, a court “need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged[.]” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

         Ultimately, a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 697 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Only where a plaintiff fails to “nudge[ ] [his or her] claims . . . across the line from conceivable to plausible[, ]” is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 680. While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a probability requirement, it demands more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. This plausibility inquiry is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         In ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the court may consider only the complaint, any exhibits thereto, and matters which may be judicially noticed pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201. See Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988); Isuzu Motors Ltd. v. ...

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