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Reynolds v. Merenda

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 12, 2019

RICHARD LANCE REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
J. MERENDA, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 27

          SUSAN ILLSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this pro se prisoner's civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Richard Lance Reynolds claims that correctional officer Merenda violated Reynolds' Eighth Amendment rights. Merenda now moves for partial summary judgment on the merits of Reynolds' claim and on the defense of qualified immunity. Reynolds does not oppose the motion. For the reasons discussed below, Merenda's motion for partial summary judgment will be granted. The case will be referred to the Pro Se Prisoner Mediation Program.

         BACKGROUND

         Reynolds alleges that Merenda used excessive force on two occasions: (1) during efforts to handcuff Reynolds in the medical area and (2) in Merenda's office, moments after the handcuffing. Only Merenda's actions surrounding Reynolds' handcuffing are at issue in the pending motion. Therefore, only facts related to that incident are described below. Viewed in the light most favorable to Reynolds, [1] the evidence shows the following events occurred while Reynolds was at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad:

         On April 5, 2016, an alarm sounded while Reynolds was exiting the bathroom at the Facility “D” Yard Clinic. Docket No. 1 at 3. After exiting the bathroom, Reynolds was instructed to sit down on the clinic bench. Id. As Reynolds was attempting to comply with these instructions, Merenda yelled at Reynolds: “‘Hey[, ] don't you know you are suppose [sic] to sit down when the alarm is sounding, you stupid Mother Fucker?'” Id.[2] At this point, Reynolds apparently was seated, but after hearing Merenda's comment, Reynolds “jumped up on [his] feet” again and said to Merenda: “Hey, you know what, fuck you, you fucking cock sucker.” Docket No. 27-2 at 15. Reynolds continued to yell at Merenda: “I was in the fucking bathroom, fucking pissing when that fucking alarm went off.” Id. Reynolds stated at his deposition that he “didn't hold [his] lip” and “let [Merenda] have it” for cursing at him. Id. at 16.

         In response to Reynolds' comments and actions, Merenda told Reynolds to put his arms against the wall. Docket No. 1 at 3. Reynolds extended his left arm straight up on the wall. However, Reynolds could only extend his right arm about 90 degrees away from his body and told Merenda that “‘this arm doesn't go up any more. It's fucking titanium.'” Docket No. 27-2 at 18; see also Docket No. 1 at 3. (Although Reynolds states in his complaint his left arm had limited mobility, he testified at his deposition that the problem arm was actually his right arm.) Merenda did not accept Reynolds' claim and attempted to pull Reynolds' right arm up the wall to match the left arm's position. Docket No. 27-2 at 18-19. As Merenda began to move Reynolds' right arm “maybe three [or] four inches” up the wall, Reynolds yelled “it won't go up, [my arm]'s fucking titanium.” Id. at 20-21. Merenda stopped moving Reynolds right arm immediately after Reynolds yelled out. Id. at 22. However, the movement of Reynolds' arm was enough to cause him “severe and extreme pain.” Docket No. 1 at 3; see also Docket No. 27-2 at 24. The pain lasted three to five seconds. Docket No. 27-2 at 26. Merenda then moved both of Reynolds' arms behind Reynolds' back and pushed him through a door. Id. at 22. This action also caused Reynolds discomfort, but Reynolds did not mention it to Merenda. Id. at 24. Reynolds was not physically injured as a result of these actions.

         Once outside, Reynolds was handcuffed. Reynolds believes he was handcuffed by correctional officer Gomez, apparently at Merenda's request. Id. at 23 (“I'm pretty sure Gomez gets involved and he's the one that handcuffed me . . . .”; id. at 25 (“Q. Do you remember who it was who put the handcuffs on? A. I'm almost sure it was Gomez because he is the C.O. that went . . . with [Merenda].”). After being handcuffed, Reynolds was led to Merenda's office. (As noted earlier, Reynolds contends excessive force was used on him in the office also, but Merenda has not moved for summary judgment on that claim.)

         At the relevant time, Reynolds had a titanium shoulder replacement and a titanium rod in his upper arm. Docket No. 27-2 at 11. There is no evidence that having a titanium shoulder replacement or titanium rod necessarily limits a person's range of motion. There also is no evidence that Reynolds had anything visible (such as a brace) that would have suggested to Merenda that Reynolds' range of motion was limited.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery, and affidavits show that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A court will grant summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial . . . since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Generally, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “go beyond the pleadings and by [his or her] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (citations omitted).

         A verified complaint may be used as an opposing affidavit under Rule 56, as long as it is based on personal knowledge and sets forth specific facts admissible in evidence. See Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 460 & nn.10-11 (9th Cir. 1995) (treating plaintiff's verified complaint as opposing affidavit where, even though verification not in conformity with 28 U.S.C. § 1746, plaintiff stated under penalty of perjury that contents were true and correct, and allegations were not based purely on his belief but on his personal knowledge). Here, Reynolds' complaint and amendment thereto (Docket Nos. 1 and 13) were signed under penalty of perjury and the facts in them are considered as evidence for purposes of deciding the motion.

         The court's function on a summary judgment motion is not to make credibility determinations nor to weigh conflicting evidence with respect to a disputed material fact. See T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and the inferences ...


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