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Taylor v. Barnes

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


March 31, 2009

CHARLES TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
R. BARNES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

ORDER

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On January 29, 2009, the court filed findings and recommendations recommending that this action be dismissed due to plaintiff's failure to file a new application requesting leave to proceed in forma pauperis. On February 12, 2009, plaintiff filed objections and his in forma pauperis application. Therefore, the court will vacate the findings and recommendations.

The in forma pauperis application makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, plaintiff will be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a) & 1915(b)(1). Plaintiff has been without funds for six months and is currently without funds. Accordingly, the court will not assess an initial partial filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). Plaintiff will be obligated to make monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments shall be collected and forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

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, 1964 (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. See Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976). The court must also construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

Here, plaintiff alleges as follows. In July of 2008, he was released from a hospital in Reno, Nevada after undergoing fusion surgery on his neck. He was transported back to the California Correctional Center (C.C.C.) in Susanville in a hot, cramped and dirty van that smelled like vomit and that had little air circulation. After the two-hour drive, plaintiff suffered from muscle cramps, extreme pain, and was vomiting while trying to keep his catheter from pulling out. Plaintiff also describes another trip from the Reno hospital where the transport van smelled because another prisoner was vomiting and was very noisy because the doors were banging and rattling. Plaintiff has refused to go back to the hospital in Reno if the "dog-box van" is used and yet he still needs surgery on his lower spine. Plaintiff believes the transport vans do not comply with CAL-OSHA requirements. Plaintiff names the following defendants: Warden Barnes, the State of California, the Medical Department at C.C.C., and "contracted Doctors outside of Facility." (Compl. at 4.)

There are several deficiencies with plaintiff's complaint. The allegations therein are vague and conclusory as to the named defendants. 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. For supervisory personnel, such as defendant Barnes, plaintiff is advised that such supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Therefore, the court will dismiss the complaint and order plaintiff to file an amended complaint.

The amended complaint must allege in specific terms how each named defendant was involved in the deprivation of plaintiff's 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).

Plaintiff has also named the State of California as a defendant. The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law]... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). The State of California is not a "person" and not a proper party in this civil rights action. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989); Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 364 (9th Cir. Dec. 14, 2004). Therefore, in any amended complaint he elects to file, plaintiff should not include the State of California as a defendant.

Plaintiff is also advised that naming the "Medical Department at C.C.C." and "contracted Doctors outside of Facility" does not sufficiently identify those defendants. Therefore, plaintiff must obtain the names of the actual persons who were involved in the alleged violation of his constitutional rights.

Finally, plaintiff is advised that in his amended complaint, he must clarify the constitutional basis of his claim. If plaintiff is alleging a violation of the Eighth Amendment, plaintiff is advised of the following legal standards.

Only "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 670 (1977); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). "It is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause." Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319.

"[A] prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met." Farmer v. Brennan,511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). "First, the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, 'sufficiently serious.'" Id. (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). This requirement is satisfied if the prison official's act or omission results "in the denial of 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.'" Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The second requirement is a subjective one; "[t]o violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, a prison official must have had a 'sufficiently culpable state of mind.'" Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297). "In prison-conditions cases that state of mind is one of 'deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety...." Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-03.)

Plaintiff is informed that the court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. Local Rule 15-220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. This is because, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in an amended complaint, as in an original complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged.

In accordance with the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. The findings and recommendations, filed on January 29, 2009 (Doc. No. 6), are vacated.

2. Plaintiff's February 12, 2009 application to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. No. 8) is granted.

3. Plaintiff is obligated to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. The fee shall be collected and paid in accordance with this court's order to the Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation filed concurrently herewith.

4. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.

5. Plaintiff is granted thirty days from the date of service of this order to file an amended complaint that complies with the requirements of the Civil Rights Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Practice; the amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned to this case and must be labeled "Amended Complaint"; plaintiff must use the form complaint provided by the court; failure to file an amended complaint in accordance with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed without prejudice.

6. The Clerk of the Court is directed to provide plaintiff with the court's form complaint for a § 1983 action.

20090331

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