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Gonzales v. California Dep't of Mental Health

January 29, 2009

RICK GONZALES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

ORDER REQUIRING PLAINTIFF TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT OR TO NOTIFY COURT OF WILLINGNESS TO PROCEED ONLY ON CLAIMS FOUND TO BE COGNIZABLE RESPONSE DUE WITHIN THIRTY DAYS (Doc. 1)

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Rick Gonzales ("Plaintiff") is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must conduct an initial review of the complaint for sufficiency to state a claim. The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it determines that the action is legally "frivolous or malicious," fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). If the court determines that the Complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment.

"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. A court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Id. at 514. "'The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is very remote and unlikely but that is not the test.'" Jackson v. Carey, 353 F.3d 750, 755 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Austin v. Terhune, 367 F.3d 1167, 1171 (9th Cir. 2004) ("'Pleadings need suffice only to put the opposing party on notice of the claim . . . .'" (quoting Fontana v. Haskin, 262 F.3d 871, 977 (9th Cir. 2001))). 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 civil detainee awaiting commitment proceedings at Coalinga State Hospital in Coalinga, California ("Coalinga"). Plaintiff alleges that while at Coalinga he was subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures as well as punitive conditions of confinement in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff seeks monetary, injunctive and declaratory relief.

Plaintiff alleges that on January 18, 2007, defendants searched Plaintiff's property for super glue that was missing from the office. Defendants immediately found the super glue and also found a small homemade screwdriver and a small scratching tool used to make drawings of coffee cups. Plaintiff alleges that defendants classified these tools as dangerous weapons as pretext to justify an expanded search of Plaintiff's property. As a result, defendants searched Plaintiff's personal computer, DVDs and CDs. Later that day, Plaintiff found Defendants Martinez, Macias and Quintero standing around his bed with 27 of his computer discs. Defendant Martinez informed Plaintiff that they were confiscating the 27 discs. When asked why the discs were being confiscated, Defendant Martinez stated it was because "[w]e can't identify them." (Compl. ¶ 31). Defendant Martinez also confiscated Plaintiff's laptop. Plaintiff was later told that his property was searched for copyright violations and pornography.

On January 26, 2007, Plaintiff appeared before Defendants Barb, Robinson, Devine, and Quintero for a "Mini-Team" review regarding the search and seizure. Plaintiff was deprived of his computer for 30 days as punishment as a result of this review. Plaintiff alleges that "neither the defendants nor [Coalinga State Hospital] had any written rule addressing the alleged violations for which defendants confiscated plaintiff's personal Compact Discs and Laptop Computer". (Compl. ¶ 43). Plaintiff does not specify what the "alleged violations" were that resulted in Plaintiff's punishment nor the reasoning for the "Mini-Team's" disposition.

B. Fourth Amendment Claim

Plaintiff alleges that defendants' search and seizure of his computer and discs violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. "[C]ivilly detained persons must be afforded 'more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement that criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish.'" Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 989 (quoting Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 322 (1982)). "It follows logically, then, that the rights afforded prisoners set a floor for those that must be afforded [civil detainees]." Id. (discussing the rights afforded to persons civilly detained as sexually violent predators). The Ninth Circuit has held that "the Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures 'extends to incarcerated prisoners.'" Thompson v. Souza, 111 F.3d 694, 699 (9th Cir.1997) (quoting Michenfelder v. Sumner, 860 F.2d 328, 332 (9th Cir.1988)). Thus, this protection certainly extends to civil detainees. Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 993 (9th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff states that Defendants Martinez, Macias, Quintero, Walker, Rogers, Rabaut, Spurgeon, and Robinson were directly involved in the search and seizure of his property without justification. Plaintiff also states that the members of the "Mini-Team" review (Defendants Barb, Robinson, Devine and Quintero) confiscated Plaintiff's computer for thirty days. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Voss and Renzaglia knew of the constitutional violations, was in a position to prevent the constitutional violations, and failed or refused to do so. (Compl. ¶ 55-56). Therefore, Plaintiff states a cognizable claim for an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment against those defendants.

C. Fourteenth Amendment Claim - Conditions of Confinement

Plaintiff alleges that his civil confinement amounted to punishment in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. "'[D]ue process requires that the nature and duration of commitment bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed.'" Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 931 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 738 (1972)). "[C]ivil detainees retain greater liberty protections than individuals detained under criminal process, and pre-adjudication detainees retain greater liberty protections than convicted ones . . . ." Id. at 932 (citations omitted). "At a bare minimum . . . an individual detained under civil process . . . cannot be subjected to conditions that 'amount to punishment'". Id., at 931 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 536 (1979)). Treatment is presumptively punitive when a civil detainee is confined in conditions identical to, similar to, or more restrictive than his criminal counterparts, and when a pre-adjudication civil detainee is detained under conditions more restrictive than a post-adjudication civil detainee would face. Id. at 932-33. "The law ...


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