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Storm v. Twitchell

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 29, 2014

STACY JAMES STORM, Plaintiff,
v.
ANGIE TWITCHELL and LIEUTENANT HASS, [1] Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se in this prisoner civil rights action. He brings Eighth Amendment claims of deliberate indifference against Defendant Lieutenant Robert Hass and Nurse Angie Twitchell, and claims of unconstitutional conditions of confinement against Defendant Hass. (Initial Review Order, Dkt. 10.) Plaintiff alleges that, while he was a pretrial detainee in the Jerome County Detention Facility (JCDF), Defendants failed to follow doctor's orders to provide him with medication or otherwise treat his severe alcohol withdrawal seizures. Plaintiff also alleges he was kept in unsanitary conditions, without running water, and that Defendant Hass failed to properly restrain Plaintiff when Plaintiff involuntarily engaged in behavior harmful to himself during his alcohol withdrawal.

Currently pending before the Court are Defendant Twitchell's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 55) and Motion to Seal (Dkt. 58). Also pending are Defendant Hass's Rule 12 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Exhaust that will be treated as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 30)[2] and Motion to Seal (Dkt. 37). In addition, Plaintiff has filed a Motion to Modify Prisoner Complaint Form (Dkt. 48) and Motion to Appoint Counsel (Dkts. 56, 68).

All parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to enter final orders in this case. (Dkt. 26.) See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Having carefully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the parties have adequately presented the facts and legal arguments in the briefs and record and that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral arguments. Therefore, the Court will decide the matters before it on the motions, briefs and record. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d).

SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

1. Summary Judgment Standard of Law

Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to a particular claim or defense, "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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." 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...." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Rather, there must be a genuine dispute as to a material fact in order for a case to survive summary judgment. Material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit." Id. at 248. "Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. P. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if that party shows that each material fact cannot be disputed. To show that the material facts are not in dispute, a party may cite to particular parts of materials in the record, or show that the adverse party is unable to produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B). The Court must consider "the cited materials, " but it may also consider "other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Court is "not required to comb through the record to find some reason to deny a motion for summary judgment." Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1029 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, the "party opposing summary judgment must direct [the Court's] attention to specific triable facts." So. Ca. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003).

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine dispute as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Rather, "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

Material used to support or dispute a fact must be "presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2).[3] Affidavits or declarations submitted in support of or in opposition to a motion "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

If a party "fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, " the Court may consider that fact to be undisputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). The Court may grant summary judgment for the moving party "if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3). The Court may also grant summary judgment to a non-moving party, on a ground not raised by either party, or sua sponte provided that the parties are given notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f).

The Court does not determine the credibility of affiants or weigh the evidence set forth by the non-moving party. Although all reasonable inferences which can be drawn from the evidence must be drawn in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630-31, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

2. Defendant Twitchell's Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendant Twitchell moves for summary judgment because Plaintiff's claims "are wholly unsupported by the record or any expert evidence and therefore fail to create a triable issue of fact." (Dkt. 55-1, p. 4.)

A. Standard of Law for Deliberate Indifference

At the time of the incident in question, Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee. The Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, rather than the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment, applies to pretrial detainees, Bell v. Wollfish, 441 U.S. 520, 537 n. 16 (1979), but the same standard applies in both circumstances. Simmons v. Navajo County, Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010) ( citing Clouthier v. County of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1243-44 (9th Cir. 2010) (rejecting the contention that mentally ill pretrial detainees are entitled to greater protection under the Fourteenth Amendment)). "We have long analyzed claims that correction facility officials violated pretrial detainees' constitutional rights by failing to address their medical needs (including suicide prevention) under a deliberate indifference' standard." Clouthier, 591 F.3d at 1241.

To state an Eighth Amendment claim regarding prison medical care, a plaintiff must alleges facts showing 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:

[F]ailure 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). Deliberate indifference can be "manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976).

Non-medical prison personnel are generally entitled to rely on the opinions of medical professionals with respect to appropriate medical treatment of an inmate. However, if "a reasonable person would likely determine [the medical treatment] to be inferior, " the fact that an official is not medically trained will not shield that official from liability for deliberate indifference. Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 986 (9th Cir. 2012) (overruled on other grounds by Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076 (9th Cir. 2014)); see also McGee v. Adams, 721 F.3d 474, 483 (7th Cir. 2013) (stating that non-medical personnel may rely on medical opinions of health care professionals unless "they have a reason to believe (or actual knowledge) that prison doctors or their assistants are mistreating (or not treating) a prisoner.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

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. Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989). "[T]o prevail on a claim involving choices between alternative courses of treatment, a prisoner must show that the chosen course of treatment was medically unacceptable under the circumstances, ' and was chosen in conscious disregard of an excessive risk' to the prisoner's health." Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1058 (9th Cir. 2004) (alteration omitted) (quoting Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996)).

Mere indifference, medical malpractice, or negligence will not support a cause of action under the Eighth Amendment. Broughton v. Cutter Labs., 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (per curiam). A mere delay in treatment does not constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment unless the delay causes further harm. McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060. If 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, " there is no Eighth Amendment violation. Toguchi, 391 F.3d at 1061.

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."). And there is no constitutional right to an outside medical provider of one's own choice. Roberts v. Spalding, 783 F.2d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 1986) ("A prison inmate has no independent constitutional right to outside medical care additional and supplemental to the medical care provided by the prison staff within the institution.").

B. Material Facts

This section includes facts that are undisputed and material to the resolution of the issues in this case. Where material facts are in dispute, the Court has included Plaintiff's version of facts, insofar as that version is not contradicted by clear documentary evidence in the record. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) ("When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.").

Plaintiff arrived at Jerome County Detention Facility ("JCDF") on January 4, 2011. When he arrived, he was going through alcohol withdrawal and was treated with a standard alcohol withdrawal protocol and observed regularly. Plaintiff was transferred to St. Benedict's Family Medical Center ("St. Benedict's") on the evening of January 4, 2011, because his symptoms were worsening. He remained at St. Benedict's through January 9, 2011.

Plaintiff was released from St. Benedict's and returned to JCDF on January 9, 2011. Dr. Keller of Badger Medical was Plaintiff's medical care provider at JCDF. Dr. Keller consulted with Plaintiff's treating physician at St. Benedict's, Dr. Kern, on three occasions. (Keller Aff. ¶¶ 7-9 (Dkt. 55-3.))

Plaintiff's discharge summary from St. Benedict's states that treatment was to be directed by Dr. Keller. (Twitchell Aff., Ex. A (Dkt. 55-4.)) In the discharge notes, Dr. Kern noted that he believed Plaintiff was exaggerating his symptoms as his behavior differed between when he knew he was being observed ...


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