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Eichler v. Tilton

January 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings for defendants Tilton, Woodford, Hickman, Terhune, Gomez, Williams, Ling and Tristan (Doc. 101). Plaintiff filed an opposition (Doc. 104) and defendants filed a reply (Doc. 105).


This case proceeds on Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 47), wherein he raises claims regarding the denial of dental care. The court authorized service on defendants Tilton, Nessenson, Duckett, Stogsdill, Morris, Sturges, Woodford, Hickman, Terhune, Gomez, Yamamoto, Tristan, Williams, Romary, and Ling. Several defendants filed a motion to dismiss which was denied (Doc. 88, 94). In addition, defendants Yamamoto and Romary were dismissed from this action due to lack of service (Doc. 87, 95). Defendants Duckett, Morris, Nessenson, Stogsdill, Sturges, Tilton and Williams have filed an answer (Doc. 57). Defendants Woodford, Hickman, Terhune, Gomez, Tristan and Ling have also filed an answer (Doc. 97).

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges he was denied necessary dental care by the dentists employed by the California Department of Corrections (CDC).*fn1 Plaintiff contends he suffers from severe gum disease, and remains in excruciating pain, resulting in the loss of several teeth due to the deliberate lack of dental care. As to the moving defendants, plaintiff's complaint alleges they were each informed, either personally or through the inmate appeals process, of his need for adequate dental care. He claims they are each responsible for the dental treatment of all inmates, including himself, and they failed to provide him the necessary treatment, resulting in pain and loss of teeth.

The current motion for judgment on the pleadings was filed by defendants Tilton, Woodford, Hickman, Terhune, Gomez, Williams,*fn2 Ling and Tristan, and is based on plaintiff's failure to allege sufficient facts to establish supervisory liability, and the statute of limitations.


A motion for judgment on the pleadings is properly the subject of an motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The standards applied on a Rule 12(c) motion is essentially the same as that applied on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Hal Roach Studios Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1990). In considering a motion under Rule 12(c), as with a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all allegations of material fact in the complaint as true. See id.; see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). The court must also construe the alleged facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see also Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). All ambiguities or doubts must also be resolved in the plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, legally conclusory statements, not supported by actual factual allegations, need not be accepted. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009). In addition, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

Rule 8(a)(2) 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 Atl. 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." Id. at 555-56. The complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting 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 for entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).


The moving defendants argue that plaintiff's complaint fails to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for supervisory liability. In addition, defendants Gomez and Terhune argue any claims against them are barred by the statute of limitations.

A. Supervisory Liability

Supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983). A supervisor is only liable for the constitutional violations of subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations. See id. The Supreme Court has rejected the notion that a supervisory defendant can be liable based on knowledge and acquiescence in a subordinate's unconstitutional conduct because government officials, regardless of their title, can only be held liable under § 1983 for his or her own conduct and not the conduct of others. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). When a defendant holds a supervisory position, the causal link between such defendant 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 supervisory personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). "[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the constitution." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948.

Here, Plaintiff's complaint states defendants Tilton, Woodford, Hickman, Terhune, Gomez, and Tristan each held the position of Director of CDCR. As such, they were "responsible for promulgating, supervising the promulgation of, implementing [sic], supervising [the] implementation [sic] of, monitoring compliance with, enforcing and/or supervising the enforcement of policies and procedures affecting the dental care of all inmates within the CDC." (Am. Compl., Doc. 47 at 5 of 29). He states defendant Ling was the Chief Dental Officer at Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) and, in that position, was "responsible for dental care of all inmates . . . [as well as] the supervision, direction, and/or proper training of the dental staff . . . management of dental programs . . . determination of proper dental care. . . stocking [of] dental supplies . . . ." (Am. Compl., Doc. 47 at 7-8). He claims defendant Williams was the Health Care Manager at MCSP, and "is responsible for the dental of all inmates" including "the supervision, direction, and/or proper training of the dental staff . . . management of dental programs . . . the determination of proper dental care for inmates, including . . . having authority to order and approve dental tests and treatments . . . ." (Am. Compl., Doc. 47 at ...

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