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Mata v. Douglas

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 28, 2018

EDGARDO MATA, Plaintiff,
v.
AARON DOUGLAS et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ORDER GRANTING IN PART [98] DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DAVID NUFFER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Edgardo Mata, an inmate at Utah State Prison (USP), seeks relief for alleged civil-rights violations by state employees regarding his conditions of confinement. See 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (2018). In his Amended Complaint, (Doc. No. 33), Plaintiff names as defendants: Alfred Bigelow (warden), Craig Buchannon (gang sergeant), Joseph Coombs (physician assistant), Scott Crowther (warden), Aaron Douglas (nurse), FNU Harris (gang sergeant), Jason Hutchinson (sergeant), Jason Nicholes (captain), Dustin Nielson (housing officer), Christopher North (narcotics agent), FNU Rentmiester (gang sergeant), Sidney G. Roberts (doctor), Dallas Ray (lieutenant), Dane Thurston (physician assistant), Pete Walters (gang investigator), Ronald Wilson (captain), and Kelly Worley (gang sergeant).

         The Amended Complaint contains claims of inadequate medical treatment regarding knee injury and mental health (Eighth Amendment); retaliation (First Amendment); failure to protect (Eight Amendment); and, due-process and equal-protection violations as to gang and housing classification.[1]

         Defendants now move for summary judgment. As explained below, the Court grants the motion in part. But, first, the Court screens out Plaintiff's claim of inadequate mental-health treatment.

         I. SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

         A. GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL

         In evaluating the propriety of dismissing claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, this Court takes all well-pleaded factual assertions as true and regards them in a light most advantageous to the plaintiff. Ridge at Red Hawk L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). Dismissal is appropriate when, viewing those facts as true, the plaintiff has not posed a "plausible" right to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247-48 (10th Cir. 2008). "The burden is on the plaintiff to frame a 'complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' that he or she is entitled to relief." Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). When a civil-rights complaint contains "bare assertions," involving "nothing more than a 'formulaic recitation of the elements' of a constitutional . . . claim," the Court considers those assertions "conclusory and not entitled to" an assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1951 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-55). In other words, "the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims." Red Hawk, 493 F.3d at 1177 (italics in original).

         This Court must construe pro se "'pleadings liberally,' applying a less stringent standard than is applicable to pleadings filed by lawyers. Th[e] court, however, will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf." Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). In the Tenth Circuit, this means that if this Court can reasonably read the pleadings "to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). Still, it is not "the proper function of the district court to assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant." Id.; see also Peterson v. Shanks, 149 F.3d 1140, 1143 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1197 (10th Cir. 1989) (per curiam)).

         B. AFFIRMATIVE LINK

         The complaint must clearly state what each individual defendant did to violate Plaintiff's civil rights. See Bennett v. Passic, 545 F.2d 1260, 1262-63 (10th Cir. 1976) (stating personal participation of each defendant is essential allegation). "To state a claim, a complaint must 'make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom.'" Stone v. Albert, No. 08-2222, slip op. at 4 (10th Cir. July 20, 2009) (unpublished) (emphasis in original) (quoting Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1250 (10th Cir. 2008)).

         C. CLAIM NOT LINKED TO NAMED DEFENDANT

         The Amended Complaint has a section entitled, “Plaintiff is being denied necessary mental health treatment. (Am. Compl., Doc. No. 33, at 46.) In it, he details his attempts, between June 22 and September 13, 2016, to see a psychiatrist. (Id. at 46-47.) He identifies people he spoke with and wrote to requesting to see a psychiatrist. (Id. at 46-47.) However, he does not link his failed efforts to any of the named defendants. The lack of an affirmative link to named defendants renders this potential claim invalid and it is dismissed.

         II. SUMMARY-JUDGMENT STANDARD

         This Court shall grant summary judgment when “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). A party may support factual assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Id. at 56(c)(1). Summary judgment's purpose “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         The movant has the “initial burden to demonstrate an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-movant's case.” Johnson v. City of Bountiful, 996 F.Supp. 1100, 1102 (D. Utah 1998). Once movant meets this burden, “the burden then shifts to the non-movant to make a showing sufficient to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the existence of that element.” Id. To do so, the non-movant must “go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of a trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). In ruling on a summary-judgment motion, this Court must “examine the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000).

         This Court notified Plaintiff that, in response to a summary-judgment motion, “Plaintiff cannot rest upon the mere allegations in the complaint. Instead . . . Plaintiff must allege specific facts, admissible in evidence, showing that there is a genuine issue remaining for trial.” (Docket No. 11, at 5-6.)

         Defendants' assertion of qualified immunity modifies the summary-judgment review. Asserting qualified immunity, a state employee creates a rebuttable presumption that she is immune from the plaintiff's § 1983 claims. See Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1129 (10th Cir. 2001). And rather than “focus[ing] on the existence of genuine disputes of material fact, ” the court must “'determine whether plaintiff's factual allegations are sufficiently grounded in the record such that they may permissibly comprise the universe of facts that will serve as the foundation for answering the legal questions before the court.'” Spencer v. Abbott, No. 16-4009, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 24668, at *10 n.6 (10th Cir. Dec. 5, 2017) (unpublished) (emphasis in original) (quoting Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1243 (10th Cir. 2015)).

         The qualified immunity analysis has two parts: first, whether, under the facts alleged by the plaintiff, the government officials violated a constitutional right; and second, “whether the right at issue was ‘clearly established' at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either element of his burden, the court must grant the defendant qualified immunity. See Medina, 252 F.3d at 1128.

         If the material facts are not disputed, the question of immunity “is a legal one for the court to decide.” Gomes v. Wood, 451 F.3d 1122, 1136 (10th Cir. 2006). Such is the case here.

         A. INADEQUATE-MEDICAL-TREATMENT CLAIMS

         The claims here are based on Plaintiff's circumstances after he hurt his left knee on September 4, 2013. (Am. Compl., Doc. No. 33, at 8.) During the following months, he sought treatment from USP medical personnel.

         The defendants involved here are Coombs, Douglas, Roberts and Thurston. The deprivations that Plaintiff alleges are as follows:

(1) from November 18, 2013 to December 1, 2013, failure to admit him to the infirmary as he requested (Defendants Coombs, Douglas and Roberts); and
(2) from November 18, 2013 to December 2, 2013, denial of treatment for postoperative period and for shower fall--e.g., pain medication, durable medical equipment, and follow-up visits with UMC personnel (Defendants Coombs, Douglas, Roberts, and Thurston).

         1. LEGAL STANDARDS

         The Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment requires prison officials to “provide humane conditions of confinement” including “adequate . . . medical care.” Craig v. Eberly, 164 F.3d 490, 495 (10th Cir. 1998)) (quoting Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1310 (10th Cir. 1998)). To state a cognizable claim under the Eighth Amendment for failure to provide proper medical care, “a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Olson v. Stotts, 9 F.3d 1475, 1477 (10th Cir. 1993) (emphasis in original) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         Any Eighth Amendment claim must be evaluated under objective and subjective prongs: (1) “Was the deprivation sufficiently serious?” And, if so, (2) “Did the officials act with a sufficiently culpable state of mind?” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991).

         Under the objective prong, a medical need is “sufficiently serious . . .if it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         The subjective component requires the plaintiff to show that prison officials were consciously aware that the prisoner faced a substantial risk of harm and wantonly disregarded the risk “by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994). “[T]he ‘inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care' tantamount to negligence does not satisfy the deliberate indifference standard.” Sparks v. Singh, 690 Fed.Appx. 598, 604 (10th Cir. 2017) (unpublished) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976)). Furthermore, “a prisoner who merely disagrees with a diagnosis or a prescribed course of treatment does not state a constitutional violation.” Perkins v. Kan. Dep't of Corrs.,165 F.3d 803, 81110th Cir. 1999); see ...


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