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Smith v. Torres

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 29, 2019

J. TORRES, et al., Defendants.


         I. Order Vacating August 26, 2019 Findings and Recommendations

         On August 26, 2019, I recommend granting defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice. ECF No. 75. Defendants responded that the case should be dismissed with prejudice. See ECF No. 76. For good cause shown, I hereby vacate my August 25, 2019 Findings and Recommendations. The corrected findings and recommendations that follow are for dismissal with prejudice, but otherwise remain unchanged.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Toy Terrell Smith is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Terrell alleges that defendants J. Torres and M. Hoggard, both correctional counselors at California State Prison Corcoran, were deliberately indifferent to his safety and so violated the Eighth Amendment by recommending that he be returned to Kern Valley State Prison. See ECF No. 10 at 13. On February 15, 2019, Torres and Hoggard moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, ` arguing that the move was not objectively dangerous, that the defendants were not subjectively indifferent to any danger, that Smith cannot establish causation, and that defendants Torres and Hoggard are entitled to qualified immunity. See ECF No. 69-2 at 1-2. Smith filed an opposition on May 13, 2019, and the defendants filed a reply on May 21. See ECF Nos. 73 and 74.[1]

         When Smith's allegations are viewed in their most favorable light, they fail to show that the decision to move him to Kern Valley State Prison posed an objective, substantial risk of serious harm. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (holding that an Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim must allege that there was “objectively” a “substantial risk of serious harm” to which defendant was indifferent). Because Smith's speculative and general allegations do not satisfy the objective risk requirement, I do not reach defendants' alternate claimed bases for summary judgment.

         III. Factual Background

         In early 2016, Smith was an inmate at Corcoran State Prison. Defendant Torres approached Smith about placement at a different facility. ECF No. 73 at 2. Torres presented Smith with a list of prisons to which he might be transferred, but Smith “informed her that he was not interested in any of them because none of them were mental health care treatment facilities.” Id. Smith also gave Torres a two-page statement intended to inform the committee making the facility assignment. The committee, which included both Smith and Hoggard, recommended based on a variety of factors that Smith be sent to Kern Valley State Prison, where he was previously housed. Smith had been involved in a violent incident and riot at Kern Valley, see generally id. at 21 (“Exhibit B”), and did not want to be returned there. Smith appealed the committee's decision and met with Hoggard concerning the appeal. Id. at 4. Smith's appeal was unsuccessful. He was transferred back to Kern Valley, where he was ` attacked.

         IV. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when 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). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of either party at trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The disputed fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” See Id. at 248.

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in its pleading, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, but “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         In making a summary judgment determination, a court “may not engage in credibility determinations or the weighing of evidence, ” Manley v. Rowley, 847 F.3d 705, 711 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted), and it must view the inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam); Orr v. Bank of America, NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 772 (9th Cir. 2002).

         As detailed below, defendants have met their burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and Smith has not shown that there is an issue for trial.

         V. Analysis

         The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects prisoners against a prison official's “deliberate indifference” to “a substantial risk of serious harm.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 828 (1994). “Deliberate indifference” has both an objective and subjective component: there must be an objective risk to inmate safety, and the official in question must also “draw the inference” that the risk exists and disregard it. Id. at 837; see also Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 904 (9th Cir. 2002) (describing subjective and objective components). For a risk to be objectively “substantial” it must be more than merely possible, since prisons are, “by ` definition, ” institutions “of involuntary confinement of persons who have a demonstrated proclivity for anti-social criminal, and often violent, conduct.” Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526 (1984); see also Brown v. Hughes, 894 F.2d 1533, 1537 (11th Cir. 1990) (noting that the “known risk of injury must be a strong likelihood, rather than a mere possibility before a guard's failure to act can ...

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