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Gurule v. Correctional Medical Services

August 9, 2010

HOWARD GURULE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES, DR. GARRETT, FERMIN VILLARREAL, ASST. WARDEN PRADO, SUSAN BOJOVICH, ROBIN WIEDL, DARYL YANDELL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Fermin Villarreal, Assistant Warden Prado, Susan Bojovich, Robin Wiedl, and Daryl Yandell. (Dkt. 25.) The Motion is now fully briefed. Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Therefore, in the interest of avoiding further delay, the Court shall decide this matter on the written motions, briefs, and record without oral argument. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order.

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

Howard Gurule (Plaintiff) is an inmate in custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC). From February 1, 2007, through March 11, 2008, he was housed at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), a facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America, Inc. (CCA), a private corporation that contracts with the IDOC to provide a prison facility for Idaho inmates. The allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. 3) relate only to the time periods he was housed at ICC. Plaintiff brings his Eighth Amendment claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several employees or contractors of ICC.

In the Initial Review Order (Dkt. 5), the Court found that Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to proceed against individual ICC Defendants Villarreal, Prado, Bojovich, Wiedl, and Yandell on claims that (1) Plaintiff was not provided with adequate follow up treatment or physical therapy after a hospitalization and several surgeries for Septicemia, and (2) he was denied wrist surgery after an outside physician recommended the surgery. These Defendants have been served and have filed an Answer.

Plaintiff was also permitted to proceed against Dr. Garrett. Plaintiff was notified that he was required to provide a service of process address for Dr. Garrett. (Dkt. 15.) Because Plaintiff did not provide a current service address, his claims against Dr. Garrett will be dismissed without prejudice.

In the Initial Review Order, the Court informed Plaintiff that he did not allege sufficient facts to state a § 1983 policy or custom-based claim against Correctional Medical Services (CMS), the private entity that provides inmate medical care at the prisons. Therefore, Plaintiff was not allowed to proceed against this Defendant, and all such claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

LEGAL STANDARDS

1. Standard of Law for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims. . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut," but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See id. at 248. The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988). In addition, the Court must be "guided by the substantive evidentiary standards that apply to the case." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir. 2000).

This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor. Id. at 256-57. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show by "affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file" that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

2. Standard of Law for Civil Rights Claims

To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute proximately caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). To prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim regarding prison medical care, Plaintiff must show that prison officials' "acts or omissions [were] sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976)). The Supreme Court has opined that "[b]ecause society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified access to health care, deliberate indifference to medical needs amounts to an Eighth Amendment violation only if those needs are 'serious.'" Id.

The Ninth Circuit has defined a "serious medical need" in the following ways: failure to treat a prisoner's condition [that] could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain; . . . [t]he existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain. McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059-60 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds, WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997).

Deliberate indifference exists when an official knows of and disregards a serious medical condition or when an official is "aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm exists," and actually draws such an inference. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 838 (1994). Differences in judgment between an inmate and prison medical personnel regarding appropriate medical diagnosis and treatment are not enough to establish a deliberate indifference claim. See Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989).

Mere indifference, medical malpractice, or negligence will not support a cause of action under the Eighth Amendment. Broughton v. Cutter Lab, 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980). A mere delay in treatment does not constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment, unless the delay causes serious harm. Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1335 (9th Cir. 1990). If the defendants are able to show that medical personnel have been "consistently responsive to [the inmate's] medical needs," and there has been no showing that the medical personnel had "subjective knowledge and conscious disregard of a substantial risk of serious injury," a plaintiff's claims may be dismissed by summary judgment prior to trial. Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1061 (9th Cir. 2004).

The Eighth Amendment does not provide a right to a specific treatment. See Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 267 (7th Cir. 1997) ("[The plaintiff] is not entitled to demand specific care. She is not entitled to the best care possible. She is entitled to reasonable measures to meet a substantial risk of serious harm to her."). A prison doctor's recommendation for a less costly treatment is not deliberate indifference unless the recommendation "was so inadequate that it demonstrated an absence of professional judgment, that is, that no minimally competent professional would have so responded under those circumstances." Collignon v. Milwaukee County, 163 F.3d 982, 989 (7th Cir. 1998).

In Toguchi v. Chung, the Ninth Circuit underscored the difference between medical malpractice, which is not actionable under the United States Constitution, and deliberate indifference, which is an Eighth Amendment violation. Particularly, a plaintiff must show that the medical providers subjectively had knowledge of a serious risk to the plaintiff, and chose to disregard that risk. In Toguchi, Dr. Chung treated Inmate Toguchi several times before his untimely death in prison. The final time she treated him, she prescribed a course of medication that expert witnesses for the plaintiffs (Toguchi's surviving parents) opined caused a toxic level of drugs in his bloodstream, causing his death.

The Ninth Circuit, however, rejected the plaintiffs' expert witness opinions that the treating physician, Dr. Chung, had been deliberately indifferent. To reach this result, the Court focused particularly on what Dr. Chung knew and believed before her allegedly wrongful acts or omissions. In response to an argument that Dr. Chung should have considered the prescription drug Cogentin an excessive risk to the deceased inmate's health, the Court opined: "Because she did not believe that Cogentin use presented a serious risk of harm to Keane, her conduct cannot constitute deliberate indifference." Id. at 1058 (emphasis added). Similarly, the Court noted,

It does not matter whether Dr. Chung's assumptions and conclusions were reasonable. Rather, so long as she was not subjectively aware of the risk that Keane could be suffering from a drug overdose, and disregarded that risk, she was not ...


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