(PC) McCoy v. Spidle et al, No. 1:2007cv00198 - Document 218 (E.D. Cal. 2011)

Court Description: ORDER Denying Defendants' 212 Motion in Limine; ORDER Setting a Status Conference, signed by Senior Judge Stephen M. McNamee on 4/18/11. Telephonic Status Conference Hearing set for 5/3/2011 at 01:30 PM Arizona Time, before Senior Judge Stephen M. McNamee. (Gonzalez, R)
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(PC) McCoy v. Spidle et al Doc. 218 1 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 9 Davon E. McCoy, Plaintiff, 10 11 12 vs. R. Spidle, et al., Defendants. 13 14 15 16 17 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 No. CV-07-198-SMM ORDER Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion in Limine Regarding Retaliation Damages (Doc. 212). Plaintiff has filed his Opposition (Doc. 215). After considering the arguments advanced by the parties, the Court makes the following rulings.1 BACKGROUND 18 19 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) On February 6, 2007, Plaintiff, who is currently confined at Salinas Valley State Prison, brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the “CDCR”). (Doc. 1.) As Defendants prevailed in part on a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 123 at 16), three claims remain: Plaintiff’s retaliation claim (Claim II) against Defendant M. Dangler (“Dangler”) and Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claims (Claims IV and V) against numerous Defendants. (Doc. 1 at 11-12, 14-19.) On February 23, 2011, the Court bifurcated the case into two separate jury trials, with 27 28 1 Neither Defendants in their Motion in Limine Regarding Retaliation Damages (Doc. 212) nor Plaintiff in his Opposition (Doc. 215) requested oral argument. The Court therefore finds the action suitable for decision without oral argument. See LRCiv 230(g). Dockets.Justia.com 1 the first trial addressing Plaintiff’s retaliation claim and the second trial addressing Plaintiff’s 2 deliberate indifference claims. (Doc. 203 at 8.) The Court also granted Defendants’ request 3 to bifurcate the liability and punitive damages stages of the case. (Doc. 203 at 8.) The Court 4 has scheduled a jury trial on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim for May 9, 2011 through May 13, 5 2011 in the Sacramento Division of the Eastern District of California. (Doc. 205.) 6 Plaintiff’s retaliation claim alleges that Dangler, an Inmate Appeals Coordinator, 7 retaliated against Plaintiff for exercising his constitutional right to administratively appeal 8 a disciplinary proceeding. (Doc. 1.) While a prisoner at High Desert State Prison, Plaintiff 9 received a Rule Violation Report (“RVR”) resulting in a disciplinary proceeding on June 15, 10 2005, in which Plaintiff was found to have conspired to murder correctional officers. (Doc. 11 123 at 3.) At the conclusion of that disciplinary proceeding, Plaintiff was assessed 48 months 12 at the Secured Housing Unit (“SHU”) at California State Prison, Corcoran (“Corcoran”). 13 (Doc. 123 at 3.) On July 17, 2005, Plaintiff submitted an initial grievance appealing that 14 disposition. (Doc. 1 ¶ 36; Doc. 123 at 3.) Plaintiff was transferred to the SHU facility at 15 Corcoran on August 30, 2005. (Doc. 212 at 2.) 16 On September 6, 2005, Plaintiff filed a grievance against Dangler for improperly 17 screening and delaying processing of his initial grievance. (Doc. 1 ¶ 37; Doc. 123 at 3.) 18 Plaintiff alleges that this grievance against Dangler led to an Internal Affairs Directive. (Doc. 19 1 ¶ 37; Doc. 123 at 3.) On January 25, 2006, the initial grievance related to the RVR was 20 granted, after a review found that although Plaintiff may have known of a conspiracy to 21 attack police officers, the evidence failed to support that he was an “active conspirator.” 22 (Doc. 142 at 6.) Dangler signed the decision granting Plaintiff’s initial grievance. (Doc. 123 23 at 15, Doc. 142 at 7.) After Plaintiff’s initial grievance was granted, the disciplinary 24 proceeding was dismissed, the 48 months in SHU was suspended, and Plaintiff was returned 25 to general population. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 38-39; Doc. 123 at 3.) The RVRs issued to each of 26 Plaintiff’s alleged co-conspirators were also dismissed. (Doc. 212 at 8-9; Doc. 215 at 8-10.) 27 Plaintiff alleges that in retaliation for Plaintiff’s grievance filed against Dangler for 28 mishandling Plaintiff’s initial grievance, Dangler “reassessed” Plaintiff’s assignment by -2- 1 sending a memorandum on April 27, 2006, resulting in Plaintiff’s return to SHU. (Doc. 1 ¶ 2 40; Doc. 123 at 3.) Plaintiff also alleges that Dangler altered the form that Dangler had earlier 3 signed, replacing the word “granted” with “denied.” (Doc. 142 at 7.) Dangler contends that 4 he was unaware of Plaintiff’s grievance against him at that time. (Doc. 100 at 23.) Dangler 5 further asserts that the decision to return Plaintiff to SHU was supported by legitimate 6 penological grounds–confidential memoranda allegedly indicated that Plaintiff indeed had 7 conspired to murder correctional officers–and was affirmed by the Institutional Classification 8 Committee. (Doc. 100 at 22-23; Doc. 123 at 3.) 9 Plaintiff suffers from a seizure disorder, which requires close observation and routine 10 seizure medication. (Doc. 142 at 10.) While at SHU, Plaintiff allegedly complained to a nurse 11 on June 5, 2006 that he was having a seizure and requested hospitalization. (Doc. 142 at 10.) 12 The nurse allegedly advised that Plaintiff was to be watched and referred to the yard nurse 13 in the morning. (Doc. 142 at 10.) Plaintiff alleges that prison officials ignored his and other 14 inmates’ subsequent pleas for medical assistance, and that Plaintiff had a seizure, allegedly 15 suffering serious injuries including “a dislocated shoulder, lacerations, bruises, cranial injury, 16 and extreme pain.” (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 48-54; Doc. 142 at 10.) It is undisputed that Plaintiff had a 17 seizure, fell, and dislocated his shoulder. (Doc. 142 at 10.) 18 On March 25, 2011, Defendants filed the pending Motion in Limine Regarding 19 Retaliation Damages (Doc. 212). Defendants contend that the Court should bar Plaintiff, 20 during the trial on his retaliation claim, from presenting evidence of: (1) actual injury; (2) 21 events occurring while Plaintiff was housed at SHU; and (3) the dismissal of his alleged co- 22 conspirators’ RVRs. (Doc. 212.) On April 8, 2011, Plaintiff filed his opposition, asserting 23 that the Court should deny Defendants’ Motion in Limine because: (1) it is devoid of 24 evidentiary support; (2) Plaintiff is entitled to compensatory damages from Dangler for harm 25 occurring at SHU that was proximately caused by the retaliation; and (3) the dismissed RVRs 26 are admissible as evidence of Dangler’s alleged retaliatory motive. (Doc. 215.) 27 28 -3- 1 2 DISCUSSION I. Legal Standard for Retaliation 3 In the prison context, a claim of First Amendment retaliation under § 1983 requires: 4 “(1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate; (2) because 5 of (3) that prisoner’s protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate’s exercise 6 of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate 7 correctional goal.” Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567 (9th Cir. 2005); see also Hines 8 v. Gomez, 108 F.3d 265, 267 (9th Cir. 1997) (retaliation claims require an inmate to show 9 that (1) the prison official acted in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally-protected 10 right and (2) the action “advanced no legitimate penological interest.”). The prisoner has the 11 burden of proving that “‘the prison authorities’ retaliatory action did not advance legitimate 12 goals of the correctional institution or was not tailored narrowly enough to achieve such 13 goals.’” Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Rizzo v. Dawson, 778 14 F.2d 527, 532 (9th Cir. 1985)). 15 II. Damages 16 Defendants contend that Plaintiff’s recovery on the retaliation claim is limited to 17 nominal damages. (Doc. 212 at 4.) Plaintiff asserts that he is also entitled to compensatory 18 damages. (Doc. 215 at 2.) A §1983 damages award is intended “to compensate persons for 19 injuries caused by the deprivation of constitutional rights.” Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 20 254 (1978). Although 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 21 typically requires that an inmate suffer a physical injury before damages can be awarded for 22 mental or emotional injury, the Ninth Circuit has held that this requirement does not apply 23 to First Amendment claims. Canell v. Lightner, 143 F.3d 1210, 1213 (9th Cir. 1998) (“The 24 deprivation of First Amendment rights entitles a plaintiff to judicial relief wholly aside from 25 any physical injury he can show, or any mental or emotional injury he may have incurred. 26 Therefore, § 1997e(e) does not apply to First Amendment Claims regardless of the form of 27 relief sought.”). Further, § 1997e(e) permits a plaintiff’s claim for nominal, compensatory, 28 or punitive damages if it does not allege mental or emotional injuries. Oliver v. Kelly, 289 -4- 1 F.3d 623, 627-28 (9th Cir. 2002). However, “damages based on the abstract ‘value’ or 2 ‘importance’ of constitutional rights are not a permissible element of compensatory 3 damages.” Memphis Cmty. Sch. Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 310-11 (1986). 4 The Court will permit Plaintiff, during trial on his retaliation claim, to present limited 5 argument and evidence in support of compensatory damages. The Ninth Circuit has held that 6 the limitations imposed by § 1997e(e) do not apply to First Amendment causes of action such 7 as Plaintiff’s retaliation claim. See Canell, 143 F.3d at 1213 . Even if § 1997e(e) applied to 8 Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, Plaintiff could still seek compensatory damages because: (1) 9 Plaintiff was allegedly physically injured as a result of his retaliatory placement in SHU, and 10 (2) § 1997e(e) permits compensatory damages not predicated on alleged mental or emotional 11 injuries. Oliver, 289 F.3d at 627-28. The Court must necessarily defer making precise 12 findings on the permissible scope of Plaintiff’s damages evidence until such evidence is 13 introduced at trial, but will discuss generally admissible topics in Section III of this Order. 14 III. Evidence of Conditions and Events at SHU and Plaintiff’s Alleged Injuries 15 Defendants contend that evidence of conditions and events at SHU is irrelevant and 16 prejudicial, while Plaintiff asserts that such evidence is both relevant and probative. (Doc. 17 212 at 6-7; Doc. 215 at 6-8.) Defendants further argue that Plaintiff should be barred from 18 offering evidence on his alleged physical injuries sustained at SHU because Dangler was not 19 ultimately responsible for Plaintiff’s placement at SHU, Dangler could not have anticipated 20 Plaintiff’s seizure or the alleged deliberate indifference that exacerbated Plaintiff’s injuries, 21 and such evidence could allow Plaintiff to recover twice for his injuries. (Doc. 212 at 5-7.) 22 Plaintiff contends that the injuries evidence is admissible because Dangler’s retaliatory 23 conduct caused Plaintiff’s reassignment to SHU, where alleged isolated conditions prevented 24 Plaintiff from receiving treatment for his injuries. (Doc. 215 at 5-6.) Plaintiff further asserts 25 that any risk of double recovery can be cured by the Court. (Doc. 215 at 6.) 26 Witnesses may only testify about relevant evidence, which is evidence tending to 27 prove or disprove a party’s liability theory. Fed. R. Evid. 401-402. Even if evidence is 28 relevant, it “may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger -5- 1 of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of 2 undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” Fed. R. Evid. 3 403. In this case, the Court will permit limited evidence of conditions and events at SHU and 4 of Plaintiff’s injuries during trial on the retaliation claim because such evidence is both 5 relevant and more probative than prejudicial. Fed. R. Evid. 401-403. Evidence of restrictive 6 conditions at SHU could make it more likely that Dangler had a retaliatory motive in 7 allegedly reassigning Plaintiff to that facility. Further, Dangler’s allegedly retaliatory 8 reassignment of Plaintiff to SHU may have contributed to the alleged delayed treatment of 9 his seizure, making the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries relevant to Plaintiff’s potential damages. 10 However, if Plaintiff recovers damages related to his physical injuries sustained while at 11 SHU, Plaintiff will not be permitted to recover duplicative damages during his trial on his 12 deliberate indifference claims. Further, the Court finds that the conditions and events at SHU 13 and Plaintiff’s injuries are not central to Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, and therefore such 14 evidence will consume a limited amount of time at trial. To prevent these issues from 15 consuming excessive trial time, the parties are encouraged to stipulate to undisputed facts, 16 including the relevant conditions and events at SHU and any undisputed facts about 17 Plaintiff’s seizure and injuries. 18 IV. Evidence of Dismissal of Co-Conspirators’ RVRs 19 Defendants assert that evidence of the dismissals of RVRs issued to Plaintiff’s alleged 20 co-conspirators (the “dismissal evidence”) is irrelevant and lacks probative value. (Doc. 212 21 at 8-9.) Defendants further argue for exclusion because Plaintiff, purportedly having failed 22 to designate a witness with personal knowledge of the dismissal evidence, would need to rely 23 on inadmissible hearsay. (Doc. 212 at 8.) A witness may only testify about matters within his 24 or her personal knowledge. Fed. R. Evid. 602. As noted above, witnesses may only testify 25 about relevant evidence, and even relevant evidence may be excluded if prejudicial, 26 confusing, misleading, or cumulative. Fed. R. Evid. 401-403. Witnesses generally cannot 27 testify about out-of-court statements introduced for the truth of the matter asserted, but an 28 exception to this general hearsay rule permits the admission of business records and public -6- 1 records and reports. Fed. R. Evid. 802, 803(6), (8). Plaintiff asserts that he has designated at 2 least two witnesses–Dangler and the custodian of records for the CDCR–with personal 3 knowledge of the dismissal evidence, and states that the custodian of records is competent 4 to introduce and authenticate the dismissal evidence as business or public records. (Doc. 215 5 at 9.) 6 The Court finds that the dismissal evidence is both relevant and probative because it 7 tends to make it less likely that Plaintiff conspired to murder peace officers. See Fed. R. 8 Evid. 401-403. Because the dismissal evidence makes it less probable that Plaintiff was 9 engaged in a conspiracy, such evidence also makes it less probable that Dangler sought to 10 return Plaintiff to SHU based upon legitimate penological grounds related to that conspiracy. 11 See Fed. R. Evid. 401-403. The Court also finds, assuming Plaintiff’s representations about 12 its designated witnesses are accurate, that Plaintiff would be able to introduce the evidence 13 while complying with the Federal Rules of Evidence. Fed. R. Evid. 401-03; 803. Therefore, 14 the Court will not exclude the dismissal evidence as this time. CONCLUSION 15 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED DENYING Defendants’ Motion in Limine Regarding 16 17 Retaliation Damages (Doc. 212). 18 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED setting a status hearing before the Honorable Stephen 19 M. McNamee on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. Arizona time. Plaintiff’s counsel shall 20 initiate a conference call and secure all participants on the line before telephoning Judge 21 McNamee’s chambers at (602) 322-7555, no later than 1:25 p.m. Arizona time, on May 3, 22 2011. 23 DATED this 18th day of April, 2011. 24 25 26 27 28 -7-