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Arreola v. Pomazal

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 24, 2017

JOSE ARREOLA, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW POMAZAL, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges defendants Lankford and Pomazal were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends both motions be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Allegations in the Complaint

         This case is proceeding on plaintiff's complaint filed here on May 28, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that he underwent back surgery and was subsequently sent to High Desert State Prison (“HDSP”) for treatment for an infection which included the intravenous administration of drugs. According to plaintiff, he arrived at HDSP with specific orders from his surgeon for pain medication, but on the following day defendant Dr. Pomazal did not provide such pain medication to him. Plaintiff further alleges that all of his pain medications were discontinued while he was at HDSP. Plaintiff alleges that he saw defendant Dr. Lankford and complained about not receiving his pain medication during the inmate appeals process, but that Dr. Lankford rudely stated “what else do you want morphine or some heroin?” and did not assist him in any way. (Compl. (ECF No. 1) at 3 and attachments.)

         II. Procedural Background

         While plaintiff named four defendants in his complaint, on screening the court found plaintiff stated cognizable claims against only Drs. Lankford and Pomazal. (Oct. 9, 2015 Order (ECF No. 7).) On February 2, 2016, defendants answered the complaint. (ECF No. 14.) On March 21, 2017, defendant Lankford filed a summary judgment motion (“Lankford MSJ”). (ECF No. 37.) On April 3, 2017, defendant Pomazal filed a summary judgment motion (“Pomazal MSJ”). (ECF No. 38.) On May 1, 2017, plaintiff filed an opposition to defendant Pomazal's motion (ECF No. 39), and on July 17, 2017 filed an opposition to defendant Lankford's motion (ECF No. 42). On May 8, 2017, Pomazal filed a reply. (ECF No. 40.) On July 19, 2017, Lankford filed his reply. (ECF No. 43.)

         MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Plaintiff contends that he was sent to HDSP for the purpose of receiving intravenous (“IV”) treatment for an infection, not for the purpose of adjusting his medications. Plaintiff states that defendant Pomazal prescribed inadequate pain medication and defendant Lankford failed to correct the problem when plaintiff filed an appeal.

         Defendant Pomazal argues he followed accepted medical standards when he weaned plaintiff off morphine and prescribed non-narcotic pain medications for plaintiff's back pain. In his motion, defendant Lankford argues he was not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's medical needs when he denied plaintiff's appeal in which plaintiff sought narcotic pain relief or a transfer back to Mule Creek State Prison (“MCSP”).

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment Standards under Rule 56

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Under summary judgment practice, the moving party “initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litigation, 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B).

         When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, “the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, “so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment . . . is satisfied.” Id. at 323.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party typically may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

         In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the “purpose of summary judgment is to ‘pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citations omitted).

         “In evaluating the evidence to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact, ” the court draws “all reasonable inferences supported by the evidence in favor of the non-moving party.” Walls v. Central Contra Costa Transit Auth., 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011). It is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F.Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

         B. Other Applicable Legal Standards

         1. Civil Rights Act Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by the plaintiff. See Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). “A person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of §1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

         Supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         2. Deliberate Indifference under the Eighth Amendment

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 670 (1977); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). Neither accident nor negligence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, as “[i]t is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.” Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319.

         What is needed to show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain “varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992) (citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320). In order to prevail on a claim of cruel and unusual punishment, however, a prisoner must allege and prove that objectively he suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that subjectively prison officials acted with deliberate indifference in allowing or causing the deprivation to occur. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991).

         If a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim arises in the context of medical care, the prisoner must allege and prove “acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. An Eighth Amendment medical claim has two elements: “the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need.” McGuckin v. Smith, 974 ...


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