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Morales v. Rattan

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 13, 2019

JULIAN MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
SATTINDER RATTAN, in his individual capacity, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KRISTEN L. MIX UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Sattinder Rattan's (“Rattan”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [#20][1] (the “Motion”). Plaintiff, who proceeds in this matter as a pro se litigant, [2] filed a Response [#24] in opposition to the Motion. Defendant Rattan did not file a Reply. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.1(c), the Motion has been referred to the undersigned for a recommendation regarding disposition. See [#21]. The Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the entire case file, and the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the Court respectfully RECOMMENDS that the Motion [#20] be GRANTED.

         I. Summary of the Case

          Plaintiff is a pro se inmate currently confined at the Bureau of Prisons' (“BOP”) U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Compl. [#1] at 1. On December 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Prisoner Complaint [#1] against Defendant Sattinder Rattan in his individual and official capacity as a prison healthcare provider, citing the Federal Tort Claims Act (the “FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), as the basis for this Court's jurisdiction. Id. at 3, 4.

         Plaintiff's claims involve an ulcer or infection[3] of Plaintiff's big right toe which was caused or aggravated by Plaintiff's Type II diabetes and ultimately required amputation of the toe. Id. at 3-5. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rattan acted negligently as Plaintiff's “custodial medical caretaker” by failing to appropriately treat the ulcer or infection prior to the amputation despite Plaintiff's medical history, Plaintiff's repeated complaints, and the obvious severity of Plaintiff's condition. Id. at 4-5. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rattan wrongfully diagnosed the ulcer or infection as a foot fungus and directed Plaintiff to treat the toe with a fungal cream which was inadequate. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff further states that the surgeon who performed the amputation informed Plaintiff “that the toe could have been saved had Plaintiff received earlier treatment.” Id. at 5.

         On the face of the Complaint [#1], Plaintiff presents only one claim for relief in which he states that Defendant Rattan “unnecessarily created negligent acts with a reckless disregard for medical needs, causing me to lose a limb[ ] (my right big toe).” Id. At 4. Plaintiff also states that Defendant Rattan acted with deliberate indifference “to Plaintiff's medical [ ]needs, in violation of the E[i]ghth Amendment under cruel and unusual punishment.” Id. at 5. For relief, Plaintiff seeks money damages from Defendant Rattan and an “order granting an injunction in obtaining recordings of inmate complaints lodged against” Defendant Rattan. Id.

         On March 26, 2018, Defendant Rattan filed the instant Motion [#20] and a Motion to Dismiss Medical Negligence Claim for Failure to file a Certificate of Review [#19] (the “Motion to Dismiss”). Taken together, the Motions [#19 & #20] construe Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] as asserting the following two claims: (1) an FTCA claim against Defendant Rattan for medical negligence; and (2) a Bivens[4] claim against Defendant Rattan for deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff filed a consolidated Response [#24] to both Motions [#19 & #20] on April 12, 2018, in which Plaintiff does not appear to contest this construction. See generally [#24]. Accordingly, and after careful review of the Complaint [#1], the Court construes Plaintiff's Complaint as asserting both an FTCA claim for medical negligence against Defendant Rattan in his official capacity and an Eighth Amendment Bivens claim for medical indifference against Defendant Rattan in his individual capacity. The instant Motion [#20] seeks summary judgment only on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Bivens claim for Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Motion [#20] at 1, 3-4.[5]

         On April 2, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff's request to take judicial notice of a letter, dated October 12, 2017, addressed to Plaintiff from the U.S. Department of Justice (the “Denial Letter”). Minute Order [#22]. According to the Denial Letter, it serves as notification of the final denial of an unidentified federal tort claim under 28 C.F.R. § 14.9. See Denial Letter [#16] at 3. The Court took judicial notice of the Denial Letter pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) to the extent that it had any impact on the adjudication of the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Minute Order [#22] (citing Pringle v. United States, 208 F.3d 1220, 1222 (10th Cir. 2000)).

         On June 11, 2018, the United States filed a Notice of Substitution [#29] certifying that Defendant Rattan was acting within the scope of his federal employment with the BOP at all times material to the allegations in the Complaint [#1]. [#29] at 1. As such, the United States was substituted for Defendant Rattan on Plaintiff's FTCA claim of medical negligence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(1). [#29]. Defendant Rattan remains named in his individual capacity with respect to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment Bivens claim for purposes of the instant Motion [#20].

         II. Standard of Review

          The purpose of a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is to assess whether trial is necessary. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment shall be granted if “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the issue in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Id.

         The burden is on the movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). When the movant does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, the “movant may make its prima facie demonstration [of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact] simply by pointing out to the [C]ourt a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim.” Id. at 671. If the movant carries the initial burden of making a prima facie showing of a lack of evidence, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to put forth sufficient evidence for each essential element of his claim such that a reasonable jury could find in his favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Simms v. Okla. ex rel. Dep't of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Servs., 165 F.3d 1321, 1326 (10th Cir. 1999). The nonmovant must go beyond the allegations and denials of his pleadings and provide admissible evidence, which the Court views in the light most favorable to him. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Panis v. Mission Hills Bank, N.A., 60 F.3d 1486, 1490 (10th Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). Conclusory statements based merely on conjecture, speculation, or subjective belief are not competent summary judgment evidence. Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004). The nonmoving party's evidence must be more than “mere reargument of [his] case or a denial of an opponent's allegation” or it will be disregarded. See 10B Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2738 at 356 (3d ed. 1998).

         In addition, the Court “must accord substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators, who bear a significant responsibility for defining the legitimate goals of a corrections system and for determining the most appropriate means to accomplish them.” Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003). To this end, the Court notes the well-established law that prison management functions should be left to the broad discretion of prison administrators to enable them to manage prisons safely and effectively. See, e.g., Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1976). Accordingly, courts should interfere with the management of prisons only under exceptional and compelling circumstances. Taylor v. Freeman, 34 F.3d at 266, 268-70 (4th Cir. 1994). Indeed, the Tenth Circuit has stated that it “abhor[s] any situation or circumstance requiring the intervention of the federal courts in matters involving the administration, control and maintenance by the sovereign states of their penal systems. It is a delicate role assigned to the federal courts to display that restraint so necessary 'in the maintenance of proper federal-state relations.'” Battle v. Anderson, 564 F.2d 388, 392 (10th Cir. 1977) (citation omitted). As such, “sweeping intervention in the management of state prisons is rarely appropriate when exercising the equitable powers of the federal courts.” Taylor, 34 F.3d at 269 (citations omitted).

         III. ...


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