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Cortinas v. M. Huerta

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 20, 2019

M. HUERTA, et al., Defendants. Defendants' Undisputed Facts Evidence



         I. BACKGROUND

         Larry William Cortinas (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case now proceeds with the original Complaint, filed on January 30, 2017, against Correctional Officer (C/O) J. Scalia, and C/O M. Huerta (“Defendants”) for use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment.[1] (ECF No. 1.)

         On July 24, 2019, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the undisputed facts show that Plaintiff's claims are barred under the favorable termination doctrine in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994).[2] (ECF No. 51.) On August 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion. (ECF Nos. 55-56.) On August 13, 2019, Defendants filed a reply. (ECF No. 57.) The motion is deemed submitted. Local Rule 230(l).

         For the reasons set forth below, the court concludes that Plaintiff's case is not barred by Heck and recommends that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be denied.


         Any party may move for summary judgment, and the 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) (quotation marks omitted); Washington Mut. Inc. v. U.S., 636 F.3d 1207, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). Each party's position, whether it be that a fact is disputed or undisputed, must be supported by (1) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including but not limited to depositions, documents, declarations, or discovery; or (2) showing that the materials cited do not establish the presence or absence of a genuine dispute or that the opposing party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1) (quotation marks omitted). The court may consider other materials in the record not cited to by the parties, but it is not required to do so. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001); accord Simmons v. Navajo Cnty., Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Defendant does not bear the burden of proof at trial and in moving for summary judgment, he only needs to prove an absence of evidence to support Plaintiff's case. In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986)). If Defendants meet their initial burden, the burden then shifts to Plaintiff “to designate specific facts demonstrating the existence of genuine issues for trial.” In re Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323). This requires Plaintiff to “show more than the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986)).

         In judging the evidence at the summary judgment stage, the court may not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence, Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and citation omitted), and it must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and determine whether a genuine issue of material fact precludes entry of judgment, Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach, 657 F.3d 936, 942 (9th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The court determines only whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         In arriving at these findings and recommendations, the court carefully reviewed and considered all arguments, points and authorities, declarations, exhibits, statements of undisputed facts and responses thereto, if any, objections, and other papers filed by the parties. Omission of reference to an argument, document, paper, or objection is not to be construed to the effect that this court did not consider the argument, document, paper, or objection. This court thoroughly reviewed and considered the evidence it deemed admissible, material, and appropriate.


         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated at California State Prison-Sacramento in Represa, California. The events at issue in the Complaint allegedly occurred at Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California, when Plaintiff was incarcerated there in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

         Plaintiff's allegations of excessive force follow:

         On December 31, 2014, at approximately 10:00 a.m., C/O Huerta ordered Plaintiff to exit his cell so his cable box could be fixed. C/O Huerta handcuffed Plaintiff per policy, then escorted him roughly 20 feet to the shower. The handcuffs were left on. After about 10 minutes, C/O Huerta and C/O Scalia ordered Plaintiff to back out of the shower. C/O Huerta placed a “controlled arm bar hold[, g]ripping both my thumbs.” (ECF No. 1 at 4.) As Plaintiff approached his cell's open door, C/O Scalia and C/O Huerta slammed Plaintiff into the wall. C/O Huerta applied his estimated 280 pounds into Plaintiff's back, while C/O Scalia pulled Plaintiff's right [leg] out from under him. C/O Huerta landed on Plaintiff's back as Plaintiff was slammed onto the concrete floor. C/O Scalia grabbed Plaintiff's hair and beard and slammed his face into the floor by lifting up Plaintiff's head by the hair. C/O Scalia then placed his knee on Plaintiff's neck and pounded Plaintiff's head into the concrete floor 10 times as he said, “You like this.” (ECF No. 1 at 5.) After the tenth time Plaintiff lost consciousness. He had a lemon-size knot on his left temple, a black eye, dizziness, ears ringing for two days, and vomiting. Only due to the control tower's alertness was an alarm sounded. For two weeks Plaintiff was denied medical treatment. He still suffers back and neck pain.

         Plaintiff requests monetary damages and injunctive relief.


         A. Excessive Force

         “What is necessary to show sufficient harm for purposes of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause [of the Eighth Amendment] depends upon the claim at issue . . . .” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992). “The objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim is . . . contextual and responsive to contemporary standards of decency.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The malicious and sadistic use of force to cause harm always violates contemporary standards of decency, regardless of whether or not significant injury is evident. Id. at 9; see also Oliver v. Keller, 289 F.3d 623, 628 (9th Cir. 2002) (Eighth Amendment excessive force standard examines de minimis uses of force, not de minimis injuries)). However, not “every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action.” Id. at 9.“The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort ‘repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” Id. at 9-10 (internal quotations marks and citations omitted).

         “[W]henever prison officials stand accused of using excessive physical force in violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, the core judicial inquiry is . . . whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Id. at 7. “In determining whether the use of force was wanton and unnecessary, it may also be proper to evaluate the need for application of force, the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, the threat reasonably perceived by the responsible officials, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “The absence of serious injury is . . . relevant to the Eighth Amendment inquiry, but does not end it.” Id.

         B. Heck v. Humphrey[4] - Favorable Termination Rule

         “A state prisoner cannot use a § 1983 action to challenge the ‘fact or duration of his confinement,' because such an action lies at the ‘core of habeas corpus.'” Simpson v. Thomas, 528 F.3d 685, 693 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973)). Thus, where a § 1983 action seeking damages alleges constitutional violations that would necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence, the prisoner must first establish that the underlying sentence or conviction has already been invalidated on appeal, by a habeas petition, or terminated in his favor via some other similar proceeding. Heck, 512 U.S. at 438-37. This “favorable termination” rule applies to prison disciplinary proceedings, if those proceedings resulted in the loss of good-time or behavior credits. Balisok, 520 U.S. at 646-48 (holding that claim for monetary and declaratory relief challenging validity of procedures used to deprive prisoner of good-time credits is not cognizable under § 1983); see also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (explaining that “a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation) no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration” (emphasis omitted)). Stated another way, a § 1983 claim is barred if the “plaintiff could prevail only by negating ‘an element of the offense of which he has been convicted.'” Cunningham v. Gates, 312 F.3d 1148, 1153-54 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n. 6). However, when the § 1983 claim does not necessarily implicate the underlying disciplinary action (or criminal conviction), it may proceed. See Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 754-55 (2004).

         C. Sham Declaration

         “‘The general rule in the Ninth Circuit is that a party cannot create an issue of fact by an affidavit contradicting his prior deposition testimony.'” Yeager v. Bowlin, 693 F.3d 1076, 1081 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Van Asdale v. International Game Technology, 577 F.3d at 998 (quoting Kennedy v. Allied Mut. Ins. Co., 952 F.2d 262, 266 (9th Cir. 1991)). This sham affidavit rule prevents “a party who has been examined at length on deposition” from “rais[ing] an issue of fact simply by submitting an affidavit contradicting his own prior testimony, ” which “would greatly diminish the utility of summary judgment as a procedure for screening out sham issues of fact.” Yeager, 693 F.3d at 1081 (quoting Kennedy, 952 F.2d at 266 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Van Asdale, 577 F.3d at 998 (stating that some form of the sham affidavit rule is necessary to maintain the principle that summary judgment is an integral part of the federal rules)). But the sham affidavit rule “‘should be applied with caution'” because it is in tension with the principle that the court is not to make credibility determinations when granting or denying summary judgment. Van Asdale, 577 F.3d at 998 (quoting Sch. Dist. No. 1J v. AC and S, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1264 (9th Cir.1993)). In order to trigger the sham affidavit rule, the district court must make a factual determination that the contradiction is a sham, and the “inconsistency between a party's deposition testimony and subsequent affidavit must be clear and unambiguous to justify striking the affidavit.” Van Asdale, 557 F.3d at 998-99.

         Newly-remembered facts, or new facts, accompanied by a reasonable explanation, should not ordinarily lead to the striking of a declaration as a sham. Yeager, 693 F.3d at 1081 (citing see Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 806-07, 119 S.Ct. 1597, 143 L.Ed.2d 966 (1999) (stating the general rule that parties may explain or attempt to resolve contradictions with an explanation that is sufficiently reasonable)). '"[T]he non-moving party is not precluded from elaborating upon, explaining or clarifying prior testimony elicited by opposing counsel on deposition and minor inconsistencies that result from an honest discrepancy, a mistake, or newly discovered evidence afford no basis for excluding an opposition affidavit.'" (Yeager, 693 F.3d at 1081 (quoting Van Asdale, 577 F.3d at 999 (quoting Messick v. Horizon Indus., 62 F.3d 1227, 1231 (9th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted).


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