Sunday, October 31, 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.

Rowell v. Valley Care Health Systems is a motion to dismiss on a complaint regarding Valley Care's decision to terminate Dr. Rowell's hospital privileges after a lone allegation of illegally distributing Oxycontin.  Valley Care suspended Dr. Rowell's hospital privileges long enough to trigger a state and national review of the incident.  Dr. Rowell contends, among other things, that failure to give him a hearing deprived him of Due Process (presumably under the 14th Amendment) and the effort to remove him from the practice of medicine violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Judge Charles R. Breyer explained:
Plaintiff's argument appears to be that because Defendants chose to suspend Plaintiff’s privileges for an amount of time that triggered the statutory reporting requirements, the state should be considered to have compelled Defendants’ action or to be so closely entwined with it that the action is attributable to the state.
However, Judge Breyer ruled that even if the allegations were true, Valley Care's decision to abuse the reporting process did not intertwine it with the state. He found that there was no state action and dismissed the complaint. The antitrust complaint did not fare better:
Plaintiff's failure and inability to plead cognizable market harm means that his antitrust claim must be dismissed with prejudice.
Judge Breyer dismissed the federal claims and denied to exercise pendant jurisdiction over the state law claims.

In Diaz v. Guerra, Mr. Diaz is a prisoner proceeding pro se.  He alleges that Officer Guerra intentionally let an inmate named Andrade to leave his cell unescorted.  Mr. Andrade ran through three unlocked doors and into the exercise yard at Salinas Valley State Prison where he attacked Mr. Diaz.  Officer Guerra counters that he only opened Mr. Andrade's door enough to let him get his supplies in the hallway.  After he left his cell he attempted to close and lock the doors, when that failed he called for help.  Officer Guerra contends that this shows he did not have the requisite mental state to violate the Constitution and violate 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.  Judge Richard Seeborg agreed with Officer Guerra stating that Mr. Diaz did not refute Officer Guerra's rendition of the events and that the lack of intent gave the officer quallified immunity for his actions.  He granted Officer Guerra's motion for summary judgment.

Chasten v. Franklin involves a mother who is suing a prison in the Western District of Oklahoma for the death of her son.  One of the defendants in the action revealed in a deposition that he had a Yahoo! email account.  Ms. Chesten has filed a subpoena seeking all of the emails sent or received in that account between March 1, 2008 and July 31, 2010.  Mr. Hubbard has moved to quash the subpoena stating that the request violates the Stored Communications Act (SCA).  Magistrate Harold R. Lloyd agreed and stated:
[T]he SCA essentially prohibits providers of electronic communication or remote computing services to the public from knowingly divulging the contents of their customers’ electronic communications or the records relating to their customers. [C]ivil subpoenas to a non-party, however, are not among section 2702(b)’s "unambiguous exceptions."
Judge Lloyd granted the motion to quash.

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