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Carroll v. Wimbish

August 4, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


(Doc. 1)


Ronald J. Carroll ("Plaintiff") is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed his complaint on February 28, 2006.

A. Screening Requirement

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). A complaint, or portion thereof, should only be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it appears beyond doubt that Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim or claims that would entitle him to relief. See Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984), citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); see also Palmer v. Roosevelt Lake Log Owners Ass'n, 651 F.2d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1981).

B. Summary of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint

It appears that all of Plaintiff's allegations pertain to his confinement as an involuntary civil detainee in the Kern County Jail while awaiting commitment proceedings. However, the specific factual basis of Plaintiff's claims are missing. It should be noted that Plaintiff's complaint is replete with legal quotations, argument, and rhetorical questions. Plaintiff's "Statement of the Claim" covers a little more than ten pages -- of which less than ten lines contained specific factual allegations. Near the end of his complaint, Plaintiff delineates nine alleged claims wherein he makes general conclusory allegations, without alleging their specific factual basis and/or which defendant(s) were responsible for their occurrence.

The Court, is unable to find that Plaintiff's complaint states any cognizable claim(s) for relief against any named defendant(s). The Court provides Plaintiff with the following law that might apply to his generalized claims. The legal standards provided below are not intended to be an exhaustive list of claims that Plaintiff may or may not raise in an amended complaint. It is Plaintiff's duty to specify his claims for relief and their factual basis against each named defendant. The Court will not guess as to which facts Plaintiff might believe support which of his claimed constitutional violations against any given defendant.

C. Pleading Requirements

1. Rule 8(a)

A plaintiff's complaint must satisfy the requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), which calls for a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Rule 8(a) expresses the principle of notice-pleading, whereby the pleader need only give the opposing party fair notice of a claim. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Rule 8(a) does not require an elaborate recitation of every fact a plaintiff may ultimately rely upon at trial, but only a statement sufficient to "give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Id. at 47. However, while detailed allegations are not required, Plaintiff must set forth "the grounds of his entitlement to relief[,]" which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . . ." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Although accepted as true, the "[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (citations omitted).

The Court finds that the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint are too generic and conclusory to put defendants on notice of the actions that allegedly violated Plaintiff's rights. In his amended complaint, plaintiff is urged to list each claim separately and provide a brief statement of facts indicating what acts or omissions he attributes to each defendant that allegedly violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff should complete the form complaint as completely as possible. Plaintiff is further directed to refrain from using legal references, arguments, and/or jargon as they are inappropriate at the pleading stage.

Plaintiff is also advised that he is not required to tender evidence at this stage in the proceedings and should refrain from submitting attachments. It is inappropriate to attach exhibits to a complaint. See Rule 8, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court cannot serve as a repository for the parties' evidence. Originals or copies of evidence (i.e., prison or medical records, witness affidavits, etc.) should not be submitted until the course of litigation brings the evidence into question (for example, on a Motion for Summary Judgment, at trial, or when requested by the court).

2. Linkage Requirement

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides:

Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute plainly requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[a] person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). In order to state a claim for relief under section 1983, plaintiff must link each named defendant with some affirmative act or omission that demonstrates a violation of plaintiff's federal rights.

Plaintiff's complaint fails to link any named defendant(s) to the allegedly unconstitutional acts or omissions. Each of Plaintiff's delineated claims refer only to "defendants," or "defendants, et al." Such general conclusory allegations are insufficient to place any given defendant on notice as to what actions (or inactions) Plaintiff feels they engaged in that violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. The Court assumes that Plaintiff has named all four defendants based on their responsibilities for overseeing the placement and transfers of all civil detainees. However, this is insufficient as such allegations are nothing more than an attempt to impose liability via respondeat superior, which is not permissible under section 1983.

Finally, Plaintiff only very generally identifies the conditions he alleges violate his constitutional rights -- as further discussed herein below. These very general, conclusory allegations are insufficient to allow the Court to find that they rise to the level of constitutional violations, even in light of notice pleading. "While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Id. at 1965 (citations omitted).

D. Legal Standards

1. Civil Detainees under California's Sexually Violent Predator Act. ("SVP")

"First, civilly detained persons must be afforded 'more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish.' Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 322,(1982); see also Sharp v. Weston, 233 F.3d 1166, 1172 (9th Cir.2000). It follows logically, then, that the rights afforded prisoners set a floor for those that must be afforded SVPs, and that where the Defendants violate a standard that is clearly established in the prison context, the violation is clearly established under the SVP scheme, except where the California SVP statutory scheme would give a reasonable official reason to believe that the body of law applicable to prisoners would not apply. ... The 'only reasonable conclusion from binding authority' is that the conditions of confinement for SVPs cannot be more harsh than those under which prisoners are detained, except where the statute itself creates a relevant difference." Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 989 (9th Cir. 2007).

2. Confinement in County Jail Awaiting SVP Commitment Proceedings

"... [A] civil detainee awaiting adjudication is entitled to conditions of confinement that are not punitive. Under Bell and our circuit precedent, a restriction is punitive where it is intended to punish, or where it is excessive in relation to its non-punitive purpose, or is employed to achieve objectives that could be accomplished in so many alternative and less harsh methods. With respect to an individual confined awaiting adjudication under civil process, a presumption of punitive conditions arises where the individual is detained under conditions identical to, similar to, or more restrictive than those under which pretrial criminal detainees are held, or where the individual is detained under conditions more restrictive than those he or she would face upon commitment. Finally, to prevail on a Fourteenth Amendment claim regarding conditions of confinement, the confined individual need not prove deliberate indifference on the part of government officials." Odom v. Kolender 393 F.3d 918, 934 (9th Cir. 2004) (citations and internal quotation marks ...

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