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Cooper v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 30, 2019

EDMUND G. BROWN, et al., Defendants.


         Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the above referenced action on the grounds of qualified immunity. Plaintiffs did not file an opposition to the motion to dismiss.

         The Local Rule provides that a party who fails to file a timely opposition is not entitled to be heard in opposition to the motion at oral argument. L.R. 230(c). Accordingly, the Court shall vacate the September 4, 2019 hearing on the motion to dismiss and the parties are not required to appear on that date.


         On April 28, 2015, Melvin Cooper, individually and as successor in interest to Rodney Allen Cooper filed this action against defendants Edmund G. Brown Jr., Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jeffrey Beard, Matthew Cate, Carl Wofford, and James Hartley. A first amended complaint was filed on August 17, 2015, adding John E. Rogers as the representative of the estate and Kathy Mendoza-Powers as a defendant in the action. The matter was stayed on November 30, 2015 pending the resolution of the appeals in the related cases of Smith, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al., appeal no. 15-17155, Hines v. Youssef, appeal no. 15-16145, and Jackson, et al. v. Brown, et al., appeal no. 15-17076. On February 1, 2019, the Ninth Circuit issued an order affirming the district court decision in Smith, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al., appeal no. 15-17155, and Hines v. Youssef, appeal no. 15-16145, and affirming in part and reversing in part in Jackson, et al. v. Brown, et al., appeal no. 15-17076. The stay of this matter was lifted on April 5, 2019. On July 25, 2019, after being granted an extension of time to respond to the complaint, the named defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss.


         Rodney Allen Cooper was a former inmate in the custody of the California Department of Corrections (“CDCR”) and was housed at Avenal State Prison (“ASP”) which is located in the Central Valley of California beginning in 2007. Mr. Cooper was of African-American descent, was diagnosed with Valley Fever around 2009, and died on April 27, 2013. Plaintiff Melvin Cooper is Rodney's father. Plaintiff John E. Rogers is the appointed personal representative of Rodney's estate. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edmond Brown, Jr. are former governors of the State of California. The remaining defendants are current or former prison officials.

         Plaintiffs bring this action against the state and prison officials alleging deliberate indifferent in violation of the Eighth Amendment, racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and a substantive due process claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         Coccidioidomycosis (“Valley Fever”) is a serious infectious disease that is contracted through the inhalation of an airborne fungus. Once the spores are inhaled and have lodged in various locations of the respiratory system, they grow and transform into large tissue-invasive parasitic spherules. They can migrate through the blood into other tissues and organs.

         Valley Fever spores are endemic in the soil of various areas of the Southwest, but nowhere is more prevalent than in the the Central Valley of California. Most people who get Valley Fever have minor symptoms that resolve by themselves within weeks. Certain individuals are at a particularly high risk of developing the disseminated form of Valley Fever. “Disseminated Valley Fever” commonly affects soft tissues, bones, joints, and the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is progressive, painful, and debilitating. If left untreated, it is uniformly fatal once it progresses to meningitis.

         There is no cure for Disseminated Valley Fever and and surgical excision of tissue and bone is the only medical response for some extrapulmonary infections. There are some drugs that have been found to be effective in treating Disseminated Valley Fever, but they must be taken daily for the remainder of the individual's life. Seventy-five percent of the individuals who stop taking the drugs will relapse into life-threatening disease within one year.

         Plaintiffs contend that the named defendants were aware of the prevalence of Valley Fever and located ASP, California Correctional Institution, California State Prison-Corcoran, Wasco State Prison, North Kern State Prison, Pleasant Valley State Prison (“PVSP”), California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, and Kern Valley State Prison in the hyper-endemic region of the San Joaquin Valley. Plaintiffs contend that the defendants knew that the prisons were located in an area which host the Valley Fever spores; that certain inmates, such as Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Filipinos, and American-Indians, and immune-compromised individuals were at the highest risk of disseminated disease; and failed to implement remedial measures to reduce inmate exposure to Valley Fever. A 2006 memo described the infection rates within CDCR showing an increase from 2001 to 2006 with a dramatic increase of incidents in 2006. Infection rates were as high as 7 % during 2006-2010. The rate of Valley Fever is significantly higher at PVSP and ASP than the surrounding county. Between 2006 and 2011, approximately 36 inmates died from Valley Fever. In November 2007, CDCR implemented a policy that protected persons with certain medical conditions but did not protect other inmates who defendants knew were at risk and did not stem the epidemic of Valley Fever.

         Generally, the plaintiffs allege that each of the named defendants was aware of the elevated risk of inmates in the hyper-endemic areas of contracting Valley Fever and that failure to control inmate exposure to the soil in the areas increased the risk. Despite this knowledge, no efforts were taken to remediate the inmates' exposure to Valley Fever spores. Plaintiffs bring this action seeking monetary damages.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may file a motion to dismiss on the grounds that a complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In deciding a motion to dismiss, “[a]ll allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). The pleading standard under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require “ ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In assessing the sufficiency of a complaint, all well-pleaded factual allegations must be accepted as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of ...

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