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Casias v. State, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 14, 2017

ISAHA CASIAS, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; TARACINA MORGAN; and HERMAN GONZALES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         On December 9, 2016, Defendants State of New Mexico Department of Corrections (“DOC”), Taracina Morgan, and Herman Gonzales (collectively, “Defendants”) filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Memorandum Brief in Support (ECF No. 63). The Court, having considered the motion, briefs, evidence, and applicable law, concludes that issues of genuine material fact exist for resolution by a jury that precludes granting Defendants summary judgment or qualified immunity. The Court will therefore deny Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff Isaha Casias was committed to the custody of the DOC for a term of incarceration of two years and six months on June 10, 2013. Defs.' Mot., Undisputed Fact (“UF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 63. On June 13, 2013, Plaintiff was taken for intake into the DOC to Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (“CNMCF”)/Reception and Diagnostic Center (“RDC”). Id. UF ¶ 2.

         On July 11, 2013, Plaintiff and other inmates were handcuffed, shackled with leg irons, and loaded into a van at 6:00 a.m. at RDC. Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ A, ECF No. 70. Plaintiff was transported by van from RDC to the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants, arriving around 8:00 a.m., where the inmates were taken out of the van and brought into the intake area holding cells while Correction Officers Morgan and Gonzales picked up one more inmate. Id. UF ¶ C; Dep. of Taracina Morgan 51:21-25, ECF No. 82-1.

         From the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants, Defendants transported the inmates to the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe (“PNM South”) and arrived at 11:30 a.m. See Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ C, Transportation Officer Daily Log at 2, ECF No. 70-1. It was very hot that day and was becoming uncomfortable in the van by the time it stopped at PNM South, as there were no windows in the back of the van and the air conditioning did not work well. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 5, ECF No. 70-6. At PNM South, Defendant Gonzales turned off the van and went inside to pick up another inmate while Defendant Morgan stayed with the inmates in the van. Id. ¶ 6. Defendant Morgan opened the back van doors while they waited, but even with the doors open, the inmates were hot and sweating. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. After one of the van doors blew closed, several inmates complained to Defendant Morgan about the heat, asking her to let them out until Defendant Gonzales returned, but she refused, telling them to shut up, “stop bitching, ” and that children could handle more than what they were complaining about. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Defendant Gonzales returned to the van with two more inmates, and the van departed PNM South at approximately 12:30 p.m. Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ I, ECF No. 70.

         The transport van arrived at PNM North a few minutes later, sometime between 12:31 p.m. and 12:35 p.m. See Def.'s Mot. UF ¶ 6; Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ I; Transportation Officer Daily Log at 2, ECF No. 70-1. Defendant Herman Gonzales drove the van between CNMCF and PNM North. Def.'s Mot. UF ¶ 5, ECF No. 63. After the van arrived at PNM North to pick up another inmate, Defendant Gonzales turned off the van and both Defendants Gonzales and Morgan got out of the van and went into the facility at the same time. See Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 3 (Telephonic Interview Tr. of Tarracina Morgan dated Aug. 5, 2013) at 5-7, ECF No. 70-3, and Ex. 4 (Interview Tr. of Herman Gonzales dated Aug. 5, 2013) at 10-13, ECF No. 70-4; Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 12, ECF No. 70-6. Once in the building, Defendant Morgan told Defendant Gonzales, “Wait in here for the inmate. I'm going to go get the file.” Pl.'s Ex. 4 at 12, ECF No. 70-4.

         By turning off the van, there was no air conditioning circulating in the back of the van and all the windows and doors were closed. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 12, ECF No. 70-6. After 10-15 minutes, the inmates began to panic because it had become unbearably hot in the van, so much so that Plaintiff felt like he was being cooked alive and their paper jumpsuits were completely soaked in sweat and the inside of the metal cage began to drip with their sweat. See Id. ¶¶ 13-15. Plaintiff blacked out and when he regained consciousness, the other inmates were yelling, screaming, whistling, and shaking the van in a desperate attempt to get the attention of somebody inside the facility. Id. ¶ 16. Inmates were begging for their lives, and Plaintiff was likewise scared he would die, and he blacked out a second time. Id. Inmates were left in the van without air conditioning for approximately 40 minutes. See Aff. of Derek Douglass ¶ 7, ECF No. 70-7.

         Sergeant Luis Archuleta took an inmate to the van to put him in for transport, and when he opened the van door, an inmate fell off the bench to the floor, twitching, and he looked like he was having a seizure. Interview Tr. of Luis Archuleta 12:2-13:16, ECF No. 70-11. Sergeant Archuleta called medical and reported, “Inmate in the van having a seizure.” Id. 12:21-23. Corrections Officer Michael Petta observed a second inmate falling and the officers caught him and pulled him out. Interview Tr. of Michael Petta 6:2-25, ECF No. 70-12. One inmate looked like he was having seizures, and the other was out of it. Id. When Defendant Gonzales returned to the transport van, the inmates were complaining about the heat, so he asked the Sally Port Officer to help him get the inmates out of the van. Defs.' Mot. UF ¶ 8, ECF No. 63. An officer picked up Plaintiff and carried him into the facility because he could not walk on his own. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 19, ECF No. 70-6. Plaintiff's body was shaking or convulsing uncontrollably. Id. ¶ 18.

         Officer Petta ran to the Health Care Unit to inform Dr. Kimberly Birch that inmates were seizing in the transport van, and Dr. Birch responded in less than one minute. Def.'s Mot. UF ¶¶ 9-10, ECF No. 63; Def.'s Ex. G, ECF No. 63-7. Dr. Birch evaluated the inmates and determined that none of them were seizing, but a couple inmates were lethargic and were having involuntary muscle convulsions caused by heat exhaustion and/or dehydration. See Def.'s Mot. UF ¶ 11, ECF No. 63; Dep. of Kimberly Birch, MD 13:2-14, 30:4-31:5, 32:4-19, ECF No. 70-9. Dr. Birch admitted that she could not rule out whether an inmate seized or lost consciousness before her arrival. Dep. of Dr. Birch 30:4-31:5, ECF No. 70-9. Dr. Birch also observed that the inmates were pale and profusely sweating so that their clothes were stuck to them, and two of the inmates needed significant assistance out of the van. Id. 12:4-20.

         Dr. Birch assessed Plaintiff and determined he had either dehydration or heat exhaustion. Defs.' Mot. UF ¶¶ 13, 15, ECF No. 63. Plaintiff was given water to drink. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶¶ 20, ECF No. 70-6. He felt dizzy, light-headed, and nauseous; he had a bad headache; and he felt pain in his lower back and wrist caused when he almost fell out of the van. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶¶ 20-21, ECF No. 70-6. Dr. Birch initially recommended that the two inmates stay for observation. Dep. of Dr. Birch 18:1-4, ECF No. 70-9. Defendants, however, objected and said they could not leave them behind. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 22, ECF No. 70-6. Plaintiff said he did not want to get back on the van. Id. ¶ 23. Dr. Birch told Defendants to make sure the inmates stayed cool and had plenty of water to drink and she directed someone on her staff to call the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility (“GCCF”) in Santa Rosa to make sure medical saw the inmates. Dep. of Dr. Birch 20:11-21:23, ECF No. 70-9.

         All the inmates were evaluated by the medical staff and were then placed back on the van headed for the GCCF in Santa Rosa and then to Lea County Correctional Facility (“LCCF”) in Hobbs. Defs.' Mot. UF ¶ 12, ECF No. 63. The van left PNM North around 1:22 p.m. Id. UF ¶ 6. Medical staff had a short time to evaluate the inmates before they left. Compare Id. with Aff. of Derek Douglass ¶ 7, ECF No. 70-7. Between PNM North and the GCCF, Defendant Gonzales again drove the transport van. Def.'s Mot. UF ¶ 5, ECF No. 63.

         The inmates were not allowed fluids in the van during the transport. Dep. of Taracina Morgan 88:21-25, ECF No. 70-14. Plaintiff vomited in the van on the way to GCCF and felt extremely ill. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 24, ECF No. 70-6. Defendant Morgan called ahead to GCCF to inform the staff they needed medical, water, and sack lunches when they arrived. Dep. of Tarracina Morgan 95:13-24, ECF No. 82-1.

         When the van arrived at GCCF at 3:30 p.m., medical staff met the van. Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ V, ECF No. 70. Plaintiff showed Defendant Morgan his vomit and asked her if he could see medical, but Defendant Morgan responded, “What's done is done, ” and refused to let him see medical. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 25, ECF No. 70-6. The inmates were given sack lunches in the GCCF holding cell, but Plaintiff was only able to get a small sip of water because there was only one water fountain and it was impossible to push the button to drink while wearing the handcuffs, so another inmate held the button while they all took turns drinking. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff told Defendant Morgan he was unable to get anything to drink in the holding cell, so she gave him a small child-sized juice box. Id. Defendants loaded the inmates back into the van without anything more to drink and they left for Hobbs at around 4:00 p.m. Id.; Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ X, ECF No. 70.

         Defendant Morgan drove the van from GCCF. Defs.' Mot. UF ¶ 5, ECF No. 63. They arrived at LCCF at around 7:25 p.m. Pl.'s Resp. UF ¶ X, ECF No. 70. Upon arrival, Plaintiff immediately asked to see medical, but Defendant Morgan tried to downplay the incident and indicated that the other inmates were lying and that nothing happened. Aff. of Isaha Casias ¶ 27, ECF No. 70-6. Plaintiff eventually received medical and mental health treatment at LCCF. Id. ΒΆ 29. ...


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