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Thomas v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

July 23, 2009

JOHN THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

ORDER REQUIRING PLAINTIFF EITHER TO FILE SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT OR TO NOTIFY COURT OF WILLINGNESS TO PROCEED ONLY ON CLAIMS FOUND TO BE COGNIZABLE (DOC. 11) RESPONSE DUE WITHIN THIRTY DAYS

Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff John Thomas ("Plaintiff") is a former 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 July 5, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Plaintiff's complaint was transferred to this Court on July 27, 2007, and received on August 10, 2007. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on November 19, 2007, which is now before the Court. Plaintiff alleges a violation under the Eighth Amendment for excessive force against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"), Cox (Sergeant), Carrillo (Correctional Officer), A. Hedgpeth (Warden), S. L. Kays (Assistant Warden), J.D. Soto (Captain), Donald Schroeder (Lieutenant), S. Simpson (Lieutenant), L. Garcia (Medical Technical Assistant), and A. Diza-Albarran (Correctional Officer). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff is ordered to file a second amended complaint or to notify the Court of willingness to proceed only on the claims found to be cognizable in this order within thirty days.

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 this action. 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 Complaint

Plaintiff is a state prisoner who alleges he was tortured by Defendants as follows. Plaintiff was released for exercise on the morning of April 7, 2007, and took a minute to put his shoes on before entering the yard. Defendant Carrillo told Plaintiff to take his shoes out to the yard and put them on out in the yard. Plaintiff put his shoes on anyway. Defendant Carrillo then ordered Plaintiff to return to his cell. Plaintiff was then handcuffed and taken to a holding cell where he was searched and pepper sprayed by Defendant Cox.

B. Eighth Amendment

The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992) (citations omitted). For claims of excessive physical force, the issue is "whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Id. at 7. Although de minimis uses of force do not violate the Constitution, the malicious and sadistic use of force to cause harm always violates the Eighth Amendment, regardless of whether or not significant injury is evident. Id. at 9-10; see also Oliver v. Keller, 289 F.3d 623, 628 (9th Cir. 2002) (Eighth Amendment excessive force standard examines de minimis uses of force, not de minimis injuries)).

Factors such as the need for the application of force, the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, and the extent of injury inflicted are relevant to the ultimate determination as to whether force used by prison personnel was excessive. From these factors, inferences may be drawn as to whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary, or instead evinced such wantonness with respect to the unjustified infliction of harm as is tantamount to a knowing willingness that it occur. "Equally relevant are such factors as the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 321 (1986).

Other factors to be considered are the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of the facts know to them, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Id. The infliction of pain in the course of a prison security measure "does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment simply because it may appear in retrospect that the degree of force authorized or applied was unreasonable, and hence unnecessary." Id., at 319; see also Hudson, 503 U.S. 1.

Prison administrators "should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." Whitley, ...


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