Clinton v. Grounds et al

Filing 26

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. Signed by Judge Richard Seeborg on 9/16/11. (Attachments: # 1 Appendix Certificate of Service)(cl, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 9/16/2011)

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1 2 *E-Filed 9/16/11* 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 SAN FRANCISCO DIVISION 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 MARTIN CLINTON, 11 Plaintiff, 12 13 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT v. RANDY GROUNDS, ET AL. Defendants. 14 / 15 INTRODUCTION 16 17 Plaintiff Martin Clinton is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action 18 brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which he alleges that defendants, employees of Soledad 19 State Prison, were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth 20 Amendment. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, 21 defendants’ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to all claims against all 22 defendants. 23 BACKGROUND 24 The facts of this case are undisputed. Plaintiff injured his left pinky finger on 25 December 22, 2009 when he fell and “jammed” that finger. The next day, he was sent to the 26 Triage Treatment Area, a clinic for urgent and emergency medical situations, to receive 27 treatment for the injured finger. (Compl. at 7.) Defendant Elizabeth Leary, a Registered 28 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING MOT. FOR SUMM. J. 1 Nurse, gave plaintiff an ice pack, and scheduled plaintiff for a sick call on December 28, in 2 case follow-up treatment was required. The next day, December 24, plaintiff returned to the 3 clinic, requesting an x-ray. Leary told him that neither a doctor nor an x-ray technician was 4 available, as it was Christmas Eve. Leary observed that plaintiff’s jammed finger was 5 bruised, but not excessively swollen or discolored. She concluded that plaintiff’s situation 6 was not an emergency. (Defs.’ Mot. for Summ J. (“MSJ”), Leary Decl. ¶ 4.) 7 On December 28, as scheduled, plaintiff was seen during a sick call by Valiente, a 8 nurse. She noted that there was swelling and bruising, and that plaintiff experienced 9 “discomfort.” (Reply to MSJ (“Reply”), Ex. A.) Valiente requested an x-ray, which was United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 performed on December 30. It showed two fractures of the left fifth (pinky) finger. (Id.) A 11 splint was applied to immobilize the finger, and plaintiff was referred to an orthopedic 12 specialist for therapy. Subsequent x-rays on January 21, January 27, and February 8 revealed 13 that the fractures had not healed. (Id.; Pl’s Resp. to MSJ, Ex. A.) 14 By March 9, 2010, the plaintiff’s condition had not improved, and the specialist 15 referred plaintiff to a hand surgeon, who recommended surgery. Plaintiff underwent hand 16 surgery on April 12. The hand surgeon recommended outpatient physical therapy beginning 17 April 21, which continued to be recommended in patient notes on May 19, June 7, July 19, 18 and July 30. (Reply, Ex. A.) 19 In a July 30 note, a doctor observed that the “fifth digit continues to be a problem.” 20 Plaintiff was scheduled for another surgery to gain more mobility in the hand, which was 21 performed on September 16. By November 23, plaintiff still had limited use of his left hand. 22 A note dated February 7, 2011 observed that “fifth digit pain persists.” (Id.) 23 24 25 DISCUSSION I. Standard of Review Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery and affidavits 26 demonstrate that there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party 27 is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Material facts are those 28 2 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING MOT. FOR SUMM. J. 1 which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 2 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a 3 reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of identifying those 4 5 portions of the pleadings, discovery and affidavits which demonstrate the absence of a 6 genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where 7 the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, it must affirmatively 8 demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. On an 9 issue for which the opposing party by contrast will have the burden of proof at trial, as is the United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 case here, the moving party need only point out “that there is an absence of evidence to 11 support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325. 12 Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond 13 the pleadings and, by its own affidavits or discovery, “set forth specific facts showing that 14 there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The court is only concerned with 15 disputes over material facts and “factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not 16 be counted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. It is not the task of the court to scour the record in 17 search of a genuine issue of triable fact. Keenan v. Allen, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 18 1996). The nonmoving party has the burden of identifying, with reasonable particularity, the 19 evidence that precludes summary judgment. Id. If the nonmoving party fails to make this 20 showing, “the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 21 323. 22 II. 23 Claims Deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s serious medical needs violates the Eighth 24 Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 25 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). A determination of “deliberate indifference” involves an 26 examination of two elements: the seriousness of the prisoner’s medical needs and the nature 27 of the defendant’s response to those needs. McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th 28 3 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING MOT. FOR SUMM. J. 1 Cir. 1992) (overruled on other grounds, WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 2 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc)). 3 A prison official is deliberately indifferent if he knows that a prisoner faces a 4 substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable steps to 5 abate it. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U. S. 825, 837 (1994) (equating standard with that of 6 criminal recklessness). The prison official must not only “be aware of facts from which the 7 inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists,” but “must also draw 8 the inference.” Id. Consequently, in order for deliberate indifference to be established, there 9 must exist both a purposeful act or failure to act on the part of the defendant and harm United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 resulting therefrom. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060. 11 In order to prevail on a claim of deliberate indifference to medical needs, a plaintiff 12 must establish that the course of treatment the doctors chose was “medically unacceptable 13 under the circumstances” and that they embarked on this course in “conscious disregard of an 14 excessive risk to plaintiff’s health.” See Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1058–60 (9th Cir. 15 2004). A claim of mere negligence related to medical problems, or a difference of opinion 16 between a prisoner patient and a medical doctor, is not enough to make out a violation of the 17 Eighth Amendment. Id.; Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981). 18 A. 19 Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. The undisputed Leary 20 record shows that plaintiff received appropriate and reasonably timely medical treatment. On 21 December 23, the day after plaintiff was injured, Leary gave him an ice pack, Motrin, and 22 scheduled him for a follow-up exam. Plaintiff received a follow-up exam on December 28, 23 the first day after the Christmas holidays that the patient could have been seen for a non- 24 emergency. (December 24, 2009 was a Thursday, and December 25 a Friday. December 28, 25 a Monday, was the next business day.) Over the next eight months, plaintiff received four x- 26 rays, saw an orthopedic specialist on numerous occasions, and underwent two surgeries to 27 regain mobility in his left hand. These actions show that defendants were aware of plaintiff’s 28 4 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING MOT. FOR SUMM. J. 1 condition, and sought to treat it, rather than reflecting deliberate indifference. 2 The sole evidence plaintiff provides, in addition to his own declaration, is an affidavit 3 from his mother, in which she states that plaintiff’s left hand was discolored when she visited 4 him at the beginning of December. (Pl.’s Opp. to MSJ at 4.) This evidence does not support 5 his claims. Not only does it represent duplicative information, it fails to indicate that the 6 medical treatment was constitutionally inadequate. 7 Plaintiff contends that, had his finger been x-rayed earlier, it would be in better 8 condition than it is now. (Compl. at 26–28.) That officials did not act as quickly as plaintiff 9 desired is not sufficient to demonstrate deliberate indifference. Walker v. Benjamin, 293 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 F.3d 1030, 1038 (7th Cir. 2002) (a delay in treatment that is not within the doctor’s control 11 does not constitute deliberate indifference). When plaintiff returned the next day requesting 12 an x-ray, Leary concluded that the condition of plaintiff’s finger was not an emergency and 13 did not require calling a doctor and x-ray technician. A disagreement between the patient 14 and a physician over treatment options does not approach deliberate indifference unless the 15 plaintiff can show that the physician’s treatment was “medically unacceptable under the 16 circumstances” and was chosen “in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to [the 17 prisoner's] health.” Toguchi, 391 F.3d at 1058. Not providing an x-ray was medically 18 acceptable under the circumstances, especially given that it was Christmas Eve, when staff 19 would reasonably be in short supply. The fact that plaintiff as opposed to Leary believed his 20 injured finger to be an emergency does not show that the latter acted with conscious 21 disregard of an excessive risk to plaintiff’s health, particularly given that plaintiff received an 22 x-ray and follow-up treatment within a few days. 23 Plaintiff also claims he was “denied proper therapy” after his first surgery (Compl. at 24 7), but defendants have demonstrated that there is sufficient evidence to show plaintiff did in 25 fact receive significant post-operative outpatient physical therapy (see Reply, Ex. A). This 26 situation, again, shows nothing more than a disagreement over a particular choice of 27 treatment and does not demonstrate deliberate indifference. See Toguchi, 391 F.3d at 1058. 28 5 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING MOT. FOR SUMM. J. 1 Plaintiff has therefore failed to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue 2 for trial.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment as to Leary 3 is GRANTED. 4 B. 5 Plaintiff’s claims against Dr. Chudy, who never treated plaintiff, are based on Dr. 6 Chudy’s status as Leary’s supervisor. As plaintiff has not shown that Leary violated his 7 Eighth Amendment rights, his claims against Dr. Chudy necessarily fail. Accordingly, the 8 motion for summary judgment as to Dr. Chudy is GRANTED. 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 C. Dr. Chudy Randy Grounds Plaintiff’s allegations against Grounds appear to rest on a theory similar to those 11 against Dr. Chudy; that is, that Grounds is Leary’s supervisor. As plaintiff has not shown 12 that Leary violated his Eighth Amendment rights, his claims against Grounds necessarily fail. 13 Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment as to Grounds is GRANTED. 14 15 CONCLUSION Plaintiff having failed to show that there are triable issues of material fact as to any of 16 his claims, defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 17) is GRANTED as to 17 all claims against defendants Elizabeth Leary, J. Chudy, and Randy Grounds. Plaintiff’s 18 claims against RN Carlos, J. Walker, and Dr. Pompan are DISMISSED WITHOUT 19 PREJUDICE, as service was not effected upon them. The Clerk shall enter judgment in 20 favor of all defendants as to all claims, terminate Docket No. 17, and close the file. 21 IT IS SO ORDERED. 22 DATED: September 16, 2011 23 RICHARD SEEBORG United States District Judge 24 25 26 27 28 6 No. C 10-4267 RS (PR) ORDER GRANTING MOT. FOR SUMM. J.

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