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Schaefer v. Multnomah County

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 18, 2019


          Jason Paul Schaefer, pro se.

          Jenny M. Madkour, County Attorney for Multnomah County Oregon, and Jacqueline Kamins, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Multnomah County Attorney's Office, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 500, Portland, Oregon 97214. Of Attorneys for Defendants.


          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jason Schaefer brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Multnomah County, Dr. Angelina Platas, and ten unknown defendants (“Defendants”) alleging violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights while he was in custody at the Multnomah County Detention Center (“MCDC”). Plaintiff claims that Defendants denied his repeated requests for stronger narcotic pain medications and these denials amounted to deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical condition. Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Because the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not met the standard of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs required for liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Defendant's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 63) is GRANTED.


         A. Summary Judgment

         A party is entitled to 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). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ” the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages.” Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2066-67 (2014); Krainski v. Nevada ex. Rel. Bd. of Regents, 616 F.3d 963, 968 (9th Cir. 2010). “Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). “Whether qualified immunity can be invoked turns on the ‘objective legal reasonableness' of the official's acts. And reasonableness of official action, in turn, must be ‘assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time [the action] was taken.'” Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1866 (2017) (citation omitted) (alteration in original) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 819 (1982) and Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639 (1987)). “The privilege is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; . . . it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01 (2001) (quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in original). For this reason, the Court has “stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam). Qualified immunity, however, is only an immunity from suit for damages, it is not an immunity from suit for declaratory or injunctive relief. See L.A. Police Protective League v. Gates, 995 F.2d 1469, 1472 (9th Cir. 1993).

         In Saucier, the Supreme Court outlined a two-step process for determining the applicability of the qualified immunity doctrine. 533 U.S. at 200. The first step is to determine “whether a constitutional right would have been violated on the facts alleged.” Id. The second step is to determine “whether the right was clearly established.” Id. The constitutional issue, however, need not be addressed first in every case. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 227. Regardless of whether a constitutional violation occurred, the officer should prevail if the right asserted by the plaintiff was not clearly established or the officer could have reasonably believed that his particular conduct was lawful. Romero v. Kitsap Cty., 931 F.2d 624, 627 (9th Cir. 1991).


         On October 11, 2017, Plaintiff's left hand was severely injured when an explosive device detonated. He underwent a surgical procedure at Legacy Emanuel Hospital to remove his thumb, index finger, and a portion of his middle finger from his left hand. Plaintiff was prescribed Diluadid, a strong narcotic pain medication, also known as hydromorphone, as well as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. After the surgery, Plaintiff spent a week at the Washington County Jail. One week later, Plaintiff had a follow-up appointment with doctors at Summit Orthopedics and was then transferred to the medical unit at MCDC. The orthopedist at Summit indicated that Plaintiff's hand was healing well and determined that Plaintiff should begin to reduce his pain medications. The doctors changed Plaintiff's pain medication from Dilaudid, which is typically only prescribed in a hospital setting, to hydrocodone, also known as Norco, another narcotic pain medication that is not as strong.

         For several days, Plaintiff appeared to be tolerating the pain with minimal discomfort. Dr. Angelina Platas, saw Plaintiff on October 20, 2017 and spoke to Plaintiff about the importance of weaning him off of pain medications to reduce the risk of addiction, increase the rate of the healing process, increase physical activity, and reduce the risk that Plaintiff would suffer common side effects of long-term narcotics use, such as anxiety and depression. See Platas Decl. ¶ 6. Dr. Platas informed Plaintiff that Multnomah County maintains a policy of discontinuing the use of narcotics seven days after surgery. Plaintiff requested increased pain medication but instead received an arm sling to keep his hand elevated. On October 21, Plaintiff again requested increased pain medication and refused to allow jail staff to change the dressing on his hand. Seale Decl. ¶ 15. The following morning, Plaintiff allowed a nurse to clean and redress his wound, and the nurse noted that Plaintiff appeared to tolerate the dressing change without significant pain. Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff requested increased pain medication and declined the nurse's offer of ice and elevation as an alternative means to reduce pain. Id. at ¶ 18. A nurse responded by letter to Plaintiff's request for increased pain medication and denied his request. After that, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Dr. Platas that contained threatening content, and it was determined that Dr. Platats would no longer treat Plaintiff in person. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

         Dr. Michael Seale examined Plaintiff on October 25, 2017. Plaintiff requested an increase in pain medication and Dr. Seale ordered an increase in Norco. Id. ΒΆ 25. Later that day, Plaintiff had an appointment with doctors at Legacy Emanuel Trauma Surgery, ...

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