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Shehee v. Baca

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


October 22, 2009

GREGORY SHEHEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEROY BACA, L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF, THIRD AMENDED COMPLAINT ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Florence-marie Cooper United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DISMISSING

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this civil rights action on April 9, 2008. The original Complaint challenged the conditions of confinement at the Los Angeles County Jail. Plaintiff alleged that, beginning February 2, 2001, he was a civil detainee confined at the Los Angeles County Jail "Twin Towers" facility pending civil proceedings under California's Sexually Violent Predators Act, California Welfare and Institutions Code § 6600 et seq. (the "SVPA") (Complaint, pp. 2, 5).*fn1

By Memorandum and Order issued on May 2, 2008, the Court found the Complaint deficient in numerous respects, and dismissed the Complaint with leave to amend. On August 22, 2008, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint.

The First Amended Complaint, which again appeared to challenge Plaintiff's conditions of confinement while a detainee at the jail, referenced thirty-three "appendices," of which Plaintiff actually filed thirty. The stack of filed appendices was over a foot high. These appendices contained hundreds of inmate requests and grievances submitted by Plaintiff to jail authorities (including a number of illegible documents), Plaintiff's medical records (some of which were illegible), documents reflecting other inmates' dietary restrictions, at least a hundred letters to Plaintiff from the American Civil Liberties Union apparently responding to Plaintiff's requests for assistance, and many other unnumbered documents of uncertain significance.

On September 5, 2008, the Court issued an Order dismissing the First Amended Complaint with leave to amend. The Court advised Plaintiff that the First Amended Complaint violated Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that a complaint contain a "short and plain" statement of the claim for relief, and that "[e]ach averment of a pleading shall be simple, concise, and direct." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), (e).

After seeking and receiving several extensions of time, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint on May 1, 2009. Also on May 1, 2009, Plaintiff filed "Plaintiff's Request to Move Appendices (Exhibits) From First Amended Complaint to Second Amended Complaint" ("Request to Move Appendices"), seeking to "move" all of the appendices to the First Amended Complaint to the Second Amended Complaint. Much of the Second Amended Complaint was identical to the First Amended Complaint, and contained numerous references to the appendices.

On May 13, 2009, the Court issued an Order dismissing the Second Amended Complaint with leave to amend, and denying Plaintiff's request to "move" the appendices of the First Amended Complaint to the Second Amended Complaint. The Court advised Plaintiff that the Second Amended Complaint, like the First Amended Complaint, violated Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

On June 9, 2009, Plaintiff filed the operative Third Amended Complaint ("TAC"). On August 25, 2009, Defendant Gloria Molina ("Defendant Molina") filed a Motion to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint. On August 25, 2009, Defendant Lee Baca ("Defendant Baca") also filed a Motion to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint. Plaintiff filed oppositions to the motions on September 11, 2009 and September 17, 2009, respectively ("Plaintiff's Oppositions"). On October 1, 2009, Defendant Baca filed a reply and evidentiary objections to Plaintiff's opposition. The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; August 25 and 26, 2009 Minute Orders.

SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS IN THE THIRD AMENDED COMPLAINT

Like the Second Amended Complaint, the Third Amended Complaint challenges jail conditions to which Plaintiff assertedly was subjected during Plaintiff's detention at the Los Angeles County Jail over an eight-year period (i.e., February 2, 2000 through February 25, 2008) (TAC ¶ 16). Plaintiff generally alleges that the defendants (the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, employees and agents of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the County of Los Angeles) were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, refused to give Plaintiff "more considerate treatment" than received by his criminal detainee counterparts,*fn2 engaged in racial discrimination, and conspired to deny Plaintiff his civil rights (TAC ¶ 1).

Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that various jail officials assertedly: (1) subjected Plaintiff to punitive conditions of confinement substantially worse than those conditions he faces as a detainee at the Coalinga State Hospital (TAC ¶¶ 24-29); (2) denied Plaintiff medical care and medication (TAC ¶¶ 30-47); (3) assaulted Plaintiff and engaged in other acts of retaliation for Plaintiff's filing of administrative grievances (TAC ¶¶ 48-52, 56-59); (4) denied Plaintiff his special diet (TAC ¶ 52); (5) placed Plaintiff in administrative segregation with criminal detainees and prisoners, without a hearing (TAC ¶¶ 53-55, 60); and (6) denied Plaintiff law library access and access to legal supplies (TAC ¶¶ 61-66). Plaintiff generally alleges that all of the defendants: (1) "by personal acts or omissions to act, implemented policies, procedures, and customs so deficient that they repudiated plaintiff's constitutional rights"; and

(2) "personally participated in the deprivation of plaintiff's constitutional rights, knew of the violations, and failed and refused to act to prevent them" (TAC ¶¶ 67-68). Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief against the defendants from subjecting Plaintiff to conditions of confinement that are the same as, similar to, or more restrictive than criminal detainees. Plaintiff also seeks compensatory and punitive damages (TAC p. 13).

Defendants Baca and Molina, in their individual capacities only, have moved to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint for failure to allege facts with sufficient specificity to show these Defendants' personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivations. Defendant Molina also asserts that she is immune from liability.

DISCUSSION

I. Standards Governing Motions to Dismiss

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted where: (1) there is no cognizable legal theory; or (2) the complaint alleges insufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Zamani v. Carnes, 491 F.3d 990, 996-97 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)). The Supreme Court recently explained that "to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) ("Iqbal") (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570 (2007) ("Twombly")). "[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

"While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a matter left to the court's experience and common sense, and requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).*fn3

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must take as true all non-conclusory factual allegations in the Complaint, and must construe the Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 964 (9th Cir. 2009); Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d at 969; Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Court may consider matters properly the subject of judicial notice. See Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688-89 (9th Cir. 2001). The Court also may consider exhibits attached to the Complaint. See Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990). The Court otherwise may not consider matters outside the Complaint. See id.; Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 925 (9th Cir. 2001); Schneider v. Cal. Dept. of Corrections, 151 F.3d 1194, 1197 n.1 (9th Cir. 1988) ("In determining the propriety of a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a court may not look beyond the Complaint to a plaintiff's moving papers, such as a memorandum in opposition to a defendant's motion to dismiss.") (emphasis original).*fn4

The Court must construe Plaintiff's pro se Complaint liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 892 (9th Cir. 2009). To the extent that a ground for dismissal applies to claims asserted against non-moving Defendants, the Court may dismiss in favor of non-moving Defendants, as well as moving Defendants. See Silverton v. Dep't of Treasury, 644 F.2d 1341, 1345 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 895 (1981) (court may dismiss action on its own motion in favor of non-moving defendant "where such defendants are in a position similar to that of moving defendants or where claims against such defendants are integrally related").

II. Plaintiff May Be Able to Plead a Cognizable Substantive Due Process Claim if the Conditions of His Confinement as a Civilly-Committed SVP Amounted to Punishment

Plaintiff Has Not Yet Pleaded Sufficient Facts to State Such a Claim, However.

As an initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff may be able to plead a cognizable claim for relief based on the conditions of his confinement. The Fourteenth Amendment applies to the conditions of confinement for civil detainees, such as sexually violent predators, and requires the government to "do more than provide the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" for such detainees. Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d at 931 (internal quotation omitted). "[D]ue process requires that the nature and duration of commitment bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed." Id. (quoting Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 738 (1972)). This requirement means that, "[a]t a bare minimum," a civil detainee cannot be subjected to conditions that amount to punishment. Id. (citation omitted). "[W]hen a SVP detainee is confined in conditions identical to, similar to, or more restrictive than those in which his criminal counterparts are held, we presume that the detainee is being subjected to 'punishment.'" Id. at 932 (citing Sharp v. Weston, 233 F.3d 1166, 1172-73 (9th Cir. 2000)). Additionally, "when an individual awaiting SVPA adjudication is detained under conditions more restrictive than those the individual would face following SVPA commitment, we presume the treatment is punitive." Id. at 933.

As summarized above, Plaintiff generally alleges that he was treated identically to, or worse than, his criminal counterparts at the Los Angeles County Jail based on unspecified acts, omissions, policies, procedures, and/or customs. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Baca and the County have subjected Plaintiff to conditions "substantially worse" than he would face upon commitment to Coalinga State Hospital, including: (1) assault by penal detainees; (2) denial of the purported right to confidential telephone calls, confidential contact visiting, and confidential mail; (3) denial of the right to "adequate" clean showers and hygiene; (4) denial of the right to "adequate" access to a law library and courts; (5) denial of the purported right to "adequate" outdoor and indoor exercise and recreation; (6) denial of the purported right to "adequate" socialization; (7) denial of the purported right to freedom "from isolation and seclusion"; (8) denial of the right to "adequate" and sanitary meals; (9) denial of the right to freedom from excessive and unnecessary physical restraints; (10) denial of the right to freedom from unreasonable searches; (11) denial of the right to be housed separately from and to be kept safe from criminal detainees; and (12) denial of the right to "adequate" and "more considerate" medical care mandated for civil detainees (TAC ¶ 24). Apart from the allegations concerning the Defendants' alleged indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs and denial of access to courts (discussed below), Plaintiff does not allege any specific facts with respect to these alleged conditions, however.

Plaintiff's entitlement to relief requires more than the "labels and conclusions" set forth above. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. If Plaintiff chooses to pursue a Fourteenth Amendment Claim based on the conditions of his confinement, Plaintiff must allege facts showing how he was subjected to these alleged deprivations.

III. The Complaint Fails to State Claims for Relief Against Defendants Baca and Molina in their Individual Capacities; Plaintiff Has Not Alleged Sufficient Personal Involvement

As Defendants Baca and Molina correctly assert, an individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978); see also Bressi v. Ford, 575 F.3d 891, 898 n.8 (9th Cir. 2009) (reaffirming same). Plaintiff may not sue Defendant Baca or Defendant Molina or any supervisor on a theory that a supervisor is liable for the acts of his or her subordinates. See Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981); Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1185 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1106 (2003); see also Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948 (noting in Bivens action, the "federal analog" to section 1983 suits, that "Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates on a theory of respondeat superior"). A supervisor may be held liable in his or her individual capacity "for [his or her] own culpable action or inaction in the training, supervision or control of [his or her] subordinates." Watkins v. City of Oakland, Cal., 145 F.3d 1087, 1093 (9th Cir. 1998) (quoting Larez v. City of Los Angeles, 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991)). As Iqbal and Twombly confirm, to state a claim "[a] plaintiff must allege facts, not simply conclusions, that show that an individual was personally involved in the deprivation of his civil rights." Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1154 (1999); Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

As discussed below, Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to show the requisite personal involvement by either Defendant Baca or Defendant Molina.

A. The Allegations Against Defendant Baca Are Insufficient

With respect to Defendant Baca, Plaintiff alleges:

Defendant [Baca] is the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, and in overseeing and managing the Los Angeles County Jail represents defendant LOS ANGELES COUNTY. In his capacity as Sheriff, he is responsible for the administration and management of Los Angeles County Jail facilities, including decisions concerning staff deployment, discipline, and training regarding the housing, care, and handling of plaintiff.

(TAC ¶ 5). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Baca, in cooperation with the County, is "responsible for establishing, developing, and implementing all of the policies, practices, and customs at all Los Angeles County Jail facilities" (TAC ¶ 18). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Baca is obligated to provide quarters for Plaintiff and to provide Plaintiff with "more considerate treatment" than the treatment provided to criminal detainees, and may not impose conditions "that are identical to, similar to, or more restrictive than, those in which plaintiff's criminal counterparts are held" (TAC ¶ 20-21). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Baca and others are "adamant" about treating Plaintiff "exactly the same as, or more restrictive than" criminal detainees (TAC ¶ 23).

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Baca's written policies and procedures for the jail system do not recognize and enforce the rights of civilly detained persons, denying "Equal Protection of the Laws" (TAC ¶ 25). Plaintiff does not include a recitation of any alleged written policies. Rather, Plaintiff generally alleges that the policies are enforced for the sole purposes of punishment (TAC ¶ 26). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Baca refuses to train County employees regarding the rights of civil detainees established by 42 U.S.C. sections 482.13 and 483.10, California Welfare and Institutions Code sections 5325 and 5325.1, and California Penal Code section 4002(b) (TAC ¶¶ 27-28).*fn5 Plaintiff asserts that the alleged refusal to train County employees resulted in him receiving inadequate medical care, being assaulted and placed in "punitive" segregation, being subjected to retaliation for filing administrative grievances, placing Plaintiff in the highest custody level, and limiting law library access (TAC ¶¶ 30-66). Finally, Plaintiff alleges that "all defendants, personally participated in the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights, knew of the violations, and failed and refused to act to prevent them, in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution . . ." (TAC ¶ 68).

Each of the above allegations are conclusory, and fail to describe with specificity Defendant Baca's alleged involvement in the constitutional deprivations Plaintiff claims. Plaintiff's bare allegations that Defendant Baca is responsible for overseeing the jail and has implemented assertedly impermissible policies with respect to the jail's housing of SVP detainees are inadequate. The Third Amended Complaint does not allege any specific facts from which the Court plausibly may infer that Defendant Baca had personal involvement in the conditions of confinement at issue. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claim against Defendant Baca in his individual capacity is deficient under Rule 8. Compare Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1951-52 (finding insufficient facts to support a claim where plaintiff generally alleged that Attorney General adopted a policy approving "restrictive conditions of confinement" for pretrial detainees with suspected terrorist connections in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks); al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d at 977 (also finding insufficient facts to support a conditions of confinement claim where plaintiff alleged that the Attorney General promulgated and approved a policy causing plaintiff to be subjected to harsh conditions of confinement).

B. The Allegations Against Defendant Molina Are Insufficient

The Third Amended Complaint contains only one allegation identifying Defendant Molina. Plaintiff alleges:

Defendant [Molina] at all times relevant herein was a Los Angeles County Supervisor, and as such is responsible for the overall conditions of plaintiff's "civil detention" within her district of Los Angeles County, wherein Los Angeles County Jail Men's Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility are located. In her capacity as a Los Angeles County Supervisor, defendant Molina is responsible for the funding of, and the enforcement of, mandates to preserve and protect plaintiff's rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States while confined in Los Angeles County Jail.

(TAC ¶ 7). As with the allegations against Defendant Baca, the allegation against Defendant Molina is insufficient to state a claim for relief against Defendant Molina in her individual capacity. The Third Amended Complaint does not allege any specific facts from which the Court plausibly may infer that Defendant Molina's direction, policies, decisions or failures to act*fn6 constituted actionable personal involvement in the conditions of confinement at issue. Compare Warren v. Kolender, 2007 WL 951833 at *4 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2007) (pre-Iqbal case finding allegations insufficient to establish liability for county board of supervisors, where plaintiff alleged the board failed to adopt a policy to prevent the county jail from housing SVP detainees similarly to other inmates; plaintiff did not allege the board had any policymaking authority with regard to the jail's housing conditions).*fn7

IV. Plaintiff Has Not Alleged Facts Sufficient to State a Claim for Denial of Access to the Courts

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants limited his law library access and his confidential communications with his attorney. To plead a cognizable claim for denial of access to the courts, Plaintiff must allege, inter alia, that the denial of such access caused him "actual injury." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350-55 (1996); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d at 1195. Plaintiff must allege that some specific non-frivolous legal claim has been frustrated or impeded. Here, Plaintiff has not alleged the requisite actual injury.

V. The Complaint Fails to State an Equal Protection Claim

To the extent Plaintiff alleges a violation of the Equal Protection Clause based on his conditions of confinement (TAC ¶ 25), the Third Amended Complaint is insufficient. Although Plaintiff alludes to racial discrimination in the Complaint (TAC ¶ 1), Plaintiff does not allege that his conditions of confinement were the result of discrimination against Plaintiff as a member of a suspect class. To state an Equal Protection claim that does not involve a suspect classification, Plaintiff must allege specific facts from which the Court plausibly may infer that Plaintiff was intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there was no rational basis for the difference in treatment. See Iqbal; Village of Willowbrook v. Lech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d at 1194-95. The Third Amended Complaint alleges no such specific facts.

CONCLUSION AND ORDER

For all of the foregoing reasons, the Third Amended Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Plaintiff is granted leave to amend to attempt to comply with the pleading requirements of Twombly and Iqbal. See Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d at 965. If Plaintiff still wishes to pursue this action, he is granted thirty (30) days from the date of this Memorandum and Order within which to file a Fourth Amended Complaint. The Fourth Amended Complaint shall be complete in itself. It shall not refer in any manner to any prior complaint. Plaintiff may not add Defendants without leave of court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 21. Failure to file timely a Fourth Amended Complaint may result in the dismissal of this action.

PRESENTED this day of October, 2009, CHARLES F. DICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE


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