Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cisneros v. Vangilder

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 13, 2020

DANIEL CISNEROS, Plaintiff,
v.
J. VANGILDER, et al., Defendants. DANIEL MANRIQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
J. VANGILDER, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT CUPP'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW RE: DKT. NO. 214 RE: DKT. NO. 217

          HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Sergeant Scott Cupp's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, following a jury trial in two related matters, Cisneros v. Vangilder, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, and Manriquez v. Vangilder, No. 16-cv-1320-HSG. The Court held a hearing on the motion on December 11, 2019. See Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 219. For the reasons detailed below, the Court GRANTS the motion, finding that Defendant Cupp is entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an incident that occurred on June 4, 2015, in the Pelican Bay State Prison. At the time of the incident, Plaintiffs Daniel Cisneros and Daniel Manriquez were prisoners being housed at Pelican Bay, while Defendants were Pelican Bay corrections officers with various responsibilities regarding the supervision of Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs' housing unit, including: Defendant Justin Vangilder (the unit's control booth officer), Defendant Juan Vasquez (the unit's floor officer), and Defendant Scott Cupp (a sergeant, who had primary supervisory responsibility for the unit). See, e.g., Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 202 at 17-18; Dkt. No. 208 at 44:3-18, 50:22-53:6; 215:18-20; 217:12-218:8; 241:7-19. On the date of the incident, at approximately 5:00 p.m., while Plaintiffs were in their cells, a chemical grenade discharged in the control booth of the housing unit. Id.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiffs brought a claim against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to, and/or a serious medical need of Plaintiffs. See Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 55 at ¶¶ 50-55. Plaintiffs also alleged that Defendants Vangilder and Vazquez were negligent, and that their negligence was a substantial factor in causing Plaintiffs harm. Id. at ¶¶ 38-41. A jury trial was held on these claims beginning on June 19, 2019. See id., Dkt. Nos. 203, 204.

         During trial, Plaintiffs testified that vapors from a T-16 oleoresin capsicum chemical grenade, which Defendant Vangilder had discharged in the control booth, entered their cells, causing them pain and suffering. Plaintiff Cisneros testified that he experienced myriad symptoms, including difficulty breathing, coughing, gagging, and a burning sensation in his eyes, nose, and throat. See, e.g., id., Dkt. No. 211 at 217:12-218:8. Similarly, Plaintiff Manriquez testified that he couldn't breathe, was “gagging, coughing, choking, ” and was panicking because he felt a burning sensation in his nose and throat and he couldn't breathe. Id., Dkt. No. 208 at 52:6-53:15. Plaintiffs and their witnesses testified that the prisoners were yelling “man down, ” a term used in the prison to solicit help from the guards. See, e.g., id. at 220:3-20. Plaintiffs and their witnesses further testified that, after feeling the effects of the chemical agent, they and other prisoners repeatedly requested medical attention and the opportunity to exit their cells and decontaminate, but Defendants ignored their requests. See, e.g., id., Dkt. No. 208 at 54:12-57:10; Dkt. No. 211 at 221:1-224:9. Defendants denied that Plaintiffs (or any other prisoners) requested any medical attention or the opportunity to exit their cells and decontaminate. See id., Dkt. No. 209 at 380:9-381:9, 401:1-13; 430:10-17.

         The testimony further established that after Defendant Vangilder discharged the T-16 chemical grenade, he called his supervisor, Defendant Cupp. See Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 209 at 374:18-375:17; 413:4-414:6. He told Defendant Cupp that the T-16 canister malfunctioned and deployed. Id. Defendant Cupp told Defendant Vangilder to see a nurse for a medical check. See Id. at 379:9-17. Defendant Cupp also took the T-16 canister from Defendant Vangilder, who by that point had put it inside a bag. See Id. at 374:2-25; 465:23-466:16. Defendant Cupp took the bag containing the chemical grenade outside because Defendant Vangilder had told him it only partially deployed. See Id. at 466:17-467:14. Once outside, Defendant Cupp removed the pin and released the spoon from the chemical grenade to fully deploy it. See Id. at 431:1-9, 466:17-467:14. Defendant Cupp testified that he was present for approximately five to ten minutes. See Id. at 467:15-18. He then left and took the spent canister to the prison's armory, which disposed of the spent canister and replaced it with a new one. See Id. at 469:15-470:22. He did not check on the prisoners, and testified that he did not hear anyone coughing or needing assistance. See Id. at 467:19-468:19; 482:13-486:10. Nor did Defendant Cupp ask the other officers to check on the prisoners in the housing unit to determine if they needed any medical attention. See id.; see also id., Dkt. No. 208 at 249:2-25.

         At the end of Plaintiffs' case-in-chief, Defendant Cupp moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) on qualified immunity grounds. See id., Dkt. No. 211 at 274:18-23, 289:17- 298:10. The Court took the Rule 50(a) motion under submission. See Id. In deferring ruling on the motion, the Court instructed the parties to submit special interrogatories for the jury to resolve certain facts relevant to the issue of whether Defendant Cupp was entitled to qualified immunity. Id.

         On June 21, 2019, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both Plaintiffs. See id., Dkt. No. 206; see also Manriquez, No. 16-cv-1320-HSG, Dkt. No. 209. The jury: (1) found Defendant Vangilder was negligent, and awarded Plaintiff $1, 000 each in damages to compensate Plaintiffs for their claims against him; (2) found Defendant Vazquez was both negligent and deliberately indifferent, and awarded Plaintiffs $1, 500 each in damages to compensate Plaintiffs for their claims against him; and (3) found Defendant Cupp was deliberately indifferent, and awarded Plaintiffs $2, 500 each in damages to compensate Plaintiffs for their claims against him. See Id. Thus, in total, the jury awarded Plaintiffs $5, 000 each. Id. However, in response to the special interrogatories included on the verdict form, the jury found that Defendant Cupp was neither aware that Plaintiffs suffered harmful effects from exposure to the chemical grenade, nor did he know that Defendants' ventilation efforts were inadequate. See Id. at 4, 6. It is on the basis of these responses that Defendant Cupp now moves the Court for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), and in the alternative, for judgment notwithstanding the verdict under Rule 49(b)(3)(C). See Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 214.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “[A] party must make a Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law before a case is submitted to the jury. If the judge denies or defers ruling on the motion, and if the jury then returns a verdict against the moving party, the party may renew its motion under Rule 50(b).” Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009). In considering a Rule 50(b) motion that reasserts arguments presented in a Rule 50(a) motion, a court must uphold the jury's verdict if “substantial evidence” supports the jury's conclusion. Castro v. Cty of L.A., 833 F.3d 1060, 1066 (9th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence means “evidence adequate to support the jury's conclusion, even if it is also possible to draw a contrary conclusion” from the same evidence. Id. (quotations omitted). A court should only grant a Rule 50(b) motion if, after construing all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the record “permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is contrary to the jury's verdict.” Id. (quotations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant Cupp renews his Rule 50 motion, again contending that he is entitled to qualified immunity. Defendant urges that, although the jury found him deliberately indifferent to Plaintiffs' serious medical needs following exposure to the T-16 chemical grenade, the jury also specifically found that he (1) was not aware that Plaintiffs suffered harmful effects from the exposure to the chemical grenade and (2) did not know that Defendants' ventilation efforts were inadequate. The Court first addresses Defendant Cupp's qualified immunity argument, then addresses what implications, if any, this has for the damages award to each Plaintiff.

         A. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.