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Stephenson v. Corizon Medical Services

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 29, 2018

DWAYNE R. STEPHENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON MEDICAL SERVICES, DR. YOUNG, NP POULSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          David C. Nye U.S. District Court Judge

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Dwayne R. Stephenson's Motion for Issuance of Subpoena Duces Tecum (Dkt. 20) and Motion to Compel Disclosure (Dkt. 25), as well as Defendant Dr. Murray Young and Nurse Practitioner Poulson's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 23.) Having reviewed the record and having considered the argument of the parties, the Court finds that oral argument is unnecessary and enters the following Order.

         MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         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.

         Rule 56(c) provides:

         A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) 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; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

“[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 essential to an important element of the cause of action or defense to survive summary judgment. Disputes over facts that are not material to the resolution of the motion will not preclude summary judgment. T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

         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 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 should be “presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence, ” or it may be subject to being stricken. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2).[1] 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 decide credibility of affiants or weigh the evidence set forth by the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. That means a party's or witness's sworn statement must be taken as true for purposes of summary judgment. The Court must also draw all reasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630-31, but it is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1207-088 (9th Cir. 1988) (observing that Matsushita Electric Industrial Company v. Zenith Radio Corporation, 475 U.S. 574 (1986), “authorizes an inquiry on summary judgment into the ‘implausibility' of inferences from circumstantial evidence …, not an inquiry into the credibility of direct evidence.”).

         2. Eighth Amendment Standard of Law

         To state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that he is incarcerated “under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, ” or that he has been deprived of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (internal citation omitted). An Eighth Amendment claim requires a plaintiff to satisfy “both an objective standard—that the deprivation was serious enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment—and a subjective standard— deliberate indifference.” Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2012), overruled on other grounds by Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076 (9th Cir. 2014).

         As to the objective standard, the Supreme Court has explained 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.'” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992).

         The United States Court of Appeals for 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).

         As to the subjective factor, to violate the Eighth Amendment, a prison official must act in a manner that amounts to deliberate indifference, which is “more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety, ” but “something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. Stated another way, deliberate indifference exists when an “official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety, ” which means that an official “must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837.

         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), overruled in part on other grounds, Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1082-83 (9th Cir. 2014). Nor are differences among medical providers. Snow, 681 F.3d at 987. “[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 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 Estelle v. Gamble, supra, Inmate Gamble suffered a back injury at work when a 600-pound bale of hay fell on him. Doctors and other medical providers at the prison prescribed rest and a variety of medications, including different pain relievers and muscle relaxers. Gamble argued that the medical providers were deliberately indifferent because they should have done more to diagnosis his back problem, such as x-raying his back.

         The United States Supreme Court disagreed, reasoning:

Gamble was seen by medical personnel on 17 occasions spanning a 3-month period: by Dr. Astone five times; by Dr. Gray twice; by Dr. Heaton three times; by an unidentified doctor and inmate nurse on the day of the injury; and by medical assistant Blunt six times. . . . The doctors diagnosed his injury as a lower back strain and treated it with bed rest, muscle relaxants and pain relievers. Respondent contends that more should have been done by way of diagnosis and treatment, and suggests a number of options that were not pursued. The Court of Appeals agreed, stating: “Certainly an x-ray of (Gamble's) lower back might have been in order and other tests conducted that would have led to appropriate diagnosis and treatment for the daily pain and suffering he was experiencing.” 516 F.2d, at 941. But the question whether an X-ray or additional diagnostic techniques or forms of treatment is indicated is a classic example of a matter for medical judgment. A medical decision not to order an X-ray, or like measures, does not represent cruel and unusual punishment. At most it is medical malpractice, and as such the proper forum is the state court under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The Court of Appeals was in error in holding that the alleged insufficiency of the medical treatment required reversal and remand. That portion of the judgment of the District Court should have been affirmed.

429 U.S. at 97-98.

         Similarly, in Toguchi v. Chung, supra, 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 had treated Inmate Keane Toguchi several times in the past 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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