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Aranda v. Martel

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


July 29, 2009

FERNANDO ARANDA, PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
JOHN MARTEL, ET AL., DEFENDANT(S).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge

ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT

Fernando Aranda ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Plaintiff's Original Complaint did not make the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and was therefore dismissed by this Court. Accordingly, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on July 10, 2009. In addition, Plaintiff filed a Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis which was dismissed by this Court due to Plaintiff's failure to submit a declaration that meets the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Plaintiff once again filed a Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis on July 10, 2009. For the foregoing reasons, this Court hereby DISMISSES Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated in the California Department of Corrections ("CDCR") Facility at Mule Creek State Prison. Plaintiff filed his Original Complaint on June 10, 2008. Plaintiff alleged that legal mail he submitted for delivery to the United States House of Representatives on January 10, 2008, was intentionally kept from delivery. Plaintiff alleged that the CDCR intentionally failed to deliver his mail, and as a result, his constitutional rights were violated. The CDCR keeps records of legal mail that has been sent out, and Plaintiff claimed that because his mail was not recorded, it was not sent. Plaintiff filed several grievances, all of which concluded that Plaintiff's mail could not be found. Dissatisfied with the result, he sought compensatory and punitive damages in federal court. Plaintiff also asked this Court to make an inquiry into whether his mail was actually delivered to the intended party.

Plaintiff asserted his claim against the CDCR and John M. Martel ("Martel"), the Warden of Mule Creek Prison, under a theory of respondeat superior. Plaintiff's claims alleged a specific, isolated incident, in which his mail was not recorded as delivered. This Court found that Plaintiff's Original Complaint did not make it clear if the mail was actually delivered and employees of the CDCR simply neglected to record the delivery, or if the mail was misplaced. Although Plaintiff alleged an intentional failure to deliver his mail, he did not appear to know if his mail actually went undelivered. Therefore, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint with leave to amend. In addition, Plaintiff had also filed a Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). This Court denied Plaintiff's request without prejudice, due to his failure to submit a declaration that met the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

Following this Court's Order Dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff filed an objection to the Court Order on July 7, 2009. After filing his objection, Plaintiff also filed an Amended Complaint and a Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis on July 10, 2009.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this Court must "review, before docketing... or ... as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court [must] identify cognizable claims or dismiss... any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -- (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b). This Court must therefore determine whether the Complaint states a cognizable claim for relief with respect to each named defendant.

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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007)(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive a 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).

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. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of 1983, if he does an affirmatives 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). Finally, vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

Municipal entities are subject to § 1983 liability, but not on the basis of respondeat superior. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978). Municipal liability may be based on (1) an express municipal policy, such as an ordinance, regulation, or policy statement; (2) a "widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is 'so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage' with the force of law"; or (3) the decision of a person with "final policy making authority." City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123, 127, 108 S.Ct. 915 (1988) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 167-68, 90 S.Ct. 1598 (1970); See also Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481-83, 106 S.Ct. 1292 (1986). Although compensatory damages and equitable relief may be awarded against a municipality under § 1983, municipalities are immune from punitive damages. City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 101 S.Ct. 2748 (1981).

In addition, a person may be granted permission to proceed In Forma Pauperis if the person "submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such [person] possesses [and] that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor. Such affidavit shall state the nature of the action, defense, or appeal and affiant's belief that the person is entitled to redress."

28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Prisoners seeking In Forma Pauperis status must also "submit a certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for the prisoner for the 6 month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint or notice of appeal, obtained from the appropriate official of each prison at which the prisoner is or was confined." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2).

III. DISCUSSION

In its previous Order, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint due to the fact that it did not state a cognizable claim for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). The Court previously pointed out that Plaintiff's Complaint did not make clear certain issues, such as (1) if the missing mail was actually delivered and the employees neglected to record the delivery, (2) if the mail was misplaced, or (3) if Martel had some kind of connection to the missing mail. Nor did Plaintiff allege that his mail was lost as a result of an express municipal policy or widespread practice of the CDCR. The Court stated that Plaintiff failed to allege a deprivation of constitutional rights or a causal link between any particular defendant and the loss of the mail, and as such, his claim was not cognizable.

In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has failed to remedy any of the deficiencies identified in his Original Complaint. In order for Plaintiff to seek a remedy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he must show an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered. See Monell,436 U.S. 658. Plaintiff has done nothing in his Amended Complaint to establish how Defendant Martel is responsible for the incident with Plaintiff's mail, nor has Plaintiff made clear whether Defendant failed to perform an act which he was legally required to do. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is full of vague allegations that leave unclear who exactly is responsible for his missing mail. Due to Plaintiff's failure to state a cognizable claim for relief, the Amended Complaint is not acceptable.

Along with his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff also filed an objection to the Court's previous order in which he addresses the specific details of his case with more specificity. This Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend his Pleadings so that he can remedy the deficiencies in his Amended Complaint by including more specific allegations similar to those included in the objection he filed. The Amended Complaint as it stands does not meet the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and so Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice.

In addition, Plaintiff has also filed a Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis. Plaintiff was told in this Court's previous order that in order to proceed In Forma Pauperis, he would need to submit the required documents that identify the assets in Plaintiff's possession as well as a certified copy of the trust fund account statement for a six month period preceding the filing of the Complaint. Plaintiff did attach the requisite documents along with his Motion to proceed In Forma Pauperis, and so Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED.

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 for this action. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a) & 1915(b)(1). Plaintiff has been with minimal funds for the past six months. He has never had more than a few dollars in his account over the past 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).

IV. DISPOSITION

For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ordered that (1) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; (2) Plaintiff's request to proceed In Forma Pauperis is GRANTED. 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. Plaintiff has 30 days to amend his Complaint.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20090729

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