Alsina-Ortiz v. Laboy

Decision Date09 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-2611.,03-2611.
Citation400 F.3d 77
PartiesMaría ALSINA-ORTIZ; The Estate of Orlando Ocasio-Alsina, (composed of María Alsina-Ocasio) Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. Zoé LABOY; Conjugal Partnership Ochoa-Laboy; Sixto Marrero; Cándida Rosa Ortiz-Zayas, a/k/a Jane Doe 98CV1893; Conjugal Partnership Doe-Guzmán; Emilio Castillo; Mercedes Rosado, a/k/a Mary Doe; 98CV1893; Conjugal Partnership Castillo Rosado; Ileana Torres-Mojica; Joe Doe 98CV1893; Conjugal Partnership Doe-Torres; Conjugal Partnership Torres-Méndez; Clark Doe 98CV1893; Conjugal Partnership Melecio-Ayala, a/k/a Conjugal Partnership Melecio-Doe; Jake Doe 98CV1893, Defendants, Appellees. Delfos Ochoa, a/k/a John Doe 98CV1893; Elliot Melecio-Vega; Amarilis Ayala-Martínez, wife of Dr. Elliot Melecio-Vega; Ernesto Torres-Arroyo; Olga I. Mendez-Flores, a/k/a Nancy Doe 98CV1893; Aida Guzmán; Ileana Torres-Mojica, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Glenn Carl James-Hernandez with whom James Law Offices was on brief for appellants.

Irene S. Soroeta-Kodesh, Assistant Solicitor General, Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General, with whom Roberto J. Sanchez-Ramos, Solicitor General, and Kenneth Pamias-Velazquez, Deputy Solicitor General, were on brief for appellees Zoe Laboy, Sixto Marrero and Emilio Castillo.

Before BOUDIN, Chief Judge, TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, and CARTER,* District Judge.

BOUDIN, Chief Judge.

This case arises out of the death in prison of Orlando Ocasio Alsina ("Ocasio") and the subsequent suit of his mother and heir, María Alsina Ortiz ("Alsina"), against various Puerto Rico prison officials.

On November 8, 1997, Ocasio — then an inmate at the Bayamon prison in Puerto Rico — was injured by a blow to the head in a prison riot. He received medical attention at a regional hospital but was left with head pain, convulsions, and one side of his body paralyzed. CT scans showed no brain damage and Ocasio was returned to his cell at Bayamon on November 15. It is his treatment, or the lack of it, during the next six weeks that is the present subject of this litigation.

Drawing permissible inferences in favor of Alsina, it appears likely that during this six-week period Ocasio was in considerable pain, was seriously disabled, cried and screamed in pain and, half paralyzed, could not get about. There is some evidence that Emilio Castillo, then a prison guard lieutenant in contact with Ocasio, was aware of his plight but did nothing to secure medical care for him.

Within a few weeks after the injury, family members visited Ocasio; his mother made efforts to secure a wheelchair and further medical care for him, and made pleas to the prison staff on Ocasio's behalf. A wheelchair was provided on December 17, two days after a request was made. On December 23, a local court granted a motion brought by Ocasio, requiring that he be provided with further medical evaluation and treatment.

On January 1, 1998, Ocasio was transferred to the infirmary at the Rio Piedras prison hospital, where he was diagnosed with AIDS and toxoplasmosis (a parasitic infection). Medical records indicate that there was a threat by this time that his brain function would be impaired by lack of oxygen due to inflammation. Starting the next day, Ocasio was treated for approximately two weeks at an outside medical center, and he continued to take medication after his return to Bayamon; in March he was again admitted for medical care, sometimes receiving treatment in hospital facilities and sometimes in prison facilities under supervision.

Ocasio died on May 11, 1998; an autopsy found his cause of death to have been brain inflammation associated with AIDS. On August 5, 1998, his mother brought suit in federal court asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000) and under state law against a number of defendants, charging both prison officials and medical personnel with a variety of derelictions. Over the next 21 months there was extensive discovery and eventually motions for summary judgment by the defendants.

Ultimately the magistrate judge recommended that the motions be granted, relying in part on his assessment of the merits and in part on what he found to be Alsina's failure to comply with a local rule requiring that the party opposing summary judgment file a concise statement of material facts allegedly in dispute. The district judge wrote his own opinion along the same lines, sustaining the recommended disposition and dismissing the federal claims with prejudice and the local law claims without prejudice. This appeal followed.

On appeal Alsina has abandoned her federal claims against everyone (e.g., medical personnel) except for three defendants: Zoe Laboy-Alvarado ("Laboy"), who was in December 1997 Administrator of Corrections in Puerto Rico; Sixto Marrero-Rodriguez ("Marrero"), then sub-director of the Bayamon Correctional Complex; and Castillo, the prison guard already mentioned. We confine our discussion to these defendants.

As to all three, the central charge was that they were liable under section 1983 for violation of the Eighth Amendment (protecting against cruel and unusual punishment) by exhibiting deliberate indifference to Ocasio's patent and severe medical needs. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 101-06, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976). However, Alsina's theories as to just how the defendants were individually liable were multiple and presented with less than perfect clarity.

In some renditions, Alsina seemingly claimed that the three defendants were responsible for providing medical care to Ocasio and failed in this duty. The district court rejected any such theory: it said that under the governing division of responsibilities, based in part on a federal consent decree,2 the actual furnishing of prison health care in Bayamon was the duty of the Commonwealth Department of Health — not the Administration of Corrections with which all three defendants were alone associated. Alsina does not challenge this ruling on appeal.

Instead, she argues that at least the prison authorities have a duty to notify the health professionals if and when prisoners need medical attention. Cf. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05, 97 S.Ct. 285; Miranda v. Munoz, 770 F.2d 255, 259 (1st Cir.1985). The defendants do not deny such a responsibility; instead, they say that Alsina failed to file a compliant motion of contested facts and that, on the resulting record, the three defendants lacked knowledge sufficient to trigger a responsibility to summon medical help any earlier than it was provided.

A local rule of the district court (then Rule 311.12, now revised and renumbered as Rule 56) requires that a party seeking summary judgment supply a list of the allegedly uncontested facts on which it relies (together with record citations) and that the opposing papers include "a separate, short, and concise statement of the material facts" (again with "specific" record references) that the opponent asserts require a trial. This "anti-ferret" rule aims to make the parties organize the evidence rather than leaving the burden upon the district judge.

Where the party opposing summary judgment fails to comply, the rule permits the district court to treat the moving party's statement of facts as uncontested, Cosme-Rosado v. Serrano-Rodriguez, 360 F.3d 42, 46 (1st Cir.2004), and we have regularly upheld its enforcement. See, e.g., Morales v. A.C. Orssleff's EFTF, 246 F.3d 32, 32-35 (1st Cir.2001). However, whether the rule has been violated is a different question, easily answered where the opponent fails to file any statement or omits all record citations but less so where the deficiency is of a different kind.

In this instance, Laboy and Marrero offered 14 paragraphs of allegedly uncontested facts in four pages; Alsina's corresponding statements as to just these two defendants spanned 60 pages and 130 facts — many being irrelevant, repetitive or unsupported by record citation. There is no mechanical rule rendering a long statement insufficiently "short" and "concise"; after all, a case could have a great many material contested facts. And in this instance Alsina was making a number of quite different claims against different defendants based on different theories.

Nevertheless, having reviewed the opposing statements filed by Alsina, we do not think the statements even arguably comply with the spirit or letter of the rule. Burying the district court in a mass of supposedly material contested facts, many irrelevant and many unsupported by citations, creates the very morass from which the rule aims to protect the district judge. In this case, Alsina simply dumped an undigested record on the judge, expecting him to do counsel's job.

That fact alone is not necessarily decisive of the outcome in this case. It mainly means that the district judge can accept the moving party's allegedly uncontested facts as true, but whether or not this justifies summary judgment for the moving party depends upon the legal and factual configuration that results. See, e.g., ...

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