(PC) Sifuentes v. Ola, et al., No. 1:2016cv00241 - Document 25 (E.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: ORDER ADOPTING IN PART 23 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS signed by District Judge Dale A. Drozd on 7/18/2018. This matter is referred back to the assigned magistrate judge for further proceedings consistent with this order. (Jessen, A)
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 MIGUEL G. SIFUENTES, 12 Plaintiff, 13 v. 14 No. 1:16-cv-00241-DAD-GSA DR. OLA, et al., 15 ORDER DECLINING IN PART TO ADOPT FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS (Doc. No. 23) Defendants. 16 17 Plaintiff Miguel G. Sifuentes is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action 18 brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate 19 Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. 20 On March 15, 2018, the assigned magistrate judge issued findings and recommendations, 21 recommending that this action be dismissed due to plaintiff’s failure to state a claim upon which 22 relief may be granted. (Doc. No. 23.) The findings and recommendations were served on 23 plaintiff and contained notice that any objections thereto were to be filed within fourteen days 24 from the date of service. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff filed objections on April 2, 2018. (Doc. No. 24.) 25 In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 304, this 26 court has conducted a de novo review of this case. Having carefully reviewed the entire file, 27 including plaintiff’s objections, the court concludes the findings and recommendations are not 28 supported by the record and declines to adopt them in part. 1 1 In his first amended complaint, plaintiff alleges as follows. On May 29, 2014, at 2 approximately 11:45 a.m., plaintiff was examined by Dr. Fortune regarding a puncture wound to 3 his abdomen. (Doc. No. 21 at 12.) Plaintiff contends that this examination was “cursory at best,” 4 and that “no significant diagnosis or treatment was given.” (Id.) At 12:29 p.m. that same day, 5 plaintiff was examined by Dr. Ola for this same injury. (Id.) Dr. Ola examined plaintiff, had an 6 x-ray taken, and noted a “possible penetration of [plaintiff’s] abdominal wall.” (Id. at 13.) 7 Plaintiff was provided with two sutures, and was prescribed Tylenol for his pain. (Id.) Dr. Ola 8 scheduled plaintiff for a follow-up examination on June 2, 2014. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff was placed 9 in Administrative Segregation at approximately 3:00 p.m. that same day. (Id. at 8.) He remained 10 there for approximately 55 hours, during which he was bed-ridden and suffered from excruciating 11 pain and weakness due to internal bleeding. (Id. at 8–9.) On May 31, 2014, plaintiff was 12 transported to UCSF-Fresno for treatment. (Id. at 9.) While hospitalized, plaintiff was in a coma 13 for two days and suffered an abdominal infection. (Id.) He lost 2.5 liters of blood as a result of 14 his internal bleeding, and remained at UCSF-Fresno for 13 days. Plaintiff was eventually 15 discharged to the Pleasant Valley State Prison infirmary, where he remained until July 10, 2014. 16 (Id. at 7.) 17 “Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to maintain an Eighth Amendment claim based on prison 18 medical treatment, an inmate must show ‘deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.’” Jett 19 v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 20 (1976)). Such a claim has two parts. First, the plaintiff must allege and ultimately demonstrate a 21 serious medical need. Id. A medical need is serious “if the failure to treat a prisoner’s condition 22 could result in further significant injury or the ‘unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain.’” 23 McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104), 24 overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997). 25 Examples of such serious medical needs include “an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient 26 would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition 27 that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial 28 pain.” Id. at 1059–60 (citing Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1337–41 (9th Cir. 1990) and 2 1 Hunt v. Dental Dep’t, 865 F.2d 198, 200–01 (9th Cir. 1989)). If a serious medical need is 2 established, a plaintiff must then allege and demonstrate that the defendant’s response to that 3 serious medical need was deliberately indifferent. This prong is satisfied by showing “(a) a 4 purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner’s pain or possible medical need and (b) harm 5 caused by the indifference.” Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. “Indifference ‘may appear when prison 6 officials deny, delay or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or it may be shown by the 7 way in which prison physicians provide medical care.’” Id. (quoting McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 8 1059); see also McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1062 (noting that a plaintiff may succeed on a deliberate 9 indifference claim by demonstrating that the medical treatment he received was “woefully 10 inadequate”). However, “a prison official acts with ‘deliberate indifference . . . only if the prison 11 official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health and safety.” Toguchi v. 12 Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 13 1175, 1187 (9th Cir. 2002)) (internal brackets omitted). It is not enough for the prison official to 14 “be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm 15 exists.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). Instead, the prison official “must also 16 draw the inference.” Id. Here, the allegations of plaintiff’s complaint, if proven, are sufficient to demonstrate that 17 18 plaintiff plainly suffered from a serious medical need. The puncture wound to his abdomen 19 caused him severe pain and blood loss, eventually rendering him comatose for two days. The 20 magistrate judge concluded that plaintiff failed to state a claim against any of the named 21 defendants, for two reasons. First, the magistrate judge concluded that the facts as alleged “do 22 not cause the court to infer that any of the Defendants knew that Plaintiff was suffering from a 23 life-threatening condition and yet proceeded to ignore a substantial risk of serious harm to 24 Plaintiff’s health.” (Doc. No. 23 at 7.) Second, the magistrate judge found that “Plaintiff has not 25 shown that the course of treatment chosen by medical personnel was medically unacceptable 26 under the circumstances nor that they chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive 27 risk to Plaintiff’s health.” (Id.) Each of these conclusions will be addressed in turn below. 28 ///// 3 1 Regarding whether Dr. Ola possessed knowledge of plaintiff’s condition and nonetheless 2 ignored it, there is no factual allegation bearing directly on the Dr. Ola’s state of mind. This is 3 unsurprising—it is a rare defendant who openly admits to a culpable state of mind. For this 4 reason, “whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of 5 fact subject to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial 6 evidence.” Harrington v. Scribner, 785 F.3d 1299, 1304 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Farmer, 511 7 U.S. at 826). The court finds such circumstantial allegations to be present in plaintiff’s first 8 amended complaint. For instance, plaintiff alleges defendant Ola’s notes from his examination of 9 plaintiff state that plaintiff’s “distal end shows possible penetration of the abdominal wall.” (Doc. 10 No. 21 at 13.) If true, this allegation would establish that Dr. Ola was therefore on actual notice 11 of plaintiff’s injury. In addition, the allegation that Dr. Ola scheduled plaintiff for follow-up 12 treatment provides further support for the conclusion that Dr. Ola was aware of the seriousness of 13 plaintiff’s condition. See Jones v. Wong, No. 2:15-cv-0734-TLN-AC, 2018 WL 2297056, at *4 14 (E.D. Cal. May 21, 2018) (noting that a defendant’s “alleged offer to schedule additional 15 treatment by a specialist is adequate to allow the court to infer that she believed plaintiff’s 16 symptoms presented a serious medical need”). This alleged awareness, when combined with the 17 severe harm plaintiff ultimately suffered due to blood loss, provides a plausible basis to support a 18 finding of deliberate indifference. See Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096 (“A prisoner need not show his 19 harm was substantial; however, such would provide additional support for the inmate’s claim that 20 the defendant was deliberately indifferent to his needs.”); see also McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060 21 (9th Cir. 1992) (“The requirement of deliberate indifference is less stringent in cases involving a 22 prisoner’s medical needs than in other cases involving harm to incarcerated individuals because 23 ‘[t]he State’s responsibility to provide inmates with medical care ordinarily does not conflict with 24 competing administrative concerns.’”) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1993)). 25 The magistrate judge also recommended dismissal of the first amended complaint because 26 “Plaintiff has not shown that the course of treatment chosen by medical personnel was medically 27 unacceptable under the circumstances nor that they chose this course in conscious disregard of an 28 excessive risk to Plaintiff’s health.” (Doc. No. 23 at 7.) The undersigned disagrees. It is not 4 1 plaintiff’s burden at this pleading stage of the proceedings to affirmatively show that the course of 2 treatment was medically unacceptable. Instead, at this stage, plaintiff need only come forward 3 with sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft 4 v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 5 (2007)). In this pro se civil rights action, in which courts are instructed to “construe the pleadings 6 liberally and to afford the [plaintiff] the benefit of any doubt,” the undersigned concludes that 7 dismissal would be inappropriate in light of plaintiff’s allegations. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 8 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en 9 banc)). As this case proceeds through discovery, it may be established that plaintiff being treated 10 by receiving stitches and Tylenol was medically acceptable, or that such minimal treatment 11 merely amounted to medical malpractice or a difference of medical opinion, neither of which 12 provides an adequate basis for a § 1983 medical care claim. However, given the allegations of 13 plaintiff’s first amended complaint tending to show defendant Dr. Ola’s apparent awareness of 14 the seriousness of plaintiff’s condition, as well as the allegations laying out the harm eventually 15 suffered by plaintiff, the court finds that dismissal of the first amended complaint is not 16 appropriate. The findings and recommendations also recommended dismissal of plaintiff’s state law 17 18 claim based upon plaintiff’s noncompliance with the California Government Claims Act, and 19 recommended denial of plaintiff’s request for court-appointed counsel. Plaintiff has not 20 challenged either of these conclusions in his objections, and the undersigned concurs with and 21 adopts these recommendations. 22 For these reasons, 23 1. 24 The findings and recommendations issued March 15, 2018 (Doc. No. 23) are adopted in part; 25 2. Plaintiff’s cause of action based upon California state law is dismissed without 26 prejudice due to his failure to comply with the claim presentment requirements of 27 the California Government Claims Act; 28 //// 5 1 3. Plaintiff’s request for court-appointed counsel is denied without prejudice; and 2 4. This matter is referred back to the assigned magistrate judge for further 3 4 5 proceedings consistent with this order. IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: July 18, 2018 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 6