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Martin v. Sullivan

January 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Wunderlich United States Magistrate Judge


I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Russell Martin ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

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

A. Summary of Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff is a prisoner currently incarcerated at the Salinas Valley State Prison. However, the events at issue in Plaintiff's complaint appear to have taken place at the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi, California.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution through unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and placing Plaintiff in unsafe conditions of confinement. Plaintiff names Warden W. J. Sullivan, Correctional Officer Lieutenant Bryant and five unknown "Does" (Does 1-5) as defendants. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.*fn2

On November 14, 2005, Plaintiff made a request to a female sergeant to be separated from his cell mate because they were not getting along. Plaintiff never heard back from the sergeant. Plaintiff informed the third watch officers about the situation. Plaintiff was placed in a holding cage and eventually taken to Sergeant Alipaz at the program office. Plaintiff explained to Sergeant Alipaz that Plaintiff suffered from "real bad gas" and that it would be best to either have his own cell or to share a cell with another inmate that would consent to the situation. Plaintiff alleges that Sergeant Alipaz was angered by the request and ordered that Plaintiff's property be confiscated because he refused to go back to his cell with his cell mate. Plaintiff's TV was confiscated and he was placed in a cell by himself without any of the allowable property that had been issued to Plaintiff before.

Plaintiff alleges that the black inmates in the housing unit that he was placed in agreed to block their cell door windows in protest to get the attention of a captain or associate warden. Under the orders of Lieutenant Bryant, officers began putting on riot gear and ordering the inmates to remove the window coverings. Sergeant E. Givan and Officer Papillion came to Plaintiff's cell door and Plaintiff agreed to remove the window covering in exchange for a meeting with the captain the following day.

Ten minutes later Lieutenant Bryant ordered Plaintiff to cuff up to see the watch commander. Plaintiff was taken to a holding cage and ordered to remove his clothing in front of 10 to 15 correctional officers and medical staff, both male and female. Plaintiff refused and Lieutenant Bryant ordered officers to remove Plaintiff from the cage and remove his clothing. Plaintiff was examined by a female medical staff member. Officers removed the linens from Plaintiff's cell and Plaintiff was placed back in the cell with a pair of paper underwear. Plaintiff was forced to sleep on a steel bunk without any clothing, blankets, or mattress. Plaintiff was also deprived of his blood pressure medication for the three days that he was placed in the cell. Plaintiff was eventually given the opportunity to explain his situation to the watch commander who responded only by advising Plaintiff to obey the correctional officers in the future.

B. Eighth Amendment Claims

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments and "embodies 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir. 1968)). "[A] prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met. First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, 'sufficiently serious[;]' a prison official's act or omission must result in the denial of 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.' . . . The second requirement follows from the principle that 'only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain implicates the Eighth Amendment.' To violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, a prison official must have a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind.'" Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (citations omitted); see also Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 299-300 (1991) (discussing subjective requirement); Johnson v. Lewis, 217 ...

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