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Baker v. J. Macomber

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 27, 2018

J. MACOMBER, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (CSATF) in Corcoran, under the authority of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Plaintiff proceeds pro se with this civil rights action against sole defendant California State Prison Sacramento (CSP-SAC) Correctional Officer J. McCowan, on claims of excessive force and deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious medical needs. This action proceeds on plaintiff's original complaint. See ECF No. 1.

         Pending before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 54, 71. These matters are referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302(c). For the reasons that follow, this court recommends that defendant's motion be granted in part and denied in part, and plaintiff's motion be denied in full. As a result, this case should proceed to trial.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on January 25, 2015.[1] ECF No. 1. The court granted plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis and screened the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The court accorded plaintiff the option of proceeding on his original complaint against sole defendant McCowan, or filing a First Amended Complaint in an attempt to state cognizable claims against additional defendants. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff elected to proceed on his original complaint and submitted the information necessary for the U.S. Marshal to serve process on defendant McCowan. Defendant answered the complaint on December 29, 2015. ECF No. 20.

         In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that on the afternoon of August 10, 2012, he entered CSP-SAC's Facility C medical clinic to obtain his 3:00 p.m. insulin injection. Plaintiff exchanged an Islamic greeting with another inmate who was in a holding cell. Correctional Officer Snipes told plaintiff that he was not to talk with the other inmate and to “take it down the hall.” ECF No. 1 at ¶ 9. Plaintiff objected to Snipes' “disrespectful tone and manner, ” and they exchanged words. Id. As plaintiff proceeded to take a seat in the clinic, defendant McCowan rushed in and told plaintiff to “stand up turn around face the wall and cuff-up.” Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff told McCowan that he had a medical chrono authorizing only frontal waist restraints but defendant insisted that plaintiff cuff-up behind his back and then “fastwalked” plaintiff out of the clinic toward a holding cage, initially out of view of other officers and cameras and “raised the arms up midway passed [sic] plaintiff's back. Beyond their designed capacity.” Id. at ¶¶ 17, 18. Defendant placed plaintiff in a holding cage “on the farthest side of the sally port” and removed his cuffs. Defendant ignored plaintiff's complaints of pain in his left shoulder and wrists but another officer escorted plaintiff to the clinic where he was examined and a Medical Report of Injury completed. Id. at ¶¶ 18-21.

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant McCowan used excessive force against him and was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to adhere to plaintiff's frontal waist restraints chrono and by preventing plaintiff from receiving his insulin injection. Id. at ¶ 45.

         Defendant filed his motion for summary judgment on March 6, 2017. ECF No. 54. Following extensions of time to resolve newly raised discovery matters and to insure that plaintiff had access to his legal materials, plaintiff filed his opposition and cross-motion for summary judgment on July 24, 2017. ECF No. 71. Defendant replied to plaintiff's opposition, ECF No. 72, and filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 77. Plaintiff filed an unauthorized surreply, ECF No. 73 and a reply, ECF No. 75, and sought to submit additional evidence, ECF Nos. 76, 79, 81. By order filed December 20, 2017, the undersigned overruled defendant's objections and authorized the court's consideration of all plaintiff's evidence and briefing. ECF No. 83.

         III. Legal Standards for Motions for Summary Judgment

         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.” Nursing Home Pension Fund, Local 144 v. Oracle Corp. (In re Oracle Corp. Securities 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), admission, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the 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 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. Moreover, “[a] [p]laintiff's verified complaint may be considered as an affidavit in opposition to summary judgment if it is based on personal knowledge and sets forth specific facts admissible in evidence.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1132 n.14 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).[2]

         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 Assoc., 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 Costa County Transit Authority, 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam). 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).

         In applying these rules, district courts must “construe liberally motion papers and pleadings filed by pro se inmates and … avoid applying summary judgment rules strictly.” Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). However, “[if] a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).

         IV. Facts

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed by the parties or as determined by the court. Material factual disputes are noted as appropriate.

         ● Plaintiff Timothy Baker is an inmate in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

         ● At all times relevant to the allegations in this case, plaintiff was housed at California State Prison Sacramento (CSP-SAC) in Facility C.

         ● At all relevant times, defendant McCowan was a correctional officer at CSP-SAC.

         ● During third watch on August 10, 2012, defendant was assigned to act as a Health Care Access Escort Officer in Facility C; this was not his regularly assigned post.

         ● Health Care Access Escort Officers provide, inter alia, escorts of prisoners to and from facility medical clinics.

         ● When inmates must be escorted to or from a medical appointment, escorting officers are directed to establish whether the inmate has any restrictions prior to the escort. These restrictions include but are not limited to waist restraints.

         ● On the date of the incident, plaintiff had a permanent “waist restraints” chrono. See ECF No. 71 at 13, 94[3] (Sept. 2011- Sept. 2012 chrono); see also id. at 14 (Feb. 2016 chrono (same)); but see id. at 95 (Nov. 2013 chrono (temporary “frontal or waist chains”)).

         ● Access to CDCR services, programs and activities by disabled inmates is controlled by the Armstrong Remedial Plan[4] which provides in pertinent part, see ECF No. 71 at 22, 24:

Inmates who have a disability that prevents application of restraint equipment in the ordinarily prescribed manner shall be afforded reasonable accommodation, under the direction of the supervisor in charge. Mechanical restraints shall be applied to ensure effective application while reasonably accommodating the inmate's disability.

         ● On August 10, 2012, plaintiff was escorted to the Facility C medical clinic by officers other than defendant to obtain his afternoon insulin injection.

         ● Defendant avers that he heard yelling between plaintiff and a female officer, so he entered the clinic, handcuffed plaintiff and escorted him to Holding Cage #1. McCowan Decl. ¶¶ 8, 10.

         ● The parties dispute whether defendant knew plaintiff had a waist restraints chrono. Plaintiff contends that, in addition to plaintiff telling defendant, it should have been clear to defendant that plaintiff was disabled as he “was clearly walking with a cane and had a vest identifying him as [] mobility impaired as disabled, ” and he carried his medical accommodations chronos at all times. ECF No. 76 at 5. Defendant avers (McCowan Decl. ¶ 8):

Common practice would be for me to determine whether Baker had any restrictions for his escort. I do not recall Baker telling me that he had a waist restraint chrono. Additionally, I do not recall Baker showing me a waist restraint chrono.

         ● Plaintiff has submitted three August 2012 declarations by inmate James Davis who avers he witnessed defendant enter the clinic “at a high rate of speed” and go directly to plaintiff, whom he “grabbed and spun around” then forced plaintiff's hands behind his back. Davis avers that this happened without provocation or resistance by plaintiff, whose complaints of pain were ignored by defendant as he forcefully moved plaintiff to a holding cage. Davis avers that plaintiff told defendant he could not cuff up behind his back and had a medical chrono for waist restraints only. See ECF No. 71 at 33-7.

         ● The parties dispute the nature of their interaction thereafter. Defendant avers that although plaintiff “continually questioned why he was being escorted, ” defendant “handcuffed and escorted Baker without incident . . . out of the Facility C medical clinic to Holding Cage # 1 outside of the Watch Office on Facility C.” (McCowan Decl. ¶¶ 8, 10.) Defendant McCowan avers that, in his “experience, where necessary, even limited mobility inmates can still be escorted with proper bodyweight support, despite being handcuffed behind the back.” (McCowan Decl. ¶ 9.)

         ●In contrast, plaintiff testified at his deposition[5] that defendant “fast walked” him out of the clinic, holding plaintiff's right arm, and “veered off to the left out of plain view of everybody and then raised my arms. I felt a pop. I immediately complained about it. I said my arm is messed up. Please get me some medical attention.” (Pltf. Depo. at 38:4-8.) Plaintiff testified that the incident took place outside camera range, “towards the law library, ” after defendant said, “you feel froggy, jump.” (Id. at 37:17, 23-5.)

         ● Defendant responds (McCowan Decl. ¶¶ 11-3):

At no time did I escort Baker to an unmonitored area of the prison. Additionally, because of the need for security in the prison, there are no unmonitored areas of the facility. At no time during my involvement in this incident did I pull inmate Baker's hands up to his shoulders, inf1icting pain or causing a “pop.” Had an incident happened, I am obligated to prepare an incident report describing the situation. Notably, a report was not prepared in this matter.

         ● The parties dispute whether the alleged incident occurred outside the view of prison cameras and other correctional staff. Plaintiff testified that defendant took plaintiff out of view of all other staff members and cameras. Pltf. Depo. at 37-39 (citing Pltf. Exs., ECF No. 71 at 44-50).[6] Defendant contends “[t]here is no area on Facility C medical, or near the Program Office, that is unmonitored.” DUF 19 (citing Steele Decl., Exs. A-T).

         ● Sometime thereafter, Sergeant Andes escorted plaintiff from the holding cage back to the clinic, where plaintiff was ...

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