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Shreves v. Piranian

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

June 12, 2015



DANA L. CHRISTENSEN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Richard Shreves, a state inmate proceeding without counsel, filed a Complaint alleging he has been denied adequate medical care for a number of medical conditions while incarcerated at Montana State Prison. After extensive review of the record by United States Magistrate Judge Keith Strong and this Court, the case was dismissed on April 28, 2015. (Order, Doc. 16.) On May 8, 2015, Mr. Shreves filed a Motion for Reconsideration which will be analyzed as a Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment and Rule 60(b) Motion for Relief from Judgment or Order.[1]

A Motion to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may be granted:

(1) if such motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment rests; (2) if such motion is necessary to present newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence; (3) if such motion is necessary to prevent manifest injustice: or (4) if the amendment is justified by an intervening change in controlling law.

Allstate Ins. Co. v. Herron, 634 F.3d 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 2011). Rule 60(b) allows the Court to relieve a party from a final judgment or order for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence could not have been discovered before the time to move for a new trial under Rule 59; (3) fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged; or (6) any other reason justifying relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b).

Mr. Shreves argues that in light of new evidence and mistakes of fact in the Court's April 28, 2015 Order, the dismissal should be reconsidered and the matter served upon Defendants.

"New Evidence"

Mr. Shreves alleges Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. To state an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, a plaintiff must allege specific facts that, if proved, would establish that the plaintiff had a serious medical need and the defendant showed deliberate indifference to that need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); see also McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997). Mr. Shreves presents a number of issues which he labels as "new evidence" but he fails to demonstrate how this "new evidence" establishes deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Specifically, he contends Dr. Kohut failed to report in his notes that a staff member felt swelling in Mr. Shreves's back;[2] he alleges Dr. Kohut denied prior knowledge of his neck pain and headaches;[3] he alleges notes were removed from his medical file; he states that Dr. Kohut referred to him as a "drug-seeker"; he contends Dr. Kohut made a false report that he had walked out of an appointment while shouting profanity; and he alleges that during a March 26, 2015 appointment Dr. Kohut told him that he had never viewed his x-rays images or had anyone else check the 2011 images for the L3 anomaly. (Doc. 18 at 1-5.). Even if the Court were to consider all of this information, it does not change the Court's analysis.

Mr. Shreves's allegations regarding back pain and other medical conditions, taken as true on screening, are sufficient to state a serious medical need satisfying the first prong of a deliberate indifference claim. See McGuckin, 947 F.2d at 1059-60 ("[T]he existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain are examples of indications that a prisoner has a 'serious' need for medical treatment.") But in order to state a claim for deliberate indifference Mr. Shreves must also allege facts showing that Defendants purposefully ignored or failed to respond to his pain or medical needs. McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060. He must present facts that plausibly establish that, subjectively, Defendants had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" when medical care was refused or delayed. Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 904 (9th Cir. 2002) ( citing Wallis v. Baldwin, 70 F.3d 1074, 1076 (9th Cir. 1995)). A defendant must "both be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994).

The Eighth Amendment does not require optimal medical care or even medical care that comports with the community standard of medical care. "[A] complaint that a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. Even gross negligence is insufficient to establish deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990).

Mr. Shreves may believe that Defendants should have done more to treat his medical condition, but in order to prevail on the theory that another course of medical treatment should be pursued, Mr. Shreves must show that the chosen course of treatment is "medically unacceptable under the circumstances, " and that Defendants "chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to plaintiffs health." Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996)(citations omitted). The record does not make this showing.

Some of Mr. Shreves's "new evidence" actually supports the Court's ruling that this matter be dismissed. For example, Mr. Shreves discusses and attaches medical records demonstrating that Dr. Kohut and/or other medical staff have arranged for Mr. Shreves to see a regular provider on a monthly basis. This level of monitoring and regular care disputes any allegation of deliberate indifference. In addition, Mr. Shreves's medical records indicate that Dr. Piranian is considering "an ortho consult (if approved)." (March 3, 2015 Provider notes, Doc. 18-2 at 5.) Clearly, the medical providers at the prison are aware of Mr. Shreves's difficult medical condition, they are monitoring that condition on a regular basis and are treating it conservatively. Mr. Shreves's contention that something more should be done is simply a difference of opinion with his medical providers. "A difference of opinion between a physician and the prisoner-or between medical professionals-concerning what medical care is appropriate [which] does not amount to deliberate indifference." Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 987 (9th Cir. 2012), overruled in part on other grounds, Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1082-83 (9th Cir. 2014); Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1122-23 (9th Cir. 2012). Mr. Shreves has not shown "that the course of treatment the doctors chose was medically unacceptable under the circumstances and that the defendants chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to [his] health." Snow, 681 F.3d at 988 (citation and internal quotations omitted). Mr. Shreves's allegations are insufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. The Court's prior ruling stands.

"Factual Mistakes"

Mr. Shreves argues there are a number of"factual mistakes" in the April 28, 2015 Order. First, he disputes the Court's finding that there is no evidence to suggest that prison staff fraudulently concealed the nature of Mr. Shreves's back injury. He argues that Defendants identified the L3 anomaly in his spine as being congenital. He surmises that if the anomaly was congenital and not recognized in his 2011 x-rays, it must have been concealed by Defendants. (Doc. 18 at 4-5.) Such ...

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