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Munoz v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 9, 2019

RICK MUNOZ, Plaintiff,




         Plaintiff Rick Munoz (“Plaintiff”) brings this suit after his medical approval to sleep in a lower bunk while incarcerated (“chrono”) was rescinded. See generally ECF No. 77. Plaintiff contends that the very next day after the rescission, he was injured when climbing to his upper bunk. ECF No. 77 at ¶¶ 47-72, 111-147. Plaintiff filed two claims against the medical doctor who withdrew the approval: a denial of medical care claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) and a negligence claim under state law. Plaintiff also alleged disability claims against both the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) and the doctor (collectively, “Defendants”). Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 58. The Court finds it appropriate to rule on the motion without oral argument. See Local Rule 230(g). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the motion in relation to Plaintiff's federal claims. The Court declines to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claim and DISMISSES it.


         Plaintiff's incarceration relevant to this suit spanned from 2009 until 2016, when he was paroled. ECF Nos. 7 at ¶ 22, 58-1 at 1, 4; 58-4 at DX K. Prior to this period of incarceration, according to Plaintiff's self-reported medical history and record evidence, he had surgeries for various knee problems in 2000, 2008, and 2009.[1] ECF Nos. 58-3 at DX I 7, 61-2 at ¶ 2. In August of 2013, Plaintiff received his first medically-approved chrono assigning him to a lower bunk. ECF No. 58-3 at DX I 168-169. The chrono was issued on a temporary basis of six months and was renewed three additional times, with the last renewal occurring in January 2015. ECF No. 58-4 at DX I 200-201, 235, 238, 267-68. On July 31, 2015, Plaintiff's chrono was revoked by Janina Meissner-Frisk, D.O. (“Frisk”), a health care provider at Plaintiff's prison. Id. at DX I 296. Defendant Frisk took the action after CDCR requested that lower bunk chronos issued to inmates not on the Armstrong Disability Placement Plan[2], [3] (“DPP”) be reviewed to ensure their compliance with established medical criteria. ECF Nos. 7 at ¶ 28; 58-3 at EX E; 58-6 at ¶ 8. The next day after Plaintiff's chrono was rescinded, August 1, 2015, Plaintiff reported to the prison's medical staff that his knee had locked up while climbing to his upper bunk, resulting in Plaintiff falling and injuring his right knee. ECF No. 58-4 at DX I 297-302.

         Plaintiff's medical records from the incident reflect no visible bruising, redness, or swelling; however, Plaintiff reported significant pain. ECF No. 58-4 at DX I 301. Plaintiff's X-rays also were “completely normal.” Id. at DX I 308. Plaintiff was issued a temporary lower bunk chrono for seven days, given crutches and instructions for following up with medical staff. Id. at DX I 300, 302. On August 19, 2015, during one of his follow up visits, Plaintiff met with Defendant Frisk. Id. at DXI 308. At this appointment, authorization for an MRI was requested, a knee brace was ordered for Plaintiff, and he was given a treatment plan that included, among other things, anti-inflammatory medication and the reinstatement of his lower bunk chrono. Id. at DX I 308-312. The MRI of Plaintiff's right knee was completed on September 28, 2015. ECF No. 61-2 at PX2 48.

         On October 5, 2015, the results of Plaintiff's MRI were reviewed with him. ECF No. 58-4 at DX I 315. The report prepared after Plaintiff's MRI, presumably completed by a radiologist, indicated an ACL tear, and medial and lateral menisci tears to Plaintiff's right knee. ECF No. 61-2 at PX 2 48. Plaintiff was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who saw Plaintiff on December 22, 2015. ECF Nos. 58-4 at DX I 315-317, 342; 61-2 at PX2 53-55. That specialist contradicted the radiologist's findings, asserting that there was no ACL tear and only a medial meniscus tear that was likely the result of Plaintiff's previous surgery. ECF Nos. 58-4 at DX I 342; 61-2 at PX2 53-55. Plaintiff was advised to use a knee brace, take anti-inflammatories, and to follow up in six-months' time. ECF Nos. 61-2 at PX2 55; 58-4 at DX I 346. Plaintiff contends that the orthopedic surgeon reviewed the wrong MRI, reading a later-taken MRI of Plaintiff's left knee, dated November 23, 2015, rather than his right knee MRI. ECF Nos. 7 at ¶¶ 46-47; 61-2 at PX2 49. Plaintiff was paroled in May 2016, before he could be seen for a six-month follow up examination with the orthopedic surgeon. ECF Nos. 58-4 at DX K 28-30; 61-2 at PX2 5.

         Sometime after being released, Plaintiff began working as an electrician. ECF No. 58-4 at DX M. While at a job site on January 6, 2017, he sprained his right knee. Id. at DX M 2. Medical records from Plaintiff's consultations indicate he reported no previous relevant injury to his right knee stemming from his alleged upper bunk fall. Id. at DX M 31, 35. They also indicate a suspected partial ACL tear and sprain characterized as work-related from the January 2017 incident. Id. at DX M 31, 51-53. The orthopedist recommended a course of physical therapy. Id. at DX M 53.

         Plaintiff brings a § 1983 denial of medical care claim against Frisk, as well as a negligence claim against her under California law, for both the rescission of the chrono and his medical treatment after his alleged upper bunk fall. ECF No. 7. Plaintiff also brings a claim against both CDCR and Frisk, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Rehabilitation Act (“RA”). Id. Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. ECF No. 58. Plaintiff opposes. ECF No. 61.

         Additional details and facts will be supplied as needed.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a “court shall grant summary judgment if the movant 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). At summary judgment, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. See Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         A fact is “material” if its proof or disproof is essential to an element of a plaintiff's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by its own affidavits or discovery, set forth specific facts showing that there is some genuine issue for trial in order to defeat the motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 250.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         As litigants have previously been advised, due to the Court's extraordinary caseload, the Court will not discuss exhaustively every aspect of the motion. With few exceptions, only the arguments raised by the parties are addressed, and the Court's analysis and explanations are limited to those issues and facts necessary for decision.

         A. The § 1983 Denial of Medical Care Claim

         Defendant Frisk contends that summary judgment should be granted to her because she was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiffs medical needs as a matter of law. ECF No. 58 at 6-7. As a result, Plaintiff cannot demonstrate, and has not demonstrated, that the course of knee treatment and chrono rescission were medically unacceptable under the circumstances or that Defendant chose the course of treatment and chrono rescission in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to Plaintiffs health. Id.

         Plaintiff opposes, arguing that three things demonstrate Defendant's indifference under the law: her disregard for the medical opinion of doctors who had previously issued chronos to Plaintiff, her failure to conduct an examination of Plaintiff s knees prior to rescinding the chrono, and her denial of “corrective surgery or any rehabilitation to repair Plaintiffs knee.” ECF No. 61 at 4-8.

         1. Law

         “Section 1983 provides for liability against any person acting under color of law who deprives another ‘of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States.” S. Cal. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 887 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). The section “ ‘is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.' ” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). It requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of a defendant and the constitutional deprivations alleged to have been suffered by the plaintiff. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The Ninth Circuit has held that “[a] person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if [s]he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which [s]he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

         “A prison official's ‘deliberate indifference' to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994). To establish a violation, “a plaintiff must satisfy both an objective standard-that the deprivation was serious enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment-and a subjective standard-deliberate indifference.” Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2012), overruled on other grounds by Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076 (9th Cir. 2014). If delay or failure to treat a prisoner's serious medical need results in “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, ” the objective standard is met. Id. (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). The objective standard also is met when “failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury.” McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

         As to the subjective standard, “[i]ndifference ‘may appear when prison officials deny, delay or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or it may be shown by the way in which prison physicians provide medical care.' ” Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050 (9th Cir.1991), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., 104 F.3d 1133. A prison official is deliberately indifferent “only if the [prison official] knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health and safety.” Gibson v. Cty. of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1187 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted), overruled on other grounds by Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016). “Under this standard, the prison official must not only ‘be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists,' but that person ‘must also draw the inference.' ” Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). Put in other words, a “plaintiff must show that the course of treatment the doctors chose was medically unacceptable under the circumstances and that the defendants chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to the plaintiff's health.” Hamby v. Hammond, 821 F.3d 1085, 1092 (9th Cir. 2016) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Snow, 681 F.3d at 988), overruled in part on other grounds by Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc)). “[M]ere malpractice, or even gross negligence, does not suffice.” Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835-36 & n.4.

         2. Deliberate Indifference under the Denial of Medical Care Claims

         a. The ...

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