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Apodaca v. Corizon Health Care

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 23, 2018

VICTOR ANDREW APODACA, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON HEALTH CARE, et al., Defendants.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          Laura Fashing United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Victor Andrew Apodaca's motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (Doc. 3), filed February 8, 2016; his (second) motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (Doc. 13), filed March 14, 2016; his motion for leave to file an amended complaint (Doc. 28), filed on April 24, 2017; and his (second) motion for leave to file amended complaint (Doc. 42), filed on January 4, 2018. Defendant Dr. David Birnbaum filed a response to Apodaca's second motion for leave to amend on February 2, 2018. Doc. 46. Also before the Court is defendant Dr. David Birnbaum's Martinez[1] report, including his motion for summary judgment (Doc. 18), filed on May, 14, 2016. Apodaca filed a response to the Martinez report on May 31, 2016. Doc. 19. The Honorable Martha Vazquez referred this case to me to conduct hearings, if warranted, including evidentiary hearings, and to perform any legal analysis required to recommend to the Court an ultimate disposition of the case. Doc. 5.

         Having reviewed the submissions of the parties, and being fully advised, I find that Apodaca's motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction are moot and recommend that they be denied. I further find that Apodaca's motions for leave to file an amended complaint are not timely and, therefore, recommend that they be denied without prejudice. Finally, I find that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that Dr. Birnbaum is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Apodaca's Eighth Amendment claim for failure to provide adequate medical care. Accordingly, I recommend that Apodaca's complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Background and Procedural Posture

         Apodaca suffers from a variety of medical conditions, including Gulf War Illness, [2]Hepatitis C, diabetes, hypertension, bipolar disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis.[3] Doc. 1 at 5, 10. On August 19, 2015 Apodaca became an inmate at Lea County Correctional Facility (“LCCF”) in Hobbs, New Mexico. See Docs. 1 at 1; 18-1 at 1. On May 18, 2017, Apodaca filed a notice of change of address informing the Court that he was moved from LCCF in Hobbs, to the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility (“NENMDF”) in Clayton, New Mexico. Doc. 32. Apodaca contends that during his incarceration at LCCF, the staff failed to adequately treat his medical needs. Doc. 1 at 2-5, 9-10. Apodaca filed his complaint for civil rights violations on February 8, 2016. Doc. 1. That same day, Apodaca filed a motion for injunctive relief. Doc. 3. A month later, on March 14, 2016, Apodaca filed a second motion for injunctive relief. Doc. 13.

         On April 28, 2016, the Court dismissed several defendants and many of Apodaca's claims. Doc. 15. Apodaca's only remaining claim is that Dr. Birnbaum and his staff were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. Doc. 15 at 11. The Court held Apodaca's motions for injunctive relief (Docs. 3 and 13) in abeyance to the extent that the motions raised Eighth Amendment concerns related to Apodaca's medical care. Doc. 16. The Court ordered Dr. Birnbaum to prepare a Martinez report regarding Apodaca's medical care and the issues raised in Apodaca's motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Id. Dr. Birnbaum filed his Martinez report on May 14, 2016. Doc. 18. In his Martinez report, Dr. Birnbaum asks for summary judgment on Apodaca's claim under the Eighth Amendment. Doc. 18. In addition to responding to the Martinez report, Doc. 19, Apodaca filed two motions for leave to file an amended complaint. Docs. 28, 42. This report and recommendation addresses all of the outstanding issues.

         II. Apodaca's Motions for Injunctive Relief are Moot.

         “The mootness doctrine provides that although there may be an actual and justiciable controversy at the time the litigation is commenced, once that controversy ceases to exist, the federal court must dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction.” Jordan v. Sosa, 654 F.3d 1012, 1023 (10th Cir. 2011). The Court will find mootness “when events outside the litigation make relief impossible.” Id. There are two kinds of mootness: constitutional mootness and prudential mootness. Id. “[T]he constitutional mootness doctrine focuses upon whether a definite controversy exists throughout the litigation and whether conclusive relief may still be conferred by the court despite the lapse of time and any change of circumstance that may have occurred since the commencement of the action.” Id. at 1024 (internal citation and quotations omitted).

         Prudential mootness may apply even where a case is not constitutionally moot if the case “is so attenuated that considerations of prudence and comity for coordinate branches of government counsel the court to stay its hand and to withhold relief it has the power to grant.” Id. (quoting Rio Grande Silvery Minnow v. Bureau of Reclamation, 601 F.3d 1096, 1121 (10th Cir.2010)). In general, prudential mootness applies to cases where, like the instant case, a plaintiff seeks injunctive or declaratory relief. Id. When a plaintiff requests equitable relief, he or she must demonstrate an adequate basis for that relief. In other words, a plaintiff must demonstrate “[a] likelihood of substantial and immediate irreparable injury, and the inadequacy of remedies at law.” Id. (quoting O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 499 (1974)).

When a prisoner files suit against prison officials who work in the institution in which he is incarcerated, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the basis of alleged wrongful conduct by those officials, and then that prisoner is subsequently transferred to another prison or released from the prison system, courts are presented with a question of possible mootness.
Where the prisoner's claims for declaratory or injunctive relief relate solely to the conditions of confinement at the penal institution at which the prisoner is no longer incarcerated, courts have concluded that they are unable to provide the prisoner with effective relief. Because a prisoner's transfer or release signals the end of the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights, an entry of equitable relief in his favor would amount to nothing more than a declaration that he was wronged, and would have no effect on the defendants' behavior towards him. Consequently, courts have routinely dismissed such penitentiary-specific conditions-of-confinement claims as moot.

Id. at 1027 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         Apodaca's motions for injunctive relief relate solely to the conditions of his confinement at the LCCF. In his first motion, Apodaca alleges that Dr. Birnbaum had taken him off of necessary medications and advised Apodaca that he would only be seen every 90 days regardless of the number of requests for medical care. Doc. 3 at 1. Apodaca seeks a temporary restraining order requiring the defendants to have him examined and treated by a “qualified specialist” and a preliminary injunction requiring them to carry out the specialist's treatment plan. Id. at 2. In his second motion, Apodaca alleges that he is being retaliated against for using the court system and asks for a restraining order and preliminary injunction requiring the defendants to abide by the law, give him full access to the courts, and to stop retaliating against him. Doc. 13 at 2-3.

         On May 18, 2017, Apodaca filed a notice of change of address informing the Court that he was moved from LCCF in Hobbs, New Mexico, to the NENMDF in Clayton, New Mexico. Doc. 32. Since May of 2017, therefore, Apodaca has not been subject to medical decisions made by Dr. Birnbaum, nor has he been denied access to the courts or subjected to any alleged retaliation by LCCF staff because he no longer resides at that facility. Accordingly, an entry of equitable relief in his favor would amount to nothing more than a declaration that he was wronged, and would have no effect on the defendants' behavior towards him.[4] See Green v. Branson, 108 F.3d 1296, 1300 (10th Cir. 1997). Because the entry of injunctive relief in Apodaca's favor would have no effect on the defendants' behavior, I recommend that Apodaca's motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (Docs. 3 and 13) be denied as moot.

         In contrast, Apodaca's claims for damages remain viable “because a judgment for damages would alter the defendants' behavior by forcing them to pay an amount of money they otherwise would not have paid.” Green, 108 F.3d at 1300. Accordingly, the merits of Apodaca's Eighth Amendment claim are analyzed in section IV below, pursuant to Dr. Birnbaum's motion for summary judgment.

         III. Apodaca's Motions to Amend Should be Denied.

         Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs the amendment of pleadings, provides in relevant part that “[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within . . . 21 days after serving it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(A). Any additional amendments require the opposing party's written consent or the Court's leave. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B). Local Rule 15.1 requires a proposed amended complaint to accompany a motion to amend. See D.N.M.LR-Civ. 15.1 (“A proposed amendment to a pleading must accompany the motion to amend.”).

         Apodaca filed two motions to amend, Doc. 28, filed April 24, 2017, and Doc. 42, filed January 4, 2018. In his motions to amend, Apodaca contends that his original complaint “name[s] a John or Jane Doe defendant by et. al, ” Doc. 28 at 1; Doc. 42 at 1, and that he is seeking amendments to name these additional parties. This attempt to add parties by amendment is without merit. First, Apodaca is incorrect. His original complaint named specific parties and did not name any type of “Doe” defendant or state “et al.” in the caption. Doc. 1 at 1. Indeed, the form he filled out to instigate this lawsuit instructs, “Do not use et al.” Id.

         Second, the motions to amend are untimely and unduly prejudicial to Dr. Birnbaum. In Dr. Birnbaum's response to Apodaca's second motion for leave to file an amended complaint, he argues that the proposed amendment is based on separate facts and circumstances than those in the original complaint and do not have any relationship to the facts in the original complaint. Doc. 46 at 4-5. Further, a Martinez report has already been completed, and any amendment at this point would unfairly prejudice Dr. Birnbaum. Id. at 5-6. I agree with Dr. Birnbaum.

Refusing leave to amend is generally only justified upon a showing of undue delay, undue prejudice to the opposing party, bad faith or dilatory motive, failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or futility of amendment. It is well settled in this circuit that untimeliness alone is a sufficient reason to deny leave to amend, especially when the party filing the motion has no adequate explanation for the delay. Furthermore, where the party seeking amendment knows or should have known of the facts upon ...

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