United States District Court, E.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO.
LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL, UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE
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incarcerated (“chrono”) was rescinded.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.
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. 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31, 2015, Plaintiff's chrono was revoked by Janina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,  (“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rescinded, August 1, 2015, Plaintiff reported to the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.
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.
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.
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.
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
details and facts will be supplied as needed.
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.
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
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.
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.
The § 1983 Denial of Medical Care
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
Deliberate Indifference under the Denial of Medical Care