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Lewis v. Brown

July 14, 2009

DARONTA T. LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
M. BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In accordance with the court's January 30, 2009 order, plaintiff has filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.*fn1 This proceeding was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge in accordance with Local Rule 72-302 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Plaintiff has submitted an in forma pauperis application that 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, 555 (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, 550 U.S. 555. 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).

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).

Moreover, 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).

Before the court had an opportunity to screen plaintiff's original complaint, he filed an amended complaint. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a party may amend his or her pleading "once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Accordingly, the court will proceed to screen plaintiff's amended complaint.

In his amended complaint, plaintiff has identified as defendants Mr. Brown, Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Koenig, Mr. Tovar, Mrs. Hobbs, Mr. Davey, Mr. Wright, and Mr. McDonald. All of the defendants appear to be employees at High Desert State Prison ("HDSP"). Plaintiff's amended complaint is difficult to decipher, but he appears to allege as follows. Plaintiff arrived at HDSP on November 27, 2007, and requested a cell move to prevent cellmate violence. According to plaintiff, Officers Reppetoe and Van Sant told him that he had to hit or kick staff for a cell move to administrative segregation. Plaintiff alleges that he recited his "rights," and without explanation, the officers handcuffed him and told him they were going to escort him to the program office but instead took him outside where Lieutenant Rath was waiting with Officers Johnson and Harris. According to plaintiff, Lieutenant Rath told Officer Harris to "have a talky talk" with plaintiff. Officer Harris then struck plaintiff with his baton while Officer Edwards pointed a weapon at plaintiff. Officers Johnson, Reppetoe, and Van Sant then sprayed plaintiff with pepper spray. (Am. Compl. 3-5.)

Plaintiff appears to allege that he filed a staff complaint about this alleged incident and as a result, he experienced several acts of retaliation. For example, he alleges that officers issued him a rules violation report for purportedly breaking the cell block's glass front window. Plaintiff alleges that he received a punishment of 60 days loss of credits, and the officers at his hearing threatened to further retaliate against him. Plaintiff also alleges that Sergeant Koenig summoned plaintiff to the program office where he directed derogatory, profane language at him and then ordered a search of plaintiff's cell for a phonebook. Plaintiff alleges that Officers Tevar and Hobbs executed the cell search and temporarily seized plaintiff's "legal and regular property," including his identification card, resulting in plaintiff's workplace absence and an additional rules violation charges being brought against him for missing his G.E.D. classes.

Plaintiff alleges that as a result of this rules violation he lost 30 days of entertainment. In addition, plaintiff alleges that when he received his property back, it was disorganized and that sentimental valuables were missing. (Am. Compl. at 6-15.)

The allegations in plaintiff's amended complaint are so vague and conclusory that 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). 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 ...


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