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Estate of Cruz-Sanchez v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 27, 2018

ESTATE OF GERARDO CRUZ-SANCHEZ, by and through his successor-in-interest Paula Garcia Rivera, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Before the Court is a Joint Motion for Determination of Discovery Dispute No. 1, filed by Plaintiffs and Defendant CoreCivic, Inc. (“CoreCivic”), which addresses the parties' dispute regarding CoreCivic's responses to Plaintiffs' Request for Production (Sets Five and Six) Nos. 143, 144, 148, and 149. ECF No. 55 at 2.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the allegations in Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, the United States arrested Gerardo Cruz-Sanchez in early February 2016 as a material witness to the crime of alien-smuggling. ECF No. 41 ¶ 1. He was not charged with a crime, but because he could not afford bail, he was incarcerated in the Otay Mesa Detention Center (“OMDC”), which is run by CoreCivic. Id.

         A chest x-ray administered on February 9, 2016, showed no signs of tuberculosis or pneumonia and Mr. Cruz-Sanchez was admitted to the detention center on February 11, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 1, 14. A few days later, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez developed a headache, sore throat, painful burning sensation, persistent cough, nasal congestion, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Id. ¶ 24. On February 14, 2016, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez submitted a sick call request and was seen by a nurse who noted that his appointment was due to an upper respiratory infection. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. However, instead of ordering a chest x-ray or referring him to a physician, she gave him 200 milligrams of Ibuprofen and sent him back to his cell. Id. ¶ 31.

         Mr. Cruz-Sanchez's symptoms worsened, so two days later he saw another nurse and reported a productive cough, body aches, a sore throat, and a severe level of pain. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. In response, the nurse gave him additional Ibuprofen tablets as well as salt packets and sent him back to his cell. Id. ¶ 38. The next day, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez submitted another sick call request and was seen by a physician's assistant. Id. ¶ 39. He reported fever at night, chills, nausea through the day, lack of appetite, pain, body aches, and a scratchy throat. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. The physician's assistant noted in Mr. Cruz-Sanchez's chart that he had “viral etiology vs. bacterial or allergy, ” and then gave Mr. Cruz-Sanchez more Ibuprofen and some Promethazine (an allergy medication) and returned him to his cell. Id. ¶¶ 42, 48.

         On February 21, 2016, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez again sought medical attention. Id. ¶ 49. After a nurse sent him back to his cell, he began coughing up blood all over his clothing and bed sheets. Id. ¶ 53. His cellmate, Alejandro Chavez-Lopez, pleaded with Defendant C.O. Landin and other staff to provide Mr. Cruz-Sanchez with medical care, but to no avail. Id. ¶ 54. Between February 22th and February 26th, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez's condition deteriorated to the point where he was unable to talk or swallow food and he developed shortness of breath, respiratory distress, and wheezing, but he was not provided with any medical care. Id. ¶¶ 55-58. Defendant Landin allegedly mocked Mr. Cruz-Sanchez for complaining during this time, refused to assist him, and told Mr. Chavez-Lopez that Mr. Cruz-Sanchez “needs to be nearly dead to be taken to the hospital.” Id. ¶¶ 63-68.

         The morning of February 26, 2016, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez could not get up from his bed, which was covered in blood. Id. ¶ 72. Mr. Chavez-Lopez and another detainee picked him up and dragged him to a table in the common area to get him to eat. Id. Mr. Cruz-Sanchez coughed up blood on the table and Defendant Landin then yelled at him for making a mess. Id. Thereafter, Mr. Cruz-Sanchez was taken to CoreCivic's medical facility. Id. ¶ 73. The doctor who examined him diagnosed Mr. Cruz-Sanchez with “acute respiratory distress w/burning chest pain, cough, subcut emphysema, hypoxemia, tachypnea, tachycardia - suspect spontaneous pneumothorax vs. other cardio pulmonary or GI etiology.” Id. ¶ 76. Someone from the medical facility called 911 and Mr. Cruz-Sanchez was transported to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, California, where he was placed on mechanical ventilation and diagnosed with “pneumomediastinum with extensive subcutaneous emphysema, hypoxemia, acute kidney injury, healthcare associated pneumonia, new onset of diabetes and hypokalemia.” Id.¶ 78. Three days later Mr. Cruz-Sanchez died. Id. ¶ 80.


         Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to request that another party “permit the requesting party or its representative to inspect, copy, test, or sample [documents] in the responding party's possession, custody, or control.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a)(1). If the producing party objects in whole or in part to the request, it must “state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(B).

         The scope of information discoverable under Rule 34 is governed by Rule 26, which permits discovery of “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Information need not be admissible to be discoverable. Id.


         The instant dispute centers around Plaintiffs' request for call logs and recordings of telephone calls made at OMDC between February 13, 2016 and March 3, 2016. Mr. Cruz-Sanchez was assigned to J-Pod open-bay dorm room 106 for the duration of his time at OMDC. ECF No. 56-2 ¶¶ 15-16; ECF No. 55-2, Ex. G. The open-bay dorm rooms house up to eight detainees. Id. ¶ 10.

         According to Gary Burcham, an attorney assisting Plaintiffs with the factual investigation of the case, he asked material witness attorney Stacey A. Kartchner whether she knew of any detainees who may have witnessed Mr. Cruz-Sanchez's health crisis in February 2016. ECF No. 55-3 ¶¶ 1, 3. Ms. Karchner identified Jose Soto-Garcia and his wife, Sandra Murillo, as potential witnesses. Id. ¶ 3. Mr. Burcham then spoke with Ms. Murillo, who confirmed that her husband was detained at OMDC in February 2016 and had spoken to her about Mr. Cruz-Sanchez being terribly ill. Id. ¶ 4. On November 3, 2017, Mr. Brucham spoke with Mr. Soto-Garcia, who confirmed that he told his wife that he saw Mr. Cruz-Sanchez vomit blood in the mess hall on February 26, 2016. Id. ΒΆ 5. However, since that day, Mr. Burcham has been unable to make ...

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