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Bacon v. Dzurenda

United States District Court, D. Nevada

November 8, 2019

JAMES DZURENDA, et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants James Cox, Sheryl Foster, [1] and Brian Williams. Docket No. 62. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition. Docket No. 69.[2] Defendants filed a reply. Docket No. 70. Plaintiff filed a surreply. Docket No. 72. Defendants filed a motion to strike the surreply. Docket No. 73. These motions were referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a report of findings and recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a prisoner civil rights case arising out of events Plaintiff alleges occurred at the Nevada Department of Corrections' (“NDOC”) facility at Southern Desert Correctional Center (“SDCC”).[3] Although three claims survived the screening process in general, only one claim survived the screening process with respect to the movants now before the Court.[4] In particular, Plaintiff alleged a colorable claim for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against Caseworker Cheryl Burson, Assistant Warden of Programs Brian Williams, Caseworker Sheryl Foster, and NDOC Director James Cox. Plaintiff alleges that he entered the NDOC with chronic medical problems including hypertension and heart problems, and that stressful activity presents risks of a heart attack, stroke, or other medical complications. The NDOC provides jobs for inmates who wish to deduct ten days each month from their sentences. In order to obtain a prison job, the inmate must be able to lift 25 pounds or be assigned to educational programming only if the inmate has not received a high school diploma or G.E.D. Plaintiff could not lift 25 pounds or more and demanded a light-duty assignment, but Williams, Burson, and Foster informed him that such accommodation was not available. Plaintiff alleges that prison officials' refusal to assign him a light-duty job-though they could have-prevented him from earning deduction days, which would have reduced his length of confinement.

         The case is now before the Court on summary judgment motion practice by which Defendants Cox, Foster, and Williams seek entry of judgment in their favor.

         II. STANDARDS

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and admissible evidence “show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). When considering summary judgment, the court views all facts and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Kaiser Cement Corp. v. Fishbach & Moore, Inc., 793 F.2d 1100, 1103 (9th Cir. 1986). If reasonable minds could differ on material facts, summary judgment is inappropriate because its purpose is to avoid unnecessary trials when the facts are undisputed, and the case must then proceed to the trier of fact. Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). If the moving party satisfies Rule 56 by demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the party resisting summary judgment to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must produce evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact that could satisfy its burden at trial.” Sonner v. Schwabe N. Am., Inc., 911 F.3d 989, 992 (9th Cir. 2018).


         As noted above, the only surviving claim against Defendants Cox, Foster, and Williams arises under Section II of the ADA. Defendants raise numerous arguments in seeking summary judgment, two of which the undersigned addresses on their merits.

         A. Mootness

         Defendants argue at the outset that Plaintiff's ADA claim fails as moot in light of Plaintiff's release from prison. Mot. at 6-7.[5] Construing Plaintiff's papers liberally, he argues that his ADA claim is not moot because he is seeking damages against these Defendants on this claim.[6] Plaintiff has the better argument with respect to mootness.

         Article III of the United States Constitution “restricts federal courts to the resolution of cases and controversies.” Davis v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 554 U.S. 724, 732 (2008). Claims are deemed moot and not justiciable “when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” U.S. Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 396 (1980) (internal quotations omitted). A prisoner's claims for injunctive relief or declaratory relief generally are not justiciable given their mootness when a prisoner has been released from custody. Alvarez v. Hill, 667 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2012). “The reason is that the released inmate is no longer subject to the prison conditions or policies he challenges.” Id. Such reasoning applies only “absent a claim for damages.” Id. (quoting Incumaa v. Ozmint, 507 F.3d 281, 286-87 (4th Cir. 2007)).[7]

         Defendants' argument on mootness here is premised on their contention that (1) ADA claims against prison officials may be brought only in their official capacities and (2) monetary damages are unavailable against defendants sued in their official capacities. Mot. at 6-7, 9; Reply at 4. As to the first part of the argument, Judge Dorsey has already ruled in this case that prison officials may be sued under the ADA only in their official capacities. Docket No. 30 at 6 (citing Becker v. Oregon, 170 F.Supp.2d 1061, 1066 (D. Or. 2001)).

         It is the second part of this argument on which Defendants stumble. Defendants do not present any legal authority that damages are unavailable against the State or individuals sued in their official capacity in the context of Section II of the ADA. See Mot. at 9 (citing case law arising in the context of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims);[8]see also Reply at 4 (citing no case law at all in support of position that, “[b]ecause those [ADA] claims proceeded against the Defendants in their official capacity only, Plaintiff cannot seek money damages from these Defendants”). As a general matter, a plaintiff is not entitled to monetary damages against defendants sued in their official capacities (i.e., claims effectively against the state itself) because such claims are barred by the sovereign immunity established by the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., Aholelei v. Dept. of Pub. Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007). Eleventh Amendment immunity may be abrogated by Congress in some instances, however, and Ninth Circuit “precedent clearly commands that the State is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity under Title II of the ADA.” Phiffer v. Columbia River Corr'l Inst., 384 F.3d 791, 792 (9th Cir. 2004) (per curiam). Hence, it appears clear that prisoners may seek damages for claims ...

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