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Gonzales v. Podsakoff

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 27, 2019

MICHAEL GONZALES, Plaintiff,
v.
PODSAKOFF, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 101)

          SHEILA K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Michael Gonzales, is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1984. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff cannot establish a triable issue of fact on the merits of his claims against them. Fed. R. Civ. P.[1] 56(c). Plaintiff filed an opposition.[2] (Doc. 104.) Defendants filed their reply. (Doc. 108.) The motion is deemed submitted. L.R. 230(l). For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that, Defendants' motion should be GRANTED.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

         Summary judgment is appropriate where 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); Washington Mutual Inc. v. U.S., 636 F.3d 1207, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). An issue of fact is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact finder to find for the non-moving party, while a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1422, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987). The Court determines only whether there is a genuine issue for trial and in doing so, it must liberally construe Plaintiff's filings because he is a pro se prisoner. Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         In addition, Rule 56 allows a court to grant summary adjudication, or partial summary judgment, when there is no genuine issue of material fact as to a particular claim or portion of that claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Lies v. Farrell Lines, Inc., 641 F.2d 765, 769 n.3 (9th Cir. 1981) (“Rule 56 authorizes a summary adjudication that will often fall short of a final determination, even of a single claim . . .”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The standards that apply on a motion for summary judgment and a motion for summary adjudication are the same. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (a), (c); Mora v. Chem-Tronics, 16 F.Supp.2d 1192, 1200 (S.D. Cal. 1998).

         Each party's position must be supported by (1) citing to specific materials in the record, including but not limited to depositions, documents, declarations, or discovery; or (2) showing that the materials cited do not establish the presence or absence of a genuine dispute or that the opposing party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1) (quotation marks omitted). The Court may consider other materials in the record not cited to by the parties, but it is not required to do so. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); Carmen v. San Francisco Unified School Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001); accord Simmons v. Navajo County, Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Defendants do not bear the burden of proof at trial and, in moving for summary judgment, they need only prove an absence of evidence to support Plaintiff's case. 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)). If Defendants meet their initial burden, the burden then shifts to Plaintiff “to designate specific facts demonstrating the existence of genuine issues for trial.” In re Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323). This requires Plaintiff to “show more than the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). An issue of fact is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact finder to find for the non-moving party, while a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1422, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

         In judging the evidence at the summary judgment stage, the Court may not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence, Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and citation omitted), and it must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and determine whether a genuine issue of material fact precludes entry of judgment, Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach, 657 F.3d 936, 942 (9th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1566 (2012). The Court determines only whether there is a genuine issue for trial and in doing so, it must liberally construe Plaintiff's filings because he is a pro se prisoner. Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). Inferences, however, are not drawn out of the air; the nonmoving party must produce a factual predicate from which the inference may reasonably be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F.Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898 (9th Cir. 1987).

         FINDINGS

         A. Plaintiff's Claims

         This action proceeds on Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) (Doc. 26) on claims under the Due Process Clause and Eighth Amendment against Defendants A. Podsakoff, L. Lawrence, B. Stringer, J. Medina, J. Juarez, R. Mendoza, and Nurse Gonzales. (Doc. 28.) Plaintiff's claims are based on allegations that he was previously subject to a Keyhea order and received antipsychotic medications which were discontinued because he experienced a number of negative side effects. He alleges that between August 13, 2015 and April 4, 2016, at California State Prison (“CSP-Cor”), in Corcoran, California, Defendant Nurse Gonzales provided antipsychotic medication that Defendants A. Podsakoff, L. Lawrence, B. Stringer, J. Medina, J. Juarez, and R. Mendoza used to surreptitiously taint his food. Plaintiff sets forth specific dates on which these Defendants tainted his food and describes the adverse effects he allegedly experienced. Plaintiff also alleges that J. Medina, J. Juarez, and R. Mendoza denied him meals on various dates so that he would be hungry and eat the next meal he received which was heavily medicated. These allegations were found to state a cognizable claim against Defendants A. Podsakoff, L. Lawrence, B. Stringer, J. Medina, J. Juarez, R. Mendoza, and Nurse Gonzales for involuntarily medicating Plaintiff without a Keyeha order in violation of his due process rights and in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 28.)

         B. Legal Standards

         1. Involuntary Antipsychotic Medication

         Prisoners have a substantial liberty interest, grounded in the Due Process Clause, in avoiding the involuntary administration of antipsychotic medication. Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 229 (1990). Although prisoners may be involuntarily medicated if they are a danger to themselves or others and the treatment is in their best medical interest, they must be provided with procedural protections to ensure that the decision to medicate them involuntarily is not arbitrary or erroneous. Harper, 494 U.S. at 227-28. In Keyhea v. Rushen, 178 Cal.App.3d 526, 542 (Cal.Ct.App. 1986), the California courts set forth the substantive and procedural safeguards which must be adhered to when the state seeks to involuntarily medicate state prisoners with long-term psychotropic medications. Such courts orders are commonly known as Keyhea orders. Giving inmates psychotropic medications without following these requirements violates their rights under the Due Process Clause.

         2. Eighth Amendment

         “The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (citing Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). Adequate food is a basic human need protected by the Eighth Amendment. Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1246 (9th Cir. 1982), (abrogated on other grounds by Sandin v. O'Connor, 515 U.S. 472 (1995)). While prison food need not be “tasty or aesthetically pleasing, ” it must be “adequate to maintain health.” LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1456 (9th Cir. 1993). However, extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions of confinement claim, and only those deprivations denying the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992) (citations and quotations omitted). To establish a violation of the Eighth Amendment, Plaintiff must submit evidence sufficient to show that prison officials knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to the plaintiff. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847.

         C. Defendants' Motion[3]

         Defendants contend that for over twenty years, Plaintiff believes staff at each California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) institution where he was housed tampered with his food by illegally medicating it. Plaintiff now believes other inmates have begun tampering with his food at his current institution. Defendants contend that although Plaintiff has filed numerous lawsuits regarding this issue, he has never been successful because his claims are untrue and implausible. In this action, Plaintiff alleges a psychiatric technician gave six correctional officers Thorazine, Cogentin, Haldol, and Vistaril (in white powdered form), to put into his food while he was housed in CSP-Cor's Security Housing Unit (SHU) in 2015 and 2016.

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff has no evidence to support his allegations. They contend that none of the medications identified by Plaintiff existed in a white powder format, the psychiatric technician did not pass medications to the correctional officers, the correctional officers did not prepare food for the inmates or have access to medications, medications and meals were generally distributed at different times, and Plaintiff's complaints of a throat-burning sensation can be attributed to his history of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Additionally, Defendants seek summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for damages against the Defendants in their official capacity since they are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         1. Defendants' Undisputed Facts[4]

         a. Food Tampering

         According to Defendants' evidence, Plaintiff first believed staff at CSP-Cor were tampering with his food in 1998. (DUF No. 11.) Plaintiff has filed at least ten lawsuits alleging food tampering by staff and has never prevailed.[5] (DUF No. 28.) Plaintiff believes staff at CSP-Cor were tampering with his food “when the food started burning [his] mouth and making [him] sick.” (DUF No. 12.) Plaintiff alleges the food tampering has “never stopped.” (DUF No. 13.) Although he is no longer at CSP-Cor, Plaintiff believes inmates at his current institution are tampering with his food. (DUF No. 24.)

         In this action, Plaintiff believes Defendants tampered with his food by tainting it with Vistaril, Thorazine, Haldol, and Cogentin. (DUF No. 14.) Plaintiff alleges the correctional officers would get medication from other inmates or nurses-specifically Psychiatric Technician Gonsalves-to put into his food. (DUF Nos. 19, 76.) In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff listed specific dates each Defendant allegedly medicated his food. (See ECF No. 22 at 8:22-9:3.) During his deposition, however, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants medicated his food “every day.” (DUF No. 15.) Plaintiff alleged one of the Defendants medicated his food “just by looking at” it. (DUF No. 101.) Plaintiff believes Haldol was used because he knows “exactly what it does” because he took it in 1996, and it burned his throat. (DUF Nos. 16, 17.) Plaintiff also alleges he was being medicated with Thorazine because it burns his throat. (DUF No. 18.) Plaintiff alleges the medications placed into his food were a white powder, (DUF No. 20), which “comes like that” or had been crushed by another inmate or the officer passing it out.

         When Plaintiff ate the allegedly tainted food, his tongue would get numb, his muscles would twitch, and his leg would convulse. (DUF No. 22.) Plaintiff has had blood tests while he has been in prison, which have not revealed any abnormality. (DUF No. 47.) Plaintiff believes photos from his recent esophagogastroduodenoscopy (“EGD”) are evidence that staff tampered with his food. (DUF No. 24.) Plaintiff cannot identify any inmates that witnessed the alleged food tampering by staff, (DUF No. 25), or any of the inmates whose medications were allegedly used by staff to medicate him, (DUF No. 26.)

         b. The Medications Allegedly Placed in Plaintiff's Food

         At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Plaintiff was not prescribed medication that needed to be administered by a psychiatric technician, nurse, or doctor, such as anti-psychotic medications. (DUF No. 44.) Plaintiff did not receive medication involuntarily in accordance with California Penal Code Section 2602. (DUF No. 45.) Plaintiff received and signed for medication that was designated “Keep-on-Person” or KOP, which means that the medication could be safely administered by the patient to himself, and kept in his cell. (DUF No. 46.) This included Mintox, which controls heartburn, sour stomach, indigestion, and other such indications. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants specifically placed Vistaril, Thorazine, Haldol, and Cogentin in his food. (DUF No. 14.) From March 1, 2015, through April 5, 2016, the CSP-Cor pharmacy purchased Vistaril, Haldol, Thorazine, and Cogentin from AmerisourceBergen, which is an American drug wholesale company that contracts with CDCR. (DUF No. 61.) All medication orders issued by CSP-Cor medical staff for inmates housed at CSP-Cor were processed and dispensed solely through the pharmacy at CSP-Cor. (DUF No. 62.) No. orders for Vistaril, Haldol, Thorazine, or Cogentin were received, processed, or dispensed for Plaintiff from the CSP-Cor pharmacy between March 1, 2015, and April 5, 2016. (DUF No. 63.)

         Vistaril, or hydroxyzine pamoate, is a prescription antihistamine drug used to treat allergic reactions, anxiety, tension, nausea, vomiting, alcohol withdrawal, and other conditions. (DUF No. 64.) During the relevant time-period, CSP-Cor purchased and received this drug in green, pink and yellow, red and yellow, or green and white oblong capsules. (Id.) The powder inside the capsule was either a light yellow or yellow. (Id.) Common adverse reactions to Vistaril include dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, slurred speech, headache, agitation, bitter taste, loss of voluntary muscle movement, and nausea. (DUF No. 65.) Serious adverse reactions to Vistaril include hypersensitivity, seizures, heat stroke, shortness of breath, and abnormal heart rhythm. (Id.)

         Haldol, or haloperidol, is an antipsychotic medication used in the treatment of schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, and other similar conditions. (DUF No. 66.) During the relevant time-period, CSP-Cor purchased and received this drug in small orange, yellow, pink or green round or oblong tablets, yellow to light amber liquid, or a clear liquid form. (Id.) Common adverse reactions to Haldol include insomnia, anxiety, drowsiness, lethargy, weight changes, photosensitivity, involuntary movements, swelling of breast tissues, menstrual irregularities, milk secretion from the breast, photosensitivity, and impaired body temperature regulation. (DUF No. 67.) Serious adverse reactions to Haldol include serious involuntary moments or spasms, heat strike, pneumonia, low blood pressure, dry mouth, sudden death, seizures, hepatic impairment, blood cell deficiencies, cataracts, retinopathy, and abnormal heart rhythm. (Id.)

         Thorazine, or chlorpromazine, is an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and other conditions. (DUF No. 68.) During the relevant time-period, CSP-Cor purchased and received this drug in small round, brown coated tablets or a clear liquid form. (Id.) Common adverse reactions to Thorazine include drowsiness, low blood pressure, blurred vision, dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, nausea, nasal congestion, agitation, insomnia, involuntary movements, high levels of prolactin, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, high levels of fat in blood, ocular pigmentation, skin pigmentation, jaundice, photosensitivity, and impaired body temperature regulation. (DUF No. 69.) Serious adverse reactions to Thorazine include involuntary body movements, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, blood disorders, blood cell deficiencies, low blood pressure, prolonged erection, seizures, hypersensitivity, abnormal heart rhythm, allergic reaction, dermatitis, and heat stroke. (Id.) Cogentin, or benztropine mesylate, is used to treat Parkinson's disease or involuntary movements due to the side effects of certain psychiatric drugs such as Thorzaine or Haldol, and other conditions. (DUF No. 70.) During the relevant time-period, CSP-Cor purchased and received this drug in small, white round or oblong tablets, or a clear liquid form. (Id.) Common adverse reactions to Cogentin include constipation, urinary retention, dry mouth, sedation, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, itching, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, anorexia, abdominal pain, rash, dizziness, headache, nervousness, ear ringing, swollen limbs, and blurred vision. (DUF No. 71.) Serious adverse reactions to Cogentin include abnormal heart rhythm, psychosis, and heat stroke. (Id.)

         None of those four drugs existed or were administered in a white powder format at CSP-Cor. (DUF No. 72.) If the tablets were ordered by medical staff to be crushed before administering them, the psychiatric technician or nurse would crush the medication using a specialized machine kept under his or her control and custody. (DUF No. 73.) All of these four drugs were solely handled and administered by medical staff, including psychiatric technicians or nurses. (DUF No. 74.) When Dr. Gill, a physician and surgeon that worked in Plaintiff's housing facility during the relevant time-period, encountered Plaintiff, Plaintiff did not complain of the common and severe adverse reactions attributed to Vistaril, Haldol, Thorazine, and Cogentin, and Dr. Gill did not observe any of these reactions when he evaluated Plaintiff. (DUF No. 75.)

         c. Plaintiff's History of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (“GERD”)

         Plaintiff has a history of GERD. (DUF No. 48.) GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. (DUF No. 49.) The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn or acid indigestion which feels like a burning chest pain ...


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