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Matlean v. Dzurenda

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 27, 2019

JAMES K.W. MATLEAN, Plaintiff,
JAMES DZURENDA, et al., Defendants.


          Kent J. Dawson United States District Judge

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendant James Dzurenda (#26).[1] Plaintiff James Matlean responded (#36), and Dzurenda replied (#36).

         James Matlean is an inmate at the Saguaro Correctional Center. He allegedly suffers from Short Bowel Syndrome, which affects the way his digestive system absorbs nutrients from his diet. Matlean claims that prison staff and doctors have been deliberately indifferent to his condition in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dzurenda moves for summary judgment on Matlean's Eighth Amendment claim, arguing that Matlean's Short Bowel Syndrome is not a serious medical need, and even if it were, prison officials have adequately treated his condition. Alternatively, Dzurenda claims qualified immunity. The Court agrees that Matlean has not shown that that his short bowel syndrome is a serious medical condition. He has similarly failed to demonstrate that prison staff were indifferent to his medical needs. And so, the Court grants summary judgment on Matlean's Eighth Amendment claim.

         I. Background

         James Matlean has been legally incarcerated since at least December of 2012. It was then that Matlean claims he first notified prison doctors that he suffered from Short Bowel Syndrome. See Compl. 4-A, ECF No. 7. At the time, Matlean “consulted numerous times” with Dr. Koehn to “develop a comprehensive treatment plan” for his condition. Id Short Bowel Syndrome generally results from damage or removal of a portion of the small intestine. See Short Bowel Syndrome, Nat'l Inst. Of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, (last visited Sep. 27, 2019) (“SBS Facts”). Left untreated, short bowel syndrome can cause bloating, cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and malnutrition. Id. Generally, however, nutritional support and an augmented diet alleviate the condition's effects. Id.

         Matlean claims he began the grievance process to request necessary nutritional support in February of 2014. Compl. at 4-B. The following May, Matlean was transferred from Ely to Northern Nevada Correctional Center. Id Matlean claims that he promptly alerted prison officials of his condition and requested nutritional assistance (see id), but there is no evidence of that. Doctors at Northern Nevada Correctional Center prescribed Zantac, Pepto Bismol, and Reguloids to alleviate Matlean's stomach pain. Id At the end of 2014, Matlean was again transferred, this time to High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, Nevada. Id at 5-B. From there, Matlean was transferred to Southern Desert Correctional Center. Id at 4-C-4-D. Matlean claims he was not seen by a doctor for more than a month while prison officials processed his final transfer. Compl. at 4-C.

         In April of 2016, Matlean began the grievance process at Southern Desert to receive nutritional assistance. Matlean requested additional calorie intake to offset the nutrients that his intestines were unable to absorb. Southern Desert Correction Center's physician, Dr. Vicuna, prescribed medication and a multivitamin to help Matlean's stomach and ordered a nutritional drink and a snack at night to increase Matlean's calorie intake. Def's Mot. Summ. J. 6, ECF No. 26 (citing Compl. at 4-F). Matlean again filed a grievance, claiming that the medication, multivitamin, and increased snacks were not enough and that he needed 100% more calories each day. Id. at 7. Prison officials denied that request, however, because they determined Matlean had not complied with Dr. Vicuna's prior orders and was not drinking the nutritional drink or retrieving his pills regularly. Grievance Report 3, ECF No. 26 Ex. A.

         When prison staff refused to further augment Matlean's diet, he brought this suit. Matlean brought two causes of action: (1) a violation of the Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and (2) a violation of Matlean's right to medical treatment under 42 U.S.C. § 12010. Compl. at 4, 5. Matlean requested “damages in excess of $500, 000, ” punitive damages, compensatory damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief. Id. at 9. The Attorney General's Office accepted service on every defendant except Jo Gentry, Dr. Koehn, Dr. Vicuna, and SL Clark. ECF No. 15. Matlean requested, and the Court granted, an extension of time to serve Gentry, Koehn, Vicuna, and Clark. See ECF No. 18. Matlean has since served all but SL Clark. ECF Nos. 40, 43, 44. Dzurenda now moves for summary judgment on Matlean's Eighth Amendment claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Court construes Matlean's pro se pleading liberally and in his favor. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Despite that leeway, Matlean is still “bound by the rules of procedure.” Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 53 (9th Cir. 1995). Rule 56 allows summary judgment where there exists no genuine issue of fact and when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to show specific facts demonstrating a genuine factual dispute for trial. See Masushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         The Court makes all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. However, the nonmoving party may not merely rest on the allegations in the pleadings. Rather, the nonmoving party must produce specific facts-by affidavit or other evidence-showing a genuine issue of fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). And summary judgment is not appropriate if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248.

         III. Analysis

         Dzurenda argues that Matlean's Eighth Amendment claim fails as a matter of law because Matlean does not suffer from a serious medical need, and prison officials' response to Matlean's condition was constitutionally adequate. Dzurenda further argues that even if Matlean could prove a deliberate indifference claim, these officials would be entitled to qualified immunity. The Court agrees.

         The Eighth Amendment, applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Historically, “cruel and unusual punishment” was punishment unauthorized by statute or punishment that was disproportionate to the charged offense. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 167-70 (1976). The Framers' adoption of the term proscribed “torture and other barbar(ous) methods of punishment.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (internal quotations omitted). The Eighth Amendment's protections, however, have evolved to include the “broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency.” Id. (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (9th Cir. 1968). As a result, the Amendment prohibits ...

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