Schmitz v. Asman, No. 2:20-cv-00195-JAM-CKD PS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
Docket NumberNo. 2:20-cv-00195-JAM-CKD PS
PartiesTHOMAS SCHMITZ, et al., Plaintiffs, v. A. ASMAN, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date13 November 2020

THOMAS SCHMITZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
A. ASMAN, et al., Defendants.

No. 2:20-cv-00195-JAM-CKD PS


November 13, 2020


(ECF Nos. 63, 64)

Presently before the court are defendants' motions to partially dismiss the Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 44), to which plaintiffs have responded and defendants have replied.1 (ECF Nos. 63, 64, 65, 68, 70, 75, 76-79.) These motions were taken under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). (ECF No. 82.) As set forth below, the court DENIES IN PART and recommends GRANTING IN PART defendants' motions to dismiss.





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This matter concerns the death of William Schmitz ("Decedent") while incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison ("MCSP"), under the authority of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). Plaintiffs Thomas Schmitz and Dianne Mallia—Decedent's father and mother—bring this action individually on their own behalves and also as successors in interest to Decedent's estate. The Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") asserts 16 causes of action and names 32 defendants, including the CDCR and 28 CDCR employees and officials ("the CDCR defendants")3; two former CDCR officials, Dr. Kevin Kuich and former MCSP warden Joe Lizarraga; and Dr. Stephen DeNigris, a private doctor who contracts with the CDCR. (ECF No. 44 at 3-9.) The court describes in detail only the SAC allegations pertinent to resolving the present motions.

A. Factual Background

Generally, plaintiffs allege that Decedent was removed from critical antipsychotic medications and the prison's Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP)—a high-level outpatient psychiatric care program—and that these two decisions resulted in Decedent's death via methamphetamine overdose on January 21, 2019.4 (ECF No. 44 at 3.) Plaintiffs allege that these decisions took place against the backdrop of systemic problems with mental health care in CDCR prisons, as highlighted in the Coleman v. Brown lawsuit5 which resulted in court-supervised

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monitoring of CDCR mental health care that continues today. (Id. at 10-18.) Plaintiffs also emphasize a December 2019 order in that case finding that CDCR knowingly presented misleading information to the court in 2017 and 2018 so as to be relieved of further court monitoring. (Id. at 15-16, 47-48.) See Coleman v. Newsom, 424 F. Supp. 3d 925, 939-56 (E.D. Cal. 2019). Plaintiffs allege that, as part of this scheme to feign compliance, inmates who should have been in EOP—like Decedent—were excluded from the program in order to show improved metrics. (Id. at 16.) In addition, they say that between December 2016 to April 2017, the CDCR changed the requirement that EOP patients be seen by a psychiatrist every 30 days, instead allowing up to 60 days to "count as compliant on the metrics" reported to the court. (Id. at 16-17.) This change was approved by defendant Dr. Laura Ceballos, the Mental Health Administrator of Quality Management for CDCR's Statewide Mental Health Program ("SMHP"), a program developed to comply with the Coleman monitoring. (Id. at 7-8, 12, 16-17.) Dr. David Leidner, a Senior Psychologist Specialist on the Quality Management team, was also involved in implementing the change. (Id. at 8, 16-17, 21.) And plaintiffs allege that, in March 2017, CDCR Deputy Director of SMHP Katherine Tebrock—who was responsible for overseeing all CDCR mental health care—"knowingly presented fraudulent data to the Court to alter the number of psychiatrists required to provide [c]onstitutional medical care." (Id. at 7, 17-18.)

Decedent had a long history of mental illness and schizophrenia, conditions which caused him to experience auditory hallucinations and to self-medicate with illicit drugs. (Id. at 2-3, 19.) Decedent was incarcerated for shooting and killing a man while in a psychotic state; he was in CDCR custody at MCSP from February 2009 until his death. (Id. at 19.) From the start of his incarceration until May 2018, Decedent was in EOP—the "highest level of outpatient psychiatric care for mentally disordered inmate-patients." (Id. at 19.) Even so, plaintiffs allege that Decedent received unconstitutionally poor mental health care from as early as November 2015 through the time of his death in 2019. The SAC describes a series of sporadic appointments with various medical provider defendants who did not appropriately review Decedent's medical record or heed his history of symptoms and responses to various psychotropic medications. (Id. at 20-31.) Accordingly, Decedent's hallucinations, insomnia, and manic episodes continued with

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only occasional periods of improvement.6 (Id.)

On February 9, 2018, defendant MCSP physician Dr. Robert Rudas filled out a "physician request for services" for Decedent stating, "Patient with cirrhosis/[end stage liver cancer]. Per registry protocol patient is due for esophageal varices follow-up/surveillance." (Id. at 8, 34 (capitalization altered to sentence case).) Dr. Rudas requested that an "On-site" contracting medical provider complete the procedure by May 9, 2018, but Dr. Rudas left blank the section of the form for "Summary of preliminary or diagnostic work up." (Id. at 35.) The prison's Chief Medical Officer Executive, defendant Dr. Christopher Smith then "inappropriately" approved the form twice, once on February 12 and again on March 16. (Id. at 6, 35.) At a March 8, 2018 visit, Decedent's "primary medical doctor," defendant Dr. Marianna Ashe, noted that Decedent "[d]oes not have a known history of cirrhosis"; and Decedent's blood work indicated a low "FIB4 score" which (plaintiffs say) indicated "no need to evaluate for cirrhosis."7 (Id.) Dr. Ashe noted that Decedent had an upcoming abdominal ultrasound, but did not mention the endoscopy in her notes, nor did she counsel Decedent regarding the accuracy of his liver disease diagnosis. (Id. at 35.)

On March 14, 2018, at Dr. Rudas' instruction, Decedent was educated about his upcoming endoscopy. Dr. Rudas' order was to "Explain to [Decedent] that an EGD has been scheduled for him. Records show he has advanced liver disease/cirrhosis that puts him at risk for bleeding from the veins in his esophagus (esophageal varices). With an EGD the veins can be treated." (Id. at 36.) Decedent's paranoia was "greatly magnified" by his "false diagnosis" of cirrhosis/end stage liver disease, and the risk of "bleeding to death from veins in his esophagus." (Id. at 33, 35.) His family did not believe him when he shared the diagnosis, thinking he must be delusional or misunderstanding his doctors, since he had only recently developed Hepatitis C. (Id. at 33.)


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Around the same time, in the spring of 2018, medical staff decided to transfer Decedent to a lower level of psychiatric care, known as the Correctional Clinical Case Management System ("CCCMS"), citing Decedent's poor attendance in EOP group meetings. (Id. at 36-38.) CCCMS is for "inmate patients that can function in the general population and do not require a clinically structured, therapeutic environment." (Id. at 38.) Decedent asked to remain in EOP, as he "did not want to be on his meds and 'stuck' in his cell." (Id. at 37.) But on April 30, 2018, after nine years in EOP, Decedent was officially transferred to the CCCMS level of care. (Id.) According to plaintiffs, he was transferred because it would "help CDCR look better on their healthcare monitoring metrics and give the appearance of better care than actually provided." (Id. at 38.)

Following this transfer, doctors "completely stopped [Decedent's] antipsychotic medications," despite noting that Decedent reported "chronic [auditory hallucinations] of low level voices," because stopping the antipsychotic medications would prevent him from being "'stuck' in his cell because of the 'heat meds.'" (Id. at 39.)

On May 4, 2018, Decedent underwent the "fraudulent endoscopy," from which he awoke in "physical pain." (Id.) An on-site contracting physician, defendant Dr. DeNigris, performed the procedure and found "no evidence of Portal Hypertension specifically; No esophago-gastric varices . . ." but recommended another endoscopy in three years. (Id. at 40.) However, the procedure was incorrectly coded as an "Esophagogastroduodenoscopy, flexible, transoral; with band ligation of esophageal/gastric varices," making it look like Decedent had esophageal varices that were treated. (Id.)

Notations from Decedent's health care visits over the rest of 2018 showed that, without any antipsychotic medication, Decedent experienced a resurgence in his auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and insomnia—which providers still took no action to address. (Id. at 40-44.)

On January 17, 2019, four days before his death, Decedent met with his new MCSP social worker, defendant Violka Wanie. (Id. at 44.) Wanie noted that Decedent denied that his psychosis was substance induced, but Decedent told her that he "self-medicated when [he] started hearing voices to help [him] deal with them." (Id.) Upon hearing these reports from Decedent, Wanie took no action other than to recommend dormitory exclusion. (Id.)

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The SAC describes a coroner's report that places Decedent's "last known interaction" at 6:35 AM on January 21, 2019 with defendant Officer Adam Asman. (Id.) Officer Asman reportedly "saw water was flowing out from [Decedent's] cell," but he did not inspect the cell, contrary to CDCR policy. (Id.) Plaintiffs further state that the report noted that fellow defendant Officer Erik Bradley "did not see [Decedent] during his routine check" that day at 2:15 PM. (Id. at 45.) Bradley stated there was "an obstruction on the bottom half of the cell window," which he did not remove to positively identify Decedent, also contrary to CDCR policy. (Id.) Decedent's body was discovered at approximately 2:30 PM by another inmate. (Id.) Bradley and another officer responded to the discovery and...

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