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Roberts v. Salano


August 30, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff James Edward Roberts ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed this action on January 31, 2008.

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "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).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

II. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff alleges that while on the yard at California State Prison-Corcoran on August 11, 2007, Defendant Salano disclosed his private medical condition to another inmate. Plaintiff alleges that Salano told the other inmate Plaintiff is HIV positive so that other inmates would harass Plaintiff. Defendant Martinez, who was the building supervisor, allegedly failed to hold his officer accountable for his conduct.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects individuals against the disclosure of personal matters, Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589, 598-99, 97 S.Ct. 869 (1977), which "clearly encompasses medical information and its confidentiality," Norman-Bloodsaw v. Lawrence Berkeley Lab., 135 F.3d 1260, 1269 (9th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). "[T]he right to informational privacy applies both when an individual chooses not to disclose highly sensitive information to the government and when an individual seeks assurance that such information will not be made public." Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona v. Lawall, 307 F.3d 783, 789-90 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). The privacy protection afforded medical information is not absolute, and may be infringed upon a showing of proper governmental interest. Lawall, 307 F.3d at 790 (citations omitted). The governmental interest in disclosure must advance a legitimate state interest and the government's action must be narrowly tailored to meet the legitimate interest. Roe v. Sherry, 91 F.3d 1270, 1274 (9th Cir. 1996) (quotations and citation omitted).

Plaintiff's allegations are sufficient to give rise to a claim for relief under section 1983 against Defendant Salano for revealing his HIV status to another inmate, in violation of the Due Process Clause. However, Plaintiff's allegations do not support a claim that Salano's actions rose to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation, and to the extent that Plaintiff is even attempting to pursue such a claim, it fails.*fn1

Defendant Martinez allegedly failed to take action against his subordinate after being made aware of the situation. To state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant acted under color of state law and (2) the defendant deprived him of rights secured by the Constitution or federal law. Long v. County of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006). "A person deprives another of a constitutional right, where that person 'does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which [that person] is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.'" Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 988 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978)). "[T]he 'requisite causal connection can be established not only by some kind of direct, personal participation in the deprivation, but also by setting in motion a series of acts by others which the actor knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury.'" Id. (quoting Johnson at 743-44). Further, although "there is no pure respondeat superior liability under § 1983, [and] a supervisor [may only be held] liable for the constitutional violations of subordinates 'if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them.'" Id. (quoting Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989)).

Plaintiff has not alleged any facts which would provide a basis for the imposition of liability on Defendant Martinez under section 1983. There are no allegations that Martinez was involved in the disclosure of Plaintiff's medical information, and his failure to punish Salano after the fact did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

III. Conclusion and Order

Plaintiff's complaint states a claim under against Defendant Salano for violating Plaintiff's right to informational privacy under the Due Process Clause, but fails to state a claim against Defendant Martinez. The Court will provide Plaintiff with the opportunity to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies identified by the Court in this order.

If Plaintiff does not wish to file an amended complaint and is agreeable to proceeding only against Defendant Salano on his due process claim, Plaintiff may so notify the Court in writing, and the Court will issue a Findings and Recommendations recommending that Defendant Martinez be dismissed from this action, and will forward Plaintiff one summons and one USM-285 form for completion and return. Upon receipt of the forms, the Court will direct the United States Marshal to initiate service of process.

If Plaintiff opts to amend, he must demonstrate in his complaint how the conditions complained of have resulted in a deprivation of his constitutional rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The complaint must allege in brief but specific terms how each named defendant is involved. There can be no liability unless there is some affirmative link or connection between a defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); May v. Enomoto, 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Finally, Plaintiff is advised that an amended complaint supercedes the original complaint, Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987), and must be "complete in itself without reference to the prior or superceded pleading," Local Rule 15-220. Plaintiff is warned that "[a]ll causes of action alleged in an original complaint which are not alleged in an amended complaint are waived." King, 814 F.2d at 567 (citing to London v. Coopers & Lybrand, 644 F.2d 811, 814 (9th Cir. 1981)); accord Forsyth, 114 F.3d at 1474.

Based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a civil rights complaint form;

2. Within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff must either:

a. File an amended complaint curing the deficiencies identified by the Court in this order, or

b. Notify the Court in writing that he does not wish to file an amended complaint and wishes to proceed only against Defendant Salano on his due process claim; and

3. If Plaintiff fails to comply with this order, this action will be dismissed for failure to obey a court order.


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