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Hall v. Kirkegard

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

February 7, 2018

STACY HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
LEROY KIRKEGARD, MIKE MANHONEY, ROSS SWANSON, MYRON BEESON, LEONARD MIHELICH, TOM WOOD, CANDYCE NEUBAUER, ROXANNE WIGERT, BILLIE REICH, DAN HESS, MICHELE STEYH, ALVIN FODE, SHEILA HASTINGS, WILLIE JOHNSON, AND NIKKIE LORELLO, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief District Judge United States District Court.

         Stacy Hall ("Hall"), a prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this action in 2014 alleging Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety and deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Hall further alleged state law negligence claims against Defendants. Magistrate Judge John Johnston entered his Order and Findings and Recommendations (Doc. 148) in this matter on July 31, 2017, recommending that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 111) be granted and this case dismissed. Hall objected to Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations and subsequently filed a Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 169), Motion to Withdraw Reply (Doc. 173), and Motion for Leave to Supplement Objection (Doc. 174). For the following reasons, the Court will adopt Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations, [1]deny Hall's Motion for Sanctions and Motion for Leave to Supplement Objection, and grant Hall's Motion to Withdraw Reply.

         Discussion

         I. Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations

         Hall is entitled to de novo review of the findings and recommendations to which he has "properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court reviews findings and recommendations for clear error absent an objection.[2] See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mack, Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981); Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). Clear error exists if the Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000).

         "A party makes a proper objection by identifying the parts of the magistrate's disposition that the party finds objectionable and presenting legal argument and supporting authority, such that the district court is able to identify the issues and the reasons supporting a contrary result." Montana Shooting Sports Ass 'n v. Holder, 2010 WL 4102940, at *2 (D. Mont. Oct. 18, 2010) (citation omitted). "It is not sufficient for the objecting party to merely restate arguments made before the magistrate or to incorporate those arguments by reference." Id. Congress created magistrate judges to provide district judges "additional assistance in dealing with a caseload that was increasing far more rapidly than the number of judgeships." Thomas, 474 U.S. at 153. There is no benefit to the judiciary "if the district court[] is required to review the entire matter de novo because the objecting party merely repeats the arguments rejected by the magistrate. In such situations, this Court follows other courts that have overruled the objections without analysis." Montana Shooting Sports Ass 'n, 2010 WL 4102940, at *2 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         In short, an objection to a magistrate's findings and recommendations "is not a vehicle for the losing party to relitigate its case." Id. Which is precisely what Hall attempts to do in his objection in this case. Hall's objection amounts to a rehashing of the facts and arguments provided, weighed, and rejected by Judge Johnston in deciding to grant summary judgment in this case. Accordingly, the Court reviews Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations for clear error.

         Judge Johnston first considered Hall's Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to his safety based upon Montana State Prison's ("MSP") housing policies, classifications, and inmate placement. Judge Johnston correctly concluded that Hall could not prove his Eighth Amendment claim because he could not demonstrate that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Hall's safety by either failing to respond to a particular threat to Hall or by placing Hall in a housing unit with rival gang members. (Doc. 148 at 16-24.) Judge Johnston then correctly concluded that because Hall could not establish an underlying constitutional violation, he could not maintain a claim against named supervisory officials and summary judgment should be granted to all Defendants on Hall's federal failure to protect claim. (Id. at 24-27.)

         Next, Judge Johnston considered Hall's Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs based upon MSP's policies and procedures which required him to be restrained before medical staff in the infirmary could come in direct contact with him. Judge Johnston correctly determined that Hall could not prove his Eighth Amendment claim because MSP's policies make an exception for sufficiently serious medical circumstances and, further, Defendants could not have been deliberately indifferent to Hall's suffering since no evidence showed Defendants were aware of it. (Id. at 27-34.) Accordingly, Judge Johnston recommended granting summary judgment in favor of all Defendants on Hall's federal deliberate indifference to serious medical needs claim. (Id. at 34.)

         Lastly, Judge Johnston considered Hall's state law negligence claims. Judge Johnston determined that Montana law does not require expert testimony to establish the standard of care owed to an inmate "in all circumstances." (Id. at 37 (emphasis added).) However, Judge Johnston concluded, and this Court agrees, that Hall was required to present expert testimony establishing the standard of care in his case because the issues are outside the ken of the common juror. (Id. at 37-39.) Because Defendants had carried their burden by pointing out the absence of expert testimony to support Hall's case, Judge Johnston appropriately found that the burden shifted to Hall to produce the necessary evidence, which he failed to do. (Id. at 39-40.) Consequently, Judge Johnston recommended granting summary judgment to Defendants on Hall's negligence claims.[3]

         After review, the Court is satisfied that Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations are well-grounded in law and fact and, accordingly, will be adopted in full.

         II. Hall's Motion for Sanctions

         Hall filed a Motion for Sanctions requesting that Defendants' response to his objections be stricken for exceeding the word limit provided for reply briefs by L.R. 7.1(d)(2)(B) and for failing to provide a table of contents as provided by L.R. 7.1 (d)(2)(C). (Doc. 169 at 2-4) Hall's contention that Defendants have failed to comply with the Local Rules is incorrect. Defendants' response is a response to an objection, not a reply to a response to a motion as contemplated by L.R. 7.1. Defendants' response was filed pursuant to L.R. 72.3(b) which provides a 6, 500 word limit to a response to an objection. Because L.R. 72.3 is controlling and Defendants' response complied with this rule, Hall's Motion for Sanctions will be denied.

         III. Hall's Motion to Withdraw Reply and Motion for Leave ...


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