Sunday, October 24, 2010

Northern California Judges Rule in Civil Rights Cases

Benjamin Franklin Butler drafted the
Enforcement Act of 1871.  Photo
courtesy of wikisource.
Several Northern District of California judges recently ruled on civil rights cases.

In Frati v. City and County of San Francisco a prisoner pro se claims that the city failed to provide him with adequate medical treatment constituting cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. According to the complaint, Mr. Frati suffered a fracture on his hand on April 26, 2010, he sought treatment, but did not receive it.  On May 10, 2010 a doctor saw him, and rebroke his hand in order to allow it to heal correctly.  He claims his hand is presently crippled.  Judge Lucy Koh stated that this claim lacks the specificity necessary to plead a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.  She stated that Mr. Frati needs to explain who did what, when and how this showed a deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.  She dismissed the complaint with leave to amend.

In Hemsley v. Mrs. Toni the plaintiff prisoner pro se (and possibly a vampire) complains that he received inadequate medical treatment when he was released from a hospital to the Santa Rosa County Jail in 2008.  At his release Mrs. (or Dr.) Toni told him that he needed to return in order to get more blood.  That never happened.  Mr. Hemsley claims that he had an insufficient level of blood that was not remedied until June 2009.  Judge Lucy Koh provided essentially the same advice she gave to Mr. Frati above.  She stated that Mr. Hemsely needs to explain who did what, when and how this showed a deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.  She dismissed the complaint with leave to amend.

Santana v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is similar to Frati and Hemseley above - the plaintiff was a prisoner who upon release complains that he received inadequate medical treatment. Here, the plaintiff claims that his foot became crippled after guards removed his camwalker and failed to give him another one for over a year.   However it raises an unresolved issue about the statute of limitations in 1983 actions as Judge Koh explains:
"Federal law determines when a cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run for a § 1983 action."  Elliott v. City of Union City, (9th Cir. 1994). "Under federal law, a claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action."  TwoRivers v. Lewis,  (9th Cir. 1999).  In a case such as this one, where an alleged constitutional violation (or constitutional injury) produced an alleged physical injury, it is not clear which one provides the basis for Plaintiff's action.
Judge Koh chose not to step into the debate yet and simply noted that it wasn't factually clear when Mr. Santana knew of his injury.  She dismissed the complaint on its allegations requiring more factual support with leave to amend.

In Steart v. Rupf, the Sheriff moved to dismiss the prisoner's 1983 lawsuit for failure to exhaust the administrative grievance process. Judge Claudia Wilken explained that a failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an absolute bar to a lawsuit.
"[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)
She dismissed the case without prejudice to refiling upon completing the administrative grievance process.

Turner v. Colon is a pro se prisoner Eight Amendment lawsuit where the prisoner alleges that the guards wanted to repair doors at Pelican State Bay Prison and ordered everyone outside into the rain.  While there he "caught a [respiratory] infection, which caused [his] bones, legs and hips to ache all the time."  This blog had previously covered efforts of prisoners to recover after being left in the cold. Judge Claudia Wilken explained that this is the kind of incident caused by negligence or gross negligence that lacks the intentionality requirement to proceed under a 1983 action. She dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice and without leave to amend.

George v. Sonoma County Sheriff Dept. is a civil rights case filed by Mr. Geroge's mother, Valerie resulting from her son's death on July 9, 2007 while he was in custody at the Marin Adult Detention Facility (MADF).  Mr. George suffered from sickle cell anemia, and received sporadic treatment at MADF.  When he died his autopsy revealed he was severely dehydrated.  The County and individual defendants moved for summary judgment.  Ms. George survived summary judgment on claims of failure of treatment, 1983 civil rights violation and county liability under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs. (U.S. 1978).  To support the Monell claim, Ms. George presented evidence in a series of newspaper articles that showed there was a pattern of deficient medical treatment at MADF.  Additionally, she produced evidence that patient treatment was not discussed at monthly quality assurance meetings following several recent patient deaths nor were there changes in procedures.  Magistrate Elizabeth D. Laporte largely denied the motion for summary judgment.

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