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United States District Court, S.D. California

September 15, 2005.

THOMAS EDWIN SHOEMAKER, Inmate Booking Plaintiff,

The opinion of the court was delivered by: IRMA GONZALEZ, District Judge

Plaintiff, pre-trial detainee currently residing at the George Bailey Detention Facility in San Diego, California, and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at the San Diego Central Jail, a deputy sheriff caused Plaintiff's cell door to be shut on his fingers. See Compl. at 3.

Plaintiff did not prepay the $250 filing fee mandated by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) to commence a civil action; instead, he filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [Doc. No. 2]. The Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP on August 26, 2005 [Doc. No. 3]. I. Initial Screening per 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)

  A. Standard of Review

  The Prison Litigation Reform Action ("PLRA") obligates the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding IFP and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program," "as soon as practicable after docketing." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b). Under these provisions, the Court must sua sponte dismiss any IFP or prisoner complaint, or any portion thereof, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or which seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A; Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 F.3d 845, 845 (9th Cir. 2001) ("[T]he provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) are not limited to prisoners."); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (noting that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) "not only permits but requires" the court to sua sponte dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 446 (9th Cir. 2000) (§ 1915A).

  Before amendment by the PLRA, the former 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) permitted sua sponte dismissal of only frivolous and malicious claims. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126, 1130. An action is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). However, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A now mandate that the court reviewing an IFP or prisoner's suit make and rule on its own motion to dismiss before effecting service of the Complaint by the U.S. Marshal pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 4(c)(2). See Calhoun, 254 F.3d at 845; Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1127; see also McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604-05 (6th Cir. 1997) (stating that sua sponte screening pursuant to § 1915 should occur "before service of process is made on the opposing parties"); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A).

  "[W]hen determining whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick, 213 F.3d at 447; Barren, 152 F.3d at 1194 (noting that § 1915(e)(2) "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)"); Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1121. In addition, the Court has a duty to liberally construe a pro se's pleadings, see KarimPanahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988), which is "particularly important in civil rights cases." Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992). In giving liberal interpretation to a pro se civil rights complaint, however, the court may not "supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

  B. Failure to State a Claim

  As currently pleaded, it is clear that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 imposes two essential proof requirements upon a claimant: (1) that a person acting under color of state law committed the conduct at issue, and (2) that the conduct deprived the claimant of some right, privilege, or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 124 S. Ct. 2117, 2122 (2004); Haygood v. Younger, 769 F.2d 1350, 1354 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc).

  To the extent Plaintiff only names the "San Diego County Jail" as a Defendant, his Complaint fails to state a claim because a municipal agency or department is not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. See Vance v. County of Santa Clara, 928 F. Supp. 993, 996 (N.D. Cal. 1996) ("Naming a municipal department as a defendant is not an appropriate means of pleading a § 1983 action against a municipality.") (citation omitted); Powell v. Cook County Jail, 814 F. Supp. 757, 758 (N.D. Ill. 1993) ("Section 1983 imposes liability on any `person' who violates someone's constitutional rights `under color of law.' Cook County Jail is not a `person.').

  While the County of San Diego itself may be considered a "person" and therefore, a proper defendant under § 1983, see Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Hammond v. County of Madera, 859 F.2d 797, 801 (9th Cir. 1988), as a municipality it may be held liable under § 1983 only where the Plaintiff alleges facts to show that a constitutional deprivation was caused by the implementation or execution of "a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated" by the County. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690; Board of the County Commissioners v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 402-04 (1997); Navarro v. Block, 72 F.3d 712, 714 (9th Cir. 1995). In other words, "respondeat superior and vicarious liability are not cognizable theories of recovery against a municipality." Miranda v. Clark County, Nevada, 279 F.3d 1102, 1109-10 (9th Cir. 2002). "Instead, a Monell claim exists only where the alleged constitutional deprivation was inflicted in `execution of a government's policy or custom."' Id. (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). Thus, even were the Court to liberally construe Plaintiff's allegations against the San Diego County Jail as an attempt to state a claim against County of San Diego, Plaintiff has not stated a § 1983 claim because he has failed to allege that any individual County employee deprived him of a constitutional right pursuant to official municipal policy, custom or practice. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 690; Brown, 520 U.S. at 403.

  Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a section 1983 claim upon which relief may be granted, and is therefore subject to dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b) & 1915A(b). The Court will provide Plaintiff with an opportunity to amend his pleading to cure the defects set forth above. Plaintiff is warned that if his amended complaint fails to address the deficiencies of pleading noted above, it may be dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend.

  II. Conclusion and Order

  Good cause appearing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

  Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii) & 1915A(b)(1). However, Plaintiff is GRANTED forty five (45) days leave from the date this Order is stamped "Filed" in which to file a First Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies of pleading noted above. Plaintiffs Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to the superseded pleading. See S.D. CAL. CIVLR. 15.1. Defendants not named and all claims not realleged in the Amended Complaint will be deemed to have been waived. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987). Further, if Plaintiffs Amended Complaint still fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, it may be dismissed without further leave to amend and may hereafter be counted as a "strike" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).*fn1 See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177-79 (9th Cir. 1996).



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