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Teters v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

June 10, 2019

PAUL TETERS, Plaintiff,
STATE OF WASHINGTON, et al., Defendants.

          NOTED FOR: June 28, 2019.



         The District Court has referred this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action to United States Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), and local Magistrate Judge Rules MJR1, MJR3 and MJR4. This matter is before the Court on defendant Ellen M. Sundstrom's motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. 34.

         Plaintiff brings claims of medical malpractice, violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act (the “RA”), and cruel and unusual punishment against the State of Washington and medical personnel at the Washington Corrections Center, including defendant Sundstrom, who was a treating nurse practitioner. Defendant Sundstrom seeks summary judgment of plaintiff's claims against her.

         Because plaintiff asserts inadequate treatment rather than denial of access, his ADA and RA claims are not cognizable. Because plaintiff's claims amount to essentially, an assertion of misdiagnosis and medical negligence rather than conscious disregard of his serious medical needs, his Eighth Amendment claim fails as a matter of law. And because plaintiff fails to come forward with medical expert evidence to support essential elements of his medical malpractice claim, summary judgment of this claim is appropriate. Thus, the undersigned recommends that defendant Sundstrom's motion for summary judgment be granted and that plaintiff's claims against defendant Sundstrom be dismissed with prejudice.


         Plaintiff, who proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis (Dkt. 8), initiated this matter under § 1983 in June 2018. See Dkt. 1. Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from severe PTSD caused by combat experience, resulting in the Department of Veterans Affairs finding that he was “100% disabled[.]” Dkt. 9, at 5. He alleges that his PTSD causes “high anxiety with panic attacks that result in a high blood pressure” and that being around crowds triggers his panic attacks, which culminate in plaintiff losing consciousness. Dkt. 9, at 6-7.

         Plaintiff brings claims against Washington State and seven individuals working with the Washington Corrections Center Shelton Reception Medical Providers team, including defendant Sundstrom. See Dkt. 9, at 2-5. He alleges that on June 17, 2016, he was transferred to WCC where-despite his request for isolation because of his mental health condition-he was placed in the general population and that this resulted in him suffering a series of panic attacks and resulting head injuries. See Dkt. 9, at 8-10.

         Regarding defendant Sundstrom's actions, plaintiff alleges that after he suffered a panic attack when he was placed in general population on June 17, defendant Sundstrom and defendant J. Palmer P.A.-C, a medical associate, determined that plaintiff should remain in the infirmary until June 21 and requested a mental health assessment. See Dkt. 9, at 11. Plaintiff was then returned to the general population. See Dkts. 9, at 11; 9-2, at 13-14.

         Plaintiff alleges that he then suffered panic attacks on June 21 and 22. See Dkt. 9, at 13, 17. He asserts that he fell unconscious on June 22 and suffered a head injury, but that defendants Palmer, Sundstrom, and Tilahun Abraha, a doctor, warned him that medical emergencies were for life-threatening situations only and determined that plaintiff was “acting out PTSD symptoms.” Dkt. 9, at 17. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered subsequent panic attacks on several occasions before being removed from the general population but does not allege any other particular facts regarding defendant Sundstrom's involvement. See Dkt. 9, at 18-23.

         On the basis of these facts, plaintiff brings claims against defendant Sundstrom in her official and individual capacities for medical malpractice, violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, and cruel and unusual punishment. See Dkt. 9, at 3.

         Upon the motion of the defendants other than defendant Sundstrom, the District Court dismissed the claims brought against the other defendants for declaratory or injunctive relief and under the ADA and RA. See Dkts. 37, at 19; 40. The District Court also dismissed all claims against defendant Washington State and most of the claims for Eighth Amendment violations and medical malpractice. See Dkts. 37, at 20; 40.

         Defendant Sundstrom has now moved for summary judgment on all the claims brought against her and provided notice to plaintiff of her dispositive motion pursuant to Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 1998). See Dkts. 34, 36. Defendant Sundstrom does not dispute that she evaluated plaintiff on June 17 and 22, 2016. See Dkt. 34, at 3. However, she asserts that there is no genuine issue of material fact that her actions on these occasions failed to amount to cruel and unusual punishment, violations of the ADA and RA, or medical malpractice. See Dkt. 34. This Court agrees.


         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). “In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ‘[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmovant's] favor.'” Moldex-Metric, Inc. v. McKeon Prods., Inc., 891 F.3d 878, 881 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Further, “‘courts should construe liberally motion papers and pleadings filed by pro se inmates and should avoid applying summary judgment rules strictly.'” Soto v. Sweetman, 882 F.3d 865, 872 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010); see also Blaisdell v. Frappiea, 729 F.3d 1237, 1241 (9th Cir. 2013) (a court must not hold “missing or inaccurate ...

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