554 F.3d 807 (9th Cir. 2009), 06-15719, Foster v. Runnels

Docket Nº:06-15719.
Citation:554 F.3d 807
Party Name:Ronald P. FOSTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. D.L. RUNNELS, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:February 05, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 807

554 F.3d 807 (9th Cir. 2009)

Ronald P. FOSTER, Plaintiff-Appellant,


D.L. RUNNELS, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 06-15719.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

February 5, 2009

Submitted Dec. 12, 2008.[*]

Page 808

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 809

Megan R. O'Carroll, Esq., and Constance L. Picciano, Esq., Office of the California Attorney General, Sacramento, CA, for the appellee.

Ronald P. Foster, SVSP, Salinas Valley State Prison, Soledad, CA, for the appellant, pro se.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California; David F. Levi, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-03-01113-DFL.

Before: ROBERT E. COWEN,[**]SIDNEY R. THOMAS and RICHARD A. PAEZ, Circuit Judges.

COWEN, Circuit Judge:

Ronald Foster, pro se, appeals the order of the District Court for the Eastern District of California granting summary judgment to Defendant Sandra Cole on Foster's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. Foster claims that his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment was violated when Cole deprived him of 16 meals over a 23 day period. The District Court granted summary judgment on the grounds that Cole was entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional right was not clearly established at the time of the alleged violation such that it would

Page 810

have been clear to a reasonable officer that her conduct was unlawful.

For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that Cole is not entitled to qualified immunity. On the basis of the evidence presented, a jury could find that Foster suffered a sufficiently serious deprivation and that Cole was deliberately indifferent to the obvious risk of harm. In addition, it is clearly established under the Eighth Amendment that prison officials are obligated to provide inmates with nutritionally adequate meals on a regular basis. Consequently summary judgment on Foster's § 1983 claim is inappropriate. The District Court's order will be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.


During the summer of 2001, while Foster was an inmate at the High Desert State Prison (" HDSP" ) in Susanville, California, there was a rash of inmate assaults on prison staff in Facility C where Foster was housed. A number of the incidents occurred as prison staff attempted to handcuff inmates through the food/cuff port in the cell doors. Several handmade weapons were also confiscated from inmates' cells. None of these incidents were attributed to Foster.

As a result of these incidents, Facility C was on lockdown. When the HDSP is on lockdown, inmates are not permitted to leave their cells, even for meals. Prison staff is responsible for distributing meals to the inmates in their cells. The food is received through the food/cuff ports in the cell doors.

In February 2001, HDSP Warden R.L. Runnels issued a memorandum to prison staff in an attempt to crack down on inmates displaying pornography in their cells. Warden Runnels had observed that in violation of prison security policy, inmates were covering with paper the windows that allowed prison staff to look into their cells. The memo stated that the cell windows, which ensure the safety and security of prison staff, as well as the inmates, could not be covered at any time.

On July 27, 2001, the sergeants and lieutenants in Facility C issued a memo regarding the obstruction of the windows in inmates' cells in light of the recent incidents on the ward. The memo stated that before the food/cuff port could be opened, the bright light in the inmate's cell must be turned on and anything covering the front or rear windows of the cell must be removed. Any inmate who failed to comply with these rules forfeited participation in the current activity, including receiving food at meal times.

Corrections Officer Sandra Cole was frequently responsible for distributing meals to the inmates while Facility C was on lockdown. On July 21, July 28, and one other occasion in July or August, Cole did not provide Foster with either breakfast or lunch. Foster maintains that Cole also denied him breakfast and lunch on July 22, July 29, August 4, August 5, August 11, and August 12.

Cole maintains that on each occasion, the windows of Foster's cell were covered with paper. She maintains that she instructed Foster to remove the paper from the windows, but that Foster refused to comply. Cole claims that she was unable to see into Foster's cell well enough to safely open the food/cuff port. Foster, however, maintains that there was only paper in the back window of his cell. Foster alleges that Cole could see into his cell and that she could have safely fed him. No other guard required Foster to remove the paper from his window nor refused to feed him on account of its presence.

Page 811

On September 12, 2001, Warden Runnels issued a staff memo regarding the feeding of inmates whose windows were covered during a lockdown. The memo was intended to correct the actions of prison staff who had " taken it upon themselves to not feed inmates based upon the belief that any type of window covering presents a security risk." (ER 185.) The warden did not expect staff to open the food/cuff port when inmates did not have the bright light on, the front windows were covered, or the staff member " feels that there is a substantial risk to safety." Id. However, the warden instructed that prison staff was not to construe the memo as " permission to not feed the inmates." Id. Rather, the memo instructed that when a staff member determined that there was a substantial risk to safety, the inmate should be instructed to remove any covering from the window or turn on the cell lights. If the inmate refused to comply, the staff member should continue feeding the rest of the inmates and then immediately notify a supervisor. The supervisor was required to evaluate the situation and take the necessary action to ensure that inmates were fed. The warden stressed that " inmates ARE to be fed when it is safe to do so" ; security concerns could only temporarily suspend the feeding of an inmate. (ER 186.)

Foster maintains that even after Warden Runnels' memo, Cole refused to feed him on October 31, 2002, and then again on January 2, 2003. Foster maintains that he lost 15 lbs. in July and August of 2001. Foster's testimony and medical records, however, suggest that he may have actually lost 13 lbs. between June 2001 and October 2001.

On May 19, 2003, Foster filed a complaint in the District Court for the Eastern District of California alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In an Amended Complaint, Foster alleged that Warden Runnels and Corrections...

To continue reading