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Higgins v. Medina

January 28, 2009


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


(Doc. 14)


I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Carl L. Higgins ("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 June 28, 2007. On April 11, 2008, the Court issued an order requiring Plaintiff to either file an amended complaint or notify the Court of his willingness to proceed only on claims found to be cognizable. Plaintiff opted to amend. Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's first amended complaint ("the complaint"), filed on May 29, 2008. The complaint filed on May 29, 2008 supercedes Plaintiff's 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King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987), and must be "complete in itself without reference to the prior or superceded pleading," E.D. Cal R. 15-220.

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 the Complaint

Plaintiff is a state prisoner housed at the California Correctional Institution (CCI) in Tehachapi, California. The series of events giving rise to the complaint began when Defendant Gibbs initiated a strip-search of Plaintiff but failed to follow CCI's search policy ,which requires that the door to a prisoner's cell remain closed while the prisoner is searched. Plaintiff alleges that after being searched, Plaintiff was handcuffed and then slammed to the floor, causing Plaintiff to suffer a laceration on his chin and injuries to his feet and knees. The complaint states that Defendants Medina, Miranda, Williams, and Lozano used pepper spray on Plaintiff while Plaintiff was handcuffed and lying on the floor. Plaintiff was then taken outside to CCI's yard, where Plaintiff was again slammed to the floor.

Plaintiff states that Defendants Jose and Reynoso witnessed Plaintiff being slammed to the floor in the yard, and that Defendants Jose and Reynoso had "advance notice of the use of force acts [sic]." First Amended Complaint, p. 7. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Jose and Reynoso violated CCI policy by failing to properly investigate the incident.

According to the complaint, Defendants Jose and Reynoso conspired with other named Defendants to fabricate a false charge of battery on a peace officer against Plaintiff, which caused Plaintiff to be placed in disciplinary segregation in a special holding unit (SHU) for fifteen months. Upon being released from the SHU, Plaintiff was placed in a "BMU" cell for ninety days, which entailed loss of yard, canteen, and personal property privileges.*fn1 Because personal property is not allowed in the BMU, Plaintiff was told that he needed to mail all of his personal property home to prevent it from being destroyed. Plaintiff alleges that, although he requested that his property be sent home and had sufficient money to pay for postage, his property was confiscated and destroyed.

In addition to seeking monetary damages from Defendants in their individual capacities, Plaintiff asks the Court to grant declaratory relief. "A declaratory judgment, like other forms of equitable relief, should be granted only as a matter of judicial discretion, exercised in the public interest." Eccles v. Peoples Bank of Lakewood Village, 333 U.S. 426, 431 (1948). "Declaratory relief should be denied when it will neither serve a useful purpose in clarifying and settling the legal relations in issue nor terminate the proceedings and afford relief from the uncertainty and controversy faced by the parties." United States v. Washington, 759 F.2d 1353, 1357 (9th Cir. 1985). In the event that this action reaches trial and the jury returns a verdict in ...

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