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Mesa v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 12, 2019

William James Mesa, Jr., Plaintiff,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff William James Mesa, Jr., who is currently confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) The Parties cross-move for summary judgment.[1] (Docs. 21, 25.)

         I. Background

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged as follows. In 2007, Plaintiff injured his lower back, and the doctor who saw him created a treatment plan of stretching, losing weight, and purchasing Ibuprofen 200 mg. (Doc. 1 at 5.) In 2014, Plaintiff's condition grew worse, and he collapsed and lost mobility for a short period of time. (Id.) Nurse Practitioner (NP) Taylor ordered x-rays and an MRI, insoles for Plaintiff's shoes, and prescribed 300 mg of Gabapentin nightly while awaiting the test results. (Id. at 5-6.) In 2016, Plaintiff received his MRI results, which showed a bulging herniated disc and torn discs. (Id. at 6.) When Plaintiff submitted a Health Needs Request (HNR) requesting an increase in his Gabapentin, a medical wedge, a new mattress, and shoes, Elijah ordered a blood test to check the levels of Gabapentin in Plaintiff' system due to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) policy to reduce the number of inmates prescribed Gabapentin. (Id.) Elijah ignored the laboratory's warning to consider a person's height and weight when reviewing the results, and concluded that the results showed a low level of Gabapentin in Plaintiff's system. (Id.) Based on the results, Elijah discontinued Plaintiff's Gabapentin and his pain worsened. (Id.) After repeated attempts to have his pain dealt with, Defendant Elijah ignored all requests by Plaintiff for pain management and prescribed stretching, losing weight, and purchasing Ibuprofen 200 mg. (Id. at 8.)

         On screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the Court determined that Plaintiff stated an Eighth Amendment claim based on deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Defendant Dr. Elijah. (Doc. 6.) The Court dismissed the remaining claims and Defendants. (Id.) The Parties now cross-move for summary judgment.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         A court must grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The movant bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         If the movant fails to carry its initial burden of production, the nonmovant need not produce anything. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Co., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102-03 (9th Cir. 2000). But if the movant meets its initial responsibility, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to demonstrate the existence of a factual dispute and that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 250 (1986); see Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D. Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995). The nonmovant need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor, First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968); however, it must “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).

         At summary judgment, the judge's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In its analysis, the court must believe the nonmovant's evidence and draw all inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Id. at 255. The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider any other materials in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

         III. Facts[2]

         On August 27, 2015, Plaintiff had x-rays of his lumbar spine which showed satisfactory alignment of the vertebral bodies and well-maintained disc spaces, except at ¶ 5-S1. (Doc. 22 ¶ 1.) The results showed “[m]inor degenerative joint disease [] in lower lumbar spine and disc degenerative at LS junction.” (Id.) Thereafter, Plaintiff was diagnosed with lumbago (low back pain) and lumbosacral disc degeneration. (Id. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff started receiving an afternoon dose of Gabapentin for low back pain in September 2015. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         On February 20, 2016, Plaintiff had an MRI of his lumbar spine which revealed “multilevel narrowing of the spinal canal and neural foramina . . . most prominent at ¶ 3-4, L4-5, L5-S1[, ] annular tears at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1[, ] multilevel degenerative changes[, and] Grade 1 retrolisthesis of L5 over S1.” (Id. ¶ 4; Doc. 22 at 44-46.) Subsequent lumbar x-rays taken on May 26, 2016, revealed the same results as those taken on August 27, 2015- minor degenerative changes in the lower spine and disc degeneration at the LS junction. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         Dr. Elijah is employed as a physician by Corizon Health and worked at ASPC-Lewis, Barchey Unit, between September 2016 and April 2017. (Id. ¶ 6.) Elijah had two encounters with Plaintiff and both were related to his lower back pain complaints. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Prior to meeting with Plaintiff, Elijah reviewed an HNR in which Plaintiff requested an increase in his Gabapentin prescription for chronic back pain. (Id. ¶ 18.) Gabapentin is highly regulated in the correctional setting because it is addictive and the potential for abuse, misuse, and diversion is significant. (Id. ¶ 19.) As a result, Corizon was carefully monitoring inmate Gabapentin prescriptions, and Elijah was told by several staff members and inmates that Gabapentin was being sold, traded, and given away on the Lewis yard. (Id. ΒΆ 21.) Corizon instituted a practice that inmates on Gabapentin would undergo periodic and random lab tests to ...

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