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Vitale v. Song

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 21, 2016



          B. Lynn Winmill, United States District Court Chief Judge.


         The Court has before it a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendants (Dkt. 37). Having reviewed the record in this case and having considered the arguments of the parties, the Court finds that oral argument is not needed. For the reasons below, the Court will grant the Motion.


         Plaintiff Zachariah Vitale was a prisoner in the custody of Idaho Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) at the Idaho State Correctional Institution (“ISCI”). Vitale Aff. ¶ 2 (Dkt. 3-1). Vitale was transferred to the ISCI on April 22, 2010. Valley Aff. ¶ 4 (Dkt. 37-7). Upon intake, Vitale reported that he suffers from back pain and seizures, although he had not had a seizure in eight years without treatment. Id. Vitale's back pain caused him to seek medical treatment numerous times between July 2010 and July 2012. Statement of Undisputed Facts (Dkt. 37-1). Vitale was treated on each occasion that he sought medical treatment. Id. Over the course of two years, Vitale was prescribed a number of muscle relaxants and pain medications to treat the back pain. Id. Vitale was also provided physical therapy, stretching regimens, x-rays, ice memos, and a chair to assist in stretching and getting down from the top bunk bed. Id.

         On March 17, 2012, emergency responders were called to Vitale's unit. Id. ¶ 19. According to Defendants, Vitale reported that he lost his balance while getting off of his top bunk and hit his head on the dresser. Id. Defendants note that he had a laceration above his right eyebrow that was treated on site with three bandage strips. Id. Vitale claims that the fall was caused by sciatic nerve pain and blurred vision. Am. Compl. ¶ 17 (Dkt. 9). Vitale submitted an HSR on March 19, 2012 alleging head trauma after his fall. Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 20 (Dkt. 37-1). Vitale was sent to a hospital for a head CT and a follow-up MRI two weeks later. Id. Neither test showed any recent head trauma. Id.

         Generally, Vitale claims that Corizon and its medical staff did not assist Vitale in securing a bottom bunk memo and a medical mattress or “any other form of relief for his constant pain and suffering.” Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Vitale alleges that Defendants Song, Valley, Lossman, and Mitchell were informed of Vitale's back pain and that the Defendants “did nothing.” Id. ¶ 13. Vitale also claims that Corizon should have allowed Vitale to enroll in a “Chronic Care Program.” Id. ¶ 21. Vitale brings all claims under the Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. See generally Complaint (Dkt. 3).

         According to Defendants, bottom bunk memorandums are issued in specific cases including where an offender is reliant on crutches, has hands or feet amputated, or suffered a bone fracture. Song Aff. ¶ 10 (Dkt. 37-5). Defendants also consider whether an offender is 70 years or older, an offender's weight, and whether an offender has had any joint replacements. Id. Defendants submitted extensive notes and records documenting their treatment of Vitale for the years in question. Valley Aff., Ex. A (Dkt. 37-8).


         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any 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 “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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” 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 dispute as to 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 her favor. Deveraux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         However, 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) (quotation omitted). Instead, the “party opposing summary judgment must direct [the Court's] attention to specific triable facts.” Southern California Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003).

         Statements in a brief, unsupported by the record, cannot be used to create a factual dispute. Barnes v. Independent Auto. Dealers, 64 F.3d 1389, 1396 n.3 (9th Cir. 1995). The Circuit has “repeatedly held that documents which have not had a proper foundation laid to authenticate them cannot support a motion for summary judgment.” Beyene v. Coleman Sec. Services, Inc., 854 F.2d 1179, 1182 (9th Cir. 1988). Authentication, required by Federal Rule of Evidence 901(a), is not satisfied simply by attaching a document to an affidavit. Id. The affidavit must contain testimony of a witness with personal knowledge of the facts who attests to the identity and due execution of the document. Id.

         Section 1983 allows a plaintiff to bring a claim under the Eighth Amendment for unconstitutional prison medical treatment. To prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim regarding prison medical care, a 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). 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 ...

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