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Green v. Walker

February 25, 2009



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's amended complaint and two motions filed by plaintiff seeking preliminary injunctive relief.


The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

In plaintiff's amended complaint, he names more than thirty defendants. He alleges that he arrived at CSP-Sacramento in 2006 as a patient in the Enhanced Outpatient Program ("EOP"). Plaintiff alleges that he has repeatedly expressed his desire for adequate mental health treatment, but he has not received it. He contends that he has previously attempted suicide and takes psychotropic medication. He also alleges that he is entitled to a single cell but claims that defendants have ignored his expressed concerns about being housed with other inmates. (Am. Compl. at 14.)

In addition, plaintiff claims that defendants have retaliated against him for filing administrative grievances regarding his inadequate mental health care and his cell assignments. For example, plaintiff alleges that defendants have removed him from the EOP program, denied him recreational yard therapy, issued him administrative segregation lock-up orders, and denied him due process at disciplinary hearings. He further alleges that defendants have interrupted his visits with family and friends, disrupted his law studies, and interfered with his mental health treatment sessions. He also claims that defendants have threatened to transfer him, stolen and destroyed his property, and tried to pressure him into signing false affidavits. (Am. Compl. at 16-24, 29.)

Moreover, plaintiff alleges that certain defendants who are members of the "green wall gang" have instructed a fellow inmate to kill him. Plaintiff alleges that he woke up on October 17, 2006 to an inmate attack and suffered a broken nose, busted lip, and bloody back area. Plaintiff alleges that prison officials issued him a rules violation for "mutual combat," and after conducting a "kangaroo hearing" on the charge, found him not guilty. In addition, plaintiff alleges that "green wall gang" members have assaulted him with pepper spray and have threatened him with rules violation charges if he does not participate in "green wall gang" fights, which consist of inmates brutally assaulting one another. (Am. Compl. at 19 & 31-32.)

Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendants have subjected him to unsanitary conditions with respect to his meals. He claims that he has sustained food poisoning as a result of the refusal by some defendants to wear kitchen hats and change gloves after touching items other than food trays. Plaintiff claims that defendants continue to yell orders over food trays and rub their noses and other body parts during food service. (Am. Compl. at 22.)

In terms of relief, plaintiff requests declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages. (Am Compl. at 40-41.)

Based on the allegations in plaintiff's amended complaint, the court is unable to determine whether the current action is frivolous or fails to state a claim for relief. The amended complaint does not contain a short and plain statement as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). See, e.g., Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Dep't, 530 F.3d 1124, 1131-32 (9th Cir. 2008) (a complaint that is "so verbose, confused, and redundant that its true substance, if any, is well disguised" violates Rule 8). Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice to the defendants and must allege facts that support the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support his claims. Id. Because plaintiff has failed to comply with the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), the amended complaint must be dismissed. In the interests of justice, the court will grant plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint.

If plaintiff chooses to file a second amended complaint, plaintiff must demonstrate how the conditions complained of resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff's federal constitutional or statutory rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The court notes that plaintiff has named more than thirty defendants in this action. However, he has failed to allege in specific terms how each named defendant was involved in the deprivation of his rights. There can be no liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 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). Vague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations are not sufficient. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

In addition, if plaintiff elects to proceed with this action by filing a second amended complaint, he is advised of the following legal standards that govern his claims. First, with regards to plaintiff's claim about inadequate mental health care, he is advised that in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), the Supreme Court held that inadequate medical care did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment cognizable under § 1983 unless the mistreatment rose to the level of "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." In applying this standard, the Ninth Circuit has held that before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere 'indifference,' 'negligence,' or 'medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v. Cutter Lab., 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06).

The "deliberate indifference" standard also applies in cases involving the adequacy of mental health care in prisons. Doty v. County of Lassen, 37 F.3d 540, 546 (9th Cir. 1994); Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1253 (9th Cir. 1982). To establish unconstitutional treatment of a mental health condition, "a prisoner must show deliberate indifference to a 'serious' medical need." Doty, 37 F.3d at 546 (quoting McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991)). A medical need is "serious if the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result ...

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